From my childhood and my first days in the quest for knowledge first in Islamiyya school, then in primary, secondary and secondary schools (the last three all belonging to the Roman Catholic Church), I was taught a basic fact about religion and politics. I was made to understand that the first was to take care of business in the afterlife while the second was here and now.
I was also taught that the two don’t mix well, so attempts to merge should be avoided. Recent events in our country, however, have threatened to demolish any basic assumptions I have carried with me about the role of the two in his life and their non-convergence. The events are the start of distribution by INEC of permanent voter cards (PVC); the reaction of clerics and the emergence of presidential candidates from the two main political parties – the APC and the PDP.
Let’s talk about the voter’s card – a purely political instrument giving its owner the power to decide who is elected to what office. So that makes it politically significant. My training says it doesn’t carry much weight religiously. Or does it? I will try to answer this question by examining how our clerks perceive the property of this rectangular and laminated sheet of paper. A video that recently went viral showed Christian clerics emphasizing to their congregation the importance of PVC and the fact that without it, churches’ doors and sanctuary doors would be closed.
As a result, PVC; a political instrument, metamorphosed into a religious instrument guaranteeing access to churches, services and eventually a gateway to heaven and eternal bliss. I understood? Let me break it down…to get to heaven, you have to worship; to worship, you usually have to be in a church. Now, to get into a church, he seems to need a full PVC with proof of ownership, CQFD. The PVC, originally a political instrument, has now become a religious instrument aimed at ensuring maximum Christian participation in the suffrage. The order has made the sanctuary of the church, until then the exclusive prerogative of the righteous, now also a refuge for political correctness.
To ensure the No-PVC-No-Worship order was not short-circuited, the video showed cleric bouncers, some with collars and others in cassocks, standing just at the entrance to ensure the compliance. The message is clear…the church is always interested in sending people to heaven, but only those with the right combination of righteousness and possession of GSC.
In the midst of all this, it is relevant to ask what is the reaction of Muslim clerics? Was the Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs speaking on behalf of all of them when, in a recent statement, he stated unequivocally that the Council had never and would never concern itself with political issues? While this may be the Council’s official position, it contradicts the statements and positions of many Islamic clerics. Having seen their reverie shattered by the political proactivity of their Christian counterparts, they jumped on the PVC wagon with political admonitions aimed at their followers. To be fair to them, not one of them, by their ideas, their speeches and their admonitions, has pledged the authority of the Supreme Council. As laggards, they have yet to make access to mosques and other places of worship a function of PVC ownership. So they have not yet transformed into Babban Riga wearing turbaned bouncers standing menacingly like barricades in front of mosques. They have, however, time and again in their sermons, stressed the importance of accessing the PVC and voting only for Muslim candidates.
Closely related to these two examples of what I have chosen to call the religionization of politics is a video I saw of a Sarah (prophetess?) who almost tearfully described as disrespectful to the Christianity and Christians, the emergence of Atiku and Tinubu as presidential candidates of the PDP and APC respectively. I’m sure she doesn’t have all the facts, so I’d advise her to take a deeper look at the events that led to the two outcomes. In the case of the PDP, she should listen to what Sam Ohuabunwa, a defeated contender, said in an interview after the primary election. Explaining why Atiku (Fulani and Muslim) emerged as a candidate, Ohuabunwa said, “As I told someone earlier, religion and tribe don’t matter. Only money did it”. He also said “when the dollar talks, people forget their last names”. It is therefore very clear that in the case of the PDP, Sarah’s allegation of disrespect cannot be supported by any nuanced or religious argument.
Another controversial story on the border of religion and politics that caught my attention on social media concerns the number of Christian voters in Nigeria; their potential influence and power. The author of the account put the number at 95 million, which he says is more than any Muslim presidential candidate can muster. He therefore wanted the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to rise up and mobilize these voters spread across the various faiths in Nigeria to ensure the emergence of a Christian President in 2023.
This account was not based on any evidence (at least none was provided) or even a minimally empirical pointer. If the reverse had been tIn this case, the author would have given us the opportunity to indulge in a useful intellectual exercise. All the same, not being an authority on CAN’s influence among the various Christian denominations, I cannot hazard a guess as to the outcome of the association’s long-awaited intervention. Block the vote of the various Islamic sects? No chance. I’m confidentI make this emphatic assertion based on my firsthand knowledge of cat and mouse perception that defines their relationship. I end, dear reader, by inviting you to reflect on the points raised by Sam Ohuabunwa and quoted in this essay.
Mohammed, former Managing Director of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) writes from Abuja