Some years ago, someone told me a private experience he had on the admixture of religion and politics. A “Christian” had just won a governorship election in a state. The election was tainted with such a blatant rigging that he and some fellow politicians vowed they would resist the winner at all costs. They were united in their cause until a Bishop of a church in the state called a few of them who were Christians aside and said,
“But what is your problem? He (the rigger-winner) is a Christian like you, not so? Why are you fighting for a Muslim?”
He told me that that was the point their cause was compromised with half-heartedness.
Let me quickly say this attitude is not peculiar to Christians. Christians are not the only ones who would jettison a cause on the basis of religious sentiments. Such a behaviour is evenly divided between both religions who dominate Nigerian cultural politics and are forever competing for space.
On that note, I praise the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, for upbraiding those demanding a Christian to succeed him in office saying that religion is never a determinant of good leadership.
On that score, I am in total agreement with the governor.
Nigeria has had five decades of leadership split between Muslims and Christians and we are no better under either. I will change my stance on religion and politics in Nigeria when I see a shred of evidence that religion improves governance. Until the faith of our leaders begins to incommode them from mindless looting of public resources and compels a sense of responsibility in them, the rest is all glitters and no gold.
To Fashola’s summation, I should also add that religion, as a guiding moral compass, is rather unreliable. All religions are inherently contradictory and it takes an amount of cynicism in a person to sort out the moral and immoral from all religious philosophy. For example, in South Sudan, a pregnant woman currently stands the risk of being killed for “apostasy”. The woman, Meriam Ibrahim, is being held in prison and would also be publicly flogged for adultery since her marriage to her Christian husband is considered null and void.
In the past few weeks, since Boko Haram madness peaked, I have heard Muslims insist that Islam says there is no compulsion in religion. Yet, how do you account for apostasy that threatens the life of Ibrahim? Religion can be that self-contradictory.
So, like Fashola, I would argue that we keep religion out of public governance so that we can see the critical issues that affect our lives clearly. Personally, I do not subscribe to any faith and I harbour an instant distrust for people who carry their religion on their heads like bags of cement. Religion, I insist, should never determine who gets what position in a country. Such attitude breeds nothing but mediocrity and should be totally discouraged.
But Fashola is not totally right, anyway.
As a Muslim himself, he is perhaps not in the best position to shut down voices calling for a Christian governor.
No, Fashola is one of the sane ones who do not make their religion a pivot of their government. He has largely kept his devotions private and I respect him for that. He is an equal opportunity offender when it comes to curtailing excesses of religious practitioners in the state.
He has made a fine argument but also elides the critical point about the politics of religion. If religion were not a determining factor in appealing to public sentiment, how come a Muslim governor is always paired with a Christian deputy or Christian president with a Muslim deputy and vice versa? How come politicians subtly and blatantly campaign in churches and mosques? Why do they seek the blessings of religious leaders?
Equally importantly, we cannot deny the social and political capital accruable from belonging to a religion. If you are of a religion that has some political power derivable such factors as being the dominant group, you can network within your religious circles. And that is one hell of an advantage that will always undercut religious sceptics like me.
Personally, I do not see anything wrong in Christian groups challenging why, since 1999, only Muslims have been governors in Lagos State and still the ones being tipped for governors come 2015. We know the party with the dominant power in Lagos, the All Progressives Congress, is Muslim-dominated and judging from its antecedents, is perhaps unlikely to field a non-Muslim for exalted offices such as the Lagos State governorship. Of course, we could be politically correct by insisting that people vote religious-blindly but who says the process that leads to the emergence of the candidates in the first place is religious neutral?
If Christians (and Muslims) do not ask certain questions, they could be permanently marginalised from attaining some offices since people who belong to a particular religion dominate them and they pass on advantages among themselves. We should question these things the way we question why people of a certain gender and region tend to dominate the big political offices in Nigeria. It is insincere not to acknowledge that there are intangible resources inherited in some circles that benefit some more than others. If Christians are asking questions, it is because they want to be cut in their share.
There are many reasons people want to have one of their own in power. One is because it increases their visibility and boosts their cultural power, psychologically and politically. We cannot deny it.
Some years ago, I was at the Lagos State House of Assembly and saw a large group of Muslims having a worship service in the open space in the compound. I found that subversive of democratic processes; a space where legislative duties take place, I believe, should never be polluted with religion. I expressed my displeasure to some of the Speaker’s aides but they didn’t see anything to it.
Then I asked, “If the Speaker of the Lagos Assembly were not a Muslim, would this have happened? Can Christians come here and take over the place the same way too?”
The look on their faces was the response that said all I needed to know. And the answer they should have given me explains why Christians want one of their own in the Government House, Alausa too.
Article written By Abimbola Adelakun and culled in Punch Newspaper
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