IT was Frank Herbert, the Washington -born science fiction writer, who posited many years back that when politics and religion are intermingled, a people is suffused with a sense of invulnerability, and gathering speed in their forward charge, they fail to see the cliff ahead of them. Amidst a cheering crowd in the state of Alabama, United State, a one-time member of the US House of Representatives made this pronouncement: “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their saviour, I am telling you, you are not my brother and you are not my sister, and I want to be your brother.” Robert Bentley made this controversial vituperations in 2011 shortly after his inauguration as the governor of Alabama before a mixed-race crowd. With the occurrence of the above, one would wonder in utter dismay what could be the motive of a newly elected governor of a state vomiting gibe that is unbecoming of a statesman and governor of one of the mixed-race states in the United States.
Religion and politics have over the years stirred controversies in the global political stage. However, one would agree that when religion and politics ride in the same cart, a whirlwind follows. The consequence of this is that the masses might not know which way to go. Fast forward to April, 5, 2016: an impeachment resolution was filed against the same Bentley in connection with his engagement in extramarital affair with a female political adviser. He would later be forced to resign as the 53rd governor of the state of Alabama after being indicted by the House Judicial Committee on Ethics. It is ironic that the religious governor was edged out in such scandalous circumstances. Such is the irony of a pseudo-religious politician!
Politicians are fond of throwing political gibe with religious dispositions in order to score cheap political points. In January 2019, Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai threw caution to the wind while fielding questions as a guest on the popular Channels TV (Sunrise Daily) programme: “What if I tell you that no matter who I choose as my running mate, even if I choose the Pope, 67 per cent of the Christians in Southern Kaduna have made up their minds that they will never vote for me.” Governor El-Rufai made this covert blasphemous gibe in response to the question asking for the justification of his choice of a Muslim as running mate in the 2019 gubernatorial poll. As a governor and a leader in a state comprising multi-religious and diverse groups, one could have imagined the kind of the social unrest this profanity could have sparked had it been made by a religious leader. It can be recalled that the major attributed cause of religious crises that broke out in some states in the northern part of Nigeria is blasphemy. No doubt, Nigeria had been thrown into turmoil some years back the causes of which are as a result of utterances that are perceived blasphemous. That is to tell us the extent of fragility when politicians blend politics and religion just to satisfy their political ambitions.
During a crusade organised by a Christian group in Rivers state, the governor, Nyesom Wike was credited to have declared Rivers state a Christian state. He attributed his political survival to the support and prayers of the Christian community alone. Both Governors El-Rufai and Wike possess at least a degree in law, and they are expected to know Nigeria’s status as regard state religion. The duo should have averted their untoward and sentimental minds to section 10 of the constitution which they swore allegiance to. Under section 10 of the Nigerian constitution which states that the government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as a state religion. In the last administration, the Minister Of State For Foreign Affairs, Muhammed Nurudeen, was alleged to have said that Nigeria is one of the most Christian-populated Islamic nations in the world. This sparked a raging controversy and calls by the Christian Association of Nigeria CAN for the then President Goodluck Jonathan to sanction the minister for the non-nationalistic statement. It has been argued for a very umpteenth time as to the clear-cut rationale on the reason to divest religion from politics or whether the two are Siamese concepts. There have been intellectual discourses as to whether by the provision of section 10 of the constitution of Nigeria, it can be deduced that Nigeria is a secular state. A secular state is a state that purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion supporting neither religion nor irreligion. This posits that where religion begins, then the state ends. The question is that, in the light of the above provision of the constitution, can the proposition that Nigeria is a secular state fly in the face of the preamble to the same constitution? A part of the preamble to the Nigeria’s constitution says that“we the people of Nigeria having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God dedicated to the promotion of African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding.” Going by this preamble to the Nigerian constitution, I am of the view that the constitution itself has given surreptitious proclivity of bias when it refers to God as the language befitting enough to qualify the Supreme Being. After all, the Muslim word for the most sovereign is Allah. The above scenarios have been narrated so as to point out the extent of culpability of the so called charade exhibited by contemporary politicians on their use of religion as a tool to boost their political score cards.
In the last ministerial screening, a former governor of Osun State, as a nominee, almost stirred another controversy when he mixed politics with religion. The Ogbeni had four minutes of his introduction by the Senate President, which everyone would agree was reasonably and more than enough for him to exercise his freedom of religion and constitutional right to propagate his religion. But with his controversial disposition and in a grandiose tactic, he felt the need to solidify and further entrench in the Senate members, the saintly perception he enjoyed from some among the audience. Aregbesola took 30 seconds to cast away the devil and beseech Almighty Allah to guide him against any form of humiliation. There is nothing absolutely wrong in taking to this but the questions are: is there anything wrong if “Sheik” Aregbesola had recited these Islamic invocations within himself during the period the Senate President spent introducing him? Would there have been any sanction or omission morally or religiously if the nominee had recited this silently or without making use of the microphone? What actually did Aregbesola intend to achieve by going beyond the usual “bismillahirahamanroheem”?
I am sure some lawmakers were a bit perplexed and curious at the sheer act of religious jingoism exhibited by Aregbesola. In a formal screening that ordinarily should have taken few minutes for introduction of oneself and highlight of one’s antecedent, the notorious and controversial Aregbesola took nore than 8 minutes to recognise his friends and colleagues and turned the atmosphere to a mixture of tafsir prelude and jamboree of recognition of comity of friends and colleagues. On the floor of the Senate of a country with no particular adoption of a religion or preference of a religion, comprising 108 members with tenth of audience in attendance with different religious views, one should come to think of it what the senate floor could have been if every nominee was to demonstrate or take inordinate time to chant their various religious beliefs with the aid of a microphone if Sampson Uchechukwu Ogar, a nominee from Abia state had in the introductory part of his speech proclaimed “praise thy lord” “halleluyah” what reaction would that have generated from the public glare? I could recall vividly in the wake of the 2015 presidential elections, the then vice presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Arch. Namadi Sambo, whilst in attempt to “capture” the religious sentiment of the Katsina State electorate, ended up bastardising a very revered verse in the chapter 1 of the holy Quran. In their parochial bid to wrap home the attention and the total support of the electorates at the campaign ground, Arch. Sambo and his cohorts metaphorically turned the campaign ground in katsina state into a Ramadan tafsir lecture. With his ostensibly braggadocios 39-year post graduate experience in engineering, management, public administration, leadership and resilience, he ended up unconvincingly justifying how he mismanaged the meagre revenue of the osun state while as a governor to the maximum “benefit” of the state. Though divesting politics from religion might be a continued subject of debate by modern and medieval philosophers, it is my humble view that motive in which we marry the two concepts counts, I thus opine that the duo need not be utilise for our primordial and personal aggrandisement. Let me leave you with the words of a Roam Stoic philosopher; Seneca the Young who stated that religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
- Balogun, a legal practitioner, writes in from Lagos.