2023 polls: Eschewing religious hatred for national security

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The event of Nigeria’s independence gave an appearance of the dawn of a united and indivisible nation. But, in fact, it was more of a carry-over from the colonial period of the divisions, fears, and animosities among the various segments of the national polity. At best, independence was a nationalisation of factional groups, each of which saw itself first and foremost as defined through its respective ethno-religious basis, prior to other considerations. Today, we find ourselves in the capitalist world economy, which simultaneously generated a corresponding cadre of Muslim as well as Christian office-holders-cum-bureaucrats. This inherited narrative of exclusion will definitely form the priorities of the new administration of the APC government to curtail what had been itching Nigerians for over 62 years after independence.

Religion and ethnicity have profound influence on Nigerian electorate. They are inclined to identify and associate with their faith and ethnicity before nationality. The human society itself is a collection of economic, social and political activities of individuals. This gives them access to the basic necessities of life. Thus, man by nature is a dependent creature; he depends on his environment and others within it for food, shelter and clothing. Therefore, no group or human community, no matter its level of development, can be an island unto itself. This may be the reason Nigerians are fused to their religion or ethnic sentiments.

The just concluded presidential and National Assembly elections will go down in history as the most influenced by both Islamic and Christian clerics, who have been complicit in fanning the embers of religious exclusion and intolerance. They reduced sermons to political gatherings as Nigerians awaited video clips of pronouncements that go for or against their preferred candidates and their political parties. The narrative of exclusion sold against the Tinubu/Shettima presidency has finally been buried with the surgeon of Mr Peter Obi into the political terrain of Nigeria.

Obi’s style of campaign capitalised on the sense of alienation among the South-east zone and discontent among some Christians, particularly in the North, due to increased misunderstanding and misconceptions over the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket. In fact, in the North, Mr. Obi concentrated his campaign on churches in states with a large population of Christians and Igbo. Just like some Islamic clerics were furious about M.M ticket, the story is not different from some Christian pastors, who stood on the side of the Labour Party presidential candidate.

On the other hand, the former vice president and PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar candidacy was challenged by some members of his party led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state. The demand for Iyorchia Ayu’s resignation as national chairman of PDP, coming from the same region with Atiku, was to pave the way for a regional balancing. Kwankwanso with a strong base in Kano state picked running mate Pastor Isaac Idahosa to balance the religion and ethnicity sold against the Tinubu/Shettima ticket. The Labour Party, PDP, New Nigeria People’s Party, NNPP, and the rulling All Progressives Congress, APC, none is exempted from playing to the gallery of either religion, region or ethnic politics in the last elections.

The paradox is that it looks like the more religious institutions we build in Nigeria, the more denominations and sects we create, the worse we become morally. Corruption in Nigeria, for example, which is preached against by most (if not all) religious groups, seems to be growing in tandem with our religious expansion. And endemic corruption has severely compromised Nigeria’s growth and development. Violence and all forms of criminality have been growing as our churches and mosques grow.

Poor work-ethic and consequent low productivity continue to dog our economic land space. Poor governance and poverty have increased along the same scale as the growth in worship centres in Nigeria. In fact, in Nigeria, people are now stealing and killing in the name of religion even though such dubious acts have no place in the teachings of the holy books.This development has led many to begin to query the impact of religion on our moral tone and economic well being. They seem to be pointing to atheistic nations as Japan, China and Australia as having better moral tone and registering better growth and development than Nigeria where most people practice one form of religion or the other.

Ohuabunwa said there has been this argument as to whether Nigeria is a secular or non-secular state, religious or non-religious nation. A secular state is one which purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/non religion over other religions/non-religion. Secular states do not have a state religion and this defines the Nigerian State where religion is a belief rather than a political platform.

Thomas Hobbes sees religion and its divisiveness as a source of political instability, and so he argues that the sovereign has the right to determine which opinions may be publicly espoused and disseminated, a power necessary for maintaining civil peace.The relation between religion and politics continues to be an important theme in Nigeria’s political philosophy, despite the emergent consensus (both among political theorists and in practical political contexts, such as the United Nations) on the right to freedom of conscience and on the need for some sort of separation between religion and governance. Religions often make strong claims on people’s allegiance, and universal religions make these claims on all people, rather than just a particular community.

For example, Islam has traditionally held that all people owe obedience to Allah’s will. Thus, it is probably inevitable that religious commitments will sometimes come into conflict with the demands of politics. But religious beliefs and practices also potentially support politics in many ways. The extent and form of this support is as important to political philosophers as is the possibility for conflict. Moreover, there has been a growing interest in minority groups and the political rights and entitlements they are due. One result of this interest is substantial attention given to the particular concerns and needs of minority groups who are distinguished by their religion, as opposed to ethnicity, gender, or wealth.

In recent time, religion had been politicised and reduced to bread and butter organisation by some of its self-serving clerics by pitching their support to a particular candidate, thereby derailing from its constitutional obligations of being a father to all shades of opinions. This unhealthy attitude, open declaration of support and campaigns for politicians on the podium is gradually eroding their status a men of God to agents of the political elite. Now that the elections have been won and lost, some of them are burying their heads in shame with many of their prophecies gone wrong.

As religious leaders who communicate directly to millions of Nigerians who are either Muslim or Christians, they should take into account the importance and roles of communication in peace building and safeguarding the unity of Nigeria. These should form the basis of their sermons and preaching instead of turning our mosques and churches to political rallies.

The ability of Nigerians to communicate with each other is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the country’s sustainable peace and development. The diverse nature of human society underscores the deep-seated need for communication and it is against this backdrop that language used in public gatherings must be recognised to be of paramount importance and seen as a unifying factor.

The great task before the incoming president is to urgently deal with this syndrome that played out in the just concluded presidential and National Assembly elections. As a pan-Nigerian by marriage, business and politics, Tinubu lives tight and neck between the two dominant religions in Nigeria. As a devout Muslim, he is married to a senior pastor and has worked all his life by preaching the gospel of building bridges across board which gave him an easy ride to the 2023 presidency. The survival of Nigeria as an entity is certainly his priority and unless these religious and ethnic champions are called to order, the future will not reward us with gold.

As the race for senate president and speaker of the 10th Assembly begins, this will be a ground test for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the ruling APC in his quest to restore the confidence of Nigerians. His acceptance speech was quite enlightening and educative. The assertion that he is no more Batified but Atikulated, Obedient and Kwankwasiya spoke on his level of readiness to build a country that work for all that voted for and against him. These words and commitment he made are already dousing tension in the country. This means his victory is for all the Nigerian people of all faith as against the narrative of exclusion being peddled around that a particular religion or section of the country won.

The Jagaban himself will not be a toy and cannot be carried away by those insinuations but he will be guided by the mandate given to him by Nigerians from all the length and breadth of the country. The Muslim-Muslim is nothing where democracy works and this victory of the APC has brought an end to the politics of religion, regionalism and ethnicity. Asiwaju won the election not because of his faith; besides being a Muslim, he has proved in words and actions that he is a pan-Nigerian, who prioritises the identity of Nigeria before his tribe, region or religion. I pray he succeeds. His success will end the current division and divisiveness in the country. As Nigerians, we should not fall victims of the ineffective sermons of some clerics and as long as our religions preach peace and love, we must eschew religious hatred for a sustainable national security.

Danaudi, National President of Arewa Youths Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi, Bauchi state via [email protected]