It cannot be argued that the advancement of Christianity took its root in politics. In the ancient Roman Empire, it was common knowledge that there was a serious conflict between the Kings and the early Christians who frowned at and preached against their excesses. Instead of showing remorse for their atrocities these rulers chose the path of infamy by killing and maiming the early Christians.
Perhaps, my attitude to Christianity right from childhood is too simplistic. I have tried to continually cultivate free-mindedness, openness and the eagerness to learn, especially at the feet of the Masters, in this case, Aristotle, Socrates, Archimedes, St. Augustine (one of the renowned Fathers of the Church) and Bishop of Hippo. The history of the early Church or Christianity, as the case may be, is an awry tale laced with myths and persecutions. The lives of the Apostles of Jesus Christ have remained a living testimony to the demeaning persecutions the early Christians suffered in the hands of political and maximum rulers of those days, who were notorious for their despotism. They saw the Apostles and others of their ilk as visible obstacle to their authorities and penchant for committing atrocious acts.
The undeniable truth is that there is no way we can divorce Christianity from politics. Both are Siamese twins, considering the bonding between them. What is probably the issue in contention is not whether there is a link between politics and Christianity. The bone of contention rather lies in the degree of involvement of Christians in politics.
It is a general notion among the political class that Christians, especially the ordained priests, should be insulated from politics. They also believe that they (the priests) should be impartial arbiters in matters of politics.
Perhaps, the position of the political class on the involvement of the clergy in politics is borne out of sheer malice and covert tendentiousness, if not outright ignorance. Right from time, it has been the practice for the church to serve as a watchdog of society – just in the same way the media mould and sieve public opinions. In essence, there is no sphere of human life that does not entail politics. Politics is like a fulcrum that drives the wheel of progress of a society – remove it and the wheel will grind to a halt.
The new consciousness of the church is probably what is quite disturbing to the political class. If it were possible they would pray that the church is not involved directly or indirectly in politics to give them the latitude to continue to perpetrate evil. But ask me: Is the church directly involved in politics? My answer is no. What the church in Nigeria, in particular, has done over the years is to sensitize its members to the need to be politically aware in order to be well-positioned to influence the way things are done in politics and governance. The establishment of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission (JDPC), for instance, was one way the church thought it could mobilize its membership to play a more assertive role in the way the people are governed.
It is not in doubt, therefore, that there has been tremendous improvement in the quality of governance the people get since the JDPC was established. At least, the politicians are conscious of the enormous powers the church wields.
It is heart-warming to note that in the past 15 years, the church has been in the vanguard of the agitation for the establishment of good governance, rule of law, constitutionality, social justice and equality. These social principles took flight in the early life of our democratic experimentation. It, however, took the intervention of the church to restore some sanity and normality.
Suffice it to add that the setting up of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) was also borne out of exigency, geared toward protecting the integrity of the Christian religion in the nation’s complex socio-political life. Imagine what would have happened if CAN and other such Christian bodies, including the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), were not in existence. It cannot be argued, that the role of the church in the political life of the country has stimulated growth and development and kept the political class on their toes. In the same breath, it is constantly averred that the meddlesomeness of Christian leaders in politics has created undue tension and conflict in the relationship between the church and the political elite. How true this is should be left for the politicians themselves to prove. What the politicians refer to as ‘meddlesomeness’ is what I have rather chosen to call ‘alertness’.
Generally speaking, the obvious hostile disposition of politicians toward the church is a product of misplaced aggression. It is preposterous for anybody to reason that the church would keep quiet while politicians have a field day – looting and pillaging our common patrimony in the name of politics. The defence of the sovereignty of this country is the duty of every Nigerian, irrespective of religion, race or status. In developed economies there is a respectable and symbiotic relationship between politics and Christianity. Each is mutually complementary – combining in a unique form to drive development. One may be tempted to ask: Is it not the same people who populate the church that also play politics? This is true when we take a cursory look at the coloration of those that make up the political elite.
What the church is striving to accomplish is to act as the conscience of the nation by watching over the politicians who have manipulated the gullibility of the electorate for their own self-aggrandisement. There is no disputing the fact that our politicians have penchant or notoriety for garrulity and crass insensibility, which is why they have continually been frightened by the outspokenness of the church against such negative tendencies.
Honestly, I do not want to align myself with the lousy and idle talk in some quarters that the church should not be involved in politics. If the church chose not to be involved what impact would it have on the life of the nation? This question has become necessary, considering the plots by some disgruntled elements to smear the integrity of the church and bring it into odium and conflict with the civil authorities.
Nevertheless, the enemies of the church are not making any headway in their antagonism against the church. Rather, they have, by their actions, popularized the church and its crusade for the emergence of a more just and equitable society, where corruption will be banished, human rights promoted and peace and tranquillity entrenched.
The systemic annihilation of Christians in different parts of the world is a clandestine design by the enemies of the church to stifle its operations and slow its zeal to win souls for Christ. The situation in Nigeria has assumed a more perilous dimension with the activities of some militant groups whose modus operandi are inimical to peace and mutual co-existence. It is clear from what is happening across the country, that Christianity poses a huge obstacle to the plot by some religious extremists to Islamize Nigeria. The killing and maiming of Christians in the north are a part of the orchestrated and devious machination to intimidate and destroy the fabric on which Christianity stands.
How justified is the call to insulate Christians from politics? There is no justification whatsoever for the call, because the church is an integral part of the Nigerian nation. What this means is that the nation cannot exist in isolation of the church. What is obtainable in other climes is for the two to cooperate to advance the collective aspiration and well-being of their people. It amounts to a dangerous escapade for politicians to deliberately antagonize the church, particularly in a secular state as Nigeria. What probably the promoters of the alleged plot to Islamize Nigeria have not taken into consideration is the original intention of our forbears to found Nigeria. The foundation on which Nigeria was built was predicated ab initio on a non-religious platform. This was why they were able to work together to attain independence for the country.
Curiously, too, in the Nigerian context, politics used to be seen as a game for the dirty-minded, despite the presence of notable personalities as actors and actresses. In the period before independence politics and Christianity played a pivotal role in the independence struggle. It was the combination of the two that gave the struggle its vibes and vigour. The early missionaries, particularly those that found their way to the hinterlands, used religion to influence the people who were initially opposed to the introduction of Christianity as a religion. Paganism, traditional African worship and other fetish adherences found fancy among Nigerians. It was not until the introduction of the first newspaper in Nigeria, Iwe Irohin, by an Irish Reverend gentleman, Henry Townsend, that there emerged a form of revolution in the determination of an average Nigerian to be educated and informed.
The revolution caught fire when such great patriots and nationalists as Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello joined the fray. They brought on board their education, exposure to the outside world, connections and die-hard belief in the Nigerian nation to bear on the struggle.
It was not, therefore, surprising that the early Christian missionaries and their cohorts were able to strike a synergy with politicians who also doubled as nationalist fighters. While the missionaries grappled with the stifling challenges of winning converts, they did not as well turn their eyes away from influencing politicians positively to recognize their presence in order to take decisions that would be favourable to them. This cooperative spirit has guided the relations between the two up to this day.
Those that frown at the admixture of politics and Christianity do so out of sheer ignorance and mischief. There is no way any rational human being can separate politics from Christianity. In fact, the church (particularly the Catholic Church) after the sordid events of the Second and Third Republics encouraged its members to show more than a passing interest in politics. The idea was to have as many Catholics as possible in order to be in a good stead to influence decisions in government.
Happily, the vision of the church is gradually producing rich harvests. Already a number of influential Catholics today hold key positions in the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. It is regrettable to observe though that despite the continued emergence of Christian leaders in governance, evils have not abated. Some Christians have been convicted of varied degrees of criminality in the society. This has left many wondering if actually Christianity has had any visible and tangible influence on politics.
Nevertheless, this opinion does not mean in any way that Christianity has not had any positive influence on politics. After all, there have been some Christians that had contributed remarkably to national development such that it would be difficult for posterity not to remember them positively.
It is not the intention of this piece to mention names, because of lack of space. Perhaps what cannot possibly be denied is that the world would have been doomed if the church had not taken the bull by the horn to confront the forces of evil that regress development.
As much as the church is at liberty to bask in the euphoria of its new-found fame, it behoves it to take cognizance of the need not to overdo it. It must know where to draw the line between its missionary role and political activism. It gladdens my heart to observe that the church is constantly aware of the pitfalls that lay in its way as it crusades against social ills that impede our march to economic and political freedom.
There is no other institution that can command as much respect and credibility as the church in the effort to stamp out the excesses of the politicians. Though the church can be chastised and impugned by disgruntled politicians for its fearlessness and uprightness, this will never diminish its stature as a robust and impartial judge.
To continue to enjoy this goodwill the church must not allow its ministers to take up political appointments to avoid being compromised or tainted. The tenure of the late Fr. Moses Adasu as governor in Benue State was marked by controversies, and it as well outraged some persons who had thought it was absurd for a Catholic priest to seek political office. My primary fear is that their direct involvement in politics can be diversionary and distractive. The role they are playing at the moment from the pulpit is sufficient to stir the soul of the nation away from evil and ultimate perdition.
As for the laity, they have a bigger role to play to approach politics with deeper zeal and commitment. It is painful that some prominent Christians have distanced themselves from politics for reasons best known to them. If their apathy is for fear of being killed or blackmailed then they are cowards who are not fit to be called followers of Christ. They should know that anybody who fears to lose his life for the sake of Christ is not fit for a place in the heavenly abode.
I admonish such men and women to take up the gauntlet and rise up to be counted. Was it not Edmund Burke who said that all it takes for evil to triumph in a society is for good men to do nothing? Should we fold our arms and watch our nation drift to self-destruction?
We must wake up from our slumber today and play our role as soldiers of Christ with courage and untainted humaneness. By so doing, we will be laying up treasures in heaven where no moth or thief can destroy it.