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Politics And The Church In Nigeria by Reuben Abati

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It is difficult to imagine that the Church in Nigeria and its leaders would not be interested in politics as Nigeria begins preparations for the general elections in 2023. A heated and emotional controversy was stirred last weekend when it became public knowledge that the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) had set up The Directorate of Politics and Governance. Many raised an eyebrow. Why would the Church create a Department of Politics and Governance? Publisher, veteran journalist, newspaper columnist and Presidential aspirant Aare Dele Momodu described the development as “an invitation to Armageddon” in an essay titled “My Kobo Advice to Redeemed Christian Church of God” (ThisDay newspaper, back page, March 12, 2022).  His main concern was what he described as “the general conspiracy theory that our church was setting up an extensive network for the obvious Presidential ambition of the current Vice President, President Yemi Osinbajo”, whereas there are other members of the RCCG, including his good self who are interested in the Presidential race. Why should the Church favour one person over and above other members?

In a notable response, Kolade Segun Oke-Owo, Deputy Director, Directorate of Politics and Governance, PFN, Ogun State, and National President, Believers in Politics writes as follows: “…The RCCG did not actually create the Directorate of Politics and governance. The creation of the Directorate is a brain child of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria under His Eminence, Bishop Wale Oke, its National President. The RCCG only became the first among other Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria under the leadership of PFN to kowtow and subscribe to the vision of the Directorate of Politics and Governance. It may also interest Uncle Dele Momodu that the National Directorate of Politics and Governance of the PFN is not headed by a member of the RCCG but a General Overseer from another denomination in the person of Rt. Hon. Pastor Femi Emmanuel.”

The fact that only a few days after the Dele Momodu essay, the Daily Trust newspaper and others published a story indicating that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has now notified President Muhammadu Buhari of his interest in the 2023 Presidential race, before that was refuted, lent greater currency to the Dele Momodu protest. The truth indeed is that over the past few months, a group of hidden and open persuaders have been threatening to sue Vice President Osinbajo if he did not throw his hat into the 2023 ring. Members of the RCCG have also not helped matters. They have often said that the General Overseer of the Church, Pastor Enoch Adeboye once predicted that a day would come when a member of the Church would become President of Nigeria. When Professor Osinbajo emerged as Vice President of Nigeria in 2015, the members were excited. They talked openly about a prophecy that was about to be fulfilled. Professor Yemi Osinbajo is not just a member of the RCCG Congregation; he is a Pastor and one of the most visible leaders of the Church. Dele Momodu’s essay is a statement of caution: that the church cannot turn itself into a political machinery and a partisan campaign platform for one individual enjoying a special advantage. He is also a member of the Church. The wife of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, also a Presidential aspirant, is equally a member and a Pastor of the Church. He wants the church to be neutral. Equality before God should translate into equality of aspirations under the umbrella of the Church.  Dele Momodu’s supporters have suggested in accompanying reactions that the Church should stay out of partisan politics. In 1961, the Sage, Obafemi Awolowo had put up the same argument as Momodu’s. He said: “It follows that in order that it may discharge its functions, a religious organization must be independent of Government and its patronage and must never be subordinated to its dictates or whims… A religious organization should never allow itself to be regarded as the mouth piece and instrument of the powers-that-be…”. This may be a difficult argument to sustain.

The Church has been enmeshed in politics from time immemorial, from the Roman Empire, to the Medieval Era and to the present day. In the New Testament, the word “ekklesia” which is used to refer to the Church actually means a political assembly, a political association, a gathering. The separation of the State and the Church, or the separation of secular and religious power, has not always been so clear-cut. During the Crusades (circa, 1095 – 1291), Christians fought wars to acquire or regain territory. The Holy Book itself is full of this intersection between the Church, power struggles and secular politics. The clergy are not just spiritual leaders, they fight political battles worse than what is found in the secular community. The argument that the state and religion should be separated is largely theoretical.  In 1534, King Henry VIII of England established the Church of England, away from the Catholic Church following disagreements with Pope Clement VII on the scope of papal authority over marital choices. The politics of it is well captured in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. The Anglican Church continues to play a dominant role in British politics. Back home here in Nigeria, the kind of politics that church leaders play, including litigations and open quarrels, is far more vicious than what is found in the regular political arena. To give a case in point would be the acrimonious conflicts over control and succession in the Celestial Church of Christ since the passing of the founder, Samuel Bilewu Joseph Oschoffa in September 1985. In 2015, Pope Francis advised that Catholics must participate in politics. Just as Christians won’t hands off secular and sectarian politics, being human beings and political animals, leaders of the Muslim congregation are also just as involved.

It should be recognized also that ethnicity and religion are perhaps the two most central factors in the politics of power in Nigeria, as has been proven and examined in such works as Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria by Matthew Hassan Kukah, Iheanyi Enwerem’s A Dangerous Awakening: The Politicisation of Religion in Nigeria, and Religion and Politics in Nigeria: A Study in Middle Belt Christianity by Neils Kartfelt. Nigerian politicians over the years have used both ethnicity and religion as instruments of manipulating the people for their own purposes, exploiting the people’s fears about domination by the other. Religion has featured prominently in ethnic conflicts in the Middle Belt, on the Plateau, Southern Kaduna and elsewhere, with one group persecuting the other through repeated cycles of violence, and the State, which should enforce peace and justice, is usually partial and biased, taking sides, most cynically, depending on the religious affiliation of the persons in power at the moment. It is this linkage between religious belief and how power is exercised that has resulted in the political patronage of religious groups and the rise of partisanship in places of worship.  Nigerian politicians, regardless of the express provision of the Constitution that there shall be no state religion (Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution) have nonetheless turned religion into a special centre of engagement. In every Government House in the states and the State House in Abuja, there is usually a Mosque and a Church, power shifts between both locations depending on the religion of the main leader in charge, who accordingly appoints Special Advisers and Assistants on Religious matters. Christian leaders send members of their constituency on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Muslim leaders do the same for members of their religious community. Despite assurances over the years that the state shall no longer fund religious trips, the Pilgrims Welfare Boards of Nigeria continue to exist at all levels.

The assumption is that a Christian leader would defend the Christian faith and a Muslim leader would do the same for his own constituency as well. In every election at both Federal and State levels, Nigerians have adopted the convention of a Christian and Muslim ticket, in joint political races, to give the people a sense of balance, access and proximity to power.  The most remarkable exception to this pattern occurred in 1993 when a Muslim-Muslim ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Presidential candidates- Bashorun MKO Abiola and Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe won the Presidential election. Given the manner in which religion has further driven a wedge between Nigerians, it would be difficult to reproduce that magical moment again, either now, or in the immediate future. The Church in Nigeria believes that the time has come to do more than preaching and praying and become an active political force.

In yet another statement on the matter, titled “The New Dawn: Church Prophetic Political Delivery and Responsibility of the Church (March 11, 2022)”, Bishop Theophilus Taiwo Ajose, Ph. D declared that all church fathers and leaders are required to direct their members and followers to “register for and update their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) and “urgently join any political party of their choice at the ward (grassroots) levels and participate actively in political activities of that party while upholding righteousness.” It is important to further understand the context of this ideological declaration. Hitherto, the Church in Nigeria acted as the moral compass without necessarily being partisan. During the struggle for democracy, 1993 -1999, Catholic Bishops, leaders of the Anglican Church and the Pentecostal Federation fought for the rights of Bashorun Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe to be given their mandate. It didn’t matter that both men were Muslims. The Church was a modulating voice of reason. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and the Catholic Secretariat through the Justice Development and Peace Departments of the Church fought for democracy and development. The Anglican Church and the Pentecostal Federation were also in the forefront of the struggle. Many would remember the heroism of the Rt. Rev Peter Adebiyi, one of Chief Abraham Adesanya’s most trusted lieutenants, popularly known as the NADECO Bishop, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi and his fiery sermons and the stinging interventions of John Cardinal Onaiyekan, as well as the activism of the likes of Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, Fr. George Ehusani, Fr. John Uba Ofei and and Fr. Iheanyi Enwerem. Catholic priests on one occasion trooped to the streets in defence of democracy! Today, Nigerian church leaders and the Congregation are more interested in fighting for their own. They want their own people in power, even at the traditional, grassroots level. But that didn’t start now.

I recall that as President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesperson in the lead up to the 2015 general elections, in the course of the campaigns, our campaign train visited as many major churches in the country as possible. We saw crowds of potential voters. Prayers were offered. There were declarations of vision and revelations. The Church was not necessarily fighting for democracy in 2014/2015. It wanted to protect its members who had become victims of religious and ethnic conflicts. Church leaders wanted a Christian President to remain in office to address the emerging crisis. Later, when I ran on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party as a Deputy Gubernatorial candidate in Ogun State in 2018/19, it was part of my schedule as the Christian on the PDP Muslim-Christian ticket to interface with the Christian community. We had a high-ranking member of the PFN in our political camp who made the necessary arrangements, and hence, we went from one church to the other, preaching to church elders. I even participated in debates organized by churches for political party candidates. It was clear to me from the interactions that church leaders in Ogun State wanted power to shift to a Christian candidate, the outgoing Governor then, being a Muslim who had spent eight years in office.  If the church leaders saw any visions, they did not tell me.

It is perhaps the same drama that is now playing out ahead of the 2023 general elections. With a Muslim as Nigerian President for eight years, and with the Nigerian Christian community convinced that a Muslim-led Nigerian Presidency persecutes Christians and pampers Muslims, the Church of Nigeria appears resolved to get into the arena of action.  It seems Christian forces are now ready to sponsor candidates and mobilize the Congregation, armed with PVCs. The Church has also been drawn into the politics of zoning and rotation. It won’t be long before the various branches of the PFN begin to have chapters of political parties. No one should be surprised if some churches ask every soon that they should be designated as polling units or centres! When that happens, sermons in churches would become political manifestoes. It would be a reflection of how desperate every Nigerian constituency has become, how badly religion has divided us, and how high the stakes would be in 2023.

The truth is that churches in Nigeria today have become far more secular than they were a few years ago. The original words of the Lord Jesus Christ distinguished between the secular and the spiritual thus: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12: 17). But in Nigeria today, those in charge of God’s affairs are threatening to contest with Caesar. They seek to move from a place of independence and spiritual power to the main arena. Many churches are personal estates. Many are business investments. The other day, the General Overseer of the Christ Living Hope Church with Headquarters in Anambra, Rev. Ugochuckwu Emmanuel Ekwem was caught at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport by the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) trying to smuggle 54 sticks of drugs to Kenya. Religious faith is in decline in Nigeria. Political belief is about to dilute religious belief, far more aggressively. The church is seeking redemption through politics. How far will it or can it go?

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UK-Rwanda relocation plan for asylum seekers is a hot potato by Charles Onyango-Obbo

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In 2019, Rwanda agreed to take in hundreds of African immigrants held in horrid conditions in detention centres in Libya under an agreement with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the African Union.

There was applause.

In August 2021, as America’s 20-year-old military and state-building campaign in Afghanistan unravelled into chaos, in Africa —Rwanda and Uganda — agreed to take in Afghanistan refugees.

Among the Afghans who relocated to Rwanda, escaping the Taliban’s well-known hostility toward education for women, were all 250 students of the famed Afghanistan Leadership School (SOLA), Afghanistan’s only boarding school for girls.

There were cheers and extravagant praise for Rwanda and Uganda. Today, Rwanda hosts nearly 140,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Uganda, on the other hand, hosts 1.5 million refugees, making it the top refugee-hosting country in Africa.

In April this year, hell broke loose. The UK announced that it had a plan to send illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, where they would either stay or move on to other countries.

The Boris Johnson government insists the programme is aimed at disrupting people-smuggling networks and deterring migrants from making the dangerous sea journey across the English Channel to England from France.

Critics have come out swinging with fury, calling the plan immoral, racist, and several arguing it is risky because several of the human rights found in liberal democracies are absent in Rwanda. This new “democracy test” for resettlement, has opened up a tricky window into the protection business.

The UK asylum affair, meanwhile, has muscled its way into the headlines about the Commonwealth Heads of Government (Chogm) meeting being held in Kigali.

The high emotions the UK-Rwanda asylum plan has kicked up, are a pointer to how complicated, immigration and refugee have come. There are several contradictory things that are both true at the same time.

If Donald Trump’s election victory in the US in 2016, and his turbulent racist-fuelled term tell us anything, it is that the western world has reached “peak” migration.

Uncomfortable to confront, but it is probably no longer sustainable for, especially, people from the south to continue emigrating and fleeing to the West in large numbers. Domestically, the fear of people of colour “replacing” white communities is reaching a fever pitch, and fuelling extreme right-wing politics.

We’ve to grant it. The demographic make-up of the West is changing, and by the end of this century, white people will be minorities in nearly all the major European countries. Not too many people will take their disappearance with great fortitude.

For the western left and progressives, migration and the diverse nations it makes possible is where they see the future of their play in politics. For businesses, migrants provide a new pool of cheap labour, ensuring their profit in a world where China is eating their lunch. Things like the UK-Rwandan plan, do have long-term political and economic consequences.

Yet, that doesn’t explain why the resettlements of immigrants from Libya and Afghanistan in Africa weren’t attacked. The difference could be because Libya’s and Afghanistan’s crises are partly outcomes of western — NATO and the US — interventions that went horribly wrong. The repatriations are a much-needed clean-up of the mess — and there is some consensus of the western left and right on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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Tanko Muhammad, Ekweremadu and health of Nigeria by Suyi Ayodele

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What happened to the Nigerian judiciary under the now retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, is a symptom of an ailing nation. We must all come to admit that Nigeria is a country that needs moral transplant. Who will be the donor is what we don’t know. That the aeroplane-driving CJN retired after his “brother justices” accused him of misconduct is never news to celebrate. The resignation itself is never a part of the diagnosis of what ails the country. And I sincerely do hope that the General Muhammadu Buhari administration will not because of the belated retirement  roll out the drums to celebrate his tough stance on the fight against corruption!  The judiciary is expected to be the healthiest of the three arms of government. Its chronic illness under Tanko is a pointer to the general well being of the government in power. The undertakers should not be far away as their services may be required soon.

In Africa’s worldview, a healthy man is a wealthy man. The saying, “health is wealth,” underscores the importance human beings attach to sound health. Without sound health, man becomes useless. This is why sane countries of the world don’t play with their healthcare delivery. But it is not so in Nigeria, a country which prides itself as the “Giant of Africa”. By that sobriquet, one would expect that Nigeria would tower above other African countries in all ramifications of life. If you are wondering why we are this low in all aspects of life as a nation, just take a look at our health care delivery system. If Nigeria’s health is failing, or has failed, the citizenry cannot be healthy. For those who care to know, Nigeria is not just ill, it is terminally ill.

Some two years ago or so, I had the misfortune of rushing an ailing church member to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH. At the close of service that fateful Sunday, a friend and I had planned to go out with our spouses. We drove out of the church premises and saw the ailing woman being aided to the road to get a taxi to the hospital. We picked her up in my friend’s car while I joined him and asked the women to use my own car. By Ehaekpen Road, the woman gave up the ghost in the car. But we continued the journey to the UBTH. At the Accident and Emergency section of the hospital, she was confirmed as BID (Brought In Dead). That was where our ordeal began. The relation in the car contacted other family members and agreed that the remains of the woman be deposited at the hospital’s morgue. To our utter embarrassment, UBTH had no BID form to take the woman’s profile and have her corpse deposited in the morgue. For over two hours, the corpse was left in our car. I had to ask one of the hospital attendants in charge to copy the information of a used BID form at the back of another used form and fill in for the dead woman. I knew then that we had bigger problems than anyone could imagine. If a teaching hospital, as big as the UBTH, had no ordinary BID form, one can imagine the state of the General Hospital at Afrikpo, or Balewa Village or at Itawure!

This is why, at the slightest discomfort of headache, the locust masquerading as our leaders jet out of Nigeria to seek medical help abroad. From personnel to equipment, infrastructure to medications, hospitals in Nigeria are killing fields. In his 2017 article titled: ‘Africa’s presidents keep going abroad for medical treatment rather than fixing healthcare at home,’ published in Qartz Africa, an online publication, Yomi Kazeem has this to say: “The preference for an international doctor’s appointment is steeped in irony as these leaders often make promises about improving local healthcare a central part of their campaigns while seeking office. But by looking beyond the continent for medical solutions, African leaders maintain a vicious cycle which keeps faith in public healthcare low while channeling substantial state resources to hospitals abroad rather than plug local healthcare gaps. In many African countries, this reality is all too apparent. According to the World Health Organisation estimates, with a shortage of 4.2 million health workers, Africa is the region with the world’s second-worst health worker shortage”. Zeroing down on Nigeria, Kazeem  quoted WHO as saying that: “In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the shortage  will be less severe if the health system could call on the services of the up to 15,000 Nigerian doctors estimated to be working outside the country. But there’s little motivation for doctors practising abroad to return home with crumbling infrastructure, lack of drugs and poor compensation.” If in 2017, we had 15,000 Nigerian medical doctors working outside the shores of the country, your guess is as good as mine on what the figure will be now.

Nothing, in recent time speaks to the parlous state of our healthcare delivery system more than last Thursday’s arrest of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, by the Metropolitan Police in far away United Kingdom. According to the reports of the arrest, the former deputy senate president was accused of trafficking a child to the UK for organ harvest and slavery. A statement issued by the Met police says “Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55 (10.9.66) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting. Ike Ekweremadu, 60 (12.05.62) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting. They have both been remanded in custody and will appear at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court later today. A child has been safeguarded and we are working closely with partners on continued support. As criminal proceedings are now under way we will not be providing further details”. Ever since, the senator’s team has responded to state that the alleged “organ harvest victim” is not a 15-year-old street lad, but a 22-year old adult who volunteered to donate one of his organs for Ekweremadu’s daughter, Sonia, who is having challenges with her kidney. My thrust here is not to probe into the veracity or otherwise of the claims that the supposed organ donor, David Nwamini Ukpo, was shipped to the UK legally. I would also not bother to interrogate whether Ukpo is on his own an opportunist, who, according to claims, when he realised that he would be shipped back to Nigeria after his organ failed to match that of Sonia,  decided to raise false alarms of abuse and what have you. No, my focus is why, in the first instance, Ekweremadu had to depend on a UK hospital for an organ transplant operation for his darling daughter.

The problem with the Enugu-born senator is the problem with all our political leaders in Nigeria. Like the saying goes: “all are thieves but he who is caught is the barawo”. For crying out loud, Ekweremadu has been in the corridors of power since the time lizards were few. He is a confirmed “omo ijoba” (government child). Two years before the advent of the current political disaster we call democratic governance, he was elected chairman of Aniri Local Government Area of Enugu State on the platform of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP. He was elected into the Senate in 2003 and was deputy Senate president for 12 years, beginning with the era of David Mark, through to Bukola Saraki. In his 19-year stay in the Senate, like his other political leeches feeding fat on our patrimony without a whim of concern for the common good, Ekweremadu did not see any reason why Nigeria should have well -equipped hospitals where ailments like organ failure of any shade could be treated. Unfortunately, Ekweremadu is not the only culprit in the league of Nigerian leaders engaged in medical tourism. The league, as we all know, is led by General Muhammadu Buhari, who holds the life trophy of spending 104 days at a stretch on a London hospital bed at our expense, with the presidential jet parked at Heathrow Airport, accumulating demurrage! When we add the BTA of his personal aides who accompanied him to the UK, Buhari will go down in history as the man who spent what could have built for the nation a decent hospital for the use of the people on a single medical trip abroad. So, when news of the arrest of Ike and Beatrice Ekweremadu filtered in, what easily came to my mind is the saying that when the head is rotten, the tail will be home for maggots! Cumulatively, an August 5, 2021 report by the Premium Times of Nigeria, puts the number of days General Buhari had spent on medical tourism to the UK at 200. You may wish to ask: did Buhari not talk about the parlous state of the nation’s health institution while seeking our votes in 2014? Did he not assure us that he would not go abroad for medical attention? Kazeem, quoted earlier, answers the posers.

That done, as humans, we may also wish to look at the desperation of the father-figure Ekweremadu presents as he seeks a medical solution to his ailing daughter’s health. There is a deep prayer among my people which says: “ki Oluwa ma fi ina omo jo wa” (May God not allow us to be scorched by the death of our child). This is where I believe that our thoughts should be with Miss Ekweremadu as she battles for survival at this critical moment. It is even more important for us to spare a moment of prayer for Sonia, now that the most important caregivers of her life, the parents, are in detention. The thought that her parents are locked up in cells in the UK because of her is devastating enough for the poor girl. While we have the assurance that, unlike what we have in Nigeria, the UK Government would not allow Sonia to be left unattended to, we cannot overemphasise the importance of the presence of her parents at this crucial  time. Again, that the Ekweremadus were picked up on their way to Turkey is an indication of how desperate they were to bring their daughter back to sound health. We may frown at the method employed to achieve that. We may interrogate why the replacement for the failing organ was not sourced within the family circles. In all that, we must have it at the back of our minds that every mother hen uses her back to shield her chicks from the ravenous hawk. We therefore call on the Almighty God, our Healer, to stretch His healing hands on Sonia and make this storm to pass. We pray that she surmounts this mountain before her and becomes useful to Nigerian society and humanity in general. We also pray that after this, every Ekweremadu in leadership in Nigeria will see the need to build up our health institutions and other decayed infrastructure in the country as doing so is also in their own interest. May Sonia live!

 

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