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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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How South Africa, US elections could shape Tshisekedi’s bread in Kinshasa, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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The conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the future of the giant country, and that of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa could be dramatically altered by two distant elections. The first is South Africa’s May election, and the second is the US presidential vote in November.

A region already in turmoil was plunged into a new crisis when the M23 rebels returned to war after a nine-year hiatus, blaming Kinshasa for reneging on the terms of the political settlement that ended the fighting over a decade ago and for the persecution of the Kinyarwanda-speaking people of the country. That persecution has, in recent months, become a full-on ethnic cleansing campaign.

The M23 has since had its tail high, with a string of military victories that have seen it capture swathes of territory. The long-running, largely ineffective UN peacekeeping force, Monusco, which failed to pacify the region, has begun a phased withdrawal, in the face of popular Congolese anger against it.

The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) was bedevilled by the murkiness of Congolese politics and retreated at the end of 2023 after barely a year.

In Kinshasa, the war rhetoric and accusations and attacks against Rwanda for backing M23 — a charge Kigali denies — has reached fever-high, with President Tshisekedi threatening to march into Rwanda.

That has further inflamed sentiments against Congolese Tutsi, with daily reports and social media videos of lynchings. It also seems to have driven the Kinshasa government into a deeper alliance with FDLR, the largest of the 120 rebel groups in eastern DRC, which comprises elements blamed for the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, and who fled and set up shop in eastern DRC after their defeat by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

 

In recent weeks, a force from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has stepped in to help the Kinshasa government. Anchored by South Africa, which plans to have nearly 3,000 troops, it is looking to defy an inescapable trend of the past 60 years: Every foreign force has, in the end, lost its shirt in Congo.

Two South African troops have already been lost in shelling of their camp by the M23, and the rebels are alleged to have shot at one of its helicopters.

The two main opposition parties in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), seen as a largely white party, and radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema, have both been very critical of South Africa’s return to the Congo war theatre. They argue that the South African Defence Forces is a shambles, and the money spent on the DRC intervention would be better invested back home in an economy with the highest unemployment in Africa.

Three months before the election, most polls and analyses project that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) could have its worst performance at the ballot since 1994, when it won power following the end of apartheid.

While it could still win the most votes, it will be less than 50 percent, which will force it to govern as a coalition with parties that oppose its DRC project. A South African withdrawal, or significant cutback, would all but collapse the mission unless Tanzania steps up to the plate.
That is unlikely — at least not until after the October 2025 election. Tanzania, after all, did not join the ill-fated EACRF mission.

A lot would then rest on the US position. The US has flip-flopped on the eastern DRC conflict, bouncing between criticising Rwanda for alleged support of the M23, scolding Kinshasa for aggravation, and playing mediator.

In recent weeks, though, it has cosied up to Tshisekedi, and even briefly whitewashed the FDLR, calling it simply a “negative force,” a move from its previous categorization of it as a terrorist organisation, which seemed to sweep its genocide credentials under the carpet.

Scrambling to stem the shock, the US representative at the United Nations in New York, quickly put the FDLR back into the “terrorist organisation” box.

Regional analysts in East Africa, and many people in Rwanda, think Washington’s posture in DRC is driven by the need to get a slice of its vast precious mineral resources.

They specifically point to the heavily US-backed Lobito Corridor, a 1,344-kilometre railway project linking the Angolan port of Lobito to DRC through Zambia, through several large mineral deposits.

It is also a foil to China’s Road and Belt and would checkmate rival Russia’s further advance towards Southern Africa through a Central African corridor.

Many opinion polls, most of them admittedly shabby, have former US President Donald Trump, who will be the Republican candidate, leading incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden. Trump is an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin and will dismantle many of Biden’s sanctions against Russia, imposed after it invaded Ukraine two years ago. He is unlikely to put a premium on the Lobito Corridor, as Biden has.

But, most of all, Trump, wearing his racist cap, didn’t—and won’t—give a hoot about Africa, and will not lose sleep over the DRC.

With the ANC humiliated at the polls and Biden defeated, the geopolitical dynamics that Tshisekedi has exploited against both M23 and Rwanda could disappear. He could be on the run. M23 would get a leg up and, if took most of eastern DRC, it could well finally seek autonomy.

Or Biden could win, as the more thoughtful American pollsters and commentators predict. And the ANC could lose.

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

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Strengthening the state in Somalia, By Chris Oberlack

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In Somalia, the decade-long partnership between the government, the World Bank, and the UN demonstrates how collaboration between humanitarian and development actors is critical to state-building and delivering tangible support to citizens.

Since the collapse of the state three decades ago, Somalia continues to face significant challenges, including high levels of conflict and violence, an unfinished political settlement, weak government institutions, recurrent crises, and significant levels of socioeconomic exclusion.

Today, over 70 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, and approximately a third require humanitarian assistance. In this context, an important factor in the success of this partnership has been the ability to maintain a shared strategic objective to build a more stable and visible state that delivers for Somalis, while strengthening resilience to overcome crises and helping the country address the drivers of fragility that undermine peace and development.

The partnership between the government, UN and World Bank provides support to those in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, while building the capacity of the state to administer and deliver predictable support across the country.

Joint priorities focus on strengthening human capital and enhancing resilience. The key challenge is how to strike the right balance between addressing the vast immediate needs today, and building sustainable country systems and institutions that can last for the long term.

Over the past decade, this partnership has evolved significantly. While many actors channelled short-term assistance outside of state institutions, since the adoption of a provisional constitution in 2012 this partnership deliberately focused on long-term support to Somali government institutions.

This helped pave the way for the debt relief process through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which led to increased development assistance in 2020 through financing from the International Development Association (IDA).

However, the debt relief process coincided with a confluence of shocks – Covid-19, a desert locust outbreak, and heavy floods – that deepened socioeconomic challenges. IDA re-engagement therefore brought crucial development financing to Somalia to complement humanitarian assistance.

In addition, IDA grants enabled the Government to scale-up ‘people-centred’ support and strengthen the capacity, visibility, and presence of the state. Given that the majority of Somalia’s population has grown up without functioning state institutions, this approach has been important to help mend a fractured social contract.

In practice, this means that for several projects, IDA resources have been channelled through the Government to UN agencies and NGOs to deliver World Bank-financed operations. Through this unique approach, the Bank provides predictable development financing and strengthens the Government’s ability to manage a growing development portfolio and respond to shocks.

It leverages the operational presence and capacity of UN agencies to deliver assistance to communities on the ground. This partnership model, representing approximately a quarter of the World Bank’s $2.3 billion portfolio in Somalia, extends across six operations.

For example, the $418 million World Bank-funded “Baxnaano” Project has provided predictable cash transfers to 200,000 families in Somalia with the support of UN agencies. Through the project, WFP delivers emergency cash transfers in response to shocks and Unicef helps build social protection systems that are essential for direct government management of safety net programs in the future.

The Somalia Urban Resilience Project, in collaboration with United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops) and Internal Organisation for Migration (IOM), strengthens local government systems to support service delivery and resilient infrastructure in urban areas, including those hosting internally displaced people. Several other projects, ranging from crisis recovery to health and social protection, also use this operational partnership.

Though there have been challenges in operationalising this approach, collaboration across these sectors is critical to enhance the Government’s capacity to administer services for its citizens moving forward.

Through a joint liaison function, supported by the UN Partnership Facility under the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund and the World Bank’s Somalia Multi-Partner Fund, this partnership has also helped advance the strategic dialogue on shared priorities and ensure close coordination on security and political developments.

The experience in Somalia underscores how operational partnerships can advance the strategic vision to build a more capable state that delivers services for its citizens in a complex FCV context. While there is still a long way to go, the last decade and recent achievements, including the completion of the debt relief process, have shown that significant progress can be made if the Government and international partners align strategic priorities and financing.

Looking ahead, an approach anchored in government leadership and impact-driven partnerships must continue to support Somalia’s state-building journey.

Building on the lessons learned from this partnership – including as part of the World Bank’s new country strategy for Somalia – will be crucial to continue building government institutions, strengthening intergovernmental relations, enhancing resilience to crises, and providing access to basic services to millions of Somalis.

Importantly, this can also provide a roadmap for how governments, the World Bank, and the UN can come together to deliver in other fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Chris Oberlack is UN-World Bank Liaison Officer and Miguel de Corral is Senior Operations Officer, FCV Group, World Bank

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