Betwixt politics and religion
IN documented history, the genesis of the discordant romance between religion and politics perhaps is traceable to the religious coronation of Charlemagne (Charles the Great), one of the Roman emperors during the Dark Ages. Pope Leo III on December 25, 800, placed a crown on the valour emperor; a deed historian has surmised to have been a grateful requital for how Charles had helped him get back to power after he was driven out of Rome. Consequent to Charles’ ‘holy Emperorship,’ Rome began to bear ‘The Holy Roman Empire.’ Critically speaking, it is oxymoronic for an empire to be holy. When a nation lords over minor peoples by dint of sheer military strength and it avariciously controls their resources and ways of life, it is anything but holy. But that’s what you get when there is a symbiosis between governance and religion; dereliction of duties and travesty of conviction respectfully.
As the church became more fierce and authoritarian, a time came when emperors were subservient to the Pope. A good case is the excommunication of King Henry the 8th from the Catholic Church on conflicting issues concerning matrimony. He’d wanted to marry another wife but was prohibited by the Pope. This infuriated the monarch who had thought the state still had a smidgen of control over the church. It seems, though, that the Nigerian political class is void of historical lessons as much symbiosis is seen between the said and religious institutions. For the avoidance of doubts, I hasten to say here that religion – especially in a democracy – should be a personal conviction protected by the constitution. When Priests and politicos work in tandem for mutually inclined reasons, the commission of democratic breach and the omission of democratic duties are inevitable.
Nigeria doubtless has multifarious faiths and that’s the more reason our leaders should not play their personal faiths to the gallery. Why is there a chapel in Aso rock? Why is there a mosque in Aso rock? I’m not aware if there is a shrine there. Suffice it to say that I am not an occidental idealist but I think the separation of religion and politics is what we need to adopt like America adopted at her independence.
Here in Nigeria, prayers are often offered in political meetings for reasons incomprehensible to me. When orisons are offered in political gatherings, we make mincemeat of our thoughtfulness. Over the years, billions have been spent on the sponsorship of pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Mecca amidst our indissoluble poverty. By way of contrast, I should say that Indonesia has the largest populace of Muslims in the world, though, richer than Nigeria, it doesn’t sponsor pilgrimage to Mecca! In Idowu Akinlotan’s pilgrimage memoir, he succinctly captures the kind of Xenophobia Nigerian pilgrims suffer in Israel on account of their carefree attitude. One expects that the expedition of pilgrimage is for the sober-minded and spiritually hungry, but, alas, Nigerian pilgrims, he avouches are so garrulous and restive. In the real sense, the Nigerian government sponsors tourisms and not pilgrimages.
Ancillary to the foregoing, I should also say that our leaders are constant supplicants of prayers from the clergy forgetting that it takes more than prayers to govern a people – particularly as heterogeneous as Nigerians. During Yuletide, it is commonplace to see our ‘devout’ leaders organising a Christmas carol or the other with state funds. Sometimes, they go to churches to talk 19 to the dozen campaign rhetorics. The sanctity of our churches now seems questioned.
I want to express in unequivocal terms my view on the establishment of Sharia courts in some Northern states. Zamfara blazed the trail when the bill establishing Sharia court was signed on the 27th of October, 1999 by Alhaji Ahmed Sanni Yerima. This phenomenon is a breach on our collective sense of democratic principles if Section 10 of the constitution – which provides that ‘’the government of the federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion’’ – is anything to go by.
The Nigerian constitution equally guarantees right to freedom of religion and conviction to every Nigerian under Section 38. The Sharia law, however, is believed to be supreme over every other law. This supercilious nature of Sharia law is deleteriously diametric to the sovereignty of the Nigerian constitution.
Pundits have speculated that the establishment of Sharia courts has in some ways helped in the formation of terrorist ideologies in Nigeria.
I believe religion is too sensitive an issue to politick with. Lamentably, it has become a veritable tool used by politicians to excuse their failures by preaching sermons of stoicism to impecunious Nigerians. Supine clerics now unabashedly campaign for politicians without as much gumption to condemning their ineptitude. To our clerics, it is advised they stop hobnobbing political grandees. It is the business of the government to guarantee religious freedom but not to fuel religious intolerance by employing it for parochial reasons or to try to please theists of whatever faiths by identifying with their religions. This romance more often than not isn’t productive especially in a land of motley nationalities like ours.
The wedlock between governance and religion from my vantage point is long overdue for a divorce so that peace is affected across our diverse faiths.
• Olayemi is a student of English and Education at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He is a poet, essayist and short story writer. +2347058916709, email@example.com