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The Oscar Romero lessons for Nigeria – Part 2

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Buhari. Photo: Twitter/MBuhari

In what appears like a classic case of momentary loss of memory or even deliberate forgetfulness, president Buhari fired his missile at religious leaders who get involved in politics but in a collective amnesia, his supporters forgot that he had only just received the pastor and other high profile Islamic preachers who had gone to the Villa with the Kano State Governor Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje on a goodwill visit. Buhari stated thus: “Having recognized the role our religious leaders have been playing so far, I appeal to them to eschew partisan politics and appeal to their respective members to read the manifestos of each political party, discuss and pray for God’s guidance before casting their votes.” He continued his tirades, “Religious leaders should not be seen to involve themselves in partisan politics or political controversies, otherwise they risk losing their status and public respect.”

However, in the year 2015, just before the election, a popular Catholic priest in Enugu Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka had praised Buhari and urged Nigerians to vote for him. The then opposition candidate and current president expressed excitement at this endorsement. Mbaka was amongst the first sets of supporters that he hosted in the Presidential mansion in Abuja upon assumption of office.

Away from the conversations around the criticism of religious leaders made by President Muhammadu Buhari, what should worry us as Nigerians is the impacts that the visits to Buhari makes in the way the nation is administered. Is the nation governed in the fear of God and is equity and equality of all citizens being observed? What about the concentration of all strategic offices in the hands of Moslems and mostly Hausa/Fulani?  Clearly, if those religious leaders such as the vice president and the litany of those who thronged the presidential palace would take their time to speak truth to power directly to the president, then by now the level of killings still going on targeting mostly Christian farmers would have abated. Kaduna is in turmoils now even as many have been slaughtered but the federal government looks on. Plateau state has been severally attacked and hundreds of Nigerians murdered because of their religion but the central government had failed to bring the killers to justice.

It is not shocking however that majority of the religious personalities who visit the presidency do go there to chase after what they can grab for themselves. Most Nigerians are known for cashing on to every opportunity and access they can have to the seat of power to maximise personal profits. Religious preachers are also afflicted by this virus of pursuit of selfish gains.  The vice president has recently stated that religious leaders do intervene to stop the government from adopting decisive steps to tackle corruption amongst political office holders. Closely following the Vice President’s disclosure is what the Senior Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, Dr. Tunde Bakare, said in Lagos about how religious leaders troop in to see president Buhari just for photo opportunities and to be featured in the media.

Bakare said that Nigerians must speak truth to power and put aside what he called the culture of hypocrisy. Bakare knocked the religious leaders who he accused of failing to take advantage of their visits to Buhari to convey the true feelings of the people about the perceived excesses of those in power.
He said this on Sunday at the Thanksgiving service to mark the 16th anniversary of Foursquare Gospel Church, Asokoro Abuja.

He said, “Look at the nation; look at those playing god; look at the godfathers who loom larger than life because of the level of authority they have. They forget that God brought them there and he has a way of removing them. “When Samuel (in the Bible) entered the city, the king trembled but when some pastors visit Aso Villa, they are the ones shaking. All they want is photo opportunity (with the President),” he said.

Quoting from the Books of Genesis 6:12 and Phil 4:10 – 14 and 18, Bakare noted that the problem of corruption was not peculiar to Nigeria but insisted that the solution to the challenge must be people-driven. “There is so much corruption in this country. But show me a country in the world which has no corruption. What is the solution? We are the answer to the dilemma of Nigeria but we keep playing church. We are the reason Nigeria is the way it is. You and I are responsible,” he stated. He observed that the country was experiencing internal hostilities because certain individuals felt superior to the rest of the people. This is exactly where the teachings and the power of personal examples displayed by Archbishop Oscar Romero should be internalized and externalized by the religious leaders in Nigeria.

This is for the very reason that Nigeria currently is in turmoils and witnessing the type of human rights abuses and killings that took place in El Salvador when Romero who has just been canonized a saint, lived and worked as the voice of the poor. Julian Filochowski, the chair of Romero Trust captured the heroic lifestyles of Archbishop Oscar Romero in a piece in which he took time to discuss the teachings of the illustrious cleric which can be summed up as “option for the poor.”

Archbishop Romero was the voice of the voiceless poor. A life lived out in El Salvador, a Catholic country named after Christ the Saviour. A marksman’s bullet killed him in the middle of mass on March 24, 1980. No one was ever prosecuted. There was disbelief and despair across the land but especially in the poor communities amongst the simple rural folk and city dwellers he had loved so dearly, defended so courageously and for whom in the end he gave his life. In 1977 there was a Gethsemane experience for Romero. As he prayed beside the body of the murdered priest, Rutilio Grande, he realized that if he were to follow this through to its final consequences it would, as he wrote, “put me on the road to Calvary”. And he assented; he made a fundamental option for the poor and it took him to his martyrdom.

Romero was once asked to explain that strange phrase, ‘option for the poor’. He replied: “I offer you this by way of example. A building is on fire and you’re watching it burn, standing and wondering if everyone is safe. Then someone tells you that your mother and your sister are inside that building. Your attitude changes completely. You’re frantic; your mother and sister are burning and you’d do anything to rescue them even at the cost of getting charred. That’s what it means to be truly committed. If we look at poverty from the outside, as if we’re looking at a fire, that’s not to opt for the poor, no matter how concerned we may be. We should get inside as if our own mother and sister were burning. Indeed it’s Christ who is there, hungry and suffering.”

Oscar Romero is simply demanding that leaders of all schools of thoughts must be ready and willing to resolve the challenges of violence and mass poverty afflicting the poorest of the poor. If you like, what i think Archbishop Oscar Romero is saying to us in Nigeria through his profoundly rich liberation theology is that we must work out the Nigerian option for the poor. We must stop the needless bloodshed. We must implement standards that promotes good governance.  One of those few Pastors in Nigeria who thinks like Oscar Romero is Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah. This refined gentleman who speaks truth to power is of the opinion that religious leaders must never see politics as dirty but must guide the followers to the path that will enthrone justice, fairness, equity and equality of all citizens. By that way Nigeria will become a better place for all and no particular tribe will see themselves as the ones with the birthright to rule Nigeria politically.

Kukah wrote thus: “Whenever the word ‘politics’ is mentioned in relation to faith, many Christians get rather nervous. Our minds go back to the old Biblical injunctions and we tend to recoil as if staying out of politics for Christians is the eleventh commandment. As it was in the time of the Master Himself, the faith has always remained intertwined with the politics of the day. The death of Jesus was an affair of politics and the early Christians lived under the shadow of the severely narrow political choices of their day”, (From the book “The Church and The Politics of Social Responsibility” by Matthew Hassan Kukah). To our religious preachers who are busy chasing after money from politicians and are not courageous enough like Oscar Romero to preach righteousness, justice and equality of all citizens, i say to you, your sins will catch up with you soon. When the eyes of the masses are liberated and opened, they will abandon you and strive to build a peaceful, prosperous and equitable nation.
Concluded.
Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


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