Religion is an integral part of our lives as Nigerians; so are religious leaders. According to the CIA fact book, Nigeria is one of the most religious nations on earth. In government houses we have state house mosques and churches. A Christian governor may even go for thanksgiving when elected. Some describe religious leaders as their father in the Lord and also give testimonies of how certain religious leaders prayed for them and how God used them to secure a victory for them at the polls. It is only evident to say religious leaders wield a strong influence over Nigerians .This religious leaders wield this considerable power due to the huge number of their members and followers.
One of such religious leaders is Bishop Kukah, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.The Bishop for some weeks now has been in the center of a major controversy. In his Christmas message, he gave his opinion on the state of the nation which has sparked some controversy. The talking point of his message is his accusation of the president of running a nepotistic government. Bishop Kukah is not the only one in the past years to have spoken on the state of the nation. Other religious leaders such as Pastor E.A Adeboye of RCCG, Father Mbaka, MURIC, Sultan of Sokoto and sometimes back the former Emir of Kano continue to speak on political issues.
There have been several reactions to Bishop Kukah’s comment. Some argue that Bishop Kukah spoke the “truth to power” and that should be the role of religious leaders. Some however argue that religious leaders should not meddle into political matters .These individuals argue that the Bishop should be arrested, sanctioned and even removed from the peace committee. According to this individuals, Nigeria operates a secular constitution therefore we have no place for religious leaders in our polity. Emir Sanusi was supposedly deposed due to his comment on political matters by Governor Umar Ganduje as the Emir of kano last year.
However, there are serious questions underline the treatment of Bishop Kukah’s comment on the Buhari government. For example is Bishop Kukah not also a citizen? Doesn’t he and other religious leaders have a right to freedom of speech? The answer to these questions is obviously yes. If we say because of the great influence they have they should not speak as religious leaders, is that not a miscalculation? Are we not only short changing ourselves? Should we not use this leaders to rally up the people and use them to fix the system politicians are incapable of fixing. Some of these leaders have shown they are great statesmen as they run some of the most successful international religious organizations. Also, since our politicians have so much esteem for them, why are they not the best to “speak the truth to power”?
We must also be careful about the interest of religious leaders in politics due to the corruption we have sitted in high places in the country. A unity of religious leaders and politicians would be an unholy one capable of dragging our nation down the abyss; if not careful, allowing religious leaders to be key political movers could create more rifts in our nation. Take for example the comment of Bishop Kukah was taken as an affront to Islam by MURIC.
It is evident we cannot separate religion from a state most especially in Nigeria, but the state can be separated from the church, mosque and other religious organizations. Religious leaders and organization must resist the attempt to use state power to achieve its ends. This was the dangerous precedence set by governor Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara state [in the northern part of Nigeria] with the introduction of the Sharia law in Zamfara state and its consequent adoption by other 11 northern States despite the fact that the Nigerian constitution clearly says, “Nigeria will not adopt any religion” . They must also resist the urge to use their position to support particular parties or declare “thus says the lord” on political issues as it is done by some of them, so also must political leaders. For example in march or February of 2020 a video surfaced of Governor Umar Ganduje leading an underage Christian girl to convert to Islam in the Kano state government house. An NGO called the “Christian Rights Agenda” also accuses the governor of embarking on mass conversion of indigenous Hausa Christians every Friday using inducement and coercion, since he assumed office in 2015.
Comments on political issues by religious leaders should be welcome but a line must be drawn so the unity we have will not become more volatile. The nation cannot afford another episode of religious extremism as we see in the Boko haram insurgency she is currently facing.