President, pastor and governance
I HAVE wondered and pondered why the new President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had pastors as running mates in the two past presidential elections. One could think that it was either because he loves pastors or because it was the option of his political parties.
In 2011, Muhammadu Buhari had Pastor Tunde Bakare as running mate under the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
One would have expected that our new President would drop the idea of “a pastor running mate” when on February 2, 2014, NigerianEye and some other media reported that Tunde Bakare during a sermon allegedly likens APC to the Church of Satan. This did not happen.
In 2015, Buhari again had another pastor, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo as running mate in the All Progressives Congress (APC). This time, they won the election and took over governance on May 29, 2015.
While I congratulate the new President of Nigeria to the governance and leadership of the nation, may I welcome him with a silent hidden puzzle: “Mr. President Sir, why do you love to work with a Pastor as your vice whereas you are a committed and dedicated Muslim?”
I ask because it would be too much of an assumption to think that one can read your mind to presume a satisfactory answer. According to William Shakespeare, “there is no art to find the minds construction on the face”. On September 2014, I published in the newspapers how Prof. Dora Akuyinli called you “a just and honest man” and you referred to her as “a devoted and honest Christian.” You further qualify her as “one honest Nigerian”. I published this to show that you care about quality and content of character in an article: “This Religious War is avoidable.” I feel that this quality of justice and honesty flow from your true faith in Islam. If Islam is peace, then every Muslim must believe that there can be no peace without justice.
Nevertheless, while some people see you simply as a pious Muslim, others see you as a fanatical Muslim who desires to make everybody around you a Muslim. Could you have loved to work and walk with a pastor to prove that you are simply a good Muslim and not a fanatic? Some people had thought that you want a pastor for a running mate just to win the support of Christians and get their votes. You can either prove right or prove wrong these suspicions in the next four years.
Here is another suspicion which you may either accept or debunk. Could it be that you need a pastor for a Vice President because you believe in inter-religious, inter-cultural and inter-ethnic relations.
Perhaps you must have noticed how religious intolerance has led some parts of Nigeria to a level where some people among Nigerian citizens who love, value and cherish life later transform into suicide bombers and global terrorists.
The reason could not be far from erroneous interpretation of the Sacred Books and unhealthy indoctrination of these pathological extremists.
Working with a pastor then could demonstrate that you are indeed a president not only of the Muslims, your tribe and your political party but the president of every human being in the Federal Republic Of Nigeria? You surely need a gateway to reach out to all the Christians in Nigeria through inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.
Reading one of your interviews on “National Daily” of May 18, 2015, where you responded that you would start fighting corruption from your own kitchen, appears to define your person. This is in line with the message of Pope Francis on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue that, “Dialogue is possible only by beginning with one’s own identity” (Pro Dialogo Bulletin 145, 2014/1, Page 12).
In that same interview, you reiterated that “the problem of Nigeria is not ethnic or religious but corruption.” This could inspire a further reflection on the compass of corruption. In other words, is corruption a moral, religious, political or economic problem? Or can we enquire into the content of corruption beyond economic related questions of cash and carry?
It can be deduced from world experience that ethnicity and religion have been used to fuel the embers of corruption. In Nigeria and elsewhere, religion and ethnicity has been politicised in a way and manner that religious fanatics and ethnic bigots put pressure on those in political positions to help them have a share in the national cake. Consequently, some people spend their time in government servicing this desire at the expense of the common good and national equity. This had led to gross injustice at all levels.
The result has been a disruption of peace and eruption of violence. There is crying, weeping and whirling across different divides. While some Christians are complaining that they are denied freedom of worship and land to build Churches in the Northern part of Nigeria, some Muslims are complaining of being denied land to build mosques in the Southern part of Nigeria.
All these have promoted mutual suspicion forgetting or not recognising that we have been made victims by “failure of government” (to use the words of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah). This failure of government emanates from the religious and ethnic inheritance that has formed many public officers and citizens in their behaviour and governance.
One of the principles of dialogue is the capacity of every partner in dialogue to understand the tenet of his own religion and have some knowledge of the other person’s religion.
I believe that if the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria could bring into governance the ethics of peace, love of the poor, honesty, trust and the fear of Allah that Islam promotes, he would lead a successful crusade against corruption at all levels.
Working with a Pastor who is a professor and legal luminary becomes an added advantage, if the vice president takes into governance the values of Jesus Christ who came that we may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10).
If a good Muslim and a good Christian can really work together not forgetting the divine mandate of uniting with God on the last day as children of Abraham, they will make paradise out of this world that has become a valley of tears. This is what I meant when I said in my previous publication that, “Politicians can be Saints.”
I congratulate and salute the new government of Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo. I pray that the change most Nigerians have been waiting for will dawn on us without delay like the rising sun.
May this administration be for us a testimony of the fruits the good relationship between Christians and Muslims can give to our dear nation! I pray for the support of this government with our authentic religious values that can debrief and heal everybody of religious extremism.
May whatever we have missed so far come back to us a million fold. The gun alone cannot kill the ideology of an extremist just as arrest and imprisonment alone cannot kill corruption. We surely need a change of attitude and be committed to rekindling our traditional and religious values to make Nigeria a happy home! May God bless the President and the Vice President of Nigeria! May God bless all the citizens of Nigeria! May God be praised in our lives both now and forever! Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
• Fr. Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City.