…Call for Greater Citizen Action to Check Drift
By Ayo Kehinde
A forum convened for religious leaders to proffer solutions to peaceful, violence free and credible elections in Nigeria, have admonished their ilk and the citizenry to brace up to urgently rescue the country from the “brink of disaster” in order to avert an impending popular revolt.
Worried by what they perceive as “high level of brigandage” by the political elite which may result in the world’s largest black nation going into doldrums if not checked, the religious leaders at the forum organised in Abuja by Community Life Project (CLP) under the ReclaimNaija platform and sponsored by Open Society Initiative For West Africa (OSIWA), want greater citizen action to “take back the country”.
“Time is running out for the Nigerian leaders and people. With the widespread disengagement, bitterness and resentment in the land, and with a violent culture already entrenching itself in several parts of the country, there are ominous signs in the horizon of an impending popular revolt, or what is sometimes called the revenge of the poor,” said Rev Father George Ehusani, former general secretary, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) who delivered one of the lead papers.
Ehusani, now executive director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation in Abuja, argued further in his paper titled The Ethical and Moral Imperative of Free, Credible and Peaceful Elections: Role of Religious Leaders and Faith Communities:
“For indeed as presently constituted, the superstructure we have in place in Nigeria is only a pack of cards that will soon come crashing down. But if today the Nigerian people – including Christian and Muslim politicians experience the much-needed conversion and toe the line of sanity and integrity, we may yet pull back from the brink of disaster,” he said, stressing that “There appears to me to be only one way out of the mess of the moment: the way of ethical and moral revolution, which naturally must be spearheaded by religious leaders, for it is better to light a candle than forever curse the darkness!”.
He was particularly concerned that many Nigerians who camouflage as religious people, “ do not seem to realize that the looting of national, state or local government treasury for the purpose of buying party chiefs; the intimidation, killing and maiming of opponents and the destruction of their property; multiple registration and multiple voting; substitution of candidates names, diversion of electoral materials, selling of voters cards, stashing of and outright stealing of voter boxes, falsification of figures; declaration of false results; and the favouring of one candidate against another by agents of the law; corrupt deals and judicial malpractices at the election tribunals, etc., are not simply electoral offences or an assault on universally accepted democratic principles.”
A cross -section of the audience at the event
Speaking in the same vein, Secretary General, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Dr Khalid Abubakar quipped: “As usual, tensions within and between political parties, competing claims to the Presidency between the incumbent and the opposition, barrage of hate campaign by religious and opinion leaders, religious/ethnic violence bedevilling some states, desperation among politicians, floodgate of litigations resulting from party primaries and many other factors are indicators that the 2019 elections should be carefully handled lest it degenerates into violence.”
Quoting from another scholar, Ibrahim Suleiman (1987:41), Abubakar, whose paper titled Peaceful, Free And Fair 2019 Elections: The Responsibility Of Religious Leaders And Faith Communities, said, “the historical role of leaders is to guard the concise and vital interest of the Ummah (community); to urge those in authority to proper conduct and remind them of their duties, rights and limits.”
“Therefore, we can understand the role of Religious Leaders to be that of genuine teachings of the actual tenets of the religion as taught and practiced by the Prophets (SAW), as well as their righteous followers,” he observes, arguing that “When leaders play this role competently, peaceful, free and fair elections would be experienced come February in-sha’Allah.”
He contended that ;“Leaders should also encourage people to do away with discrimination and labelling. Hate speech and unguarded utterances must be vehemently opposed.
He warned on the need to be circumspect about the antics of “accidental imams and pastors”.
Another cross section of the audience at the event
Also contributing to the discourse, Vice Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Prof Anthony Akinwale argues that the heightened tension in the country over the 2019 elections stems from the misconception that politics is about the struggle for power and self- enrichment which is an endorsement of the Machiavellian school of thought, advocating that we need to embrace the more humane school of thought which says that politics can be practiced for the “common good”.
Decrying the craze by the elite for hijacking resources of the state at the expense of the people, Akinwale who reveals that the cost of buying a home in Dubai would build a whole faculty in Nigeria.
He stated that “Religious leaders must use their sermons to bring morality into their followers,” adding that “Religion itself has become corrupt. Nigeria is oozing from deadly fumes, politics without morality, religion without morality. We wear our religion but look deep, there’s irreligiousity”.
“There’s an abuse of the Bible and Koran. What’s coming from the Churches and mosques is blasphemy. What’s going on is divide and rule. Genuine religious leaders must build bridges.”
“We should gather in Churches and Mosques for two days and speak on the same theme: no rigging, no vote buying, no underage voting, no mathematical adacadabra,” Akinwale noted.
Executive Director, CLP, Mrs Ngozi Iwerre, who welcome participants to the event said
“Nigerians are noted as one of the most religious peoples on the face of the earth. This should naturally result in the construction of a peaceful, just and prosperous society where citizens have confidence in the systems, appreciate their diversity and are proud to contribute to nation building. The irony, however, is that we have not experienced the fruits of that religiosity in our civic life.”
Iwerre explained that; “In the wake of the 2011 elections, CLP created the non-partisan ReclaimNaija social movement for grassroots citizens to come together across religious and ethnic divides to express their voice on governance. ReclaimNaija brings together grassroots networks, community associations, artisan groups, women and youth associations, faith-based groups (Christian and Muslim), professional groups and government agencies.”
Notable among “our faith-based partners, she said, “ are the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) and several other Christian and Muslim youth organisations and networks.”
“We often hear it say that the major political parties have structures all over the country. We, in ReclaimNaija, would like to remind our Religious Leaders that Faith communities have more structures on ground than any political parties anywhere in the world. We are calling on you to put those structures in use for the promotion of non-partisan, peaceful, free and fair elections,” she added.
Also speaking at the event, Programme Officer OSIWA, Ms Catherine Angai implored religious leaders to positively engage their followers, noting, “There’s a need for moral voices in our society. There’s no way we can explain the level of intolerance, violence and gruesome killings. We are really treading on a dangerous path. The religious leaders have a critical role to play to avert this.”
The event which also featured contributions from Dr Sale Momale, who represented Dr Nafiu Baba-Ahmed, secretary general, Supreme Council for Sharia, Very Rev David Agada, Diocesan Synod secretary, Methodist Church, Kaduna and Mr Clement Nwankwo, convener, Nigerian Situation Room and drew participants from religious leaders representing different faiths, civil society and artisan groups from across the country, was graced by His Royal Highness, Alhaji Hussaini A Mam, the Agabe of Gwagwalada.