Friday, January 18, 2019 9:14 am
…Call for Greater Citizen Action to Check Drift
A forum convened for religious leaders to proffer solutions to peaceful, violence free and credible elections in Nigeria, have admonish 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,” says 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, argues 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 says, 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 is particularly concerned that many Nigerians who camouflage as religious people, “do not seem to realize that almost all political, economic and legal issues that we are confronted with in our society today are also moral and ethical issues that should engage the human conscience.”
“Many 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.”
“Many Nigerian Christians and Muslims do not seem to realise that these are not just electoral malpractices but over and above all they are a violation of the elementary ethical and moral principles of Truth and Justice, Equity and Fairness, Honesty and Integrity, Respect for the Sanctity of Life and the Dignity of every human being, which all our religions profess.”
“We need to take back and rebuild our country. We need to realise that virtually every country in the world is closing its space to immigrants. You can glean from the US trying to build a fence on the Mexico border and the plight of our citizens who are dying in their thousands as they try crossing to Europe”.
Speaking in the same vein, Secretary General, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Dr Khalid Abubakar quips: “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, says, “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 contends that the “Religious leaders must engage positively during their weekly sermons (Khutbah) the political gladiators as well as the electorates on the benefits of a violence free emergence of leadership and always remind all the chastisement that await any one that indulges in causing mayhem that oftentimes lead to deaths of innocent souls.”
“Leaders should also encourage people to do away with discrimination and labelling. Hate speech and unguarded utterances must be vehemently opposed. People should be made to value differences, and not see them as a threat but as something positive we can learn from. Let us also realize that differences often lie in the expression not in the inspiration or the reason of things. We have to treat each other with respect because in the wider society, we are bound by the commonality of our humanity,” Abubakar says.
Warning on the need to be circumspect about the antics of “accidental imams and pastors,” he says “Faith community members must engage more actively with youth especially in poor urban and rural areas, strengthen participatory early warning and early response systems and raise timely alerts of possible violence. They should ensure factual and balanced reporting of all election-related developments on social media and avoid posting hateful, divisive and inflammatory statements”.
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 will build a whole faculty in Nigeria, says that “The Constitution places all the resources in the hands of the state. All the conflicts are over the control of wealth and resources. The people are hungry. The elite use money to disempower the people.”
He opines 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”.
“We have a misconception about what religion is about. We must not allow religion to be used as a tool against the people,” says Akinwale, urging religious leaders to take a cue from the prophets in the Bible who used religion to detoxify politics in their time”.
“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.”
The religious leaders, he contends needs to tell their followers that what’s at stake is “not religion or islamization” but whether “At the conclusion of the electoral process, Nigerians would reclaim their country. Would we elect those who will do well for the country?”
“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 says.
Executive Director, CLP, Mrs Ngozi Iwerre, who welcome participants to the event says, “This forum is taking place at a time when there is deep yearning in the country for peaceful, free and fair elections. At the same time, the country is witnessing ethno-religious divisions and different forms of violence. There is a lot of misinformation, especially on social media and cynicism. A significant number of our citizens are questioning whether there is any point in going out to vote. There is lack of faith in some quarters that vote will count and many anticipate election rigging.”
Says she: “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.”
CLP, Iwerre explains, is a leading non-partisan civil society organisation working to promote inclusion and participation of grassroots citizens in electoral integrity and democratic governance. “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 says 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.
Explaining the strategies to ensure that the message of a free and peaceful election gets to the grassroots, Iwerre says, ReclaimNaija movement will be organising similar forums in all the 36 States and FCT targeting 200 Christian and Muslim leaders per state making 7,400 leaders.
“We expect the leaders to further step down the civic and voter education through all their various channels. We have prepared standardised modules and voter education materials that are non-partisan and that promote active participation in the elections in a manner that would promote free and fair elections.”
“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 says.
Also speaking at the event, Programme Officer OSIWA, Ms Catherine Angai implores religious leaders to positively engage their followers, noting that “There’s a need for moral voices in iur 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,” she says.
Calling for greater citizen action to rid the country of bad leadership, Angai says, “There’s a need for religious leaders to call political actors to question. We need to insulate religious organisations from political manipulation.”
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.