Originally, in the secular world, the State comes before the Church, because, by its institutional characteristics, it is the custodian of all other institutions. In other words, the State is the behemoth institution; co-existing, but superior to other social institutions. And that has been established since 1648! Thenceforward, the marriage between the Church and the State has been at the mercy of the State. The only exception is Rome, where a State exists within a State because the papacy is a state on its own.
In the United Kingdom, the Church legitimizes the State. Succinctly put, the Church is the legitimacy booster for the State. That is why, while the powers of the State protect the King or the Queen, the Church legitimizes the State. The more reason the King or the Queen can do no wrong! Again, that’s why, immediately a Prime Minister is elected, he or she goes to Buckingham Palace for the blessing of the King or the Queen. And the King or the Queen will normally approve the appointment of the Prime Minister, because it is both symbolic and a symbiotic thing!
Basically, though the State is always there to protect the interests of the Church, the unfortunate thing is that, in the Nigerian circumstance, the Church is now representing a sectorial capacity of the religious sector. For instance, the Islamic faith is as formidable as the Church. As it is, the Bola Tinubu/Kashim Shettima same faith joint presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has so made the powers of the two main religions in Nigeria become so antagonistic to each other that it is now the test of religious influence!
It is also interesting to note that former Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State did add the reality of ‘Isese’ (traditional worship) to the mix, which, of course, is still within the purview of religion. Gboyega Oyetola, the immediate past governor of the state, did not betray the trust! In Osun, for instance, ‘Isese’ now has a recognized annual holiday attached to it. Impliedly, the indigenous religion is also qualified to be a contender to the throne. While the Christians may put forward an advice, the Islamic world will be willing to add its voice. Ultimately, the ‘Isese’ adherents, who also have the recognition of the State, will also want to be heard! So, it’s no longer the Church, solely.
Where also lies the place of the atheists and others whose interests are not captured in the present picture? After all, Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians, irrespective of creed or race. What’s more? Elective offices in Nigeria are supposed to be secular. That’s what Article 10 of the Constitution says! Yes, the atheists may not have the population with which to push through their wishes, but, within the context of liberality, even the Boko Haram insurgents have a reason to make a demand in a democracy!
With a specific reference to the 2023 elections, there’s a lot of confusion in the definition of Christianity in Nigeria. And it is deliberate! Take, for instance, the case of Peter Obi. As governor of Anambra State, it’s being alleged that he never gave non-Catholics free access, or Certificates of Occupancy to build their churches in the state. Added to Obi’s purported sins was that he almost chased everybody, who wanted to build a mosque in the State, away. As a matter of fact, these allegations have been appropriately documented and any Nigerian with disagreeing opinions has been asked to come forward and open up. Now, Obi as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) is a regular face at Pentecostal churches and congregations. As Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, doesn’t being a Christian go beyond being a churchgoer?
Those who still doubt the relevance of, or the influence of religion in Nigeria’s democratic journey had better ask Atiku Abubakar why he hurriedly deleted his tweets, condemning the gruesome murder of Deborah Samuel by religious extremists in Sokoto, on his Twitter handle. Obviously, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate did it to appease the hoodlums. Otherwise, he would lose the entire North, come February 25, 2023!
It has also been argued that Nigeria is currently not a State. Well, those who hold this notion may not be wrong after all! For example, had dear fatherland truly been a State, the Ademola Adeleke-led government in Osun would not have deliberately refused to pay the salaries of certain public workers. That’s not possible in a true democracy! No! In a thriving democracy, public administration cannot come down to the handlers’ personal feelings or idiosyncrasies.
All said, the immediate major interest of the Nigerian State, so to speak, is to have successful elections in 2023. Without doubt, the point opined about the question of religion and its influence on; or, relevance to, governance is so critical to social cohesion. The State will want the cooperation of the Church, while the Church, though will want to appear neutral, will be very sensitive to its interests. So, the State must be extremely careful not to be seen as being religiously biased or partial. If it does, it could lose its legitimacy; and it will have legitimacy crises. Take for instance the Nigerian situation: the current president is a Muslim; so also are most of the key position holders in its bureaucracy and public service. Coincidentally too, the ruling party has also presented a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket for the election. Under this condition, should the handlers of the State spew words that are perceived as being against the Christian world, it can bring the country to its knees.
If I may ask, how coterminous is the interest of the Church with that of the Nigerian State? Whereas the interest of the State is as constant as the Northern Star, the Church cannot but negotiate its interests and preferences with the State within the context of the demands of other similar social institutions. The interest of the State is to have a legitimized government in place; and the interest of the Church is to have its interests protected from hindrances from the State or opposing faiths. That the Church is presumably drawing global attention to the fielding of Tinubu and Shettima as the APC joint presidential flag-bearers as a result of these fears cannot be far from the truth. The argument is that, as Muslims, a Tinubu/Shettima presidency may not be sympathetic to the core interests of the Church, more so as they don’t even understand the components of those core interests.
Lastly, it’s a statement of fact that the burden of the success of the forthcoming elections lies squarely on the State. However, since it is a societal issue, it therefore behooves the Church and other societal groups to cooperate with the State to ensure that a peaceful atmosphere prevails before, during and after the exercise for, it is only in a peaceful atmosphere that both the interests of the State and the Religious Community (the Church inclusive) can be realized. How to get societal peace engineered in an environment of insecurity, poverty, hunger and other kinds of social malady places an enormous burden on the State. It’s after these negative social indices are sorted that both the Church and the State can have peace and, effectively, a government that is legitimate.
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria!
*Komolafe wrote in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State