The Roles and Duties of Christians in Democratic Governance
Rev. Fr. Peter Oluseyi Adeyemi, PhD (Ife)
“Future generations are not going to ask us what political party were you in. They are going to ask what you did about it, when you knew the glaciers were melting.” – Martin Sheen.
All protocols observed.
I am highly delighted for the invitation given to me to deliver this lecture on: “The duties and roles of Christians in democratic governance.” The topic is very important at this point in time in our nation when democracy is gradually spinning out of orbit. It is equally timely for us in Osun State as we prepare for the gubernatorial election in less than two months away.
May I point out from the beginning that the topic given to me is not a Christian sermon, but it is about politics and politicking. In this paper I will clarify the concept of democratic governance, and what Christians’ involvement in democratic governance is? The duties of Christians in democratic governance will be discussed and issues will be raised why Christians in Osun State should be more interested and take active part in partisan politics and governance. Finally, the conclusion will be drawn.
What is Democratic Governance?
Democratic governance is a political concept that explains how a society organises and administers its human and material resources under the leadership of freely elected representatives of the people. According to Cheema (2005), democratic governance is the range of processes through which a society reaches consensus on the implementation of the rule of law, human rights, policies and social and economic structures in pursuit of equitable justice, welfare and security of all the citizens in a geo-political area.
Democratic governance requires strong interdependent institutions of the state such as the legislature, judiciary and the executive arms of government to function effectively for the benefits of the citizens. As a matter of necessity it must be based on the needs of the citizens, such that social economic empowerment of the different segments of the society is guaranteed and adequately catered for. The required foundations for democratic governance are transparency and accountability in government affairs and citizens’ oriented public service delivery. Unfortunately all these are in short supply in our country Nigeria, which makes it very difficult for good Christians to be interested in democratic governance at partisan level.
Christians and Democratic Governance
Democratic governance is about decision making, managing human affairs and administration of resources of the common wealth. Anytime and context such take place, politics is involved. It is a fact that we Christians are in the world but not of the world, but our religion does not ask us to close in on ourselves without engaging the world we live in creative and productive manner. Christ the Lord describes Christians as “Light of the world and salt of the earth,” cf. (Matthew 5: 13-16) being faithful to that description is not in our family compounds and church environment alone but also by getting involved in the challenging political terrain of our State and Nation.
In democratic governance Christians must be obedient and law abiding citizens. The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 13: 1- 2 says: “Everyone is to obey the governing authorities, because there is no authority except from God and so whatever authorities exist have been appointed by God.” We are expected to pray for those in authority as admonished in the letter of St. Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 2: 2). However, we are not expected to be passive observers and victims of political manipulations in our society, we must be interested in who becomes our leader and what those who hold political power are doing with authority they hold in trust for us.
It is a fact that when the Jews wanted to make Jesus Christ king in a circumstance suggestive of “stomach infrastructure” to use the latest Nigerian contribution to political lexicon, he escaped into the hills cf. John 6: 15. But when he was brought before the Roman Governor for trial for treason, he said his “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18: 36). Further interrogation on whether he was king elicited a political statement from Jesus who replied that he was a King and for that he was born to bear witness to the truth (John18: 37). Despite all the evasive action and statement about political power, Jesus took serious interest in governance, he paid temple tax cf. (Matthew 17: 24-27 ), he directed his disciples to pay tribute to Caesar; he stood in opposition to King Herod’s tyranny (Luke 13:32), and had zealot as one of his disciples(Mark 3: 18). These points clearly demonstrate that Christ did not have aversion for democratic governance.
One is aware that many Christians do not want to get involved in partisan politics because of the way some Christian politicians have compromised themselves in the past, or because they find politics extremely dangerous and corrupt. But politics in itself is good, the problem is that majority of the people who get involved are bad because good people are indifferent. We have the obligation to make our voices heard and get involved democratic governance. As citizens of Federal Republic Nigeria, we Christians cannot afford to fold our arms and watch others lead us by the nose. We must be interested in what happens in Osun State and in Nigeria. Those of us who are Clergymen should encourage people in our congregation who have the talent, knowledge, financial clout, experience and interest in politics to step out with courage to contest for elective offices. Similarly, our members must be enlightened to cast their votes wisely, they should not vote for an individual or party because of #3,000 Naira or rice.
In his socio-political analysis of the relationship between the domus and civitas, St. Augustine a Christian philosopher and theologian gives us a template for engaging in politics. He argues for the position that in the political sphere of human life: “aspects of the whole are borne into the parts, and the integrity and meaning of the part carries forward to become an integral part of the whole.” He therefore recommends that engagement of Christian community in politics should be on the basis of embracing “political virtue” and standing in opposition to “political vice.” In democratic governance all citizens have equal rights to aspire to leadership, it is not a royal family affair in which the majority of the people are excluded by tradition from assuming leadership. The only hindrance is the economic resources required by an individual to pursue political ambition.
In democratic governance everybody regardless of religious affiliations are equal stakeholders, advocates of the common good, framers of policies, evaluators of progress or otherwise of the society and collaborators. If we Christians abdicate these duties we will continue to occupy the sideline in the scheme of things in Osun State.
Chief Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu in his book : Because I am Involved (1989), pointed out three common ailments we Nigerians are suffering from namely: Selective amnesia, selective myopia and selective hyperopia (p.xi). Ojukwu explained them succinctly, selective amnesia means that we conveniently forget certain unpleasant facts about our journey through life as a polity, by myopia our vision skips areas we find unpleasant no matter how recent and our hyperopia consists in drawing lessons only from convenient happenings in our history. We Christians are worst affected by the three ailments, as we vote whenever it is time to do so, we forget the statement of Usman Dan Fodio to plant Quoran in the Atlantic Ocean, we are blind to the danger Nigeria Membership of Islamic Countries (OIC) constitutes to the well being of Christians in Nigeria and what Muslims in political leadership do in office to promote Islamic religion.
Plato a Greek philosopher was credited with the statement that: “The punishment for wise people who refuse to participate in politics is that they will be ruled by fools.” His disciple Aristotle as asserted that: “Man is a political animal,” meaning man is by nature a political being. Our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed the truth of that reality when he declared in Mark 12: 17, when he was asked question about payment of tribute to the Roman Emperor, he said: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to him.” Democratic governance is the realm of Caesar and Christ instructed his disciples to get involved in it.
The Roles and Duties of Christians in Democratic Governance
The duties and roles of Christians in democratic governance are not different from that of any good citizens of the State whether Muslims or traditional religion adherents. It is pertinent to point out that the roles of citizens as engaged partners in the governance of the country are minimal as a result of acute poverty, ignorance, indifference and oppression of the political class. The time has come for every Christian to become enlightened and stand up to be counted in the democratic governance of the country. The following are some of the roles expected of all citizens in democratic governance:
(1) Duty to vote and stand for election if qualified: Our first duty under democratic governance is for us to exercise our franchise, which is the right to vote and be voted for. Colins Powell has a message for us as we exercise our franchise, he asserts that: “You’re not just voting for an individual, in my judgment, you’re voting for an agenda. You’re voting for a platform. You’re voting for a political philosophy.” Christians who vote for people of other religious orientation, who invariably turn round and pursue anti Christian agenda are ignorant of the salient point raised by Powell.
(2) We have the duty to understand the powers and duties of the government. This is necessary because whoever holds political authority will likely see things and implement policies from the point of his worldview and religion. Tom Minnery in his book: “Why you can’t stay silent: A mandate to shape our culture,” observes that: “There is no escaping the mixture of religion and politics, because nearly every law is the result of somebody’s judgment about what is good and bad.” There is danger in abandoning the political landscape to non-Christians alone. We risk being subjected to ungodly legislations and abuse of our fundamental human rights, which may not be protected or guaranteed as Nigerians have witnessed in the recent time in some parts of the country where Christians are being slaughtered regularly, without adequate security measures put in place to stop the genocides.
(3) Know Your Fundamental Rights and Defend Them. The rule of law reigns supreme in democratic governance. The rights of every citizen are enshrined in the fundamental law of the land. It is up to the individual person to know such and defend them. Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his speech to Oyo State House of Assembly on Wednesday 16th January, 1980 made a fascinating remark about the Yoruba race thus:
The truth about the people of the Western Region is that they are sufficiently enlightened and bold to refuse to be led by the nose by any person or group however sophisticated such person or group may appear. They are slow to anger, robust in contentions; alert to their rights, and will fearlessly, resist and combat evil whenever and wherever they discern it, with all their might and resources.
I strongly belief the description of the Yoruba people by Chief Obafemi Awolowo does not exclude Christians of Yoruba extraction. The amazing thing however is that we Christians in Osun State are politically timid, indifferent and pushed to the periphery in democratic governance of the State.
(4) You must know your representatives at all levels of government and demand accountability from them. The people must compel the political leaders to answer questions and listen to their concerns. Unfortunately the problem with Nigerians as noted by Dan Agbese (2012) in his biography of Ibrahim Babangida titled: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, is that: “We, Nigerians act quite strangely in certain respects…we are generally and inexplicably uncurious about our leaders. We hardly know our leaders. We never try to know them so that we can put their decisions and actions in perspective. We simply accept each one them thrown or thrust on our political stage as the leader we had been waiting. We accept him instantly as a God send.” (p.xv). From our collective experiences these leaders were never God send, but some political god fathers imposed them on us.
(5) Be informed about issues that concern you and show interest as well. It is not just enough to show interest but to take pro-active actions that will lead to a redress of any infringement on your fundamental human rights including freedom to practice any religion of your choice. In the recent past there was an attempt to remove Christian religious studies from the national secondary school curriculum while Islamic studies is considered Arabic language on the same level with French. But for the timely and robust intervention of Christian leaders in Nigeria that scheme would have succeeded. In the last recruitment to the Nigeria Police Force, Arabic was used as a dummy subject in the Computer Based Test. All these issues are wake up calls to Christians not to abandon the political terrain to people who profess other religions alone. We must be interested in what is happening in democratic governance otherwise we shall become second class citizens in our country.
(6) The world has become a global village, under democratic governance we Christians have the responsibility to know what is happening in other nations and how such can affect the fortune of our country.
(7). Christians must pay their taxes as at when due. One is aware that in Nigeria the government has not lived up to expectation in providing the social amenities the taxes paid should have been used for. The fact remains that we must not be defaulters, two wrongs do not make a right. Let us show others the good example they deserve from us.
(8) We Christians must obey the fundamental laws of the land. We must be law abiding and avoid lawlessness that others readily subscribe to.
The points discussed here are not exhaustive; I am sure political scientists among us here if there is any will help add more points.
Christians and Democratic Governance in Osun State
The Catholic Weekly Independent Newspaper of Sunday, 15th July, 2018 page 7, featured an article titled: “Billboard Governors” written by Ayo Fasoro. I was deeply touched by his in depth analysis of the apathy of Christians to Politics in Osun State and the pathetic sideline Christians occupied in the scheme of things. According to Ayo Fasoro: “In the Islamic State of Osun, four of the five topmost political office holders are Muslims- the Governor, the Speaker, the Secretary to the Government, and the Chief of Staff. The only non-Muslim is the Deputy Governor.” The candidates picked by the two leading political parties for the forth coming governorship election in Osun State are Muslims - meaning another Muslim is about to occupy the State House.
One is really surprised that we Christians in Osun State are yet to open our eyes to the reality of the “religious coloration of politics of Osun State?” Of the four democratically elected governors in our history four were Muslims- Alhaji Isiaka Adeleke, Chief Bisi Abudalkarim Akande and Engr. Rauf Aregbesola. Worrisome for Ayo Fasoro and for any right thinking Christian in Osun State now is the fact that: “We Christians are watching while Muslims are getting ready to put another one of their own in the governor’s mansion. When the one they elect is promoting Islam in government, it is then that we start addressing press conferences-alleging marginalization.” We must not allow the words of Ruben Abati (2005) to come to pass again that we Nigerians hardly learn from history, “how the history of Nigerian politics is the history of opportunism and violations of the people’s sovereignty.” The issue about hijab in mission founded schools should not be forgotten so soon as we prepare for the next election.
We Christians in Osun State should stop our political naivety and indifference to the affairs of the State and who governs us. We Christians are over a million legitimate citizens in the State; a rough calculation will show that about fifty percent of that population should be within voting age. Let us go out and vote wisely during the coming election. Our bulk votes can make a difference and even tilt the scale of electoral victory in favour of any candidate of our choice, preferably a Christian contestant. Martin Luther King Jnr captures the problem with us Christians thus: “It is still one of the tragedies of human history that the children of darkness are frequently more determined and zealous than the ‘children of light.”
Our Christian religion is not against partisan politics. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria in their 1979 Pastoral Letter titled: “Civic and Political Responsibility of the Christian” charged all Christians to play responsive roles in shaping the destinies of our country. They declared that: “The time has come when all of us as individual citizens must justify our likeness to God by accepting responsibility for the political formation of our society.” Anyone who engages in political affairs, is a partner with God in the divine tasks of creation and preservation. Christian politicians in Nigeria certainly have not fared better than their non Christian counterparts, but a credit we cannot deny them is that they have not been using the state authority to propagate anti-Christian agenda. Franklin D. Roosevelt the 32nd President of United States of American once remarked that: “ In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” We Christians must face reality that religion is a strong factor in Nigerian politics, Christians will continue to be pushed around and treated as second class citizens in Osun State and Nigeria in general until we rise up to take our rightful place in democratic governance and partisan politics.
Thank you for listening and God bless you all!
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Fr. Peter Oluseyi Adeyemi, is the Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Osogbo, Osun State.