Religion and politics have even colluded to rob Nigerians of good governance. Bishop Hassan Kukah references one side of the equation: "Some of those who have become rich by corrupt means find a moral basis for their corruption by supporting religion. They erect places of worship, they sponsor pilgrimage and keep holy men and women in the holy shrines around the world, and they make large donations in exchange for the holy waters of legitimacy." On the other hand, we have religious leaders who have equally joined in that free-for-all corrupt enterprise, as well as those who have turned the pulpits into a business venture in the name of prosperity messages. While some religious leaders worldwide are serving humanity by providing spiritual and moral guidance to people across religious and social divides, others are becoming very rich through their churches and investments.
Whether we want to admit it or not, faith and politics are inextricably conjoined. And Nigeria is a good example. Our national anthem, especially the second stanza, is not only an invocation to God, our political rhetoric is shot through with regular allusions to religion. How then can we achieve a proper fit between faith and politics in Nigeria? The first thing to realise is that we cannot externalise the source of our problem to God or others. Shakespeare puts it aptly: "Men at sometimes were masters of their fates/ the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars." We are the ones solely responsible for where we are now and what we have turned our governance structure and faith dynamics into. The fault is in us as a people irrespective of whether we are Christians, Moslems, leaders, followers, professional, intellectual, clergy, woman or man. We are morally responsible for most of our failings even if a number of these problems are ingrained in our colonial history and in the structure of our political economy and of the federation.
All Nigerians are created by God into this state for a reason. If we see it this way, then it is easy to argue that good governance is not in any significant sense different from God's interest in the welfare and well-being of his people. Governance is good not only because it benefits the people, but also because it embodies the goodness and love of God. The spiritual content in democratic governance is therefore the responsibility to serve the people with godly virtues and worthy intentions that will make the people truly rejoice. Thus, spirituality in this sense requires a larger definition than a mere adherence to the tenets of faith of one religion. I am making the effort not to separate spirituality from religion. This is because all religions have a spiritual core embedded in them. Spirituality in this sense therefore enables all adherents to undergo a transforming experience that make them see more of themselves contributing to the common good alongside others. Spirituality encourages honesty, integrity, holiness, love, fairness and fidelity to the divine.
But spirituality is a double-edged sword that cuts from the government to the governed in equal measure. We have been looking at this issue from the perspective of the government. But God also demands a responsibility from us. And this is that to enjoy the good of the land, we must equally be willing to give our best to those who have been chosen to govern us. Good governance is a two-way business. There is a responsibility on us as good Christians to also be good citizens. Even though the Bible says our citizenship is of heaven, but Jesus specifically left his disciples in the world for a purpose before they are given the respite of getting to heaven. For now, we are all Nigerians, and we have the burden of transforming this great country into a godly national space where the will of God reigns. But it is at the juncture of citizenship and discipleship that our spirituality often falls flat. At several levels, we fail to realise that citizenship is also an intense participation in government and in governance.
At three levels, Christianity has a mandate in Nigeria. And that mandate comes with the challenge of not colluding in what we now call the "Nigerian Factor." The first level is the injunction to be good Christians; to be the salt and the light of the world. This is what the Scripture said in Matthew Chapter 5. This is the essential reason why Christ left us in the world; to affect the world positively for good. At the second, Christianity has the responsibility to project the message of love, hope, joy and perseverance to a world of godless modernity circumscribed by drugs, crime, and a deadly materialism defined around money, sex and the fast life. And lastly, exemplary Christianity must necessarily also speak through a life of professional service to humanity. We serve God through the spiritual principle that insists that we see our professional calling as a calling of duty and responsibility. Apostle Paul did not separate between his Christian spirituality and his professional calling. In fact, the grace he received was meant to strengthen his hands the more so that his profession as a tentmaker could serve not just as a means of livelihood, but also as an exemplary lesson of how our well-being ought to become a source of blessing to others.
Let me conclude with the exhortation that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned as the famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963. These words are powerful enough to challenge our spirituality in the face of moral decadence, social immorality and political corruption:
"There was a time when the church was very powerful - in the time when the early Christian rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being 'disturbers of the peace.' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were 'a colony of heaven,' 'called to obey God rather than man.' Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent - and often even vocal - sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church now as never before."
Thus, at this time when Nigeria stands at its most critical juncture in history, there is a crucial call for Christians to deploy their collective spiritual energies in not only undermining the negative forces of nepotism and dysfunctionality, but in positively enhancing the development of Nigeria.
(Being text of lecture delivered by Dr. Olaopa at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Campbell Street, Lagos Island at the Annual Distinguished Guest Lecture to mark October 1st Nigeria's Independence Anniversary).
Dr. Olaopa is executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Ibadan.