Will the growing criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari by the Christian Association of Nigeria, adversely affect his re-election bid? Shola Oyeyipo asks
The 2019 general election promises to be exciting as about 10 months to the poll, interesting dimensions are emerging in the polity.
Whereas there have been calls to Christians to take more active part in politics, discordant tunes emanating from the ranks of the Christian leadership call for worry.
Some Northern Christian leaders led by Bishop John Abu Richard under the aegis of Arewa Pastors Non-denominational Initiative had visited Aso Rock and endorsed President Muhammadu Buhari for another term next year.
Their decision to throw their weight behind the president, they claimed, was partly because of his integrity, honesty and incorruptible antecedents. But there is no gainsaying that the decision was not collective and that the larger Christian body may actually not be prepared to support Buhari for a second term.
One of the foremost religious groups that backed Buhari in 2015, United Christian Leaders Eagle Eye Forum (UCLEEF), was the first to reject calls urging the president to run for a second term.
UCLEEF National Chairman, Pastor Aminchi Habu, said the APC led-government had failed Nigerians going by its inability to solve the security challenges, youth unemployment issue, stabilise the economy and reduce poverty in the country.
He therefore suggested that Northern and Southern leaders should unite and present a formidable candidate that would take over from the present government.
Much later, in an even clearer term, the highest body of Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in the 19 Northern states disowned the band of pastors, who endorsed Buhari, on the grounds that they lacked the mandate to speak on behalf of the pastors in the 19 Northern states.
CANâ€™s Publicity Secretary, Reverend John Hayap, said the Arewa Pastors Non-denominational Initiative for Peace in Nigeria was not known to CAN in the North and therefore, cannot represent Christians in the North.
â€œWe have searched through all our chapters in the 19 Northern states and Abuja and we found out that the leader of the delegation and most of them reside in Port Harcourt, Rivers State,â€ he said.
CAN, however, suspected that the group might have been sponsored by some politicians in the South-south region for personal and political gains. Unfortunately, these are part of the obvious indications that the Christian body may be sharply divided with most of the leaders not supporting the idea of Presidentâ€™s already declared second term ambition.
Also miffed at the development, a Senior Pastor, City of Refuge Ministries International, Bishop Oscar Ossai, in a chat with THISDAY, did not only contend that President Buhari was yet to get a collective endorsement of Christians, he urged Christians to get actively involved in politics so as to positively alter the country â€˜s narrative.
According to Ossai, â€œThe church of Jesus Christ in Nigeria does not know those people. There is no credible voice of the church involved in that visit. The church has not taken any position yet and we are praying and seeking the face of God to know what the position of the church should be.
â€œThe church is made up of elements in Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and there is a coalition made up of the leadership of these groups where we gather to discuss issues and take decisions and we have not taken any decision. We donâ€™t know them; we donâ€™t even know them as pastors. There is no familiar face among them. Not one.â€
He was particularly not impressed by the Nigerian political situation, noting that â€œIt is my belief that the political elite have failed Nigeria. They have failed in the sense of the demographics at our disposal. Look at the unemployment rate; Nigeria is more than 65 per cent unemployed and out of that number, 40 per cent is unemployable i.e. they canâ€™t handle the tools of work. This is a nation whose active population is the youth.â€
There have been varying shades of what could best pass as gang-ups against President Buhariâ€™s second coming. First, are the â€˜generalsâ€ who seemed to have vowed to stop him, and perhaps the most potent is that gradually, the Nigerian youths are waking up to the challenge of political leadership and 2019 may as well be a test case between the old and the younger generation of politicians.
The position building up in Christendom is the latest dimension to the swelling antagonism against the president and this currently trending issue is likely to remain one of the reference points in the debates that will shape the outcome of the election.
The position taken by CAN is a food for thought. The magnitude is huge, considering that it is coming from a very important constituency. It is indeed curious. So, many questions are agitating the minds of observers.
For instance, a member of the Nigerian Labour Congress, National Executive Committee (NEC), Comrade Issa Aremu, was of the opinion that agitations should not arise against the presidentâ€™s ambition since it is within his constitutional right to contest for second term in office, but he underscored the fact that Nigerians also have a right to vote for the candidates of their choice in 2019 based on the performance of such candidates.
â€œPresident Muhammadu Buhari certainly has the right under the 1999 Constitution to seek re-election for a second term in office. Same constitution allows all eligible citizens to exercise their rights to vote and be voted for,â€ he said.
Then that precipitates one question: does CAN really have a platform to galvanise Christian votes to actualise the desire to stop the president from re-emerging? The answer to that is no. Christians are largely apolitical. In fact, not many of them are involved with politics.
That much did Ossai acknowledge when asked about the involvement of Christians in politics when he said: â€œThat is my primary constituency and I want to say that we have not done so well as far as lifting a standard for Jesus Christ in our country is concerned. Anybody can disagree with me, but my view is that the church has not done as much as it should do with respect to insisting on righteousness in leadership of the land.â€
Then there is the question of why would CAN arrive at the conclusion that the president should not consider running for a second term? Could it be as a result of attacks on Christians by herdsmen and other terror groups, because of the economic situation, or may be because some pastors had declared support for the president without CANâ€™s collective decision?
Whatever factors that may have propelled CAN to take its current stand, stopping Buhari will definitely require more than just lip service. The Christian body must be prepared to present a credible alternative or encourage one on the platform of a recognised political party, canvass support for such person nationwide and support the candidate with finances.
Where these measures are not in CANâ€™s consideration, prescribing to Buhari that he should not contest will only amount to an advice he is at liberty to ignore.