I am deeply concerned that at this time of political campaign, as it usually happens, the word “Christian” is loosely used in reference to certain candidates for elective offices in Nigeria. The church stands the risk of being used for very indecent purposes, and I would like to counsel the church leadership not to mislead Nigerians. In the book of Acts chapter eleven and verse twenty-six it is written: “And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it happened to them also that they met together for a whole year with the church and taught a large number of people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
It is clear that the disciples of Jesus Christ did not give themselves the name “Christians.” Rather, it was the observing world that looked at their conduct, examined their priorities and values in life, and then came to the conclusion that those were similar to Jesus Christ’s, the man they had certainly heard about. Jesus Christ said that his food was to do the will of God and finish his work. I have seen, by their conduct, a different set of priorities in the conversation or lifestyle of many of Nigerian politicians who call themselves “Christians.” And I am afraid for innocent Nigerians who fall for the entrapment of religious identification and decide who to vote for on that basis. As a pastor, let me restrict this essay to “Christian” misidentification rather that the misidentification of adherents of other religions that are practiced in Nigeria.
In response to an allegation by a Christian missionary E. Stanley that he had rejected becoming Christ’s follower (i.e. Christian) and yet he loved to quote the words of Christ, Mr. Gandhi responded, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ, I love your Christ. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi fell in love with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount by which his whole life was guided—a life of unconditional love, self-sacrifice for the good of others, forgiveness, meekness, peace-making, etc. He was disappointed that “Christians” among whom he had lived on three different continents of Europe, Africa and Asia (England, South Africa and India) did not live up the sermon.
My friends, we do not know Christians by their name or attendance at church meetings. We know them by their deeds. I remember, one day a disciple of Jesus’, Simon Peter wielded a sword in defense of his Master. His master asked him to sheath his sword with this firm declaration: ”Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword.” Let me quickly add that those who rule by the sword shall certain perish by it. Christians do not encourage violence, and neither do they keep quiet when it is being loudly pondered. It was reported that the governor of Bayelsa State hosted some Niger Delta ex-militants at the Bayelsa government house, where in his presence Mr. Dokubo Asari reportedly said, “We are going to war. Everyone of you should go and fortify yourself.” Another ex-militant said, “Keep sentiments apart. We are ready to match them bumper to bumper.” They reportedly warned Nigerians that “any attempt to dethrone the president [Dr. Goodluck Jonathan] would be seen as a direct attack on the Ijaw nation,” and “threatened to unleash violence on the country and take back Niger Delta oil should Mr. Jonathan lose re-election.” [Arodiegwu Eziukwu, Jan., 24, 2015]. I should expect the governor to quickly caution them against such disposition to violence. I was disappointed that the governor simply, as reported, thanked the ex-militants, urging them to “resist the temptation of being recruited by the opposition to destabilize the state.” He then promised to take their support to President Jonathan! I call on the Bayelsa governor and President Jonathan to disassociate themselves from the violent support of the ex-militants. Any Nigerian can support any politician of their choice; but I would not want anyone to threaten me and other Nigerians to vote for the candidate of their choice. Persuasion of ideas is what we need in a democracy, not violent language of threat. And President Jonathan or Governor Dickson should not encourage violence or keep quiet in the face of violent threat because it favors them now. President Jonathan is usually referred to as a “Christian.” Let him prove it. If his ambition is increasing tension and violence in the land, he must ask himself if truly he is righteous. The Holy Bible, which he may believe in says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn.” Are Nigerians rejoicing or mourning?
Christians do not engage in falsehood. I have heard a lot of lies or half-truths lately. Truth has nothing to do with falsehood, and the scriptures say that there is no lie in God, who is the Truth:
Electricity: There is worsening electricity in Nigeria since the so-called privatization more than a year ago. Many Nigerians are being billed for electricity they do not consume right in Bayelsa State, the president’s home state, as in many other states. The same excuses we used to hear when PHCN (aka NEPA) held (electricity) power away from Nigerians are being made today. Can a Christian lie and claim Nigerians have never had it so good in terms of supply of electricity?
Security and Welfare of the people: Section 14 of the Nigerian constitution says that the primary responsibility of government is security and welfare of the people. Are Nigerians more secure today than they were four years ago? Are they living more prosperous lives today than they did four years ago? If facts are what they are the answer is No! Shouldn’t President Jonathan, the “Christian”, not apologize for failure in this regard? Is that not what Christians do when under their watch things go awry? But what I hear are excuses. I have heard some Nigerians say that “Muslim Northerners are sabotaging the president’s efforts at making Nigeria safe.” This is an indictment against the “Christian” president. Why do I say so? First, a president and commander-in-chief is supposed to put down sabotage and secure his country. If he rather hides under the excuse of “sabotage” to watch helplessly and promise endlessly without result as huge swatches of his territory fall in the hands of rag-tag insurgents, then he has lost relevance in his nation; and it would be a disservice to his God and compatriots to seek re-election. Secondly, where is his God that the “Christian” president has been left without any divine help?
In 2 Chronicles chapter fifteen it is written: “Now Israel has been without the true God (i.e. there was no divine intervention) for a long season, and without a teaching priest (i.e. there was ignorant of true religion in the land), and without law (i.e. there was lawlessness in the land)…And in those times there was no peace for the one going out and the one coming in, for great tumults were upon all the inhabitants of the lands.” Is this not similar to Nigeria’s situation today under a “Christian” president?
Corruption: Corruption has become a way of life under our “Christian” president. I don’t need to say much on this. Nigerians live the experience daily.
Nigerian church leaders must stop deceiving their congregations. We do not need a “Christian” to lead Nigeria at this moment of national collapse, common insecurity, discouraging hopelessness, and growing poverty. We need a leader that is firm in conviction, who will fight for and defend the downtrodden. Nigerians need a fighter at this time. Nigerians need a friend of the poor, not a once poor who has now become the defender of the oppressors and obscene rich, whose conscience apparently has been seared. If a pastor prays something like this: “God, give us a Christian president; an Islamist should not be our president in Jesus name,” then he is revealing some blindness that should be pitied. Nigerians must without restraint break in smithereens the bludgeoning pestle of religion and ethnicity.
I call on my Niger Delta and Northern brethren not to make a mockery of themselves by instigating violence against either of the two foremost presidential candidates or on their behalf. They do not own them. These two men are Nigerians. Our decision on who to vote should be based entirely on who we trust is able to secure our country, stop the corruption-induced bleeding in our economy and build infrastructure that will stimulate entrepreneurship. In making that decision, we must look not only on what their manifestos say they will do, but also on who has caused the least damage to our nation in their moment of opportunity to lead this great African wonder, Nigeria.
I conclude on this quote that describes pure religion:
“Pure religion and undefiled is to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep unspotted by the [lust of] world.” Nigerians deserve such political leaders and not “Christians” who don’t know anything about sacrifice, sanctification, service and saving grace. I urge Nigerians to read three of my past articles and form their judgment: On Yar’Adua’s Incapacitation, the Constitution and a Dream (2009); Nigeria: Interpreting Times and Events (2010); and The Prince on Foot (2013). There will be joy because now Nigerians have learned their lesson. “But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them.” [2 Chronicles 15: 4] Never again must we be blinded by puerile sentiments nor allow merchandising “men of God” to influence our choice of candidate; you know where the shoe pinches, if you have any. And no man must tell you. Your vote is a verdict against you or for your safety and welfare. Making the same mistake twice and hoping for a miracle is called foolishness. A man because of foolishness wastes his opportunity and then starts blaming God [Proverbs 19:3].
Leonard Shilgba is a mathematics professor, pastor and author.