“Ruling in the Affairs of Men”: God, Spirituality and Good Governance in Nigeria
A lecture delivered by Dr Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy [ISGPP]
1. Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain
Will your anchor drift or firm remain
2. You are the Lord from beginning to the end
There no room for controversy
You are the Lord by yourself
• I give glory to the Almighty Lord for giving us this day and for the incredible grace that has kept our dear country in spite of all the vicissitudes that has militated against her progress and importantly, that have troubled the church of God especially in the Northern part of Nigeria
• I like to appreciate the leadership of this assembly for this excellent initiative that set out this significant day in the life of our nation as a day to step out of the usual spiritual routine, to engage in discourse on the state of the nation especially the sign of the time and how Christians should respond
• I like to also appreciate Dr. Sola Adelakun and Mr. John Ayoade Shamonda (my big brothers and seniors at the Olivet Heights) for considering qualified to stand on this podium to address a congregation of the crème de la crème of the intelligentsia in Nigeria at the renowned Ebenezer Baptist Church at Campbell Street
• I like to pay glowing tribute to our forebears in the Baptist Family. And when I do this, I always remember my uncle, as a native of Awe, Rev. (Dr.) S. T. Ola Akande, an icon and a great mind whose ministry, erudition and theological scholarship inspired my youth a great deal, especially at those times when I attended Orita Mefa Baptist Church, Ibadan.
• I count this opportunity to speak to the people of God as not just auspicious, but a privilege. It is a blessing for me always when spiritual platforms are utilized to engage reigning discourse especially one as topical as ‘good governance’
• Discourse indeed for me has the seed of the spiritual to the effect that knowledge is a key biblical principle. I mean knowledge not for knowledge sake, but knowledge as an avenue to reach the core of wisdom. And what better way to do this than the gathering of believers. And who can forget that stentorian verse in Proverbs 4v7: “Wisdom is the principal thing – Get Wisdom”.
• The timing of this specific lecture is the more auspicious because religion and indeed the faith is on trial not just in Nigeria, but all over the world
• Our faith is on trial at a defining period especially for Nigeria and the we are can be likened to the time in American history that inspired the great American philosopher and statesman, Thomas Paine, to write these timeless words:
“These are the times that try men’s souls:
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot
Will in this crisis, shrink from the service of
his country, but he that stands it now…” will stand
to be counted’
• We are at a time when Nigeria stands at a threshold that is precarious and could, in all probability, determine her future as a nation in transition
• Our dear nation had contended with a whole lot of concerns around the national question. Indeed, it is perhaps only in Nigeria is that I know that on account of the nation-building task, the country is regarded as a ‘Project’, and a project is so called because unlike a programme, it has a terminal or end point.
• The word ‘project’ would not be so interpreted if not for the underlying tension that has defined our polity, characterized by:
An atmosphere of mutual suspicion among the disparate ethnic group;
The fear of domination expressed by the major ethnic nationalities;
A weak commitment to the Nigeria by ethnic nationalities who have kept almost intact their deep fears and insidious biases with regard to their future in a fledging federation
Indeed, like William Gladstone said of the Irish Question, in Nigeria, when it appears that we are close to getting the answer, the question changes. That is to say that as soon as we seem to solve the national question, other problems come up to throw up fresh questions
It is in this sense that we should read the whole debate on whether the unity of Nigeria is negotiable
For those saying that Nigeria’s unity is negotiable, Nigeria is an “irrefutable untruth”, what Chief Awolowo in the debate with Prof. Billy Dudley meant when he said quoting one time Chancellor of Germany, Otto Von Bismark, that Nigeria is a “mere geographical expression”. That is to say that Nigeria does not exist and has not evolved since it was manufactured by the British.
In logic, there is the not unusual conundrum with regard to whether “essence” precedes “existence”
Consequently, something must exist before you can build on it
Is that Nigeria’s manifold problems are solvable as they human made problems
The challenges are however confounding only because the core political elites seems to have an incredible misconception of what leadership responsibilities are by dodging in the precipice of a salient dimension
And that is, if Nigeria must break up, the stakeholders must sit down and discuss the logic of such break up
And if Nigerians will continue to stay together, they must similarly, have honest conversation on the how; the terms and conditions of continuing co-existence
Where Does the Church Stand in all of this?
• In all of this, where does our faith, religion and the church stand, especially also, in a nation reputed to inhabit perhaps the most religious people in the universe, according to the BBC report; a people also reputed for being at once ungodly in their action and one of the most corrupt people in the world according to the Transparency International (TI) corruption perception index (CPI)
• Indeed, as far as the practice of religion is concerned today in Nigeria, even the church is losing daily, the capacity to generate a sense of moral revulsion and prophetic outrage against the ills of society
• Matthew 5-7 and the Sermon on the Mount says we are the light and the salt of the world
• For us to retain that defining character, it beholds us to continually interrogate the philosophical underpinnings of our calling
• Indeed, philosophers and theologians are noted for their lifelong dedication to fundamental issues that revolve around life, existence, meaning, relevance and God.
• One of the fundamental issues that instigate philosophical reflection from time immemorial is the meaning of life: What makes our life meaningful and fulfilled? Why are we here on this side of existence?
• Why, in the manner of Mordecai’s admonition to Queen Esther, are we Christians, leaders, professionals and elites in Nigeria at times like this, in the life of our nation? What shall we be remembered for or, better still, if we find ourselves before our maker today, what will be the account of our stewardship as the Called of the Lord in a nation where hopelessness has become the badge that our neighbor wear?
• Then the critical question: If our existence has eternal implications, then, how can we make it right in our own little way in that corner that God has located us? How do we live our lives in a way that resonates spiritually and secularly?
What is our Assessment of the contributions of Politics and Religion
in Nigeria Today?
• The resurgence of fundamentalism before and since September 11, 2001, has loaded the dice terribly against religion both in the public and in private life. One most dominant defining issue in the world today revolve round terrorist organizations in religious guise that have political agenda
• Al-qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shaabab, Hamas and so on
• In Nigeria, there is the classic social dimension where there is direct proportion of the relationship between the proliferation of churches and mosques to the level of corruption and poverty in our society
• So, even though you may have ten churches in a community, there is no direct empirical evidence that their presence will enable community feeling among even the faithful
• In 2003, a study of more than 65 countries published by the UK New Scientist magazine reported that Nigerians are the happiest people on earth
• A year later in 2004, a BBC report noted that Nigeria is the most religious country in the world. Over 90% of Nigerians said they believed in God, prayed regularly and would die for their belief
• In another breath, for decades now, the Transparency International (TI)’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) rates Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world
• Whereas a 2013 National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report observed that about 120million Nigerians are living below the poverty line of $2 a day
• In 2017, we heard of the terrible news of a supposedly happy medical doctor who had all the trappings of success; a good job, a chauffeur-driven good car and from a good family. Yet he deliberately plunged into the lagoon and drowned
• How is it that a nation of people who believe in God, a happy people, has those disturbing statistics including those who are seemingly successful throwing themselves into the lagoon?
• And a bigger question: How is it that a nation with a very high Gross National Happiness, very high Gross Domestic/National Product have an equally very high poverty and unemployment rates?
• How come is it that a nation of very religious people is equally one of the most corrupt nations in the world?
• These indicators are really puzzling. Indeed, for the discerning, these contradictions defy any sensible explanation. They are possible in Nigeria because ours have been largely a religion of hypocrisy
• It is not far-fetched and if we are truly honest with ourselves and truthful, we are not hard on ourselves if we say it boldly that a large percent of Nigerians have the infinite capacity to carry our religion and piety in the outside, but our hearts are very far from God that is the substance of our belief system
Religion, Politics and the Nigerian State
• When we apply the logic to politics and the Nigerian state, it is easy to observe that whereas Nigeria is a secular state, yet our national constitutional etiquette and nationalist rituals are riddled with religious rhetoric
• Our national anthem and national pledge contain invocation of God, indeed, the 2nd stanza of the national anthem is direct prayer to God
• But it does not seem that we are in spirit and in truth willing to allow the God we are calling when we sing the anthem to rule in our affairs
• The state of politics has become so disagreeable and disturbing that for many, politics is something we do not want to think about yet we may daily that God should take our nation to the place of greatness
• Whereas the religions are supposed to be the moral compass, but what do we find? 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 and miracle mentality.
• In October 2014, a New York-based online media survey revealed that five of the top ten richest pastors in the world are Nigerians. While some religious leaders worldwide are serving humanity by providing spiritual and moral guidance to people across religious and social divides, others are becoming suspiciously rich through their churches and investments.
• In October 2014, Vanguard newspaper also published the report of a study titled “Rich Churches, Poor Members.” In that report, the authors drew serious attention to the moneymaking venture that religion has become in Nigeria and how some preachers are becoming multi-millionaire at the expense of their flock. They questioned the propriety of making and hoarding such stupendous wealth in a vast ocean of misery.
• The report mentioned one pastor who is running a business empire, and who owns four luxury private jets with a combined cost of $98.3 million
• Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, in Witness to Justice, published in 2011, spoke at length about this strange cohabitation between deep religiosity among Nigerians and the preponderance for corruption.
• He says that, “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.”
• This is sadly where we have found ourselves today
• In the absence of a morally outraged and spiritually firm religious sensibility, the state of politics in Nigeria has therefore become so disagreeable and disturbing that we see all kinds of politics as essentially dirty.
• For all of us seated here, politics is something we really do not want to think about. Politics and politicians have harmed or wronged us in one way or the other. And we do not need to look too long to see the effects of the failure of politics.
• Take the incessant noise of the generators in our neighborhoods, for instance. Or the terribly bad road network. Or excessive taxes that have not translated into efficient infrastructure for us all, or the collapsing education sector.
• In Nigeria today, and indeed all across the world, there are so many who are arriving in droves at the conclusion of Karl Marx many years ago. For him, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
• Add to this George Orwell: “All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”
• In these two quotes, we seem to have summed up the feelings of most Nigerians about either politics or religion, or the relationship between the two. Our daily news are filled either with tales of men of God engaged in ungodly acts or of our politicians embezzling money.
• In the final analysis, both have not had any significant impact on our definition of good governance. The good that religion and politics ought to have done have been destroyed in the hands of those who ought to know better.
• Hence, on our pulpits across Nigeria, a preponderant majority believe that unlike the Daniel of old in Babylon, once a good Christian enters into the murky depth of politics, that is the end of his or her Christian faith.
• And yet, we sit as Christians and complain bitterly about the terrible antics of godless politicians. It has not occurred to us yet that politics is too important to be left to politicians all alone. Politics is too important that even God himself in the scripture intervened in the affairs of men!
Spirituality and Good Governance
• However, even if we desire to separate religion from politics, our desire must fly in the face of the fact that both are just inseparable. The invocation contained in Nigeria’s national anthem and national pledge, as is the case for most nations of the world, are not just accidental inclusions.
• On the contrary, they attest to the undeniable relationship between matters of faith and matters of politics. In fact, according to Mahatma Gandhi, “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”
• Gandhi is right. It seems almost impossible to remove the religious from political affairs. Religion, as far as I can determine, has two dimensions that are very critical. Let’s call the first dimension a search for the divine, the spiritual or for God. The second dimension has to do with religion’s attempt to provide solutions to man’s existential issues.
• The essence of a democratic rule is to give birth to and operationalize good governance. If we take governance as a two-pronged process of how decision are made and how those decisions made are implemented to benefit Nigerians, then we have already have an understanding of what good governance implies.
• Good governance therefore means the process by which decisions and their implementation can be directed to making the lives of citizens better and more empowered to fulfill their God-given capabilities
What then is expected of us as Christians at this time?
• How is a Christian to proceed in the midst of all these rots and degeneration? This is a fundamental question that goes to the very heart of the Christian faith. In John 17, Jesus was praying for his disciples: “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jn. 17: 15-16).
• There is a reason for Christ insisting that we remain in the world. Divine foreknowledge must have known that the world could only get worse before it would become better. Thus, if we are in the world but not of the world, what is expected from us as salts and lights?
• I do not think we need any long reflection to know that Christ wants us all Christians to be the light that will shine for an example unto others. I outline two significant areas for this exemplary Christianity in today’s world.
• The first is matching the impact of Christianity with the rampaging youth culture of drugs, crime, materialism and a godless modernity defined around money, sex and the fast life. What message does Christianity have for such a modern age? How can the life of the youths longing for acceptance and meaning be molded in response to the will of God?
• God can only speak to our world through our lives. And our lives only speak through the graces we have received and demonstrated in our relationships with others. We essentially demonstrate that we are children of God through the virtue of love—love for others and love for our communities.
• How come we now scorn the example of our Lord who came to the aid of the poor, the sick, and the needy with his comfort and kindness? How could we have forgotten the warning of Jesus to his disciples never to be like the hypocrites who make a public show of religiosity by their external rituals without internalizing the core values of the kingdom – mercy, justice, charity, and sacrifice?
• I take the second area of exemplary Christianity from Apostle Paul. In Acts of the Apostles chap 20, Paul gave his valedictory speech before departing for Rome:
o 32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
o 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.
o 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.
o 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
• 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.
• As I noted earlier, I had been a professional public servant for more than twenty seven years. And these were years that tasked my Christian faith sorely. There were several temptations and several reasons to abandon faith. It was then I realized that one’s profession could be the breaking or making point for one’s faith and one’s spiritual standing with God..
• Your professional status ought to be a point of testimony that enables you to speak about God’s faithfulness to others within the profession and outside of it. A policeman ought to have the testimony that he or she is able to stand out as a Christian even within the rot and corruption associated with that profession.
• The same ought to be so for a Christian driver, lawyer, medical doctor, engineer, accountant, human resource manager, pastor, entertainer, lecturer, and even a politician. God meant our jobs and careers to be example of his goodness and witness to others about the goodness and mercy of God.
• Christians ought to be good ambassadors wherever they find themselves in the society. Saint Theophilus of Antioch once wrote an address to a certain man named Autolycus exhorting him on how to be a good Christian. Theophilus began his letter by saying, “If you say, ‘Show me your God,’ I will reply, ‘show me the man that you are and I will show you my God.’” In other words, Theophilus is saying: “show me the kind of Christian that you are and I will tell you the kind of God you worship.”
• I don’t know if we realize that it is a demanding Christian responsibility to live our lives with coherence and credibility. Christianity is a religion of fruit bearing. If we do not bear fruit, then we become like the fig tree that is no good. We will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
• We must be people capable of listening to the word of God; people who allow ourselves to be permeated, shaped and transformed by the word of God so that we too can in turn go out and transform the society in which we live. But this is possible only if we ourselves have had a profound personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
What are our recommendations, going forward?
• The first admonition is from the mouth of Cassius in Williams Shakespeare Julius Caesar
“Men at sometimes were masters of their fates
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings”
• Nigeria’s trajectory to the present predicament is not ingrained in any superstition. There is no fault in our stars. The fault is in us as a people irrespective of whether we are Christians, Moslems, leaders, followers, professional, intellectual, Clergy, woman or man. What is wrong is in us as a people.
• 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.
• The question for me is, what can we as a people and a nation learn from Cassius’ philosophy in Julius Caesar? Indeed, one of the perennial problems that dominate the reflections of philosophers and theologians is the issue of human action, and whether such actions are free or determined by some powers human comprehension.
• Contemporary Nigeria has a lot in common with ancient Rome. Both are highly political societies, always battling for consolidation of democratic processes. Rome achieved the zenith of national greatness that Nigeria has embarked upon since 1960. While Rome was colonized by Greece, Nigeria had the British as its colonizer
• Rome rode to greatness almost effortlessly in spite of the countless hordes of barbarians along its borders. But Nigeria is stocked because it lacks leaders with the force of character, who can confront the Nigerian condition with the indefatigable force of vision and action that transcend and overwhelm it’s obvious and not uncommon limitations
• Caesar like some of us attributes our failing to the ‘work of the devil’ in the common retort ‘it is beyond my control’. Cassius rejects that fatalistic interpretation in Caesar’s claim that God chose him and would come down to help him irrespective of the whatever contends with him
• Indeed, our dubious attributions of our human failings to God and fate are too convenient a cosmological argument for any human agency. As Cassius puts it, if we fail to make our nation work, we should own up and not make attributions. Rather, we should realize that it is our humanity as statesmen and citizens that make us weak.
• And in spite of the pull of love, Brutus dares to do his duty to Rome as he thinks was best to conscience as he perceives it. According to him, “Not that I lov’d Caesar less, but that I lov’d Rome more”.
• Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher, talks of the slogan sapare aude (Dare to think!). We can equally say that nation building in Nigeria requires a serious form of political audacity. That is to say, Nigeria requires a crop of intellectuals, politicians, professionals and statesmen who can dare to dream about justice, patriotism, equity, progress and all the ideals of greatness befitting a nation destined for greatness by all imaginable parameter like Nigeria
• We need a new crop of leader with not just the audacity to think out of the box solutions that would break Nigeria out of her self-imposed political bondage. Indeed, in our time, Barack Obama translated Immanuel Kant’s slogan into a serious form of political audacity – Audacity of Hope. For Nigeria, it can be the audacity to craft the Nigerian Dream as a script and to act the substance of that dream in spirit and in truth by ceasing the opportunities given or available to stand out, to serve and be different
• This would be within the frame of an ideology that a nation is not built on the whims and caprices of the convenient; rather, it is built on courage and the strength to will political aspiration into existence through the force of conviction
What then should we do?
• We must start from the basic fundamentals. We must go back to God, purge ourselves so He can use us…We must then bear the fruits of the spirit that then supply enablement to overcome the culture of impunity; passion without knowledge in the pervasive lack of a reading and reflective culture; worship of money and virtual absence of integrity capital that make us truly light and salt of the world
• We need to overcome the virtual lack of fear of God that creates in us a mismatch between what we say with our mouth and what are in our heart; a culture of religiousity that is bereft of spirituality; an instrumental perception of success in the short-term rather than the long-term or the absence of a culture of deferred gratification…the ‘now and hear reward’ mentality that discounts the value of eternal reward
• There is also this culture of waste that drives corruption amongst us; a culture of waste in unbridled desire to celebrate everything – funeral, birthdays, admission, new house, travels, marriages, promotion, everything; an irrational yearning for certificates without accompanying knowledge, and so on; the culture of ‘get-rich-quick…of ‘something for nothing’ that has displaced the culture of hard work; living by example by living out those core values upon which social reconstruction are erected
• We must stand to be counted wherever God has planted us by demonstrating faith in the future through investing in building capacity of institutions and of the state to bring hopes and aspiration to fruition
• We need to constantly nurture in ourselves and those coming behind us a sense of history, through critical reflection on how we got to this point as social history and what it will require to salvage it. As professionals like Scouts, we must be ever ready.
• Our nation needs spiritual and moral rearmament about the honour of serving one’s own nation and the values of integrity, honour and duty.
Conclusion: God Send Down Revival to the Church
• Christianity is a challenge. And the challenge consists in standing as a Christian without hiding behind what we have dubbed the “Nigerian Factor.”
• The Nigerian Factor enables Christians to hold on to their faith while being capable of cheating, bribing, defrauding government, oppressing the weak, acting unjustly and unfairly, and generally accept a corrupt way of life.
• Christianity makes no room for crooks and fraudsters. It has no place for those who offer or receive bribe. It has no place for those who would lie and cheat. Genuine Christianity cannot accommodate what we call the “Nigerian factor” today. It has no place for those who would use ill-gotten wealth to manipulate the political process.
• 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.
• I take this charge as a call for the contemporary church to be strong through a recovery of a theology of spirituality that can enable us to speak to one another on our Christian responsibilities to minister life to one another and to those who lack hope. I take it as a duty to stand for the promotion of justice, peace and human dignity, especially in a country like Nigeria where decadence threatens to engulf us all.
• If we are the very image of God, then the onus is on us to stand up for the truth, as Jesus did, even onto death on the cross. It is when things are going bad in the society that the true Christian light is expected to shine the brightest. In the midst of the darkness around us, we must be that flicker of light that dispels darkness.
• 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.
I conclude with the wise words of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:13—
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
Let me end with a song:
I am moving on…The upward way
New heights I’m gaining everyday
Still praying as I onward bound
Lord plant my feet on higher ground