There are six reasons why religion shouldn’t be involved in Nigeria’s upcoming election
Voters’ concerns about religion have risen to the forefront as Nigerians prepare to cast ballots in the country’s presidential election.
There is a widespread belief in Nigeria that combining religion and politics is counterproductive. The roots of this concept are in Europe. During the Middle Ages, Europe was riven by religious and political authorities at odds with one another. Thus, by the turn of the 20th century, the idea that religion should be kept out of government had become standard fare in western political thought. The concept gradually spread to other cultures over time.
Recent research has demonstrated that there are positive aspects to the intersection of religion and politics. There are tenets of religion, such as love and obedience to political authority, that are supportive of state institutions and progress. Additionally, both religious leaders and their followers can practise tolerance.
The fact that religious communities in multi-religious societies often compete for scarce resources and political power does, however, raise concerns for social stability and democratic governance.
That much is clear as Nigeria prepares for its presidential election in 2023. Both the Northern Christian Elders Forum and the Christian Association of Nigeria have voiced concerns about the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party nominating Muslim candidates for vice president.
It’s reasonable for churches to care about who controls the government. However, depending on the scope of their intervention, the state could be in jeopardy.
These threats could significantly alter the outcome of the election. Potentially, the state’s authority and legitimacy will be questioned. Religion, its proponents argue, has a superior authority to that of the state because it is founded on divine authority. Given that the state derives its authority from the people and the constitution, this poses a threat to their legitimacy.
In six words:
The influence of religion in Nigerian politics is not new.
Religion has played a role in the capture of state power since the return to democratic governance. This is evident in the tendency of candidates to appeal to their religious communities for support and in the political statements made by religious institutions.
Modifications to the pattern will be visible in 2023.
The first thing to note is that the major candidates have, as in the past, made religious appeals. Maybe the fact that Bola Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress candidate, is a Muslim and his wife is a Christian is novel. Tinubu isn’t just trying to win over one religious group, but two. As a rule, this would encourage more peaceful relations between different faiths. Competition for influence among religions is possible even in a state that is controlled by a family with members from different faiths.
To add insult to injury, the ruling All Progressives Congress is offering voters a “Muslim-Muslim ticket,” which has sparked widespread criticism. The two top candidates for the party are both Muslims and run for president and vice president respectively.
We last saw something like this in 1993. Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe won an overwhelming majority of the vote in that election in Nigeria, perhaps because Abiola’s secularism and philanthropy won over religious conservatives. The risk of being caught with a similar ticket has increased in recent years.
Thirdly, the escalation of terrorist attacks by Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria has added fuel to the fire surrounding the Muslim-Muslim ticket. It is important to note that victims of the terror include both Muslims and Christians. However, Christians generally believe they have been singled out for more persecution and Islamization than other groups.
A large portion of the Nigerian population practises religion as a way of life, which brings me to my fourth point. Their political and social views are influenced by this to a great extent. There is a risk that a religious group will support voting for one of their own members for office despite the fact that this person is widely seen as unqualified.
The fifth risk is the potential for religious conflict to break out if one religious group rejects the candidate of another religion or if a politician rallies his religious community against an opponent of a different faith.
Similarly, religion has the potential to rally an ethnic group’s supporters to fight off rival political parties. Nigeria is home to people of many different ethnicities and religions. Multiple conflicts have occurred along religious and ethnic lines in the country. The bloodiest part of the war occurred between 1967 and 1970.
In the end, there’s the risk that regular people won’t be able to have any say in government at all. A minority’s ability to have their voices heard and be fairly represented in government could be hindered if a religious community was given the opportunity to exercise their numerical advantage in the political arena. Nigeria is home to a sizeable population of both Christians and Muslims, as well as an increasing number of atheists. The preponderance of Muslim and Christian politics could make anyone feel left out.
A constitutional amendment that clarifies the role of religion in the voting process could help reduce these dangers.
In Nigeria, citizens and political parties have come up with a short-term solution they call “religious balancing.” This unofficial system allows a Muslim candidate to run for office with a Christian running mate, and vice versa.
However, the current administration is running two Muslim candidates in the upcoming election. The problem requires a constitutional amendment. It acknowledges that Nigerians adhere to a wide variety of religions, but makes no mention of the religious affiliations of those holding public office.
It’s also crucial to include religious community leaders in government and political parties. For this reason, religious leaders can influence their congregations to vote for candidates from any party, regardless of their own personal beliefs.
Tolerance of other religions is also essential. Respect for one another’s political beliefs is bolstered when people have a greater appreciation for one another’s religious beliefs.
Politicizing religion is a recipe for continued strife in many parts of the country. The already weak Nigerian government could collapse under these pressures.