By Tochukwu Ezukanma
A major problem with Christianity in Nigeria is that the Christian pastors abdicate a major responsibility of the men of God. Generally, they limit their responsibilities to instructing us on how to pay our tithes and sow our seeds, and then, prosper, and on how to be born again and inherit eternal life. While it is important that we inherit eternal life in the hereafter, our material wellbeing in this present life is still of importance to God. Did He not ask us to take domain of the earth and subdue it?
Therefore, pastors should be deeply concerned about the material wellbeing of believers in this present life and the moral climate of the society they inhabit. After all, our present behavior, which is an important determinant of our state in the hereafter, is very susceptible to our moral environment.
It is leadership that shapes a country. It is its political and economic policies that determine the people’s quality of life. And it is its moral standards and ethical ideals that inform and shape the moral climate. As children subconsciously behave like their parents, the masses unwittingly behave like their leaders. The leaders by their behaviors dictate the behaviors of the masses. They influence the people’s mindsets and their attitudes towards virtually everything: money, work, honesty, etc. Their influence permeates the homes, work places, schools, etc. As Nigerian leaders are cultist, liars, electoral fraudsters, thieves of public funds, etc, the Nigerian society, not surprisingly, is honeycombed with ritual killers, armed robbers, drug peddlers, fraudsters, etc.
Therefore, no true man of God can be shepherding us towards eternal life while remaining indifferent to the public policies and moral character of the political class – that is – politics. So, as the consecrated amalgam of the pulpit, the Word and the anointed pastor remains a powerful instrument for winning souls for Christ, it cannot escape being a hallowed tool for making Nigeria a just, equitable and law-abiding country. It must be used for advancing benign, judicious and enlightened exercise of power by the leaders, and in denouncing errant leaders and their abuse of power and contempt for the people.
To criticize bad leaders and their wicked policies is a sacred obligation because it curbs in them that tendency among those in power to bask in delusion of grandeur. It cuts them to size, and reminds them of their limitations, and makes it clear to them that, in spite of the loftiness of their positions and vastness of their powers, they remain as fallible, as even, an utterly powerless destitute. No wonder, Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, enjoined his followers to “criticize an erring ruler fearlessly in behalf of the common good”.
The Rhapsody of Reality first came to my notice in October 2010, during the Nigerian independence anniversary. I was less inspired by its content than by that matchless effort made by the leader of Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, and his followers to distribute astounding numbers of this pamphlet to even the most secluded and far-flung parts of Nigerians. It was a laudable endeavor that evinced organizational structure, spirit of volunteerism, crusading zeal and selfless dedication to a cause. I was profoundly impressed by these praiseworthy qualities demonstrated in that enterprise. These are qualities desperately needed in, but conspicuously absent from, the Nigeria society where greed, selfishness, civic indolence and disregard for the common good are relentlessly renting the social fabric of the society.
I imagined what such transformational traits can do for Nigeria, if they are nurtured by pastors amongst their members and channeled to, not just distributing religious pamphlets, but also, societal reformation, civic enlightenment, respecting the rule of law, respect and consideration for others, helping the weak and the poor, etc. I also imaged what these enlivening qualities can do for Nigeria, if they are galvanized and directed against the arrogance of power, culture of impunity, theft of public funds, lawlessness and the other excesses of the power elite. Undoubtedly, Nigeria will be so much transformed, if the men of God can employ their monumental powers (pulpit, word of God, unction of God and a disciplined and loyal followership) in making Nigeria a more livable, decent, and just society.
Why are the Nigerian pastors not directing their powers and resources towards political and social reformation of Nigerian? After all, examples abound where pastors, in addition to shepherding their flock to heaven, rose to the social and political challenges of the time. For example, in the mid twenty century America, racism was entrenched and seemingly impregnable. Astonishingly, a little more than fifty years later, a Black man is the president of the United States of America, a racist and predominantly White country where the Supreme Court once ruled that a Black man has no right “which any white man was bound to respect”.
The credit for changing race relations in the United States of America goes mostly to men of God. Those who led the movements for racial equality: Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, etc were all pastors and Elijah Mohammed, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, etc were all Moslem clergymen.
During the era of Apartheid in South Africa, Desmond Tutu and Allen Boesak among other clergy men mobilized believers against the Apartheid government. Their roles were pivotal in dismantling Apartheid, that atrocious racist system that perfected the systematic degradation of a Black majority by a White minority.
There is Apartheid in Nigeria. In South Africa, Apartheid was based on race but in Nigeria, it is based on social class. And in South Africa, it was coded into the law books but in Nigeria, it is informal. However, there is no evidence that the Nigerian rendition of Apartheid is in anyway less inhumane, degrading and exploitative than the South African version of it.
Lamentably, unlike the men of God in South Africa, the Nigerian men of God, ensconced in their enormous wealth and luxurious lifestyle, are waltzing with morally bankrupt power elite. They are shamelessly pandering to bad leadership in all its manifestations. That is why, instead of rallying their followers against an evil oligarchy, unrivalled in its lawlessness, thievery, corruption, profligacy and contempt for the legitimate aspirations of the people, they are preaching docility and servility to their followers.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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