Some time ago, I published in many newspapers an article titled, “Politicians are called to be saints.” This article is also published in my book: “From Dream to Reality; Dialogue of Encounter” (Page 299). So many Nigerians have told me that it is a fallacy to think that a politician can be a saint given the Nigeria concept of politics and the attitude of some politicians who are consistently inconsistent.
The objection to the potential sainthood of a partisan politician in Nigeria is based on the erroneous definition of politics in Nigeria. You must have heard some expressions made by some Nigerian politicians like: “You cannot be a good politician if you do not know how to lie, rig elections and hate whoever is not in your political party.” Some Nigerian politicians think that to be a friend of a person in a different political party is anti-party.
Politics for some politicians is self-interest and the ability to use religion and ethnicity as triggers. Some think that a successful politician is the one who has the illegitimate power to eliminate an opponent who is perceived as an obstacle to their desired goal, which is only to win election to loot public funds.
This misconception calls for a true understanding of politics. From Classical Greek, polis (πόλις) means city. Therefore, whoever has the love of the citizens must work for the common good and welfare of the citizens in the city. Thus, a politician is a person who has the capacity and wisdom to influence public policy in decision making for the common good. In democratic governance, the politician is called and chosen by the people to lead the affairs of the people in the society.
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Given that the voice of the people is the voice of God, a politician is called and chosen by God to govern the affairs of the people. If the politician believes in this divine call, then, he or she has a divine obligation to strive for perfection to the glory of God and for the happiness of the people. Politics is not limited to governance through public office. Every human person has a stake in the affairs of the society through a positive attitude to life and collective welfare.
Since in today’s political climate, a politician is viewed as a person who is active in partisan politics to hold political positions whether elected or appointed, it is necessary to distinguish between people with realistic ideologies and office holders who are covertly or overtly egoistic and self-centred. In modern day politics, the expression “political prostitutes” has been introduced to apply to those who see politics as the only means of livelihood. These group of people would be impoverished outside partisan politics where greed is their emblem. On the contrary, Thesaurus defines a politician as, “a leader engaged in civil administration and a person who rules or guides or inspires others. In this sense, a politician is a model worthy of emulation.
The tragedy of Nigerian politics is that each politician is seen as either a Christian or a Muslim whether he is committed or not. Often, some ignorant poor people do not ask whether these “religious politicians” add any value to either Christianity or Islam apart from using religion as ladder to ascend their self-interest to a point where the poor are deprived of their legitimate rights and opportunities. The money they give to some pastors and some imams to buy votes is not perceived as sin because the hungry are ready to sell their heads to buy the crown or to eat even if the food comes from the devil. Consequently, hunger, poverty and suffering have become weapons in the hands of unpatriotic politicians. Oh God Almighty, religion and ethnicity have become tools for political manipulation.
The 2023 elections would have been the model and mother of all elections. We thought the outcome of this election would be the dawn of a new democratic Nigeria. It was interesting to see some Muslims campaigning for a Christian candidate and some Christians campaigning for a Muslim candidate. Unfortunately, the umpire of the elections allowed themselves to be manipulated manipulators to an extent that some electorates were behaving as if the election was between Christians and Muslims or between Igbo, Yoruba and the North. Some religious leaders unfortunately became manipulated manipulators by turning religious houses to campaign rallies. They forget that some politicians do not care if the nation goes in flames, if their actions give rise to inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict. Religion and ethnicity must not be allowed to pass for triggers of violence and religious acrimony.
The Prophet of Islam calls on all believers to do acts of charity not only to be seen by people but because they believe in Allah and the Last Day (Qur’an 2:262-264). Muslims are reminded that the needy deserve help even when they do not go about begging those with opportunity. According to the Qur’an, Allah knows of whatever wealth you will spend on helping those in need (Qur’an 2:273). In Islam, life on earth must be lived with total submission and surrender to Allah because of the Day of Judgment. For Christians, saints are people who are clothed in white robes because they have come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them (Revelation 7: 12-15). I hope the Nigerian Christian and Muslim politicians believe in these scriptural teachings!
Is the Nigerian politician willing and ready to be a saint by first conquering his temperaments and inordinate desires? Can he or she really be in control of his temperaments and negative emotions? A politician who succeeds in doing this is described in Islam as a successful jihadist who understands that true jihad means restraint (self-control). In Christianity, he or she is a saint who prefers to die instead of letting a whole nation be annihilated for personal selfish ambition. An Ideal politician is aware of his strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). Here is how Saint Paul expresses this: “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how-to live-in abundance” (Philippians 4:11-12). An ideal politician must contest in a free and transparent election to win the goodwill of the people. An ideal politician would congratulate the victory of his or her opponent if the process of the election is credible and indisputable.
That a Christian or Muslim wins an election is an expression of the will of the people and not victory for Christianity or Islam. Religious triumphalism in a democratic election is a spark, trigger and call for inter-religious violence. If an ideal politician is on a pilgrimage to sainthood, he needs to listen to Peter Kreeft who described a saint in this paradox: “A saint’s heart is broken by every little sorrow and sin. A saint’s heart is also so strong that not even death can break it. It is indestructible because it’s so breakable. A saint takes his hands off the steering wheel of his life and lets God steer. A saint also has hands that move the world. He has feet that move through the world with a sure step.” I pray that the poverty and hunger of the citizens will not tempt Nigerians to embrace religious conflicts for any politician who is not even aware of the existence of the poor who suffer daily to have a full meal. May the poor citizen never forget for a moment that should anything terrible happen to him or her in the course of fighting for a politician, he or she will be left alone in his /her agony. May we have ideal politics and politicians in Nigeria. Amen!
Rev Fr Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC [email protected]) & The Secretary General of the West Africa Inter-Religious Council (WA-IRC – [email protected])
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