By Umar Hassan —
Sometimes I am almost moved to tears when I see the society we have prepared for our kids to live in. They deserve better than a society where you can’t live anywhere you want anymore without finding out which religious faithful are predominant in the area; a society where kids have been denied the opportunity to tap fully into diverse cultures and grow into the best adults they could possibly be without compromising their religious values; and, most unfortunately, a society where religious clerics have developed a knack for descending into the political arena with total disregard for the implications of doing so.
Religious leaders and clerics have a pivotal role to play in ensuring peace in the present-day society: desisting from dabbling into a matter as sensitive as politics forms part of that role.
The average Nigerian places God above everything else. Therefore, religious clerics have a very powerful influence over their decisions and choices. It is disappointing to see some of these men abuse that influence.
Islam and Christianity have set standards for their clerics that rank above that of the average faithful. They are expected to abstain from appearing biased or leaning more towards a particular direction, exercise utmost decorum at all times and, above all, desist from anything that will bring their religion to disrepute.
These days, many of them have descended into the realm of us lesser mortals by criticizing and endorsing politicians. From the little I know of how these men ought to behave, they are to pray for whoever is best for us and accept any outcome as God’s will. They are to forget the past and not criticize the mistakes and misgivings of past leaders because everything has been pre-destined by God. And what’s more, He enjoins us to forgive those who have wronged us. They are to plead with leaders to toe the right line and not abuse them. Both faiths condemn the use of offensive words. Any cleric who does or thinks otherwise isn’t worthy of teaching us the scriptures on a Friday, Sunday or any other day for that matter.
When Sheik Abubakar Gumi, a respected Islamic scholar, said on Sahara TV, shortly after ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s 18-page letter to President Jonathan entitled “Before it is too late”, that even if Obasanjo and his government were corrupt, it was for him and his friends and not to divide Nigeria and that he was ready to forgive Obasanjo for all he did to Nigerians, I knew we were in trouble. I, for one, can’t absolve OBJ of any blame talk more forgive him, because of a letter detailing another man’s sins. Equity would demand I do the same to Jonathan if he wrote the next president.
The Sheik has gone on to urge President Jonathan to “repent and resign” and to also say neither GEJ nor Buhari is right for us. He further did the abominable by saying that the APC had, by adopting Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a Redeemed Church of God pastor, as Buhari’s running mate got the “church’s feet engrossed in it and not just Christians”. That is unacceptable and he certainly doesn’t speak for me as a Muslim. Ahmed Ali, a Zaria-based Islamic cleric, did speak for me when he advised him to leave politics to politicians and focus on religious teachings. He should offer advice to those he wants to, personally, and preach to the youths to desist from violence. That is an ideal Ulama.
The Sheik has said his life has been threatened. Only Boko Haram would have done such if he had played his role from the get-go, not the average Nigerian who holds him and his kind in high esteem.
Respected priest Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka’s case is more pathetic. This man had endorsed Jonathan only to “de-endorse” him and opt for Buhari on another day. The new endorsement was accompanied by a scathing criticism of the Jonathan government. Fr. Mbaka is a hero to some who still remember how he fought the immediate past Enugu State government. He stood for what he believed was right and spoke his mind at all times. There was a price though: gunmen who stormed a prayer meeting of his in 2002 triggered a stampede that led to the loss of 12 lives — innocent souls who had gone there to worship God.
The Catholic Church has called on the Bishop of Enugu Diocese to caution him and has distanced itself from his endorsement of Buhari and criticism of the Jonathan administration. It was a most praiseworthy move. The secretary-general of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Rev. Fr. Ralph Madu, said it all when he advised him to say what the Holy Spirit reveals to him in a manner that will forestall confusion and trouble because “who are we to question the Holy Spirit?”
There is nobody who has witnessed, first-hand, the after-effects of religious clashes who wouldn’t be concerned by utterances like those of these two clerics. Their followers look up to them to know right from wrong and, in a very heat-prone polity like ours, it is best they hush their opinions, endorsements and political affiliations whatsoever.
I remember vividly what transpired after the last presidential elections in Kaduna where I was based then. What started with wanton destruction of the properties of PDP members in protest of GEJ’s victory by APC supporters escalated into a clash between Muslims and Christians, leading to the death of innocent non-politicians. Religious leaders and clerics, as fathers, are a major rallying point in the call for peace at such times. When a father stoops so low as to play rough with his children in public, he automatically loses the respect of everyone.
Sheik Gumi is the only Ulama I know who plays activism in the media. Ahmed Ali and others have come out to state the standards expected of an Islamic scholar. And I must commend clergymen like Pastor Enoch Adeboye who understand their role in a society like ours. He has prayed for both presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan and even visited the late President Yar’Adua at the Villa without publicly endorsing or campaigning for any of them.
At a time when supporters are threatening fire and brimstone if their candidates weren’t elected, I hope our men of God will preach peace and restraint instead of choosing candidates for their brethren. God help us.
Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano.