Continued from Part I
A society of beggars, parasites, and bandits cannot develop, it cannot know peace or stability, and it cannot be democratic. It can only gravitate endlessly as we are doing, in material poverty and moral regression. That is bad news. The good news is that the hardworking and honest people among us, and there are many of them are in revolt…bracing for a monumental struggle.”-Claude Ake, speaking about Nigeria in 1996.
Is Trump then the Messiah that we are waiting for as Christians in Nigeria? It is important to note that Trump’s presidency offers a prismatic light on the true face of America, and the facetious claims which have been accepted outside America that it is a model of democracy. The chaos, gun violence (close to 40,000 Americans were killed through gun violence last year alone, and over 605 people have been killed through gun violence in Chicago this year alone), the polarization among Americans; and the poverty I see in this country, especially among blacks who make up 39% of the number of Americans dying from Covid-19 today, are not the kind of social reality that I will wish for Nigeria or any other country for that matter.
Indeed, I am convinced that the idea of the nation-state and Western-type democracy has had its better days. One can look at the divisive politics in the West, the kinds of leaders the West is churning out, rising nationalism, terrorism, and violence in many countries, high rates of suicide, moral confusion; and the low percentage of voter turnout in most elections in Canada, U.S, and in some parts of Europe. What does a representative government stand for in most Western societies today where more than a half of the population in the U.S, Canada, UK and France, for example, does not support the president or prime minister? Thus, one may ask, how has American democracy fared under Trump and what models of political leadership has he offered? We will find out the evaluation report for Trump by the American electorate in the next three weeks or so. But there are some important points that both the Nigerian admirers and opponents of Trump need to bear in mind.
First, many Nigerians who support Trump see him as a strong leader and a successful businessman. This is an image tied to a vision of success and of toxic masculinity that dominates spaces and places, and that does not give much place for ethics and morality. Expediency and victory are placed above any other consideration and tied to the spirit of capitalism and the Christian coda of success as rooted in this divine hand that is guiding Trump. Maybe those Nigerian adherents of Trump see in him what they want to see in themselves. Is this also not the pattern of our false ideals of success and politics in Nigeria-the dominant alpha male who does anything or says anything in order to win?
Is Trump’s inelegant language and caustic insults and rhetoric not often the kind of language we often hear in Nigeria-people bragging, raining insults on others, employing the name of God for all kinds of ungodly deeds, and eviscerating their real or imagined enemies through any legitimate and illegitimate means. A German professor of history who is a very good friend of mine recently reminded me that Germans wanted a strong leader in the early 20th century, just like the Italians did, but after the horrors of Hitler, Germans now want a strong people with a humane leader-they to seem to have found such a leader in the affable and effective Chancellor Merkel.
Second, the Nigerian supporters of Trump praise him for standing up for traditional Christian values. In that case, one can see another model in the person of Turkish President, Recep Erdogan, who interestingly is also offering public visibility to his religion, this time Islam. Like Trump, he appeals to Turkish nationalism; he claims that Turkey is an Islamic state and is reclaiming churches like the Church of Hagia Sophia for Islam as part of his campaign to restore the Islamic culture of Turkey. He is also fighting against the Islamic version of secularism, just as Trump, in the view of these Nigerians, is fighting the secularization of the West through his so-called restorationist Christian agenda.
Many years ago, a French historian of religion, Gilles Kepel in his book, The Revenge of God warned of a dangerous resurgence of religion in many parts of the world in reaction to the perceived secularization of the faith. However, he argues that this return of the sacred is not characterized by a resurgence of the best ideals of a particular religious system. Rather, what emerges are religious fundamentalism, revivalism, intolerance, structural violence, narrow identity politics and nationalism cloaked in false religious narratives. We see this violent and intolerant religious resurgence of Islamic nationalism in Turkey and Iran, and in Hindu nationalism in Modi’s India among other places.
Discerning Christians may see some variants of this worldview in Trump’s unhealthy exploitation of his limited version of the Christian pro-life moral standpoints for political gains in the U.S. Catholicism preaches a consistent life ethical standpoint-the defence and protection of all lives from conception to natural death. This means the protection of the life of the unborn, of criminals, immigrants, the elderly, of the poor and hungry, the sick and the forgotten. It is, therefore, contrary to the pro-life teaching of consistent life ethics for someone to defend life, but then wage wars; for someone to defend marriage, but then separates children from their families, and for someone to defend the unborn, but does not defend and protect the lives of senior citizens who are the ones dying in large numbers in the U.S as a result of this pandemic.
The greatest challenge facing Christianity today is not how to forge alliances with politicians to defend Christian teaching, but rather how to change the lives of her members in such a way that they can change the world through their credible life and witness. Christians in majority Christian nations must learn to embrace diversity and negotiate their co-existence with those who don’t believe what we believe or who don’t live as we live; just as we wish that other religions in countries where Christians are a minority should not impose their own religious beliefs on Christians.
Indeed, the West’s experiment with Caesaropapism which gave birth to Western Christendom has taught Christians the lesson that Christendom or Christian theocracy is not good for Christianity. Christendom which is often represented in the three G’s of God, Gold and Glory is a political, economic, nationalistic, and imperialistic project of spreading Western civilization to the rest of the world through slavery, cultural imperialism, land grab, and wars all in the name of Christ. Christendom force-feeds people with the sweet food of the Gospel. Christianity, on the other hand, incarnates the values of Christ in the persons and cultures who embrace it so that their light shines out in the world to illumine the world with love, justice, and peace.
Christianity is a way of life and not a system of political, moral or economic domination of any state in our pluralistic world. Christianity for sure impacts politics and the economy, through her values which can and does infuse politics and the economy with evangelical flavour, social justice, sound morality, and spirituality. In doing this, Christian promotes the common good, abundant life for all, and human and cosmic flourishing. Politicians are never the best teachers of Christian morality. This is why we have our priests and preachers, and everyday Christians, whose heroic lives and credible lifestyles, lived after the examples of the Lord Jesus Christ, are the daily bible many people are reading today.
Politicians have always used Christianity when it serves their purpose. This is why the Catholic Church in her wisdom is engaged with politicians at all levels, locally and internationally, but will never wrap herself in the mantle of any politician. This Catholic principle, unfortunately, has been brazenly violated by many American nuns, priests, and bishops today. Those of us from Eastern Nigeria know of a certain priest who publicly endorsed Buhari as God’s gift to save Nigeria, but we have not heard from this priest lately since we all have found that Buhari is like a king without cloth. The entanglement of the churches with Hitler and Mussolini, for instance, are lessons for Christians today on how to deal with leaders even those who start out claiming to support Christian values.
Like our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the Christianity of the future will not be the political Christianity that allies itself with politicians, especially in every election cycle; it will be like Pope Benedict once prophesied, similar to the little flock of the poor man of Galilee-a religion that is changing lives through interior transformation of individuals and cultures particularly in the margins, in parishes, wards, families, and in the public square. It will begin from the margins and not from the centre.
Which Way Nigeria? Anguished Nigerians are looking for a Savior
And this leads me to my last point, the pain and anguish of my fellow Nigerians. Nigerians are searching for a saviour. The Igbo people particularly are searching for a Savior who can redeem us from what we Igbo people perceive to be a nation that has not offered us much other than genocide, hatred and marginalization. I share strongly in this sentiment of injustice against Ndigbo, I also carry this burden every day. However, I am deeply convinced that Trump does not represent any saving interruption to this painful yoke that our people bear from belonging to this nation, Nigeria.
By the same token, Christians in Nigeria are looking for a saviour from the religious persecution superintended by Buhari. Most Igbo people are Christians and so bear the second layer of burden and injustice from this Nigerian contraption. We Christians in Nigeria have borne a terrible burden of persecution for a long time. This persecution has become systemic and institutionalized by President Buhari with his preferential option for all things Islamic and Muslim in the choice of people who hold the highest political office in his government and the heads of the different branches of the Nigerian armed forces.
Many Christians have lost their lives to radical Islamists in the North and these conscienceless husks of humanity who have infiltrated others parts of Nigeria. Studies by such charities like Open Doors, Oxfam, Aid to the Church in Need, Save the Children continue to provide grim statistics about the situations of poverty and illiteracy in Nigeria. In 2019, things got worse for Christians in Nigeria, according to Open Door’s 2019 report reviewed in Christianity Today. Open Door tallied that 3,731 Nigerian Christians were killed because of their faith, almost double the 2,000 deaths the year before-and comprising 9 in 10 of all the World Watch List’s reported martyrdoms worldwide. Open Doors also cited 569 attacks on Nigerian churches and 29,444 attacks on homes and shops, compared to 22 and 5,120 the year before, respectively. The charity also noted that the reasons for these killings are because of ‘the religious cleansing to eradicate Christianity’, from Northern Nigeria.
However, Northern Nigerians also bear a burden which has become more shocking under their Buhari who has failed, even with all his Muslim brothers controlling the armed forces and police in the land, and the resources of the country, in protecting his Muslim brothers and sisters in his beloved Northern Nigeria. The North has become more insecure under Buhari than under the previous regimes. The so-called North which has held power and which today controls Nigeria’s oil wealth which it does not produce is a vast dry desert of corpses, beggars, parasites, and marauding murderous bandits who under the name of herdsmen have turned our farms and highways into killing fields. Our Northern politicians and military strongmen like Buhari, Abacha, and IBB and their Northern political and religious elites and conquistadors have pauperized their young men and women and celebrated keeping young Northern boys ignorant, unskilled, and uncultured. These politicians and religious oligarchs bask in the adulation of the almajiri band of roaming and roving beggars and talakawas, who sing sweet praises for them like untutored troubadours. The Northern political elites deny their youth any access to education, skills and job, and any possibility of being integrated into a well-organized pluralistic entity. These nameless Islamists, who have waged asymmetrical warfare on Nigerians, even in their backyards, are the lost Northern generation of wasted youth whose past was years eaten away by the locusts, and whose future is as gloomy as the darkness which they have imposed on the Nigerian state under Buhari. These bloodsuckers have continued their killing spree unabated as our ‘surprised’ and effete president watches with either with subdued complicity or culpable ignorance
Faced with these sad realities, Nigerians have embraced all kinds of conspiracy theories, and false narratives that could give them any semblance of hope emerging from the horizon. There are many Igbo people who genuinely believe that President Trump is standing up against the Islamic takeover of Nigeria or that he is in support of the creation of Biafra. But all these points to the fact that most Nigerians are desperate and are sinking into despair and looking for help hopelessly and haplessly into the horizon, beyond the Atlantic.
This long harmattan of suffering particularly worsened by Covid-19 and the failure of the Nigerian government to take care of Nigerians has zapped our energies and taken away our people’s ability to do a critical analysis of history and interrogate facts. It has weakened our collective fighting spirit and robbed us of our traditional Nigerian critical mindset and ingenious capacity of innovating the kinds of cultural practices which can potentiate our collective and concerted action against the malfeasance of our bad state actors and political elites. Nigeria is presently rumbling beneath an internal crisis of identity, history, and nationhood which President Trump or his successor (if Biden wins) will have no hand in unmaking in its present incarnation under Buhari. The sad thing is that Buhari has a schismatic Muslim-Christian imaginary of the Nigerian state, and shows no empathy for the suffering of our people, and has done nothing to stop the senseless killing of our people by his Fulani brethren.
My conclusion is that it is we the people of Nigeria who must fight for our second liberation and it requires finding a new form of structure that can reduce this haemorrhaging of human and natural resources, and the deep-seated pains, hurts, and injustice in the land. What Claude Ake said in 1986 is still true today. According to Ake, Nigeria is not democratizing and needs to begin the process anew. Our people must be mobilized as equal subjects in the process. I argue that this process of democratizing must be a process that is homegrown and that takes care of our rich diversities and specific geographical, ethnic, cultural and religious tapestry rather than this current Islamocentric federalism. Nigeria needs to urgently dialogue about finding a better political arrangement for living together in this country as one nation of many nations.
This new national structure cannot be the replication of Western ideas and institutions of the nation-state which I argue are no longer working in the West. Just to give an example, does anyone in Nigeria know the different work that the Senate and the House of Representative do for Nigeria other than channels for ‘chopping our money?’ You can mention other institutions and structures which are really useless in the country today. The political arrangement we have today in Nigeria is one that Ake argues makes us to ‘gravitate endlessly’ from one pole to another without any sense of history, political culture, or civic engagement. This is so because our military people have held us in bondage and continue to toil with our national destiny through forms of intimidation, abuse of power, and the violation of due process, the principles of separation of power, the rule of law, human rights, and a rejection of diversity, decentralization, and a culture of democracy, transparency and accountability.
There is no Savoir coming from the U.S. Trump has not saved America from its internal crisis and confusion which we see today in the face of Covid-19 that has emptied the entrails of America to the extent that at no other point in recent history has non-Americans pitied America in this way. So, America has a huge mountain to climb, and I am not sure that the current President or his successor is concerned about what happens in Nigeria. Nigerians must become the architects of our future. It is not hard for us to do this in Nigeria. We need to tell each other the truth; stop shedding innocent blood in this country; stop promoting Islam to the detriment of Christianity and other faiths, stop the corruption and culture of impunity in our country; heal the wounds of injustice in the land, restructure Nigeria through open dialogue, stop undermining one another, build each other up, help to uplift our people especially the poor and the marginalized, and commit to making the hard choices and sacrifices of going through the narrow path of assuming agency for our collective destiny as artisans of a better tomorrow.
Continued from Part II
Fr Stan Chu Ilo, a Catholic priest of Awgu Diocese in South-East Nigeria, a research professor of World Christianity and African Studies at DePaul University, Chicago, USA; Honorary professor of Theology and Religion at Durham University, Durham, England.
Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this article is solely the responsibility of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. The image is taken from the internet and assumed to be in the public domain. If this breaches the copyrighted material, kindly note that the break of the copyright is not intentional and non-commercial. The copyrighted material in question will be removed upon request and presentation of proof in that case, please contact me via the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org