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PENTECOST, PEACE AND POLITICS

ON PENTECOST SUNDAY, THE Gospel according to John, which is read at Mass, takes us back to "the evening of the first day of the week", the first Easter Sunday.  Then Jesus appeared to his disciples locked up in fear.  "Peace be with you," said  he  to  them.   And  he breathed on them.

We in Nigeria need the peace of the risen Christ, the peace of Pentecost, at this point in time.  We have always needed it.  But it seems we have greater need of that peace these days.  Those who know Nigeria will tell you that the tension we experience now is greater than the tension that preceded the 1967-70 war.  For the clouds are gathering and, like those disciples locked up in fear, we too live in fear.  Yes, we are in the rainy season.  But the clouds that gather in our horizon are not signals of an imminent heavy downpour of rain.  They signify the imminence of another stormy season of incivility,  a  season of electioneering campaign.  These clouds, one hates to say it, announce bloodshed.

Nigerians woke up on New Year's Day in 2018 to news and gory pictures of the butchery in Benue.  States in the Middle Belt-Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Kogi-have been turned into killing fields.  Zamfara State in the North West has received its own share of bloodshed.  The North East remains an enclave of insurgency despite repeated claims that Boko Haram has been technically degraded and or decimated.  Many Nigerians have become refugees in their own country, hiding from killers on a rampage.  We do not want to call these fleeing Nigerians refugees, so we call them internally displaced persons. Without addressing this problem of heightened insecurity, the political class is busy preparing for elections in Ekiti State and in Osun State, two dress rehearsals for 2019 elections.  And what do we see?

We see a frightening absence of internal democracy in the two leading parties.  We see that they cannot even organize peaceful and credible primary elections.  Lives have been lost.  Innocent bystanders have died of stray bullets.  Within the political parties are schemes and plots to "capture power", with no manifest intention to represent the people, no intention to serve them.  Yes, their stated intention is to get into public  office  to serve.  But  must those who  offer  themselves  for  public  service  offer  innocent  lives on the altar of their political ambition?

In the absence of internal democracy, all manners of means are being deployed by candidates and their sponsors.  They use ill-gotten money, violence and deceit.  They saturate the air with their desperation and power addiction. New alliances are being forged, old friends are being discarded like disposable napkins while new foes are being made.  We are in dire need peace.  But the gathering storm announces violence.  Instead of rainfall we foresee bloodshed.

It  is regrettable that without addressing the issue of killings and displacement of Nigerians from their homes in the Middle Belt, the political class is preoccupied with snatching power in 2019.  It is even more regrettable that there is reluctance on the part of many Nigerians to collect their voter's cards, a sign of frustration and despair.  There is growing recession of confidence in the electoral process.

The electoral process itself is like a play in which many characters take the stage.  There are voters and there are politicians aspiring to be elected; then there is the electoral commission which organizes the election; there is the police whose assignment it is to guard the process by protecting the vote, the voter, the contestants and the electoral officers; and of course, the press whose task is to inform and not to misinform.  But in our strange electoral process in Nigeria, the voter is uninformed or misinformed about the antecedents of candidates.  In practical terms, we are voting for candidates we know little or nothing about.  The media is compromised, and the electorate does not insist that all candidates for public office come out to be interrogated in public as to their intention and suitability for office by way of televised debates. 

The neutrality of the umpire is not what one can vouch for.  Neither can we vouch for the neutrality of the police.  The umpire is appointed by the sitting President, who is himself a contestant.  So, it is like a player choosing the referee.  The President also appoints the head of the police and heads of all security agencies.  If you are any of these officials, and you know that if the President who appointed you is not reelected you will most probably lose your job, expecting you to be neutral is expecting too much of you.

The sad verdict is that the electoral process, as currently put together, does not serve the Nigerian.  It serves the incumbent.  Yes, we have had the apparition, the pleasant surprise of a sitting President who chose not to interfere with the process and who conceded defeat even before all the votes were announced. But that was only an apparition.  Like every apparition, it was given to our visual senses and withdrawn almost immediately.  What is left in the palaces of memory are images of what appeared.

Our peace is threatened by a process that ought to assure us of peace but facilitates violence.  Our peace is threatened because elections in Nigeria are about access to Nigeria's wealth.  Our peace is threatened because politics is the most lucrative business in Nigeria. Politics is the most lucrative business in Nigeria because we run a system where government is more powerful than the citizen, and where a government that is more powerful than the citizen dispossesses the people of their land, and of all the wealth on the land and in the belly of the land.  For as long as we run such a system, the people will remain dispossessed, impoverished and disabled by those whose primary responsibility is to protect the people, their land and their wealth.  For as long as we run such a system, our electoral process will be driven by violence.

This is the story of Nigeria as we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit this year.  The feast of Pentecost and the situation in our land remind us of an urgent need for personal and collective purification.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of renewal because the Spirit is the Spirit of peace.  He is the breath of God blowing away our past and present misdeeds. We need this breath of peace, this breath of genuine peace.    By giving us his Spirit, God gives us new breath.  We need to accept this offer. 

While it is true that our votes have not always counted, it is also true that we have not always exercised good judgment in voting.  We allow our votes to be determined by ethnic and religious sentiments, by campaign slogans, false promises and propaganda.  We show preference for politicians who will tell us lies instead of politicians who will tell us the truth.  Seduced by their "welfarist" policies, we cast our votes for politicians who make false promises that they will take care of us instead of politicians who will tell us the simple fact that government does not take care of the citizen, government's role is to secure an enabling environment for the citizen to take care of himself or herself. 

At Pentecost, we need to take in the breath of wisdom, of good counsel and good judgment that the Spirit of God is so that, as we approach another electoral season, we will vote rightly.

 


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