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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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PRIESTS AS A PRESSURE GROUP IN NIGERIAN POLITICAL SYSTEM

At the turn of 2015 the presence of Catholic priests and pastors of other denominations began to be felt more on the political space. This was greeted with a shock from many angles. It is usually believed that a priest should be confined to the pulpit and have no business in the political sphere. Some reasons might be behind it. One of them seems to be, the often, out of proportion proclamation, that the Church is non-partisan. Added to this is the prohibition of Catholic priests to contest for a political post. Another reason is the general but not always true claim that politics is a dirty game. I find a third reason to stem from the present challenge of priests to remain within their field. One also notices this in the present family and marriage crisis. Since the publication of Humane Vitae 50 years ago, there have been these questions and doubts on the business of the Church in a matrimonial bedroom. People have always, especially today questioned their eligibility to engage in marriage counselling since they are celibates. Sometime this year, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Kevin Cardinal Farrell, said that priests are not the best set of people for marriage preparation because they "don´t have the experience." This later argument, sees experience, not only as a sole source of knowledge but also limits the concept of experience itself. The same could  be  applied to priests and politics.

What has priesthood to do with politics? Who set the enmity between politics and priesthood and between their respective offspring? Will that be a case of bruising the heel and crushing the head? What are they saying about priests and politics? In 1992, one Fr. Moses Adasu contested for and won the governorship election of Benue State, a regime that lasted only for a year.  Some were sceptical of this move, others saw it as a welcome development to sanitise the Nigerian government and even went further to condemn those priests supposedly suffering from political apathy. Even at the turn of this millennium, shortly after the return to democracy, the birth of MASSOB and renaissance of Biafra, there was this promise hanging on the air that a priest will be the president of the Biafran country to be. One also hears that today, among some IBOP members all over the world. I think the mistaken assumption here is that priests are angels or superhumans hence infallible. I tell you, Fr. Moses did not find it easy and I doubt if before his death he ever advised any other priest to vie for a political post. In the past, we knew of priests worldwide who were politically active. The most prominent among them was Blessed Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Against his background of liberation theology, this archbishop spoke vehemently and fearlessly against the oppressive regime of his time. At Mass, he raised the chalice of salvation and was immediately shot. This made him drop the chalice. He did not just die a martyr. His blood mingled with the blood of Jesus, that very blood of the Lamb that ransomed us from the bondage of death. The blood of Oscar Romero sowed the seed of liberation for the Latin Americans. Shortly before his death he made a stunning statement; "if I am killed I will resurrect in the people of El Salvador". Oscar Romero is truly risen. In this part of the world, we would also not forget the likes of Leonardo Boff and Gustav Gutierrez. In recent times, the popes have been active in politics. However, here we must try to differentiate politics in general from party politics. In some countries mostly in Latin America such as Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and others, priests are constitutionally barred from becoming presidents. Many priests in the United States contested for political posts in the past, something the Church frowned at due to the separation of Church and State. In the 1917 Code, it was stated that no clergy should contest for political office without the permission of his competent ordinary or superior. Finally, in the 1983 Code, the clergy were definitively barred from party politics (cf. Can 285 §3). This was an aftermath of John Paul II´s public condemnation of priests holding political offices in 1980. Hence, the case of Fr. Moses Adasu contesting a gubernatorial post means not being in good stand with the Church. He was later reinstated. This was not the only case. In 2008 when Bishop Fernando Lugo became the president of Paraguay, he was laicised from the clerical state. 

Then it is necessary to state that even though priests are barred from political office, they are not really barred from politics. At least they constitute a pressure group in any given political system especially in an area that is predominantly Catholic. It is therefore not out of place to see politicians trouping to the so-called adoration grounds or miracle centres for campaign. The prophets of old were also politically active. I have once argued that the oracular formula "thus says the Lord" could also be a political Redemittel. The role of Zadok the High Priest in the dynasties of David and Solomon is a typical case of the togetherness of the cult and the monarchy and in addition the prophecy. Today also, especially in Nigeria priests constitute a deciding pressure group in the politics and an awareness of this is very important at this sensitive period of our political crises. They do not need to hold political offices or join a political party to influence the government of the day. Shying away from politics therefore is not to the credit of a priest. He must be aware of his environment, knowing full well that he too has a duty to contribute positively to the world of history and his contribution transcends Word and sacraments even though it wells forth from here. Our memory is still fresh with the role of Catholic nuns in the 2016 US election. Their propaganda of "An Application of Theological Principles to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election" obviously saw the emergence of Trump as the president of America. In Nigeria, priests are charismatic leaders, belong to the academia and are therefore highly respected. They should profit of this and in keeping faithful to their conscience promote a true candidate bearing in mind the principles of common good, human dignity and communal justice. Priests should not for fear of being tagged partisan shy away from this role. With their flock, they too are citizens of Nigeria and the decisions of any government affect them too. The issues of politics and conscience should form part of our doctrinal classes today. This will go a long way in curtailing the abuse of the pulpit by some among their ranks who trade on the chaos of the day by claiming that God has revealed to them that a particular candidate will emerge as a winner. This type of prophecy boils down to determinism leaving the people with passive or no role in determining the destiny of the country in years to come.

It is a pity that in a country like Nigeria, political theology is not really making any impact. The togetherness of politics and theology will go a long way in effecting a positive change in Nigeria. It will sharpen the mind of the people on what the will of God is especially when a prophet, pastor or Reverend Father tries to politicise the pulpit and lie in the name of God. It will protect the audience from being too gullible and enable them to engage the  preacher  or  man of  God in a creative, intelligent and holy  dialogue ensuring the togetherness of faith and reason.

The lay Catholics in active partisan politics are expected to serve as a leaven on the political space. But they cannot do that if they do not have a strong political formation in accordance with the social doctrines of the Church. They cannot do much if they are not in touch with priests who are expected to know better. Where this structure is not in place, there is then no difference between Catholic and non-Catholic politicians. A Catholic politician thus may not understand why an abortion or contraception bill is fundamentally wrong. He may not have an idea of what human dignity is all about. It may seem strange to him to talk about conscience in politics.  That they may represent us well, we have to form them well. Priests' wealth of knowledge from Ethics, political theories and philosophy, should make an inroad into the political space. We must teach our parishioners how a devout Catholic should see and embrace politics and also vote responsibly. This is only if the priests realise their role in politics as a pressure group, with one voice and one agenda. We should not be partisan but we can project a tested candidate against a wrong one. In Nigeria we have the likes of Oscar Romero; Anthony Cardinal Okogie, Archbishop Obinna, Bishop Hassan Kukah, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Fr. John Odey and last but not the least Msgr Nathaniel Ndiokwere (my spiritual father and an unrepentant Biafranist). They need not join a political party. Fr. Moses Adasu must not be a governor. Fernando Lugi would not have contested for the presidency. As clergy we have a vantage point on which to stoop and conquer. As 2019 knocks at the door, I beckon on priests to make good use of their studies and grace of ordination in teaching the people the right way to go in determining the destiny of our nation. Let us desist from politicising the pulpit and give the people of God the knowledge of salvation.

 


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