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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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ON POLITICAL MARTYRDOM

SINCE 2015 I HAVE been researching on the Book of Revelation. So interesting is its inseparability of religion and politics especially in areas of interaction and influence. The Christians of Asia Minor were not just religious martyrs but also political activists. Does this sound strange? I´m not surprised if it does.

Few years ago I would have had the same reaction. Now look at it. It was all against the imperial worship of the time. The Christians acknowledged only one God and Lord. Hence, the Emperor cannot be called Dominus et Deus (Lord and God). It is a title for God and his Christ. Hence, the confession of Thomas in John 20:28 reflects the Christian propaganda of that time, whereby the title "my Lord and my God" which was used in honour of the emperor was used by the Christians in honour of God who truly deserves it. For the Christians, the emperor is a mere mortal and should not be addressed so. Hence, when we hear Revelation mention King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Rev 19:16), here is the background; the emperor must be dethroned and Christ must be enthroned. This will not be easy for them and it will lead to persecution of all types. In the hearts of the fire of persecution, they are to remain steadfast in saying an uncompromising no to the imperial cult and hope for the day the dragon (the devil), the beast (the emperor) and the false prophet (pagan priesthood in Asia) will be dethroned. The end result will be the descent of the New Heavenly Jerusalem as an alternative society to the evil empire of Rome. Their role in the realisation of this alternative society consists in a nonviolent resistance of the Roman propaganda. This is what made them political martyrs – a sacrificial witnessing to the truth for the realisation of an alternative society where God dwells among men.

Starting from the time of Socrates who in preaching the truth and correcting the society of its vices was accused of corrupting the mind of the youths, many people both in scriptures and in history have suffered political martyrdom. Martyrdom does not necessarily mean blood shed even though that is the crown point of it. It is all about witnessing to the truth, standing on what is right even if it entails to suffer which is the case most of the time. The Greek word is hupomon  meaning steadfastness, not swinging from one end to the other, and following the bandwagon irrespective of where it is heading to. It is all about fidelity to conscience.  This is what distinguished the martyrs (those who remained steadfast in the face of persecution) from the non-martyrs (those who recanted their faith in the face of persecution). A clear instance is given by Eusebius of Caesarea of one Vettius Epagathus, who publicly defended the Christians before the emperor and was executed because of this. This is a clear case of Christian politicians defending the welfare of their brethren in the government – something rare today. Thomas More in the 17th Century was beheaded for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy in England. Today he is the patron saint of politicians and lawyers. The same would repeat itself in the Nazi Germany when some priests like Franz Reinisch will refuse the Oath of Allegiance to Hitler. In his own words, "I, as a Christian and Austrian can never take the oath of allegiance to a man like Hitler.

There must be people who are protesting against the abuse of authority, and I feel called to this protest." Some priests who found themselves in the concentration camps that time such as Maximillian Kolbe, Joseph Kentenich and Karl Leisner could also be labelled political martyrs without much controversy.

Back to Nigeria, with the current wave of political instability, one looks around in search of political martyrs. Where are those who are to stand out in defence of the truth even if they are standing alone? On July 24 we saw a massive defection of the members of the senate from APC to PDP. This event gladdened the hearts of many while some were not enthusiastic about it at all believing that it was borne out of selfish interest. The latter may be true but the former is not completely wrong. Now, look at it from this interesting angle. So fast, like a dream and like a wild fire, APC suddenly grew to become a totalitarian party akin to the ancient Roman Empire.

 It is now a case of haunting and persecuting those who do not belong to this party or who have contrary voice and belief. These are the political martyrs of our time.

 With the broom you can sweep the evil of injustice, corruption, bloodshed, insensitivity under the carpet and pretend as if nothing is happening. To be free and to go unscathed, one must be ready to join the followers of the status quo. APC has declared itself as the refuge of sinners. The first instance of this was when Jim Nwobodo declared his intention to embrace Catholicism and to join APC; two moves that I silently criticised especially the latter. Later, other political non-martyrs joined the bandwagon. That accelerated the decay we are experiencing today. The latest is Senator Godswill Akpabio. Shortly after the killing of IPOB members, some traditional leaders in Ebonyi State gathered and conferred a chieftaincy title on President Buhari. The South East governors proscribed IPOB. The governor of the eastern heartland sang the praises of a president who is not moved by the killings going on in Nigeria and is blinded at the corruption of certain people simply because they belong to his camp. I don´t want to comment yet on Kenneth Okonkwo (Andy).

With the polarised nature of the Nigerian polity, justice and fair governance become almost impossible. Hence, that some people can still hold their ground. The propaganda  from the land is for me a genesis of a political witnessing. They may not be saints, but their courage makes them a model.

Now back to the decamp 24/7, the wave of that very day and the subsequent ones may be borne out of selfish interest. They are the same people hopping from one wagon to another. However, that decamp could lead to the disintegration of the  APC and the rebuilding of Nigeria. This is my own point of view.

A parallel reading of Revelation chapter 13 (the persecution of those without the mark of the beast) and chapter 18 (the fall of Rome) makes an interesting application here.

 We need politicians who are prophetic and are committed to communal justice. These are the political martyrs of our time. In union with the blood of the IPOB members and those of the people of Middle Belt, they can build a new Nigeria. Where are the political martyrs? Where are those who are ready to say no to evil even when they are called to suffer? They are the ones to create an alternative society to APC. PDP is also not this alternative society. The political martyrs should therefore pitch their tent elsewhere.

 


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