When the news broke that men of the Department of State Services had supposedly attempted to arrest Prophet Isa El-buba, the General Overseer and President of Ebomi Ministry, my first thought was that the present administration had scored another own goal. Lately, the prophet gave a fiery sermon against President Muhammadu Buhari where he alluded that transcendental forces are arraigned against the President for his many shortcomings. Christians in Nigeria, he urged, need to match the spiritual forces aligned against the President by getting their Permanent Voter Cards and doing the needful at the forthcoming 2019 polls. It was a rather stirring sermon, full of head-nodding references to the failures and hypocrisies of the Buhari administration, and how the nation will be imperilled if he wins a second term. While some folks took El-buba as a vessel through which God is warning the nation not to trade her destiny for another leader that merely glitters on the surface, the more cynical listener recalls that the same El-buba prophesied that former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan would defeat Buhari in 2015. If he is back on the block ahead of 2019 and is prophesying against the same Buhari, then his prophecies might just be a continuation of the 2015 elections by other means.
Regardless of the speculations about the political undertones of his prophesies, whichever agency of government that reportedly laid a siege to his house and perhaps attempted to arrest him has helpfully (!) increased the handwriting of ordinance against the President. They gave his opponents and his traducers one more joker to wield against his candidature. Any show of aggression on the part of the state, in the light of Buhari’s persistent poor human rights record yields the plot to the aggrieved mob cataloguing the autocratic sins of President Buhari. Prophet El-buba might not be the most popular pastor in Nigeria right now, but, his story might be about to change, no thanks to overzealous agents who have handed him a narrative of King Ahab vs. Prophet Elijah persecution. By making the prophet a victim of their excesses, they gave people the yarn to be spun against them in various churches in the coming months. If I could look into the future, the question I want to be answered is what good the pastoral crusade against the current administration will do other than the mere possibility of switching the All Progressives Congress with another party of equally clueless johns?
The Buhari administration has, no doubt, made governance a questionable enterprise. Its lethargic reaction to urgent national issues, provincial leanings on religious and ethnic lines cum shoddy treatments of opponents – real and perceived – have all angered Nigerians to the point that the times seem right for the pastors to stand in the gap, don the toga of Martin Luther, and drive a reformation of the polity. This Pentecostal power push against the political establishment began about a year ago when Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God urged members of the church to become more politically active. He reportedly told church members – to everyone else’ hearing – that come 2019, they would reprove the Federal Government’s poking nose into their business by using their PVC to vote the candidate who would safeguard their righteous interests.
In recent times, as the issue of the Fulani herdsmen and the massacres they perpetrate in communities around Nigeria reach an unbearable crescendo, more men of the cloth are coming out to speak against the slaughter of innocents and the rather lukewarm response of Buhari’s administration to the violence. Among the most vociferous voices are Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly, Bishop David Oyedepo of the Winners’ Chapel, Pastor Paul Eneche of Dunamis International Gospel Centre, and also Apostle Johnson Suleman of Omega Fire Ministry. The frequent acts of wanton violence by Fulani herdsmen have made their prophetic campaigns an urgent task and even a necessity.
By challenging the administration frontally, they take the space of civil society activists, who, until the last administration, were a strident voice against the massacres perpetrated by Boko Haram. The transcript of Bishop Oyedepo’s message on the Fulani herdsmen is telling in this respect. He interweaved both political and theological arguments to make a not-so-subtle case against the government. Only a simpleton would read his latest speech about Fulani herdsmen and wave it aside as insignificant. It is a precursor to how religion would be actively politicised for next year’s elections. Also, one should not assume that the Muslim political establishment would simply sit back and watch their own being swept off by the force of Pentecostal power. They will actively mobilise to fight back to protect their supposed turf from Christian crusaders.
Religion and religious identity, are, of course not the sole determining factors in the coming elections. There are many other contributing factors to electoral victories but religion cannot be played down especially now that it is anchored to a popular grievance. Neither can the outcome of the electioneering be considered a given based simply on which side of the divide the religious establishment chose to stake their claim. Jonathan, for instance, was the unofficial candidate of the Nigerian clergy in 2015 and he actively wooed their support for his candidature while his opponent was left to make do with the pastoral support of the like of Rev Father Mbaka and Pastor Sunday Adelaja.
Jonathan’s dalliance with pastors, considering their immense cultural influence, should have made him a shoo-in candidate but he still lost to a Muslim who had to get a Christian deputy to prove to Nigerians he would not Islamise the country. Buhari’s victory at the polls not only proved the limit of the Pentecostal vatic influence, it also showed that the ground beneath their feet shifted without them knowing. Regardless of the outsized influence of the pastors, they found that as of 2015, people were tired of a leader whose weakness at combating the evils that combat the state – terrorism, corruption, and all forms of dysfunctionality – also symbolised the effeteness of the state. By the time the election drew near, Nigerians were practically begging for a “strong” leader and Buhari was able to synchronise himself to that image. Ironically, almost three years after, the so-called strong candidate has only made the country weaker.
For 2019, pastors probably would not stop at a subtle endorsement of a candidate but actively stake their reputation on the candidature of Buhari’s opponent. We should therefore be concerned whether their concerted political efforts towards 2019 would not merely result in the removal of a clueless candidate who would be replaced with another pseud. No effort is worthwhile if it merely mobilises people to the polls with the spectres of “Islamisation,” “northernisation” and “Fulani herdsmenisation” hanging over their imagination. Nigeria needs more.
While the outcry against Buhari is largely based on his lackadaisical body language, we should not make the mistake that the resident evil that needs to be exorcised in 2019 is merely personified in him. Whatever his failings as a leader and as a human being in the Fulani herdsmen crisis, what we should not lose sight of is the fact that orgies of violence – either ethnic or religious based – are a recurring decimal in Nigerian culture and history. At different times, leaders have reacted to the acts of violence with varying levels of sensitivity and matching brutality. Those who are going to use the altar of God as a bully pulpit to mobilise against the present administration should please be reminded that there should be a bigger agenda than “anything but Buhari.” We urgently need more than an electoral process that swaps jaded and visionless politicians with the ones who have long dreamt the last of their dreams. The country needs new leaders, a new team, and new names of people who can run an economy efficiently and productively. That should be our end goal, not merely kicking out a moral coward.