Political opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan accuse him of using the pulpit of the churches he visits to launch his 2015 presidential campaign
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Mar. 17, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
WHEN on December 14, 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan stormed the Lagos-Ibadan expressway camp ground of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, to take part in the annual convention of the, his political opponents never attached any ulterior motive to his presence. In fact, many people considered it a normal occurrence. But eyebrows were raised the moment they saw the president kneeling before Enoch Adeboye, the general overseer of the church for a special prayer.
Said Jonathan to Adeboye on that occasion: “Safety in Nigeria is the priority of our government, just pray for us that God should give us wisdom. We will work hard against robbery; we are committed to tackling corruption and mismanagement of public funds and we are also committed to educational development. But I must tell you that none of these will work if God is not there for us. Pray that God should guide us. It is only God that can help me to change things. Pray for me now that I am the sitting president of your country. Pray for me not to deviate from the fear of God.”
But before the ‘man of God’ could grant his request, the picture of Jonathan kneeling before Adeboye had gone viral on the internet. Expectedly, it generated mixed reactions from members of the public. While his admirers commended him for recognising the place of the men of God in the affairs of the country, his critics accused him of playing religious politics. Commentators on Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites concluded by that kneeling before a prominent religious leader of Adeboye’s calibre , Jonathan was seeking subtle endorsement for second term even though general elections were still three years away.
For instance, Tunde Bakare, controversial Lagos pastor of Latter Rain Assembly, was very blunt in his disapproval of Jonathan’s action. Said the pastor: “Kneeling before Adeboye was a clear campaign tactic which also diminishes the president and his office. Jonathan has signalled the the commencement of his presidential campaign by going to kneel down before Pastor Adeboye. See, I am not saying that pastors should not pray for the president but Jonathan is a symbol of an institution known as the presidency. He cheapened the institution by prostrating before a man of God because of perceived political advantage he thinks he can get.
“By going to kneel down in the open before the pastor, the man (Jonathan) did not even recognise the dignity of his office. If it were a private thing, it is okay for you to crawl or kneel but it is a whole nation. That office has been diminished by a man who does not know the worth of it and does not deserve to stay there for one more day”
More than two years after his outburst, it now appears as if Bakare’s claim that Jonathan was seeking subtle endorsement for a second term in office by visiting churches is true. Although Jonathan is yet to formally throw his hat into the ring for the 2015 election, it is widely believed that the president is interested in seeking another term in office. And now that the presidential election has been scheduled to take place on February 14, 2015, Jonathan has intensified his visits to churches. Since the year began, Jonathan has worshipped in not less than three churches in various parts of the country.
On January 26, 2014, Jonathan was at the Living Faith Church, Keffi, Nasarrawa State, to worship with the over 20, 000 members of the church. He was accompanied by his son Ariwera, Olajumoke Akinjide, minister of State for the federal capital territory, FCT, Abuja, and Dameshi Luka, deputy governor of Nasarawa State. Speaking at the service, Jonathan assured Nigerians that the nation would overcome its daunting challenges with the prayers of the ‘faithful’ and commitment of the leaders.
“I assure you that this country will cross the bridge. Yes, we have challenges as a nation. Even the most developed nations pass through stages, sometimes even more challenging than what we face today. The Promised Land has never been an easy one for any nation. It was not easy for the Israelites. I promise that I and my colleagues will continue to do what is right for this country,” he said.
Less than three weeks after his visit to the Living Faith Church, Jonathan was in Lagos on February 16, 2014 for a Sunday service at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Olive Tree Parish, Ikoyi Lagos In his message on that occasion, Jonathan said his visit to the church was not politically motivated as many people have been made to believe. He informed the congregation that the prayers of various religious worshippers have kept the nation in peace despite the numerous challenges before the country. He also urged them to keep praying for the peace of the country, stating that he “believes Nigeria will come out strong at the end of the day.”
In continuation of what some sections of the media now refer to as “The Presidential Church Tour”, Jonathan also visited the Dunamis Gospel Centre, one of the most popular churches in Abuja, on February 23, 2014. Like he did in other churches, Jonathan told the congregation that their prayers were what had kept the country from disintegration. “If you watch the television, both local and foreign, we always have negative news as breaking news. The whole world is almost in trouble and as a nation, we are bound to have our own fair share of the negative news. With your prayers, surely we will overcome our challenges.”
As if visiting these three churches were not sufficient reason for his opponents to accuse him of playing religious politics, Jonathan announced recently that he would henceforth worship outside the Aso Rock Villa every last Sunday of the month. According to the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, reports, the president made the announcement the day he worshipped at the Dunamis Gospel Centre in Abuja. He hinged his decision to shuttle from one church to another on the need to show appreciation to Christians for their prayers.
“Traditionally, we have the State House Chapel where I worship every Sunday. If we do not have the chapel, probably I would have been here one or two times before this time. This year, we have decided that from now onward, until I leave the State House, every last Sunday of the month, I will go to different churches. The reasons are very obvious, not because if I worship in the State House, I am not worshiping God. But I feel that it is good for me to go round and continue to appreciate what our brothers and sisters have been doing.”
It appears harmless but Jonathan’s ‘church tour’ is a serious concern for his political opponents. While his admirers opine that he has a right to worship anywhere he chooses, many in the anti-Jonathan group see as it a subtle way of campaigning for votes ahead of the 2015 general elections. Matthew Dauda, an Abuja- based public affairs analyst, said even though Jonathan has a right to worship anywhere, the timing of his visits to churches might send the wrong signals to the public.
“As a Nigerian, no one can deny him his right to worship anywhere. But he is the president and that makes a lot of difference. The last time he did something like this was when we were preparing for the 2011 elections. He disappeared after he won the election and now he has resurfaced because another election is barely a year away. I honestly think it is a campaign strategy.”
Like many of Jonathan’s political foes, Bishop Ignatius Kaigama, The Catholic Archbishop of Jos, recently advised Jonathan to stop playing politics in the church. Featuring on a political programme on cable television network, Kaigama said Nigerian politicians do not care about the people but are only interested in the pursuit of personal interests.
“All we want are politicians who are ready to serve Nigerians. Nigerians have suffered enough. The politicians that get into power concentrate their whole energy in helping themselves. If I have to meet the governors or the president, I wouldn’t have to hide my disappointment. Our leaders are not giving their best to the nation.”
But Julius Adesoji, a staunch supporter of Jonathan, sees nothing wrong in Jonathan’s visit to churches. “It is natural to use what you have to get what you want. So if the president’s political opponents feel it is a campaign strategy, they should do the same too. After all, in the northern parts of this country, emirs tell people who to vote for. So, there is nothing wrong if pastors support Jonathan and help him to win in 2015.” As the 2015 election draws nearer, it remains to be seen what Jonathan’s visits to churches can achieve for him.