By Usman Babaji
Several voters in Bauchi State will make their decisions about who to elect into various positions based on what they have heard preached in their respective worship centres.
The religious metric has been condemned and described as divisive, but it still plays out in the political decision-making of some congregations led by their leaders.
Prior to the 2011 elections in Nigeria, clerics particularly in the north had their preferred presidential candidate — General Mohammadu Buhari who sought a presidential seat under the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
“Voters were enticed with certain promises should Buhari wins the election,” said Shuibu Surajo, a 57-year-old resident of Gamawa town in Bauchi.
But the then power-seeking Buhari fell at the poll and his major contender, Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Goodluck Jonathan won by a margin of 58.87%, according to data obtained from TheCable Index.
The outcome of the result was apprehensive, particularly in Bauchi where seven corps members doing their one-year mandatory service with the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) lost their lives to post-election violence.
Four years later, the northern bloc projected Buhari to win the election again. He won after his fourth attempt but with a merger of three political parties — the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) — that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The same religious approach was applied in 2015. Surajo told WikkiTimes that “all was good within the congregations.”
Countdown to the 2023 polls, the ‘political sermons’ heightened in several religious centers in Bauchi. Political discourses by both Muslim and Christian preachers became the talks of the altars.
CLERICS’ MESSAGES; PEOPLE’S CHOICE
In February 2022, hundreds of Muslim clerics, mostly Imams and Qur’anic school teachers, across the state met in Bauchi city to organise prayers for Governor Yahaya Bello who alongside other APC members ruffled feather with Bola Tinubu, the victorious flagbearer.
Unfortunately, their endorsement failed as Bello walked back home a failure.
Similarly, in April 2022, Rev Abraham Damina Dimeus, the Chairman of the Bauchi State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), tasked Christian politicians to get a candidate ahead of the 2023 elections.
Rev Damina while speaking at the annual Easter Rally held at First Baptist Church Bauchi, revealed that they would meet with the aspirants to produce a consensus for the followers to rally around.
For Ustaz Manga Abba of Federal Low-cost mosque, Misau local council, leadership and choice of leaders would be better if left to religious clerics to decide.
In his February 10’s sermon, Ustaz Manga said: “When leadership remains in the hands of non-religious persons, we cannot prosper. It’s by religious leaders justice will prevail.”
The cleric called on voters to cast their votes for credible God-fearing leaders in the 2023 elections.
BETWEEN A CLERIC AND GUBER CANDIDATE
During one of his Friday sermons, Dr Idris Abdulaziz, a Bauchi-based Islamic cleric told his congregation to vote against any candidate who disrespects clerics.
Dr Idris did not mention a name, but it was believed that he was referring to Senator Halliru Dauda Jika, a governorship candidate of the New Nigeria People Party (NNPP) whom Dr Idris, on several occasions alleged to be a divisive agent, describing him as a “message deliverer.”
In another sermon, the cleric rattled Senator Lawal Yahaya Gumau, the lawmaker representing Bauchi South who is also seeking reelection under the same NNPP. Dr Idris said Senator Gumau did not bring any tangible project to the zone, alluding that the party would not win elections in 2023 at any level.
“Do you think because of those exhausted engines you brought we will follow you with your party to Kwankwoso (NNPP presidential aspirant)? Go! Go! We will not follow you. You will not win this election,” he said.
Several listeners held that the cleric was one-sided and some of the sympathisers of Senator Jika and Gumau felt apparently frustrated.
The cleric would be dragged some days later when ardent loyalists of Senator Jika and a member of NNPP, Imamu Mukhtar Ahmed, dismissed the claim and stressed that his principal is a focused and result-driven candidate determined to win the 2023 governorship election.
Ahmed criticised the cleric for being political in his sermons, urging him to desist from what could affect his “image as a leader.”
“As a religious leader, being political and your unfounded allegations are disappointing,” he declared.
But the cleric refused to be silenced. A few days later, he responded to Ahmed and projected that Senator Jika would lose the votes of his followers. “Because you disrespected and insulted their teacher, they will not vote for you. Your candidate will not win the election,” the cleric affirmed.
‘FOLLOWERS ARE CONVINCED NOT FORCED’
Chollom Gong, the leading Pastor of COCIN LCC at Wuntin Dada, Bauchi, said the church only convinces members but does not force them.
“We can’t change the views of all people, however, when we talk, they understand us,” he told WikkiTimes.
Pam held that as clerics, they convince voters to vote for credible leaders irrespective of political party. “We want people to vote for credible leaders. This is what we normally call people on. Because we can get different parties in a particular church,” he said further.
The cleric said the ruling party (APC) had disappointed Nigerians and “we have no other alternative than to call on voters to vote for better”.
“The ruling party has disappointed us. We are in a pathetic condition. We don’t get tithe in churches, things are going wrong and worse after every day,” said Reverend Pam.
The cleric remarked that sidelining a particular section of people in governance also plagued the political sphere of the country and there is a need to put followers on track at all levels.
“This year’s election is very important because we need those that would take us to greatness from the challenges we are currently facing,” he added.
VOTERS NOW WISE
Fahad Ado Musa, a resident of Gwallaga, a suburb of the Bauchi metropolis lamented that he had his preferred candidate in 2019, but was convinced to vote for another with the hope that things would be better.
He told WikkiTimes that he voted in four consecutive election periods — 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. Of all, he said, only in 2019 his decision was not influenced.
“I can’t say that I will disobey them (clerics), but I would not be fooled anymore,” he said.
Elizabeth Bako, a resident of Dass LGA shares a similar view. “They are not forcing us but it convinces one’s mind, she told WikkiTimes. “Truly, I was later convinced by our Pastor in 2019.”
Although Shuaibu Surajo, a voter in Gamawa LGA believes that clerics exploit voters’ choices, he opined that with religious leaders in leadership positions, people would be guided and would not go amiss.
“They know better than we do, I think the reason we honour their choice is justifiable. My belief is that if we follow our clerics’ choices, we would not regret and they would not take us astray,” he stated.
The 57-year-old Surajo cited his community as a case study, saying: “Look at us here (Gamawa), there are different views among us and some are becoming enemies. So if our religious leaders have a preferred choice that we would rally around, it will unify us and such will help to minimize enmity and common clashes,”
RELIGIOUS LEADERS JUSTIFY INTERFERENCE
Responding to critics, Dr Idris Abdulaziz said he was only exercising his civic duty.
His words: “As a learned, it is my duty to talk about politics because I am under a leader, and also my family — then why not? Is the freedom of expression exclusive to the illiterates only?
“They go to radio stations to talk and why not learned ones? Is this fair? Does it mean in our constitution, a cleric cannot express his opinion?”
Reverend Pam of the COCIN LCC, Wuntin Dada, said as a citizen and a leader, he owes his followers a duty to tell them what is right.
“I am a citizen of this nation, a voter; then why should I not enlighten my followers? In fact, to talk about leadership in our society is the best thing we should do as religious leaders.”
“Biblically, Pastors and Kings were working hand in hand. They were mingling together and we are the means by which God talks to mankind. We can’t keep quiet, because our families are suffering,” he said, insisting that they only convince their followers through preachings but would never force them to vote for a particular candidate.
Dr Abdullahi Umar Babani of Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic (ATAP) Bauchi, a political analyst, said religious leaders can express their opinion as other citizens but they should not market their anointed candidates or political parties on pulpits.
According to the analyst, the interference of clerics in present politics was due to the influx of communication gadgets simplifying access to heterogeneous followers with unbridled speeches.
He also identified the growing competition among different denominations as well as the growth of western education among followers as other factors.
Babani argued that clerics should respect their followers’ rights to choose their preferred candidate or political party independently.
“They should know that there are different opinions even in the mix of the congregation, otherwise it can hurt the loyalists of other candidates,” he told WikkiTimes. “As a religious leader, he should not openly declare his opinion because of the circular nature of our country or some followers may feel hurt and get frustrated.”
Babani believed that clerics must exercise restraint when discharging their civic duties in order to maintain harmony between different political ideologies and faiths.
This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab.