Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) is missing. I mean hiding. No, he has not fled the country. He is, as it should be, in fine fettle, dispensing dollops of Biblical wisdom to his extensive flock. But other than that, he has been hiding, by which I mean that he has morally abdicated. In the middle of a grave national emergency, the kind that most countries experience only once in a generation, the esteemed man of God has stood out by his conspicuous silence. And what a loud silence it is.
The abduction of the Chibok girls has sparked considerable outrage both within and outside Nigeria. Within, a lethargic and episodic civil society appears to have found a timely cause célèbre. In several Nigerian cities, thousands of Nigerians, boasting nothing more than righteous anger, plus a firm conviction that it is the fundamental duty of a government to protect its citizens, have taken to the streets. In Abuja, day after day, protesters, mostly women, have organized peacefully but determinedly, even surviving the Federal Government’s recent cynical attempt to infiltrate and disperse them. In other parts of the country, and among the Nigerian diaspora, the common will appears to have been recharged.
Of course it is regrettable that it had to take the tragedy of the abduction of nearly three hundred girls by a gang of murderous bigots for Nigerians to realize that we never had a state properly called, and that what we call a security apparatus merely flatters to deceive. Still, the significance of the moment cannot be overestimated, and the challenge from this point forward is to make sure that the proper lessons about state building and adequate preparation for social emergencies are taken to heart.
It is this very significance that throws the silence of pastor Adeboye into bold relief. Why, you may ask, does his voice matter? The reason is simple. His intervention matters because he is one of the people who foisted the current occupant of Aso Rock upon us. No, he didn’t select him, and agreed; he did not openly campaign for him. What he did is more subtle and arguably more pernicious: He prepared the ground for the President’s social legitimation. Pastor Adeboye was instrumental to President Jonathan’s astute deployment of religious (read Christian) symbols and the enthronement of the narrative that he- the President- is God’s anointed, the man without political pedigree whom God himself has chosen. The visit to the Redemption Camp, the kneeling down for prayer, the malediction against the enemies of the President, the President’s own ostentatious spirituality- all are building blocks in the mighty edifice of his (President Jonathan’s) public presentation as a simple believer who did not hanker after power, who in fact abhorred all politicking, yet had power fortuitously thrust upon him.
Pastor Adeboye was an active participant in the construction of this narrative. But he was not alone. Other members of an increasingly reactionary religious elite have played their part in its development. In the middle of 2010, I had a debate on the pages of The Guardian with one of them, Father Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese. With the champagne from President Jonathan’s official inauguration not even properly digested, Fr. Kukah went to town to invoke the divinity of the President. In an article titled “The Patience of Jonathan,” Fr. Kukah, finding political sociology too constraining, attributed the political ascendancy of the President to “a monumental act of divine epiphany.” Not satisfied with his own personal failure to adduce a concrete explanation, Fr. Kukah threatened those who might as follows: “This man’s rise has defied any logic and anyone who attempts to explain it is tempting the gods.”
In that same piece, and in a subsequent wholly illogical response to my challenge, Fr. Kukah took comfort in astrology, claiming that the fact that the President is called Goodluck, and his wife Patience, can only mean that the gods themselves, for nothing other than an a mere appreciation of nomenclatural symmetry, had decided to reward President Jonathan with Nigeria’s highest office. Said Fr. Kukah: “Dr. Jonathan (yes, our President has a PhD) has done absolutely nothing to warrant what has befallen him. I am sure I can safely say he has neither prayed, lobbied nor worked for what has fallen on his lap. (My parenthesis.)
Fr. Kukah is an intelligent man. So is Pastor Adeboye. Both are doctorate degree holders who, intellectually speaking, can roll with the punches. But both are bad for Nigeria, and decidedly so. They are not bad people. They are wonderful individuals who no doubt mean well for the country. But it is their politics that is bad for the country. In the case of pastor Adeboye, most readers will recall a time, before he became the go-to pastor whom you can count on to whitewash Nigerian politicians’ dirty laundry, when his political sensibility was right. No more. Same thing with Fr. Kukah, whose rightward social turn is as baffling as it is absurd.
The common thing to both, as I have been pursuing, is that they literally connived in preparing the narrative of President Jonathan’s divine installation. And now that everything with the administration of the country has gone pear-shaped, both have retreated into an unbecoming and morally grotesque silence.
Nigerians must pressure them to speak up. For all their bad judgment, they remain widely influential, and we need the weight of their reputation as we sustain pressure on the government to find and bring back the Chibok girls. More important, we need their apology, apology for selling us a bad product. President Jonathan is not, as I insisted then, a divine candidate. He is a good family man doing his best in the current circumstances with everything in his capacity. The problem is, he is out of his depth.
Professor Obadare, a political sociologist, teaches at the University of Kansas in the United States.