'The church lacks electoral value' (The Nation (Nigeria))

As a one-time deputy speaker of Oyo State, Pastor Femi Emmanuel, the senior pastor of Living Spring Chapel International Lagos, has seen both worlds. He spoke with Sunday Oguntola on how the church can influence good governance and political emancipation. Excerpts:
Are you bothered by the tension in the run-off to the general elections?
It is normal in the Nigerian setting. But this year’s elections are particularly interesting. Never have I seen Nigerians as enthusiastic and concerned as now. Everyone wants to vote now. In the other years, we always complained about Nigerians being apathetic but this year people are interested in who governs them.
There are apprehensions to the extent that SMSs are flying around telling Nigerians to stock-pile food. Is that necessary?
No, that is not necessary. Yes, there would be challenges here and there but not to the extent that Nigeria will go to war. Definitely, there would be skirmishes and crises in some hot points but from what I can see and sense, life in Nigeria will continue after the elections.
What is the basis of your optimism?
We have prayed and I am sure God has answered us. Two, there is a peace pact signed by the parties
The one that did not last more than 24 hours?
Well, it hasn’t completely broken down and we believe it won’t. An average Nigeria doesn’t want trouble, except for one or two miscreants. But I am optimistic that our lives will continue after the polls.
How can we reduce the tension and violence to the barest minimum?
The greatest factor is for political actors to caution their supporters and followers. The political godfathers also have a part to play. There is a combination of illiteracy and poverty that make people do things they should do.
Those who want to cause trouble want to do it for some people. If you want to fight on my behalf and I say no, will you still go ahead? Some of these political thugs fight because they know there are people to defend them. If they have nobody, they will keep away.
Once the political gladiators are not ready to fight and instruct their followers not to fight, there won’t be violence.
Should religion play a part in who will elect to govern us?
In Nigeria, religion and traditions are part of our political culture here. You can’t play politics here without considering those factors. We are Nigerians, not Americans and you can’t take away that from us.
However, I believe the church is a sleeping giant. I believe the solutions to our national problems can emanate from the church if our leaders understand the dynamics of politics. I believe religious leaders have minimal roles to play but nothing more than that though.
Should they endorse candidates?
In my understanding, they shouldn’t be partisan but they shouldn’t be apolitical. It is wrong for the church to say it is apolitical. If there is any interest I have, it is to correct that mistake. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. If you say you are apolitical, it means you are not involved. If you are not involved, where is your place then?
I believe that if church leaders produce good people for the industries and marriage as well as other sectors of life, we should produce good people for politics. So, we shouldn’t be apolitical and partisan.
I don’t subscribe to open endorsement of any candidate. As a pastor, you should be a father to all. Endorsement should not arise at all.
Should the polls be postponed as advocated in some quarters?
The February 14 and 18 dates for me are sacrosanct. They should not be postponed. Rather, we should advise INEC to do everything possible to make the PVCs available. To shift the dates at this time will create more problems and suspicion. To shift the polls might be the beginning of the crisis we want to avoid. I think we have gone too far in the day to shift the polls.
INEC, unfortunately, has not done enough in the distribution of PVCs. I, for example, don’t have one yet.
Maybe that is because you have not made enough efforts
I have the TVCs. I was there this Monday but told it hasn’t come. INEC hasn’t done well in that aspect as far as I am concerned. There are still many Nigerians that have been disenfranchised. But be that as it may, it is too late in the day to call for postponement.
Shouldn’t INEC allow for use of TVCs?
I believe that too except that they said their card readers can only work with PVCs. If you knew that from the beginning, you should have factored that in. It is amazing that we do things haphazardly here. INEC gave us just three days to pick up PVCs. That is never enough in Nigeria. You know we are late starters.
You will only get them to act when the ultimatum is close. I know there are considering financial factors but that is the price to pay for credible elections. The number of people that you will disenfranchise might just make a shame of the whole process.
Are you bothered by the sharp division in the church on the forthcoming polls?
I am not bothered because like I told you, the church is a sleeping giant. I believe nothing any church leader says will affect the elections significantly.
So, their endorsements do not count?
It doesn’t matter because they are not there. The church does not produce who you vote for. If you don’t do that, you are not there. When I won my election, I knew the platform that took me there. My respect and loyalty were to the platform. As long as the church does not have a platform that produces candidates, it remains a toothless bulldog.
Their opinions, endorsements and supports do not matter at all.
So, the candidates running after them for endorsements are wasting their time?
Yes, they are making mistakes because they don’t have electoral value. The church in its current state doesn’t have electoral value. There is no single pastor that sent anyone there. Until the church has political structure and infrastructure, it won’t make much impact politically. Those who come to churches looking for endorsement are just like for whatever it is worth, let me just go there’.
When you are seeking elections, you look for a little here and there. They will leave the church, move to the mosque and end up in the shrines. Whatever could bring one vote here and there, they will do.
You mentioned the issue of ghost voters. What does that mean?
I will tell you we have millions of abandoned, uncollected PVCs. Have you found out why that is so? You know in politics, it is parties and kingmakers that mobilise people to register. Most Nigerians are induced to register. Where I registered, in a GRA setting, we saw miscreants and everyone coming around. They never live among us but they were induced to register.
In the previous political settings, those cards are collected by those who register them. They will hand them over to another set of induced people to vote. That was always the beginning of rigging elections are rigged from the point of registration. Now that biometrics are involved, those cards are useless. No one else can use them.
Those cards are what politicians invest heavily on. Once they cannot hijack boxes or announce results, they rely on the cards to rig. But INEC has taken care of that now. That is why the cards are abandoned. We have too many ghost voters. That is the intrigues of politicians and INEC has perked that. There is no way INEC can find out the perpetrators. The names and addresses they used are fictitious so INEC has wasted billions on those voters.
In your first electoral outing, you relied on your church connection. How did it go?
I failed woefully my brother. That is why I tell you the church does not influence anything. We have no structure to produce anything or influence anybody.
Do you subscribe to soldiers manning the streets during election days?
It should be strange to democracy but it is needful in our peculiar situation. The Nigerian factor is a real factor that we must pray to overcome with time, prosperity and education. There are those paid to foment troubles.
The soldiers and security agents involved should be well informed and trained to take care of things. Not to have them there now will be detrimental to our interest.
Are you impressed by the quality of campaigns these times around?
I am not at all. We have a lot of character assassination, name-calling and issues not be addressed. It is unfortunate that we have not seen issue-based campaigns. If you ask me, I will say that Gen. Buhari is not a Boko Haram sponsor. If he were, they wouldn’t want to kill him. Shekau has even said that Buhari is an infidel.
I pity Buhari because he has been successfully campaigned. That you are supporting Sharia does not make you a Boko Haram. Boko Haram does not believe that Islam as practised in Saudi Arabia is the original.
uhari is a Sharia zealot just as an average Muslim. Sharia is a way of life for them. He did that with all his zeal while in power. But that is different from being a Boko Haram. You can’t be one and have a running mate that is a Christian.
oko Haram does not accommodate any other different faith or belief. So, when they say he is a Boko Haram sponsor, confusing that with Sharia advocacy, it is unfortunate for him. So, I haven’t even see campaign of issues. Someone said he cannot remember his phone number. But is that what you need to govern well?
The corruption, economic downturn and insecurity problems facing us, no one is addressing them. There is too much triviality involved.
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