Date Published: 10/28/09
Where are our own Liberation Theologians? By Idang Alibi
As a people, are we Nigerians doomed to eternal hopelessness? Have we abandoned our country in the hands of politicians who have shown clearly that they lack the ability to take us to where we aspire to be? Have we all given up on dear Nigeria because Nigeria is beyond help? Will we continue to lament about our plight until kingdom come with no liberator in sight? Since it has become clear to all of us that the political class has failed miserably and can not give Nigeria leadership or direction, are there no other set of elite who can fill the vacuum? Will we continue to pray to no end for miraculous salvation to come from the heavens? Is there no one willing enough, capable enough, innovative enough and courageous enough to do something about our deplorable situation?
Why am I posing these questions today? I am doing so because I can recall that when in the 80s the people of Latin America were at the peak of their despair in the hands of ruthless despots and failed politicians ( a state we Nigerians have reached today in the hands of our rulers) something totally unexpected but nevertheless positive happened. And what was it? When it dawned on some elite of the powerful Roman Catholic Church of Latin America that the bloodthirsty and thieving dictators had completely emasculated all opposition voices and there were no enlightened, courageous and disciplined segments of the society left who could midwife sorely needed change, there emerged a set of vocal Roman Catholic priests who became the rallying point of the society. This, I want to point out, was very much to the discomfiture of the Vatican in Rome.
These Latin American men in white cassocks came to a realization that instead of them preaching endless sermons about sin and righteousness and the glory of heaven and the nastiness of hell, they had an even greater responsibility: to join or rather lead in the struggle for a better society on earth for the people. And that was how the concept of Liberation Theology was born. Who could ever have imagined that it is from the conservative Roman Catholic Church (of all segment of any society) that there will emerge radicals to lead the revolution in much of Latin America? That is why I said earlier that something completely unexpected but positive happened.
In the same period of the 80s, another Roman Catholic priest in another continent, this time the continent of Asia who goes by the ironic name of Cardinal Sin, the Bishop of Manilla, became the most potent force in the quest of the people of the Philippines to free themselves from the dictatorship of late Ferdinand Marcos. It is interesting, as the Rev. Fr. Hassan Kukah pointed out to me a few days ago, that just as the ordinary people of the Philippines who were clearly tired of Marcos’ ways were praying to God and urging Cardinal Sin to lead them in the struggle against Marcos, Marcos was also coming to Cardinal Sin beseeching him to help pray to God for him to remain in power!
This may sound funny but the long and short of the Philippines’ story is that with the help of Cardinal Sin and the church he led, the People’s Power revolution took place in that country and Marcos was overthrown by the collective will and never- say- die spirit of the people and the inspirational leadership of the church.
Let me also cite the story of the people of Poland. In this country, the late Pope John Paul 11 himself was the inspiration behind the overthrow of the communists and the coming to power of the Solidarity Movement. Here, as in the other cases cited, the church played a prominent role in bringing about positive change to society. The church did not play the ostrich, burying its head in the sanctuary praying only and pretending that all was well when people were dying from hunger and extreme brutality in the hands of unconscionable military or political leaders.
Today, millions of Nigerians are without jobs. Those who have some form of employment have a challenge of feeding well. Millions of people do not have decent roofs over their heads. Fear and insecurity are the portions of millions of citizens. While a few privileged ones are stealing in billions and millions, some boasting that the money they have accumulated will last to serve over three generations of their family, millions have no money to meet their very basic necessities.
In the face of all this, the church is remarkably quiet. Or is it that I have chosen not to hear the voices of the clergy? This is what has provoked my question: where are our own Liberation Theologians? Have they not been born yet so we should begin to pray and hope for their emergence? Where is our own Cardinal Sin? David Oyedepo, William Kumuyi, Enoch Adejare Adeboye, Chris Oyakhilome, Matthew Ashimolowo and a host of other church leaders in Nigeria command millions of unarmed forces. Why have they not seen the need to mobilise these forces to bring about desirable change in our country? To the best of my recollection, one church leader who went close to this ideal of practical, liberating Christianity is Dr. Paul Enenche, Senior Pastor of the Dunamis Bible Church, Abuja who mobilized his church members to parade the streets of Abuja in a campaign against corruption some time last year. That was a church’s public stand against an ill that is draining life out of our country. And that is what the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to be preached.
One statesman is said to have said that politics is too important to be left to the politicians. Why are men in priests’ cassocks not getting into the fray, uttering audible voices against the malfeasance of the politicians? Are our priests in cahoots with the politicians? Some one said to me recently that our clergy feel too comfortable in the company of politicians. Is that a possible explanation about why they are not speaking more forcefully against the ills of the politicians?
I am not competent to speak authoritatively about how Islam has been used to bring about the kind of change I am speaking of here so I respectfully leave that to my senior colleague and friend Adamu Adamu and the current CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who are all well versed in Islam. But one clear example of how in Islam people of the pulpit who have no guns or cudgels can overthrow the men of the podium who are armed with armoured tanks and AK 47 assault riffles is the late Imam Ayatollah Khomeini.
Even while in exile in Iraq and later France, Khomeni was still able to influence opinion back home in Iran through his taped messages. He spoke to the people of Iran about the Islam of liberation from political tyranny at home in alliance with foreign powers.
Ideas are supposed to have wings. The French Revolution inspired other revolutions in much of Europe. Why has the Liberation Theology of Latin America not inspired our own pastors and imams here to become the rallying points of our society?
As is true of the Christians in Nigeria, the Islamic establishment is hands-in glove with the rulers. Apart from the late Sheikh Jaafar Adams and Mahmoud Gumi we hardly hear of iconoclastic Islamic preachers who speak confrontationally against the misrule and corruption of the politicians. It should worry us very much that in our country, the clerics and the political class seem to agree on most issues of the day.
There ought to be a healthy distance between politicians and men of the pulpit if the interest of the larger society is to be better served. It was Adams Smith who said that when key professionals are in a conspiracy, it is the consumers who suffer or something to this effect. Today, it looks like the professionals who wear flowing gowns who call themselves political leaders and those other professionals who wield the Koran or the Bible are in cahoots against the ordinary people of Nigeria. And is it any surprising that Nigeria is going down and down everyday in almost every facet of national life?
Why are the men of God who ought to be on the side of the people now in apparent alliance with the powerful people who oppress the people? The answer is not far to seek: the love of the good things of life. We often deride the advent of prosperity preaching among the Pentecostal Christians but greed is not the exclusive preserve of any one religion. Some of the servants of God in Islam seem not to be immune against the lure of money, power and influence so much that they have become blind to the sins of the politicians.
In the Christian fold apart from Pastor Tunde Bakare, it looks like all other pastors see nothing very wrong with what is going on in the country. Every day, they ask their congregation to pray for Nigeria. Is this all that they have to offer? Is this a theology of being submissive even to oppressive and visionless leaders? Prayer is good but it can never be an end in itself. Prayer without corresponding action is as unhelpful as not praying at all because God will not come down to help prayer warriors by overthrowing incompetent, clueless and ineffectual leaders on their behalf. For any miracle to happen there must be a part for humanity and a part for divinity.
Our spiritual leaders have taught their followers enough about praying. They need to now teach them about the kind of physical action that will nudge their leaders to more progressive leadership. I will like to see our priests and imam lead out their followers to demonstrate on the streets of our towns, villages and cities against certain actions and inactions of the men and women who are governing us. Let them seek to translate the enormous influence they wield among their followers into a potent force for the liberation of our country from misrule.
Mr. Idang Alibi is an Abuja-based journalist and is a columnist for the Daily Trust newspaper