When Alhaji Atiku Abubakar went all the way to Abeokuta on Thursday, 11th October seeking the blessings of his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, per his political ambitions, many were not too surprised to see the General Overseer of Living Faith Worldwide, Dr David Oyedepo in tow. Knowing the heavyweight religious leaders carry, that was a well-calculated attempt at copping swing potential votes for himself. While a few pundits applauded the strategy, some rubbished whatever effect such optics could have on the way 2019 elections swings.
But as more pictures rolled in, it was no longer negligible a fact to ponder as staunch critics of President Buhari such as Sheikh Ahmad Gumi and Rev. Father Mathew Kukah also appeared in the photo-op. In fact, there was one of those pictures which showed Obasanjo and Atiku being flanked by Sheikh Gumi and Father Kukah; all joining their right hands in a bond. The immediate impact assessment which such photos indicate is that foremost religious titans and bodies are aligning with a candidate, even in spite of the political backing complementary from whatever godfather or influencer.
Nigeria is a very religious country with Muslims and Christians forming the majority. Such strategic political moves which the picture portrays also foreshadows a sense of national unity, religious harmony and the readiness to forge ahead in the midst of deep ethnic or ideological differences. I deem it a great maiden effort by Atiku and Obasanjo, amidst their political reconciliation, in trying to signal a sense of true nationalism which has been in want for some years in Nigerian politics.
Going into the numbers, Sheikh Gumi can be presumed to have a truckload of following from enlightened northern Muslims – and they are mostly going to follow in his direction as he directs. The followers of Ibrahim Zakzaky, who was instrumental to swing votes for APC from his Shi’a followers in 2015, and who is now under incarceration by the current administration, are most likely going to vote in the opposite direction of APC because they feel persecuted.
Members of the Living Faith Worldwide which Dr Oyedepo leads are most likely going to follow their ‘father figure’ in whatever direction he goes politically. Father Kukah, as the former Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat in Nigeria still holds great influence in the Catholic community as well as in the activist community.
However, the General Overseer of Deeper Life Bible Church, Rev. Kumuyi and a select entourage, were recently pictured paying a courtesy visit to President Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa. The Deeper Life Church following in Nigeria is very massive as well, to say the least.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), led by Rev. Dr. Samson Ayokunle of the Nigerian Baptist Convention has been at war with President Buhari’s administration since inception. Even if not for reasons that President Buhari is not so receptive of teeming demands from bodies such as CAN, but for reasons of the several persecutions and killings Northern Christians have witnessed in the past 3 years which the federal government did very little about, CAN has good enough reasons to swing politically.
Also, to underscore the wide reach of the Redeemed Church Christian Ministries (RCCG) led by Pastor Enoch Adeboye but from which the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is a member and a senior pastor too, would be foolhardy. In fact, Pastor Adeboye has been observed to tone down the critical rhetoric on the current government largely because of the Yemi Osinbajo factor.
And lastly, as it seemed that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, as the paramount leader of Muslims in Nigeria was backing Alhaji Tambuwal, current governor of Sokoto state for the PDP presidential ticket but which turned out unsuccessful, it is very much likely that the Sultan will now throw his weight behind Atiku due to the Tambuwal factor. If this happens eventually in the next few weeks or months, it is going to deal a bad blow to the hopes of Buhari’s 2nd term return.
It is thus valid to say that, in Nigeria, politics or political swings is as much religious as it is local. These twists and swings in the political affinity of people with respect to religion should also show young entrants with the intention of testing the political waters. It should take into cognisance the role religion plays in our local politics – at least until we can substitute same for basic governance ideology in the near future.