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IMPACT OF RELIGION ON POLITICS” IN THE NIGERIAN ENVIRONMENT
1.1 Background of the Study
Religion is a system of social unity commonly understood as a group of beliefs or attitudes concerning an object, person, unseen or imaginarybeing, or system of thought considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine or highest truth, and the moral codes practices, values, institutions, and ritual associated with such belief or system of thought. It is a structure within which specific theological doctrines and practices are advocated and pursued; usually among a community of like-minded believers (Johnson and Samson, 1994). Religion can be found in all known human societies. Looking at the record of earliest societies on record, they show strong suggestions of religious signs and observances.During thecourse of history, religion has continued to be a significant part of societies and human experience, shaping how individuals react to the environment in which they live (Pagbamila, David and Issa2014).
McGee (1980: 362-365), posits that the religious communities of human beings are often distinguished by reference to their central object of worship.Around this sacred object, person or concept believed patterns, ritual practices, ethical system and social organization take forms. He defined religion as “a set of activities organised around the sacred – that non-empirical source of power, transcendence, mystery and aive” the basic dimensions of religion includes the belief pattern which accommodate the sacred reality people experience through revelation, reflection or divine illumination; ritual practices which are prescribed for believers as appropriate human response in the relationship to the ultimate source of being or value; ethical codes which are behaviour directed toward other person; and cultic organization.
For politics, Abearian and Massannat (1970:9) defines it as “a phenomenon which has its origin in the class of individual preferences, its process in public demand for accommodation of completing goals and its output in the form of binding public policy”. In a similar vein, David Easton (cited in Olaniyi, 2001:2) famously defined politics as being concerned with the process of “authoritative allocation of values in any social system”. Values here included all things sought after in the society such as wealth, respect, prestige, position, security, power among others.
There is an incontrovertible connection between religion and politics. While the actual role that religion plays in politics has remained debatable, the nexus between the two concepts hasbeen established for long (Ralana, 2010). Religion does not make people good or bad. On the contrary, it is being used as an instrument of oppression and deceit in Nigeria. It appears that Nigerians have assigned themselves to this fate and this is possibly further compounded by poverty, illiteracy, and lack of political education on the part of majority. This position is further aggravated by the general perception that politics is a dirty game and only people who can deceive, manipulate, and greedily accumulate wealth are meant to participate (Egbewole and Etudaiye, 2011). The number of religious people in Nigeria runs into millions, yet the level of insecurity, destruction of lives and properties and crimes committed in God’s name are overwhelming. The need for political stability in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. A major variable in the Nigeria polity is the relationship between religion and politics which some support the notion of the separation of religion from politics, so that the former will not imbibe the corruption inherent in the latter. Generally speaking, there is a common fallacy that religion and politics are twodifferent fields of social activities. This leads observers sometimes to speak of the politicization of religions, and aver that it is against the original intent of the founder of religion, our God Himself (Van der Veer, 1996:50).All over the country, religion plays an important role in the daily lives of her citizens; the way we interact with one another, our choice of dressing, food and politics are mostly affected by religion. In other words, religions and politics are intertwined and it empowers man to function in his society by contesting for a political position so as to contribute his ideology. Nigeria’s population of over 140 million is divided nearly equally between Christian and Muslims and littleportions contributed by the traditional worshippers.
The importance of this division is well illustrated by the fact that religion, not nationality, is the way in which most Nigerians choose to identify themselves; though not in all cases. Thus, the domains of religion, secularism and politics are becoming increasingly intermingled in both overt and covert ways. Invariably, sectarianism is inherently problematic (Tar and Shettima, 2010). Hank Eso sees religion as a tool of politics and that in the real sense of it both make strange bed fellows. In his words, “just as soccer is singularly the sole and most unifying factor in Nigeria, nothing is as divisive as religion especially when it is used as a tool of politics,Hank Eso (2003).It should therefore be noted that in sharply divided societies, like Nigeria where Islam and Christianity are in competition, ethical sentiments are wielded and this invariably threatens the stability of the system. Despite efforts to keep religion and politics separate,history offers many occasions where the two have often been very closely intertwined. Sometimes,religion endorses or supports a particular leader or system,an example is the divine right of kings in which royal power is believed to be derived directly from God and therefore mustbe obeyed (Romans 13:1-3 AMPversions). Also Niccolo Machiavelli advocated that rulers use power of the church to establish and maintain their reigns, believing that this would maintain stability in the society. In a related way, religion has often been used as a means of defining or maintaining social class structures.
Conversely, different classes have at times overwhelmingly adopted different faiths. On the other side of the coin, some governments have either endorsed or fully administered specific religions. Sometimes to the degree that citizens have strongly been discouraged from following any other. One of the best known examples of this is the Church of England which remains today as the official Christian church in England with the Monarch empowered as its supreme Governor. Other examples include the Roman Catholic Church status as the official religion of several countries in Europe and Latin America and the official status of Islam in many countries around the world. Contemporary efforts to impose Sharia law in various places around the world, outside the pre-existing Islamic states also fit this description (Reeves and Taylor, 1999).
Thus, there is a need to look at the effect of religion on politics in Nigeria since independence, the project inNigeria since independence, the effect and impact religion has placed in politics and how the three religions (Christianity, Islam, African Traditional Religion (ATR) can bring about sustainable development and harmony among itself and politics.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
This section is devolved to the consideration of the roles of religion in politics. Indeed, religion and religious associationsperforms a numberof democratic roles but the extent to which these roles have been performed is another issue. Religion is a complex phenomenon, therefore the social functions it performs are quite diverse –some religious functions aremanifest-immediately observable and some are latent not immediately discernible. It should be recognised that if an activity helps the integrative performance of an organization, then we call it functional. Roles like support for tolerance, peaceful cooperation and love are promoted through ministerial and lay practices.
Borrowing from the essay of Rotimi, Mala and Aiyegboyin (1999:33-41) religion performs six interrelated functions, namely, restraining or criticising the conduct of government, encouraging political participation, promoting democratic values and norm, articulating and aggregating distinctive societal interest, generating cross-cutting identities and providing avenues for the development of leadership skills. At times, religious organization and people of faith may be affected in specific ways by the political climate of the society that surrounds them. For instance, the debate over the religious status of the Nigerian state remains one of the most passionate and acrimonious.This has often been beclouded by bellicosity, zealotry, arrogance and prejudice. In the end, there has always been more heat than light (Kukah, 1999:102).