A decision by a Nigerian Pentecostal Church to set up a directorate on politics and governance, ahead of the 2023 general elections has become a source of controversy for those who believe it is a move intended to boost Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s chances of becoming President.
Redeemed Christians Church of God (RCCG) recently announced its foray into the political arena, by directing each of its 32,000 branches to appoint officers that would form the newly created directorate.
“You are kindly requested to appoint with immediate effect a provincial officer for your Province and also ensure that the same is done at all levels of the Church- Zone, Area, and Parish. The essence of this directorate is to help coordinate the engagement of our people who are willing to be involved in politics as well as mobilize support for them when required,” reads part of the memo signed by J.F Odesola the head of administration and personnel at RCCG.
The memo dated February 28, 2022, also gave RCCG’s branches two weeks within which to have provided the names of coordinators to work in the politics and governance directorate.
But this move has been criticized by some members who believe the Church should not actively participate in politics.
The first salvo came from Dele Momodu, a publisher, a Church member at RCCG, and a presidential aspirant in the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
“I asked for what the motive(s) could have been, and the general conspiracy theory was that our Church was setting up an extensive network for the obvious presidential ambition of current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, although couched in terms which ostensibly suggested that the Church wished to support all of its congregation who wish to contest the next general elections,” says Momodu.
Momodu says he does not believe the claim by the Church that the newly formed directorate will support all its members that have an interest in standing for political office.
Farooq Kperogi a social critic agrees with Momodu.
“This isn’t really surprising, frankly, because Pentecostal Christians see Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as their representative in government,” says Kperegi.
Kperogi adds that if Vice President Osinbajo were to become President, it would fulfill an often-quoted prediction by Pastor Enoch Adeboye the leader of RCCG.
“I think he is the fulfillment of Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s oft-quoted prediction that one of them would become Nigeria’s president during his lifetime,” Kperogi says.
Many have criticized RCCG for the decision to engage in politics, especially since its efforts seem geared towards maintaining the status quo when the current government has failed Nigerians on so many fronts including on security, the fight against Boko Haram, bandits, and kidnappers. The government led by President Buhari and deputized by Osinbajo also stands accused of failing to fight corruption and witch-hunting youth leaders who participated in #EndSARS which was a protest Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
However, there are many who support RCCG.
Abimbola Adelakun a public affairs analyst had particular criticism for Momodu the aspiring presidential candidate.
In an opinion article, Abimbola Adelakun said: “Ideally, a Church’s efforts at political mobilization should have been received as a potential injection of religious moral virtues into our corruption-ridden political system.”
She adds that much of the pushback against RCCG’s move exaggerate the Church’s influence.
“Pentecostal pastors might be influential but critics also over-hype the extent,” she adds.
Adelakun highlights the case of Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan who in 2015 failed to win his second term in a contest with current President Muhammdu Buhari.
“The fact that Jonathan lost despite the huge support he received from Churches—to the point some pastors practically converted the Church altar into a campaign ground—shows the practical limit of their clerical power to anoint a president. One can even argue that the overreach of the pastors, who threw their weight behind Jonathan was part of why he lost,” she adds.
She says it is possible that analysts of Nigerian politics apportion too much weight to the religious factor in people’s politics.
“Look, if Pastor Enoch Adeboye should dedicate every sermon to campaigning for DeleMomodu from now till the Election Day, it still does not guarantee he will win even the votes of the RCCG members, let alone the broader Nigerian public. There are too many intertwined factors that determine electoral victory and religious influence is only one,” she says.
Any politician that relies on pastors as a power bloc that can win an election will learn the lesson Goodluck Jonathan did in 2015. It is in this light that Adelakun concludes that “It is also possible that we apportion too much weight to the religious factor in people’s voting choices. Unlike other places, Nigerian voters are barely surveyed to quantify the factors that determine their electoral decisions. Without statistics, we can only assume what people truly vote for when they say they are voting religion. Electoral victories are far more complicated than what a single church can pull off, no matter how broad their network”.
A veteran journalist and activist, Richard Akinnola, who is the Executive Director of the Centre for Free Speech Organization agreed with Adelakun that criticism of RCCG’s action is not good.
“It is disingenuous for anyone to suggest that the memo of the RCCG on politics was targeted at garnering support for the presidential ambition of the Vice President, a clarification which the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and Christian Association of Nigeria have made,” he said.
Akinnola told the Punch that the criticism of the Church was a ploy by certain ‘political actors’ to cause division within the “body of Christ.”
Pastor Femi Olu one of those that support RCCG’s move says the Church engaging in politics is not new.
While speaking with Timescape Magazine in Lagos, Pastor Femi Olu highlighted the case of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) which had previously directed its member churches to engage more deeply in Nigerian politics.
PFN also told its member churches to establish departments that would offer support and guidance to members with political aspirations.
“I think it is high time we should be actively involved in how our country is being ruled. We have left the space for people who have driven us backward. So, if spiritual people can be in some of these leadership positions, hopefully, we can experience changes in the long run. This is not to say the Church should foist a particular candidate on its members,” posits Olu.
Evangelist Ifeanyi Okechukwu agrees with Pastor Olu on the need for Christians to get involved in politics with the Church being the mobilization platform but says RCCG should be cautious as the murky water of Nigerian politics can be dangerous.
“The Nigerian political arena is peopled by corrupt and ungodly participants who are ready to do anything to get or hold onto power. This is not a space the children of God should be willing to aspire to. It is so bad the level politics has gone to in Nigeria,” says Evangelist Okechukwu.