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Published On: Thu, Mar 13th, 2014

Jonathan’s spiritual tourism and race for 2015

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President Goodluck Jonathan kneeling before Pastor AdeboyeCriticisms have been trailing President Goodluck Jonathan over his frequent visits to different churches in the nation’s capital, Abuja, Aminu Imam reportsThe President, who is usually accompanied by top government functionaries, often times cease the opportunity of worship to address the congregation on issues that relate to politics and governance of the nation.

However, many observers say that while the president is at liberty to decide his religious fai th in any Christian denomination of his choice, what many Nigerians do not find palatable is a situation where the nation’s number one citizen makes political announcements in the house of God.

President of the Catholic Bishops conference, Ignatius Kaigama is among those who have criticised President Jonathan over his frequent visit to churches. He accused the President of using religious platforms to play politics and also further his political ambition. Kaigama’s views are not different from those of his Catholic Church clerics.

According to Catholic priest, George Ehusani, “I think that the current President is mixing politics with religion. He is the President of the whole Nigeria; he is not only the president of Christians. He is a Christian who is President but while a Christian is President in a country that is 50% Christian and 50% Muslim, you have to be careful”.

The catholic priest wants the religious leaders in Nigeria to be mindful of the manner in which they relate with the political class, noting that there should be a clear distinction between religion and politics.

Ehusani also insists that: “Christianity has made more progress during periods of persecution than during periods where we can say the President is a member of our church or the governor is a member of our church; because what often happens is that the churches lose their neutrality”.

A Christian faithful, Mike Omololu is of the view that “there needs to be a dividing line between going to church to worship and going to church to make political statements especially because we need to be sensitive to other peoples beliefs in this country”.

Many see the President’s regular visits to churches as a solemn move to seek divine intervention to Nigeria’s many challenges. However, this line of thought raises fresh argument in the never-ending debate on national development.”If you are praying for a corrupt-free Nigeria, after that prayer, there has to be a commitment not to be involved in corruption at all” Ehusani added.

President Jonathan’s tour of churches is coming a few months after his visit to the Holy land in Jerusalem for spiritual rebirth.

As part of his on-going ‘Presidential Church Tour’, PresidentJonathan, in February, stormed the Garki headquarters of the DunamisInternational Gospel Centre, Abuja.

Jonathan, who worshiped at the church with few of his aides speciallythanked the Senior pastor of the church and his wife, Dr. and Dr. Mrs.Paul Eneche for what he said God is using them to do in the lives ofNigerians.

Meanwhile, political opponents of President Jonathan accuse him of usingthe pulpit of the churches he visits to launch his 2015 presidentialcampaign.

When on December 14, 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan stormed theLagos-Ibadan expressway camp ground of the Redeemed Christian Churchof God, RCCG, to take part in the annual convention of the, hispolitical opponents never attached any ulterior motive to hispresence. In fact, many people considered it a normal occurrence. But eyebrows were raised the moment they saw the president kneelingbefore Enoch Adeboye, the general overseer of the church for aspecial prayer.

Said Jonathan to Adeboye, on that occasion: “Safety in Nigeria is thepriority of our government; just pray for us that God should give uswisdom. We will work hard against robbery; we are committed totackling corruption and mismanagement of public funds and we are alsocommitted to educational development. But I must tell you that none of these will work if God is not there for us. Pray that God should guideus. It is only God that can help me to change things. Pray for me nowthat I am the sitting president of your country. Pray for me not todeviate from the fear of God.”

But before the ‘man of God’ could grant his request, the picture ofJonathan kneeling before Adeboye had gone viral on the internet.Expectedly, it generated mixed reactions from members of the public.

While his admirers commended him for recognising the place of the menof God in the affairs of the country, his critics accused him ofplaying religious politics. Commentators on Facebook, Twitter andother social media websites concluded by that kneeling before a prominent religious leader of Adeboye’s calibre, Jonathan was seekingsubtle endorsement for second term even though general elections werestill three years away.

For instance, Tunde Bakare, controversial Lagos pastor of Latter RainAssembly, was very blunt in his disapproval of Jonathan’s action. Saidthe Pastor: “Kneeling before Adeboye was a clear campaign tactic,which also diminishes the president and his office. Jonathan hassignalled the commencement of his presidential campaign by goingto kneel down before Pastor Adeboye. See, I am not saying that pastorsshould not pray for the president, but Jonathan is a symbol of aninstitution known as the presidency. He cheapened the institution byprostrating before a man of God because of perceived politicaladvantage he thinks he can get.

“By going to kneel down in the open before the pastor, the man(Jonathan) did not even recognise the dignity of his office. If itwere a private thing, it is okay for you to crawl or kneel but it is awhole nation. That office has been diminished by a man who does not know the worth of it and does not deserve to stay there for one moreday”.

More than two years after his outburst, it now appears as if Bakare’sclaim that Jonathan was seeking subtle endorsement for a second termin office by visiting churches is true.

Although Jonathan is yet toformally throw his hat into the ring for the 2015 election, it is widely believed that the president is interested in seeking anotherterm in office. And now that the presidential election has beenscheduled to take place on February 14, 2015, Jonathan has intensifiedhis visits to churches. Since the year began, Jonathan has worshippedin not less than three churches in various parts of the country.

On January 26, 2014, Jonathan was at the Living Faith Church, Keffi,Nasarawa state, to worship with the over 20, 000 members of thechurch. He was accompanied by his son Ariwera, Olajumoke Akinjide,minister of State for the FCT, Abuja, and Dameshi Luka, deputy governor of Nasarawa state. Speaking at theservice, Jonathan assured Nigerians that the nation would overcome itsdaunting challenges with the prayers of the ‘faithful’ and commitmentof the leaders.

Less than three weeks after his visit to the Living Faith Church,Jonathan was in Lagos, on February 16, 2014, for a Sunday service at theRedeemed Christian Church of God, Olive Tree Parish, Ikoyi.

In continuation of what some sections of the media now refer to as”The Presidential Church Tour”, Jonathan also visited the DunamisGospel Centre, one of the most popular churches in Abuja, on February23, 2014. Like he did in other churches, Jonathan told thecongregation that their prayers were what had kept the country from disintegration. “If you watch the television, both local and foreign,we always have negative news as breaking news. The whole world isalmost in trouble and as a nation, we are bound to have our own fairshare of the negative news. With your prayers, surely we will

overcome our challenges.”

As if visiting these three churches were not sufficient reason for hisopponents to accuse him of playing religious politics, Jonathanannounced recently that he would henceforth worship outside the AsoRock Villa every last Sunday of the month. According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports, the president made the announcementthe day he worshipped at the Dunamis Gospel Centre in Abuja. He hingedhis decision to shuttle from one church to another on the need to showappreciation to Christians for their prayers.

It appears harmless but Jonathan’s ‘church tour’ is a serious concernfor his political opponents. While his admirers opine that he has aright to worship anywhere he chooses, many in the anti-Jonathan groupsee as it a subtle way of campaigning for votes ahead of the 2015general elections. Matthew Dauda, an Abuja- based public affairsanalyst, said even though Jonathan has a right to worship anywhere,the timing of his visits to churches might send the wrong signals tothe public.

“As a Nigerian, no one can deny him his right to worship anywhere. Buthe is the president and that makes a lot of difference. The last timehe did something like this was when we were preparing for the 2011elections. He disappeared after he won the election and now he hasresurfaced because another election is barely a year away. I honestly think it is a campaign strategy.”

Like many of Jonathan’s political foes, Bishop Ignatius Kaigama, theCatholic Archbishop of Jos, recently advised Jonathan to stop playingpolitics in the church. Featuring on a political programme on cabletelevision network, Kaigama said Nigerian politicians do not care about the people but are only interested in the pursuit of personalinterests.

“All we want are politicians who are ready to serve Nigerians.Nigerians have suffered enough. The politicians that get into powerconcentrate their whole energy in helping themselves. If I have tomeet the governors or the president, I wouldn’t have to hide my disappointment. Our leaders are not giving their best to the nation.”

But Julius Adesoji, a staunch supporter of Jonathan, sees nothingwrong in Jonathan’s visit to churches. “It is natural to use what youhave to get what you want. So if the president’s political opponentsfeel it is a campaign strategy, they should do the same too. After all, in the northern parts of this country, emirs tell people who tovote for. So, there is nothing wrong if pastors support Jonathan andhelp him to win in 2015.” As the 2015 election draws nearer, itremains to be seen what Jonathan’s visits to churches can achieve forhim.

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