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Goodluck Jonathan and the potency of symbolism

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

“Most of us who are politicians exploit religious sentiments to divide Nigerians for our own selfish gains. We exploit north-south divide to divide Nigerians for our selfish gains”President Goodluck Jonathan, paying tribute to the late Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa

THE most iconic image last week might have been lost to most of our compatriots; what with the tragic chopper accident which claimed the lives of leading politico-security officials of the Nigerian state, in Bayelsa state. As we commiserate with the families of the deceased, the accident underlined further, the sorry pass that we arrived at as a nation. Of course, President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered an investigation, but as sure as night overtakes day, there is not much that will likely be gained. Haven’t we walked the same route in the past? Why do we expect that just because a favoured former NSA and governor have tragically died this time around, things will be done differently? Wired into the psyche of the Nigerian ruling elite is behaviour which approximates that famous definition of lunacy: doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting different outcomes! But we can tarry for a while on that subject.

Deliberately manipulating the church

As I indicated above, it was not the chopper deaths that was emblematic of the week that was, but the iconic image of President Goodluck Jonathan’s return to the Redeemed Church and that posture of meek surrender in front of Pastor Enoch Adeboye. A president who was DELIBERATELY manipulating the 2012 Holy Ghost Congress of the Redeemed Church was the same one telling us about Nigerian politicians as we quoted at the head of this piece. Might we recall, that one of the most divisive imageries of the 2011 electioneering campaign, was the way the electorate was manipulated into accepting that Jonathan was THE Christian candidate. For months surreptitious and open campaigns were carried out in churches to that effect. It was a clear subversion of the ethos of democratic culture, to box people into the emotional black hole of religious support for a candidate. But it was very effective!

Against the backdrop of the crises phenomena which dog the Jonathan presidency today: several scandals; disproportionate levels of corruption; allegations of incompetent governance; a restive and disappointed population, even among and especially the Christian population, emotionally blackmailed in 2011, etc; the President found it imperative to return to the scene of bountiful harvest from 2010. In truth, Jonathan needs all and every imagery that can be exploited and manipulated, in preparation for 2015! When the President told the gathering that: “People ask me whether I would contest in 2015 and I tell them it is too early to talk about 2015 elections”, he was engaged in terminological inexactitude! Because in truth, candidate Goodluck Jonathan has begun his campaign for the 2015 elections! He has a head start above every other potential candidate and by returning to the Redeemed Church, he only underlines that we are going to witness as divisive an election in 2015, as we saw in 2011. It will be messier this time around, because candidate Goodluck Jonathan will not have a record to present to the Nigerian people. He will therefore be obliged by his circumstance to do a real “ROFOROFO FIGHT”. Every type of imagery will become available for exploitation to gain political control and none more so than religious imageries and the manipulation of our fault lines.

Pastor Adeboye praying for Jonathan
Pastor Adeboye praying for Jonathan

When President Goodluck Jonathan said “most of us who are politicians exploit religious sentiments to divide Nigerians for our own selfish gains”, he was certainly saying that he is also not averse to so doing! His return to that old meek-as-a-lamb posture of surrender in the presence of Pastor Enoch Adeboye was a classic case of an exploitative use of religion! It is a prelude to the run up to the 2015 elections.

Patriotism was often described as the last redoubt for scoundrels. In Nigeria, the manipulative use of religion and exploitation of metaphysical symbolism is one path of access to power and a major method of retaining it. Remember what T. S. Eliot said in MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL?  “The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice. They have but one law, to seize power and keep it”. Our “weak” Jonathan is on the way and the histrionics before the famed man of God was the beginning of the 2015 electioneering campaign; never mind the strenuous denials.

Gabriel Suswam and the Boko Haram Red Herring

LAST week Monday, Benue Governor, Gabriel Suswam alleged that members of Boko Haram were planning to attack him. An attack which he said was coming “soon”, led to him urging “Christians in the country” to pray fervently for him and his family. Unfortunately, Governor Suswam was not reported to have told the congregation of the NKST Church in Makurdi, where the plan to attack him was hatched and then leaked. He however assured the congregation that “going by security reports available to me, I may be attacked any day, anywhere, anytime and this is the reason I call on you Christians to pray for me and my family”. Curiously, he was similarly reported by NIGERIAN TRIBUNE newspaper of Tuesday, November 18th, 2012 to have “decried a situation in which only four Christians from the North were elected governors of their states”.  Gabriel was apparently feeling sort of spiritually forlorn, when he added, according to the TRIBUNE report, that “with the demise of Patrick Yakowa and the current situation of Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, only two Christian governors, out of the 19 state governors in the region are now left standing”.

In truth, I find it difficult to wrap my head around this report. I have always seen Gabriel Suswam as one of the really level-headed of the Northern governors, but this eclectic report just beats me hollow! This past week has been very rich in conspiracy theories, but why on earth will the Benue governor be targeted by Boko haram? And it is so serious that the attack can take place “any day, anywhere, anytime”? If the plan is so concrete will a church help avert it? Or was there a need to play the religious card to achieve some purpose? And what might that purpose be? Benue State has not featured within the scope of activities of Boko Haram; and the problems that Gabriel has faced in Benue have been far more political and localised to his state. So why play the religious card this time?

And what has it got to do with the tragic fate of governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa? And what religious element was embedded in the plane piloted by Governor Danbaba Suntai himself? What are the concrete issues for which Gabriel is stoking the base instincts of religion? And why is he in one fell swoop destroying his own reputation for measured and responsible attitudes and utterances? Why? Could it be in tune with Goodluck Jonathan’s statement that “…politicians exploit religious sentiments to divide Nigerians”? But why would Gabriel Suswam need to divide Nigerians along the religious line? Why?

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