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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Buying God: An Open Letter to John Cardinal Onaiyekan and Pastor Tunde Bakare By Pius Adesanmi

Your Eminence, Cardinal Onaiyekan and Esteemed Pastor Bakare:
Greetings. Pardon this public approach to matters I could have taken up with both of you on the phone. The issues at hand do not belong in the province of the Wordsworthian emotion, to be recollected in tranquility on the phone, away from the ears of the Nigerian people. Also, I would have loved to be able to preface this open letter to two eminent spiritual and civic fathers of our nation with the usual Nigerian inquiry about your wellbeing and your “condition of health”. However, I realize that it would be hypocritical of me to ask such questions from genuine patriots and real national leaders like your eminent selves, given that you operate in a nation-space where the extra in extraordinary has acquired such grave and dark ramifications that birds no longer sing like birds and rats refuse to brux like rats. For where the body has the rare privilege of being in “a good condition of health” in today’s Nigeria, how could the spirit possibly be? Is the Nigerian spirit not under siege? Is the Nigerian’s spirit not under siege? In essence, I cannot ask if you are “doing ok” because you cannot possibly be doing ok given the grave condition of our country.
Brothers, the surprise, for me, as I pen this letter to both of you this Friday April 5, 2013, is that the Nigerian is still standing, given the severity of the psychological warfare declared on him/her in recent times by what has got to be the world’s most perfidious political élite. If Nigeria’s long succession of atrocious postcolonial rulers has all waged a psychological war on the Nigerian, the incumbent in Aso Rock seems determined to be the one to find a “Final Solution” to something that must puzzle our political élite beyond measure: how has the Nigerian’s spirit survived the assault and the psychological violence we have foisted on it for so long?
Consequently, the galling and open declaration of admiration for a convicted felon and the subsequent pardoning of the said criminal in what a Nigerian patriot, Kingsley Ewetuya, famously described as the worst use of the prerogative of pardon by a ruler since Pilate pardoned Barabbas; the appointment of a man convicted –but subsequently pardoned in the usual Nigerian way – of forging a University of Toronto certificate and conning his way to the 4th most important office in Nigeria into the Governing Council of the University of Nigeria by a President tone deaf to irony, is all part of a purposed and deliberate effort to find a “Final Solution” to the Nigerian spirit by President Goodluck Jonathan. To the extent that no nation’s spirit can survive in a moral and ethical Kalahari, the President’s colossal ethical demission, his in-your-face throwing of national morality to the dogs, his constant hoisting of criminals and felons – albeit laureates of wuruwuru pardons - as role models in a country which boasts an almost 70% youth demographic in search of role models, must be read as a “clueful” (pardon my coinage in opposition to clueless) attempt to destroy the moral and ethical fabric of the Nigerian nation. Contrary to popular belief, this man is not clueless, he is diabolically clueful.
But the psychological warfare of President Goodluck Jonathan and his co-travellers in Nigeria’s irredeemably corrupt corridors of power on the spirit of the Nigerian people is not why I am writing you today. It is no secret that in the face of adversity, the Nigerian’s first refuge are spiritualities which find concrete expression in the Christian, Islamic, and animistic faiths. Because the majority of our people profess either the Christian or the Islamic faith today, it goes without saying that these two faiths owe it to Nigeria to be her armour against the rampage of the undertakers in the political élite, determined as they are to preside over the funeral rites of national ethics and morality. Because I profess the Catholic faith and I am writing to two of the most illustrious leaders of Nigerian Christendom, I will not be discussing the role of Islam in our current national conundrum. My brief here is Christianity, Nigerian Christianity.
Let me state that it is not all bad news with regard to the role of Nigerian Christendom in the battle to save our national values and protect decency, morality, and ethics from the siege of our prurient political class. Where the Presidency, which ought to be the institution which invests national values and morality with meaning, has come to be defined solely and singularly by irresponsibility, where you look for a single credible role model for our youth in the political class and find the proverbial “no, not one”, Nigerian Christendom has ensured that we continue to have credible, formidable, and towering national role models and symbols of righteousness like your esteemed selves, Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, and the Most Reverend Peter Akinola (whose prayers against corruption the President would not dignify with any “amen”). There are more where these came from, dignified men and women of God toiling in the vineyard all over the country, away from the obscene materialistic incentives of the moneychangers in the political class.
Sadly, the category of Christian clergy sustaining the tradition of role modelship in our country is of such feeble minority as to be unable to define the broader face and complexion of Nigerian Christendom today. What we see today is a Nigerian Christendom cosily in bed with the most determined enemies of national ethics and morality. Where does one start? Does one start with the fact that the proceeds of corruption no longer travel directly to the vaults of Swiss Banks but make a conscience-salving detour into the tithe baskets of Nigerian Christendom? Does one start with the increasingly disturbing image of a corrupt and peripatetic power which spends more time hopping from one Christian pulpit to another than she spends behind the presidential desk in Aso Rock? And what does it say that this particular power has found a near permanent home on the Church pulpit? If Christendom was alive to its responsibilities and truth was being told to power in generous dosage, does it not stand to reason that power would not be so enamoured of hopping from one Christian pulpit to another, transforming the said pulpit into an extension of the immoral soapbox of the PDP?
I am of course aware that the labour of the two of you in our public sphere devolves largely from your determination to use your towering profiles and immense moral capital to confront these problems. After all, Your Eminence Onaiyekan has been a constant voice for sanity, your latest act in that regard being the temporary withdrawal of you and your brother Bishops from the Christian Association of Nigeria, transformed by its current leadership into a permanent bedmate of a corrupt political incumbency. And from the protestant flank, Pastor Bakare has been a consistent thorn in the flesh of a worrisome prosperity Pentecostalism bent on turning the temple into a den of thieves and moneychangers and transforming the Church into a hangar for ostentatious private jets acquired in a cynical mockery of the overwhelming poverty of the faithful.
My fear, however, is that the goalpost is constantly being shifted by those in the Christian clergy who are bent on sustaining the contemporary image of Nigerian Christendom as the handmaiden of political corruption. It would seem that there has been a steady transition from buying private jets to making God available to be bought by politicians. This explains why we are witnessing a transition from an epidemic of private jets to a pandemic of church buildings donated by corrupt politicians. President Jonathan, as you know, has been buying God in his hometown of Otuoke by nepotistically giving body language to Church building renovators or donors. However, the latest egregious example of a politician’s attempt to buy God is our friend, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who recently donated a Church building to the Anglican Communion in his own hometown.
I am not worried about the corrupt pedigree of the givers in these scenarios of Church building donations. I am worried about the takers. I am worried about the takers because, as Cardinal Onaiyekan knows too well from being a long-term associate of my father, I am a product of an earlier version of Nigerian Christianity that would have either rejected these contaminated gifts outright or at least asked very serious questions before accepting same. I do not recognize this strange new Christianity that seems wholly incapable of saying, “get thee behind me Satan”, whenever Nigerian politicians invite her to the top of an exceeding high mountain, show her the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, saying, “all these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Senator Ekweremadu would have had to explain the source of his funds were he making that donation to the Body of Christ when I was growing up in Nigeria. The spectacle of Senator Ekweremadu and the President enjoying a no-questions-asked pulpit moment during the so-called dedication of the new Church building is a sobering statement on the current condition of Nigerian Christendom.
There is a serious national crisis when Nigerian Christendom can no longer be relied upon by the faithful as a refuge from the war declared on public morality, ethics, decency, and national values by corrupt and irredeemable members of the ruling élite. Beyond your respective and laudable personal efforts to sustain the Nigerian spirit through your towering moral stock and ethical capital, I believe that the time has come for the two of you to urgently reach out to each other, identify kindred spirits in the Clergy, form a broad-based interdenominational platform that would enable Nigerian Christendom commence an urgently-needed soul searching. I believe that we are at an historical juncture where the Body of Christ in Nigeria must come to an understanding of the fact that she cannot serve the Nigerian people (spiritually) and Nigerian politicians at the same time. Both are incompatible tasks, akin to serving God and Mammon.
Beyond the well-known positions and activism of role model clergy members such as your esteemed selves, the Nigerian Church can no longer shy away from taking a decisive and unambiguous position in our collective struggle for the rebirth of public morality, ethical capital and decency. The dangerous impression that the Nigerian Church is creating about being a servicer of the assault on national morality by a corrupt political élite requires an urgent interdenominational remedial intervention. I can think of no better initiators of this necessary process than the two of you.
Yours sincerely,
Pius Adesanmi

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