Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Clergy, Culture, and Political Conflicts in Nigeria

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Clergy, Culture, and Political Conflicts in Nigeria

Article excerpt


This article explores contemporary manifestations of the politicization of culture by the Christian clergy in the determination and resolution of political conflicts in Nigeria in general and Yorubaland in particular-against the backdrop of what has been called "the civilizational hegemony of Christianity." The article approaches religion and the practices it enables as part of a cultural system through which we can capture the specific ways in which religious authorities pursue political and ethnocultural interests to justify a particular social order.

Résumé: Cet article explore les manifestations contemporaines de l'infiltration de la politique dans la sphère culturelle à l'initiative du clergé Chrétien dans l'identification et la résolution des conflits politiques au Niger et en particulier dans la région du Yorubaland. Le contexte est celui d'un phénomène appelé "l'hégémonie de la civilisation chrétienne." Cet article considère cette religion et les pratiques qu'elle encourage comme partie prenante d'un système culturel à travers lequel nous pouvons percevoir les moyens spécifiques utilisés par les autorités religieuses pour poursuivre des intérêts politiques et ethnoculturels afin de justifier un ordre social donné.

In February 2003, a couple of months before the general elections in Nigeria, Chief Abraham Adesanya, the leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba sociocultural and political organization, asked two prominent Yoruba clerics - Bishop Emmanuel Gbonigi, the retired Bishop of Akure Diocese of the Church of Nigerian (Anglican Communion) and Bishop Ayo Ladigbolu, then the Bishop of Ilesha Diocese of the Methodist Church of Nigeria-to join him for an urgent meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo at his Ota Farm House in Ogun State. Others invited included the governor of Ogun State, Chief Según Osoba, a traditional ruler and a former Yoruba public officeholder.

Afenifere, along with its Alliance for Democracy (AD) political party (which the group had formed in line with the political ideas of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late premier of the defunct Western Region), had entered into a secret political pact with the president over the forthcoming elections. In the confidential Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Adesanya had sent to Obasanjo, Adesanya stated that "following my previous discussions with you and meetings with our [AD] Governors, there is a measure of understanding between us now for which reason the group has ensured that our party would not be confronting you with an opponent in the forthcoming elections. The Group therefore hopes that we can have agreement. . . [on a number of] essentials as the basis of our collaboration. . . . While ensuring the quantum of votes for optimal advantage for you in our zone, there should be reciprocal respect for our hold on all the states in our political space" (MOU, Feb. 16, 2003).1

Adesanya had summoned the clerics as witnesses to the meeting, where he told Obasanjo that he had "credible information" - as one of my respondents described it - that the president was planning to renege on a "critical" condition of the agreement, in favor of massive rigging that would lead to the electoral defeat of the Afenifere /AD candidates in the six Yoruba states. If this were to happen, the Afenifere leader feared a mass uprising that might lead to the collapse of the Fourth Republic - a repeat of what had happened in the First and Second Republics. This was partly why he had invited the clerics to join the emergency meeting with the president: to act as "God's and posterity's witnesses."

Ladigbolu recalls that he and Gbonigi were invited because "we are visible and responsible Yoruba leaders who also servants of the Lord." At the meeting the two clerics called for caution. In the end, President Obasanjo gave assurances that everyone would act within the law, adding that he would not renege on his promise, since "politics is not a do-or-die thing; winning or losing, we are all still citizens of Nigeria" (interview with Ladigbolu, Oyo, Jan. …

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