The Church and Politics: An Analysis Of The Church’s Involvement In Nigerian Politics

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In a country like Nigeria, where 45.9% of its citizens practise Christianity, and 53.5% practise Islam, it is indisputable that religion plays a significant role in the lives of its citizens. Moreover, it is impossible not to recognise the effects of religion on different aspects of society such as family, education and in this case, politics. 

As a result of the 2023 general election cycle, the past year has been an invigorating one for Nigerians, with multiple campaign rallies, debates, and controversies happening at the same time. Amidst all these activities, situations have occurred where the question of Church participation (or lack of) has risen, and discussions are sparked on if religious leaders/institutions should be involved in politics or not. Recent examples are the conduct of Lagos State Governor, Sanwo Olu and the House of Assembly representative for Surulere Constituency 1, Desmond Elliott during their campaigns for reelection, where they both visited churches in Lagos as a campaign strategy. The reactions to both visits varied from indignation to delight, but the indignation was fueled by the politicians addressing the congregation on pulpits in both churches. 


There is the argument that political matters should be left out of the preview of the Church, while in contrast, others believe that the Church should be involved because of the “positive effects” it could have on politics. This article explores both arguments while maintaining the position that politics and the Church should be kept separate.

The Impact Of Politics And The Church In Nigeria 

The discussion regarding the involvement of Church institutions in politics is a critical one, as these are both fundamental facets of society which separately, have a significant impact on the quality of life in a country. 

In a federal state such as Nigeria, the process of politics is employed in all the tiers of government, where people are elected to govern and represent their citizens. However, these tiers are controlled by unscrupulous leaders pursuing selfish interests with no notion of responsibility to the people who ‘elected’ them. Politics in Nigeria appears to be a game where all the politicians compete on who is more inept and ridiculous, not only for the policies they make but the theatrics they revert to in the face of imminent scrutiny. Regardless of what they believe, politics is not a game, and their ready disregard for the citizens produces dire consequences in the country. Take for example, the terribly executed naira redesign policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria, which resulted in cash scarcity and created severe difficulties for people as well as inciting chaos in banks. The reaction of the CBN to complaints showed a clear indifference to the real effect the policy had on people, and sadly, without legal action taken against the Federal Government, there would have been no alternative measures taken to ease the experiences of Nigerians. 

On the other hand, the Church as an institution is an organised body of professing Christians who follow a doctrine and structure set up to further the teaching of the gospel. Interestingly, the identity of the Church as an institution has been subject to critique for being “organizations and denominations that are centred on the doctrinal understanding and traditions of men, rather than being established as an organism of divine life and revelational truth in Christ.” 

The Church’s impact in Nigeria has come to have benefits as well as inimical effects. This began with the advent of Christain Missionaries who established schools and “contributed greatly to the political life in Nigeria ” which consequently led to the Nationalist movement in the South and the Nigerian Independence. In the Nigerian Civil War, various Churches played a crucial role by providing relief services like food, clothing and rehabilitation services. Today, Churches are still running schools and contributing to the socioeconomic growth of the country.  

Asides from developments that have occurred through the influence of the Church, the Church also impacts the morals and behaviours of its followers to the extent that the lack of a Christian belief is seen as indicative of a lack of morals. In addition to this, there is a proliferation of Churches in Nigeria, which is caused by reasons varying from positive to covetous. Onah and Agbo explain that this rapid increase in Churches in Nigeria could be a result of a spiritual mandate to lead souls to Christ, the main purpose of the religion, or greed and an excessive desire for wealth made possible by the blind reverence attached to leaders of the Church. 

This reverence attached to Christian leaders because of their position in the Church and their assumed closeness with God, makes believers view them as demigods themselves. In some cases, this blind trust obscures them from identifying the leaders who are genuine in the teachings and the fake ones who see the Church as an avenue to build their personal wealth.  Iheanacho points out that “rather than emphasising spiritual growth, moral sanctity and Christian anticipation of eternal life, signs of total submission to capitalistic inclinations, especially voracious material acquisition looms large in Nigerian Churches.” This negative reputation these  Churches have is borne from their capitalisation on the vulnerabilities of people looking for refuge in religion. In their innocent interest to find some guidance on how to navigate life, they become victims of a man’s deceit and mockery of men of God, who make false promises of miracles in exchange for money. People are akin to headless sheep, believing every word from the mouth of these questionable characters, and making choices that have no sacred connotation as they believe they do. 

Separation of the Church and Politics

It is important to note that the separation of Church and State does not equate to the separation of Church and politics. The former is a secular system where the government has no authority to advance or inhibit religion and its only responsibility is to protect the right of conscience, governance and resources of religious groups, and the private and public expression of religious conviction. Although section 10 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution makes provisions to prevent the federal or state government from adopting religions for the state, Ogbu adduces that it does not give express provision to identify Nigeria as a secular state. This is also considering the constitution enables states to establish a Sharia court of Appeal to adjudicate over Sharia Law in Northern parts of Nigeria. Regardless of the debate around the secularism of Nigeria, the government is clearly not expected to involve itself in the affairs of the Church. 

Conversely, the separation of Church and politics is backed by people’s sensibilities, not a statutory restriction. There is no statutory provision that prohibits religious leaders from partaking in political positions or the institution from expressing opinions on politics, rather, the constitution encourages the freedom of association and expression. Notwithstanding, sentiments are peaked in many instances where the Church and politics are associated. For example, when the Church is used as a tool for political mobilisation. 

This blatant use of the Church (and widely, religion) as a tool for political mobilisation, occurs when aspirants to a political office appeal to citizens using specific religious narratives to charge their predilection. One of these strategies is the use of the Church in sensitizing members in favour of a candidate or political opinion. This can be employed directly when the leaders of the Church pass messages with the intention to sway interest from one candidate to another or indirectly when unusual “visits” to Churches are embarked on in the middle of the campaign season. An example of a direct use will is Pastor David Abioye, who warned his congregation of the dangers of electing “people who have value for cows more than value for human lives” in the 2019 elections. 

Earlier in this article, the reactions of Twitter users were shown at the visit of political candidates, Sanwo Olu and Desmond Elliott who visited Churches to undoubtedly canvass for votes. Many distinguished their displeasure from their mere visit to the reverence given to these men to address the audience. Obviously, it would have been an extreme reaction to refuse them entry to the Church, however, allowing them essentially desecrate the sanctity of the pulpit is another thing.

Notwithstanding the Pastor mentioned above made a disclaimer that he was unaware of the Governor’s visit, his attempt to extract himself from the situation was defeated once the Governor was given the microphone to speak. 

Interestingly, even the Electoral Act 2022 manages to provide for the protection of religious houses from election campaign schemes. Section 92 (3) of the Act prohibits the use of places designated for religious worship for political campaigns, rallies or processions. It also states that they will not be used to promote, propagate or attack political parties or candidates. It appears as if the statute cares more than these leaders in ensuring their flock is not used as pawns in politics. 

Another strategy of political mobilisation is when religious leaders are used as running mates in elections. Although religious leaders are individuals in their right who do not make up the entire body of the Church, it is understandable how their political ambition can be seen as an association of the Church in politics. They are held to a higher standard because they have a responsibility for the spiritual growth of their congregation, so when they express such ambition, their interest in the muddy waters of politics is questioned. 

In 2015, when current Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was nominated as a running mate to President Buhari  Vice Presidency, Twitter was flush with people’s opinions on the matter. While some were disappointed that a man of God would join the runt of politics, others were hopeful for the possibility of good governance as a result of his presumed righteousness. Osinbajo expressed that there was no biblical hindrance from running “The scriptures say that we are the salt of the earth. Every time people ask me, they say, oh, why are you in government? And I say, why not?.” 

During that election season, Pastor Bribena Efiye expressed that Osinbajo’s nomination was a strategic attempt to launder the reputation of Muhammad Buhari and make his candidacy more palatable to Christians. It was a bonus (or rather intentional) that Osinbajo was a Pastor in the biggest Church in Nigeria, The Redeemed Christian Church Of God, and the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket could be presented to be supported by the General Overseer of the Church, Pastor Adeboye who holds a lot of influence with the members of the Church. 

Beneath all the opinions was a naive hope that having a religious leader as the Vice President of Nigeria, would create a positive impact in the country. Over the last 8 years of his tenure, it is difficult to point out what relevance his pastoring has had on the country. The argument that a religious leader would make for better governance is baseless because competency and integrity are not directed by religious inclinations, but by a personal conviction to be effective leaders. 

Finally, the Church is supposed to be one body with the same ideals inspired by the holy book, which promotes peace and harmony within it. If the Church takes a political stance, it runs the risk of annihilating the other part of the Church that disagrees with it – as seen in the tweets provided in this article. Clamouring for participation is done with the assumption that the Church will have the same opinion as you do, and when it doesn’t, problems arise. As such, it is better for the Church to become a place where people can freely come without feeling unwelcome. 

Politics and the Church will always be delicate topics, either separately or in conjunction. The argument that religious leaders should be involved in politics is based on the notion that their “religious” identity will influence their governance, which is unsupported and naive. Unfortunately, there is no magical trait of skill and capacity bestowed as a result of religious conviction. The Church is also not used as a system to ensure accountability or critique in politics, it is frankly a tool for political mobilisation. This alone should be reason enough to separate themselves from politics in this manner. A candidate who only visits during election season, or nominations made in favour of your religious background should be clear evidence that one is a means to an end, and ultimately, once the political ambition is achieved, they will be placed back to being inconsequential.