In many democratically advanced societies, politics of faith and religion operates free of grizzly philosophy, to the peaceful extent that religion could be official but not necessarily officious in their local politics. From Germany where Christian Democrats currently hold sway, down to Israel, religious sentiments in politics could be indisputable. In fact far right leaning is sometimes only a euphemism for religious conservatism.
Then, why has the concept of ‘faith vote’ in Nigerian political sphere remained on the backburner? Why don’t we have open, formal and pragmatic debates on faith vote as well as everything around religious politics? Why are the terms ‘faith vote’ and ‘faith politics’ such a taboo in Nigerian politics?
For starters, it is a fact that at least five major Islamic sects have their West African regional nuclei within the length and breadth of Nigeria, aside from different other Muslim organizations scattered all over our localities. Similarly, numerous worldwide church organizations and globally renowned Pentecostal pastors are based in Nigeria, which gave rise to the existence of world’s largest church complex in Ogun state. Add these to multiple faith-based charities spread countrywide, and you will fathom why political pundits are quick to admit the significance of religion in Nigerian society. It is common for politicians to cite the ‘controversial’ formula of zoning/sharing of key political positions among the ‘two dominant religions’ in the land. Yet it is grossly insufficient to limit Nigerians’ true spiritual leaning into these bipolar divisions, without taking full cognizance of the marked subdivision in ideological creeds that is denominational/regional diversity.
Much unlike ‘religion’, faith as a denominator of socio-political ideologies practically accommodates divergent affiliations that are sometimes exclusive of religious doctrines. With this we arrive at the so-called ‘block vote’ in electoral politics. In this line, let’s consider these terms popular in Western political media: the Jewish vote, gay vote, white Christians vote, Hispanics vote, etc. Can we draw parallels to these voter ideological classifications in Nigeria? Of course despite arguments to the contrary, we vaguely have the Yoruba vote, Northern Christians vote, Idoma vote and diaspora vote, to mention but a few notables among the block vote nomenclature.
It is then superficially ironic that no one wants to raise a public debate on the matter of faith vote, even though it must be stated that an informal version of such conversations are observed among the citizenry in Internet forums (perhaps due to online anonymity factor and cyberspatial lawlessness). Of course, Nigerian constitution might have in the spirit of religious freedom and social equity, ruled out spiritual/regional ideologies in party manifesto and religious iconography in party emblems. Yet this arguably bears no legal reference to prohibition of ethnic or faith-biased political debates and alliances.
Having successfully seen off general elections and a peaceful political transition, we could now launch a formal debate on faith vote that is free of rancor and misgiving. Even as we continue to officially deny it, there is pervasive tendency of faith vote to have tilted the scale against more cogent factors of party/candidate credibility and other positive electoral barometers in Nigerians past voting decisions. Incidentally, there have been several discussions over voter swings as witnessed in key states of Lagos and Kano between different cycles of polls held in the past. The major culprit oft-cited was ethno-religious and ethno-regional voting pattern, which cut across political party affiliation among these particular sets of electorates. Now this dynamic can only be understood under the theory of ‘faith vote’.
In related developments, we had heard various advocacy calls for “Christian governor for Lagos State” and “Muslim governor for Taraba State”. Is this not an attempt to bank on faith votes, which goes to show that religion is more than a postal code of our political environment? If this is true, then why don’t we openly deliberate on the matter in its uncompromising electoral relevance? Again, the faith factor has been cited as possible culprit in the constitutional debacles around gubernatorial succession that were once witnessed in Adamawa, Taraba and Kaduna states. Yet again, why does every party in Nassarawa, Gombe, Ogun, and Kogi states have to define ‘zoning’ of governorship candidates and their deputies, under strict reference to Christian/Muslim pairing? What is more implying of admission of block faith vote?
In spite of these realities, our politicians, academics and political commentators continue to regard public debates on religion in politics as an overcast aberration to modern democratic practice. It is comfortable for them to hide behind the fear of inciting religious tension and controversy, yet fall short of acknowledging the apparent socio-political realities. Despites their serial ‘political’ visits to prayer houses, politicians loath any question that borders on religious divides, by dismissing it with a we-all-worship-same-God political correctness excuse. In their hypocritical political calculations, they deliberately reserve any discussion of faith vote to covert nocturnal political meetings, where they direct their cronies from among the clergy to exploit it only in private religious sermons. In the end, it is the gullible electorates who fall for such unholy political machinations.
This deep political hypocrisy in the land is not restricted to the dubious politicians. The local media is equally guilty of this unreasonable fear of open debates over faith vote. It is unfortunate that even radical writers hesitate to pen down the obvious. While there are ‘pulpit columnists’ who are known for examining every ordinary topic through the biased eyes of their faith, they too shy away from openly debating the roles of faith in our electoral choices. Still, the media remain our best hope toward open discussion of faith vote and robust geo-electoral mapping of our political landscapes into blocks of faith votes.