The nominal Christian population in Nigeria is approximately 80 million people, traversing virtually all parts of our great country. It is widely suggested that Nigeria is home to the largest collection of black Christians in the world. When one begins to think about this sub-population as a socio-economic group, especially when juxtaposed with the Bible’s positioning of Christians as “salt and light”, the role of the Church in issues of national significance becomes critical, vital, and in many respects, quite decisive.
The recent peaceful #EndSARS protests are a case in point. The Nigerian youth enunciated their pain and pleas, and these resonated across the country, but in the midst of all that was going on, there was no categorical statement on the matter from the leadership of the Church in Nigeria. To all intents and purposes, the Nigerian Church did not do enough for the youth – no wonder there is a growing apathy towards issues of faith and spiritual fortitude amongst our youth.
The Nigerian Church needs to draw lessons from the #BlackLivesMatter protests across the world, and particularly in the USA, as well as the core issues surrounding the recent American elections. The American Church did not handle the issues of racism properly, and appeared to be partisan in official utterances by key church leaders in both the build up to, and in the aftermath of the elections. The Church simply did not walk in love towards all, often attributing opposing standpoints to the influence of the devil. Freewill presupposes that there will be differences in personal interpretations of any situation, and the American Church perhaps should have made room to listen to all, before then basing her utterances on a balanced understanding of relevant scriptures. Above all, with all sense of responsibility, church leaders should have asked themselves what Jesus would have done were He called upon to adjudicate in such delicate and potentially divisive discourses.
Back to the Nigerian situation, the disconnect between the leaders and the youth is so glaring that we cannot afford to keep papering over cracks. The average youth is actively looking for a chance for self-realisation in other countries. They are looking for reasons to believe in their leaders again, to believe and hope in a future that they feature in prominently, and unfortunately the Church has not done enough to mediate in this impasse between hope and illusion – between the youth and the government.
This disconnect is made all the more obvious because the Church is not challenging the government to pay greater attention to young Nigerians, to listen, to learn and to act in the interest of Nigeria’s future. The Nigerian Church should be an active participant in shaping the conscience of our nation, and thus must demand to be listened to, as the protectors and nurturers of this and future generations.
The Church must rapidly transition from a position of mere rhetoric and a neutral posturing on issues of national significance, to become an obvious participant in the execution of a working social mobilisation strategy for our dear Nigerian youth. The objective of this social mobilisation is not a revolution in a negative or destructive sense, but perhaps a better word is “re-evolution”, and I will explain.
This re-evolution points to a rebirth of the Nigerian youth from the womb of divine values and character. A reconditioning and radical shift of mindset from a survivalist me-first winner-takes-all attitude, to a wholesome and inclusive disposition that allows useful ideas to thrive, while providing the opportunity for the most obscure of the least to become the best of the best, no matter the field of endeavour or circumstances of heritage.
The peaceful #EndSARS protests gave us a glimpse of the readiness of the youth to embrace order, progress and social welfare. The craving of the Nigerian youth for positive self-determination, measurable change and the consequent pride in a vibrant forward-moving nation, must be slaked with a peaceful, yet firm and clearly-defined strategy, executed by competent Nigerians across sectors, with the full backing of a listening and responsive government. The church can be the catalyst to enable this scenario, if her leaders would simply speak up clearly, strategically, knowledgeably, prayerfully and consistently.
The government should begin to move beyond the seeming systemic persecution of peaceful #EndSARS protesters and sympathisers, to the expression of the sort of empathy that paves the path for healing and reconciliation, and then allows for collaboration in building a better nation for all. We may never know what truly transpired on that eerie Tuesday night at the Lekki Toll Gate, neither will a squabble with the international community serve any purpose besides providing a convoluted distraction, but the Church must demand that the government answer the question of how to make things better for the Nigerian youth of today and the future.
At this point, I would also like to challenge corporate Nigeria to get involved and also craft strategies that will change the narrative. If you consider that banks and businesses were vandalised when hoodlums took over the peaceful protests, a deeper reason for this has to be investigated. Could it be that the government isn’t the only “enemy” of the youth? Did the Central Bank and other banks in the country, unwittingly position themselves as anti-youth/anti-future by blocking the accounts of peaceful youth protesters?
A further case for consideration is the telling (and desperate) response of citizens to the discovery of warehouses for Covid-19 palliatives across the country. That response was not helped by ensuing reports of misappropriation or hoarding by the very people entrusted to ensure adequate effective distribution of the said palliatives. There are too many unflattering statistics of infant mortality and poverty, for instance, or negative projections of impending famine in Nigeria, for the church to stay in a neutral gear and try to keep up regularly scheduled services only.
The Nigerian church must prepare the Nigerian youth for personal and communal leadership, for governance and strategic sectoral empowerment, as well as for fervent and effectual participation in our electoral process. The Church must speak up and be the unrelenting voice for the weak, disenfranchised, overlooked, and the downtrodden. This should be non-negotiable for 2021.
Godman Akinlabi is a thought leader, author, teacher, public speaker, philanthropist, and the Lead Pastor of The Elevation Church, which is headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria.