News The African Way

Ballot Prophets, Merchants Of Violence?, By Jiti Ogunye

Forty years ago, in the run-up to the 1983 presidential election, a Professor Godspower Oyewole, then a renowned psychic, predicted that the name of the destined winner of the election was in the Bible. Many supporters of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) were happy and expectant. Awo was Jeremiah. Zik, Benjamin. Both of them Christians. One, from Western Nigeria; the other from Eastern Nigeria. They, separately, were contesting against the incumbent, Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari, a Muslim, from Northern Nigeria, whose name, many concluded, was not in the Bible, and who, therefore, was not destined to win the election.

In the end, Shagari won. Rigging was alleged. Fela Anikulapo Kuti denounced the election and as “demonstration of craze and crazy demonstration” in his “Teacher Don’t Teach me Nonsense” classic. Shrugging off allegations of political hackery, “Professor Oyewole” didn’t back down. He doubled down. He declared he was vindicated. “Shamgar”, he told all, “was a name in the Bible, and that the name was the biblical equivalent of “Shagari”.

In the nighties and after the dawn of the millennium, Prophet T. O Olabayo arrived the national scene to regale Nigerians with his “Mount Taborah” new year prophesies.

Before him, there was Dr Gabriel Okunzua, “a seer and parapsychologist”.

However, nothing the magicians, psychics or prophets of the old time did prepared or could have prepared any one of us for the soothsaying idiocies of the current era. Especially the “electoral prophesies” (or more appropriately, heresies) tumbling down from “men of God”. Sadly, preponderantly, “pastors”.

Aided by the Information Age and, in particular, the social media, people who claim they are God’s confidants have, in this election cycle, inundated Nigerians with all sorts of loud predictions of what the outcomes of the general elections would be. Ballot prophets and elections outcomes spiritualists are confidently but foolishly declaring to Nigerians how the heavenly theocracy is using the chariot of mercy and favour to divinely ordain, anoint and catapult the elects and the selected to the pinnacle of predestined political powers, in a temporal democracy!

Stop it! Prophesies hurt no one. There is a fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press. And everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. God’s communication with man is not recordable. But God speaks to His “anointed, the called and His prophets.” Certainly, these admonitions will come.

But are these election outcome prophesies not harmful to the people? They are. And here is why.

Critically examined, situated within the context of the ramifying pontifications with which they are given, and the fora where they are delivered, glaringly, the provisions of Section 97 of the Electoral Act, 2022, are implicated.

More importantly, these prophesies have the potential of predisposing large segments of the electorate to rejecting election results that do not tally with their predictions. They are not only conducts likely to cause a breach of the peace, if predictions failed to match election outcomes, but also actions that mobilise the masses towards outbreaks of post-election violence.

While it is conceded that evangelicals and religious organisations generally can endorse candidates in an election, they ought to refrain from working up their congregants or followers to expect and accept nothing but the inevitability of the “Lord’s chosen”. That is a recipe for post-election violence.

In the future, if not now, law enforcement agencies, working in synergy with the offices of the AGF and AG, States (if occupied by not overtly partisan persons) could curb this growing menace, cause investigation to be conducted, and file criminal charges against alleged offenders, as may be appropriate.

Our outgoing president contested for the office of the president three times (2003, 2007, and 2011) before he clinched the seat in 2015. According to his own narrative, he won the presidential election those three times but for the electoral robbery at the polls. The probability, if not the truth, however, was that he never won those elections, for, although he was garnering huge electoral numbers in the North, he was doing poorly in the South. He lacked the national spread of acceptance. In spite of that more than likely reality, he believed, and led many of his supporters to believe, that he was being serially robbed at the polls.

And so, what happened in 2011? A national tragedy in which many lives were lost, including youth corps members participating in the election as ad-hoc election officers, occurred. Who were the perpetrators? Largely, those who believed that their darling presidential candidate was being robbed in that election.

The clergy should be messengers of electoral peace. They should not become unwittingly the inciters and inviters of electoral violence.

They should be the encouraging and assuring voice mobilising the people to exercise their franchise and moderating their expectations, ahead of any possible electoral disappointment.

Do have a violence-free election.

Jiti Ogunye, lawyer, and Principal Counsel, Jiti Ogunye Chambers, is the Legal Adviser to Premium Times.

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