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By Prof. Michael Ogunu

Introduction

The Church views politics as an important aspect of human life. The human person belongs to the earthly (temporal) as well as heavenly (divine) Kingdom. The public affairs of the earthly kingdom are what constitute politics. The success of public affairs calls for the existence of peace and justice. Peace and justice are necessary and desirable if a nation is to develop and progress. Therefore, Christians have a social responsibility in politics.

Basic Christian Principles for Nigerian Christians in Politics

There are some basic Christian principles to guide the Christian in politics. The Catholic Church has a well articulated Catholic Social Doctrine which is based on the foundation of Holy Scriptures. The following are among the main items on this social teaching as regards political leadership:

  • God is absolute ruler and creator of all men and women and of all our resources. He alone rules by right, and all power belongs to Him. Man is created in the image and likeness of God. Because of this, he enjoys some inalienable rights. No human being should ever be treated less than his dignity demands.
  • At the same time, man is created to live in society. That is why for his self-fulfillment, he must be part of a community. The African wisdom says: “I am because we are”, which means that unless I am in a community, I cannot survive. The fact that man lives in community raises the issue of rights and duties. The role of civil authority, and therefore of those who lead civil authority, is to pursue the common good in line with God’s will and for the good of all.
  • Rulers have to acknowledge the nobility as well as the limit of their role. Their role is noble because the ruler acts in God’s name who alone has absolute power. If that is so, the ruler must handle authority with great care.
  • To misuse power which belongs to God is to insult God. That is the highest moral atrocity. Because the position of the ruler is sacred and noble, it should never be desecrated by greed; pride and dishonesty.
  • There is therefore due limit to political power. On the one hand, there are the limits imposed by the will of God, who remains the Lord of lords and the King of kings. The ruler must respect the will of God. For Christians, this is summarized in the Ten Commandments of God.
  • Not even a democratic majority can legitimately go against the law of God, as we are now seeing in some so-called developed countries, who are legislating in favour of abominations like abortion and same-sex “marriages”. The power of rulers is also limited, on the other hand, with regard to the responsibilities of rulers to the people. Thus, the ruler has no absolute power over his people. He must respect their rights and serve the common good.
  • The citizen, on his part, has the duty to contribute to the common good. Part of this is to promote and defend his or her rights and the rights of others. We have no right to allow ourselves to be treated like animals.
  • There is also the need to pay attention to the need of the weakest. It is a basic principle of Catholic Social Teaching that the society and especially the rulers must take particular care of those who cannot take care of themselves, whether they be physically handicapped, mentally challenged or simply sick, old and aged. The greatness of a nation is to be gauged by how it treats its weakest members, just as the strength of a chain depends on its weakest link. This is important in a country where the poor and the weak tend to be totally neglected while the rich and the powerful are pampered beyond their needs and rights. The bible is full of many injunctions calling for care and attention for the poor, the widows and orphans. (See especially the Book of Deuteronomy, 23:16-26; 24:5-25:4, and also Ex. 22:20-24).

Principles of Good Governance

The following are some basic principles of good governance:

Participatory Democracy: A Government has to listen to the diverse views of its people. It has to consult the citizens from the grassroots before making major decisions. Listening to the views of others, analyzing and synthesizing them is imperative. Democracy is listening and including the majority while accommodating the minority, then coming up with ONE WHOLE IDEA. The PEOPLE must agree on how they want to be governed. A constitution therefore, which is a country’s lifeline, must be community/people owned. People must be governed through their will and consent.

Dignity of the Human Person: Regard for the dignity of the human person means respecting the rights of others and protecting them. Justice has to be dispensed without partiality. All are equal and have to be treated in the same way (cf. Gal 3:28). No person should be discriminated against on account of gender, race, ethnicity, creed or disability. The dignity of all must be upheld; Ideas and policies that are agreed upon should be implemented impartially. There has to be respect of the law by all. Democratic principles must be clear and the will of the people must be supreme if it is in accordance with the will of God.

The rights and duties of the individual, of the family and of the community are contained in the natural and revealed laws of God. The happiness of the individual and the family depends on the rec­ognition of the peoples’ observance of these laws based on the constitution. These must be respected and upheld by good governance.

Visionary Leadership:Visionary leadership is crucial in the running of any country. It must be beneficial to all and must promote the common good. Effective governance must give direction. It must have a vision for the country. Presupposing respect for all persons, focusing on the social well-being and development of every person and promot­ing peace at all levels of the political community. This is good governance.

Leadership with vision has to point to and lead the nation to higher ideals, “Show them the way they must follow and what their course must be” (Ex 18:20). Good governance ensures that sectors such as Agriculture, Education, Health and Natural resources have sustainable plans. It must be able to effectively address issues of unemployment, just wages, gender, justice and sustainable economy. It should not set precedence where well connected peo­ple plunder national institutions in the belief that their actions will be later regularized to make it respectable wealth. Good gov­ernance has to create a conducive environment for the economic development of the people. A visionary leadership devotes its en­ergies to holistic development as opposed to dividing people. The welfare of its peoples is at the centre of priorities.

Integrity and Credibility: Good governance should be credible. This is through social in­tegrity, honesty, faithfulness, and truthfulness in the management of public and private affairs of the country. It must be seen to be hardworking. “Sincerity and truth is what you require. Fill your mind with wisdom” (Ps. 51:6; cf. Ps 91:4; 2 Tim 2:22-25). Every­thing else will fall into place.

Promote Cohesiveness: A cohesive society is mandatory for development and promo­tion of the common good. Effective governance must create har­mony within the nation and its institutions. This is by respecting the right to different opinions, association, movement and owner­ship of private property, as well as right to life and bodily integrity. It should also promote the right to necessities of life and decent living. Good governance has to lead to happiness, peace, prosperity for the in­dividual, family, community and the nation at large.

Good governance must create responsible citizens by promot­ing solidarity, patriotism and respect for others thus leading to unity among the people. As St. Paul states, “Do your best to pre­serve the unity which the spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together” (Eph 4:3).

Equitable Distribution of Resources: A country’s resources must be shared by ALL, exploited for the benefit of the people and the country. A country’s most precious resource is her people. Therefore, a responsible government has to provide for its people’s shelter, food, education, health and devel­opment.

It has to practice fairness in employment; that is employment by merit. Resources must be well managed for the present and future genera­tions through proper registration. Resources include land, water, forests and people. Natural resources should not be used to enrich a few individuals in pretext of settling squatters. As St. Peter states, “Behave like free men and never use your freedom as an excuse for wickedness. Have respect for everyone and love for your commu­nity, fear for God and honour the emperor” (1 Pet 2:16-17; cf. Gal 5:1). This is social responsibility of freedom and prosperity.

Right to Vote Freely: Citizens have the sovereignty of choice. They have a right to elect their leaders and to drop them when they fail or do not meas­ure up to the standards of the governed. The government must meet the hopes and expectations of the electorate, otherwise it quits (cf. Eph 6:9). Those in authority should always remember that, “They are working for God when they fulfill their duties” (Rom 13:6).

Respect for God: Good governance has respect for God and freedom of conscience. There should be freedom of worship, so long as the worship is not repugnant to social decency, for example devil worship is not a product of freedom of conscience as it has no respect for human rights. Freedom of worship and religion should not infringe on other peoples’ rights.

Good governance has to vet sects and cults that are a threat to the wellbeing of its citizens. It must foster development, good­ness, faith, knowledge, self-control, godliness, brotherly and sis­terly affection (cf. 2 Pet 1:5-9).

Promotion and Protection of the Family: The family is the basic unit of any society. Its welfare has to be the priority of any responsible government. A dependable govern­ment has to provide the necessities of life, food, shelter, health and education to its families. No child should miss school due to lack of school fees or shortage of schools. No person should die from curable illness due to expensive medicine or inaccessibility to health care; street families should be unheard of; family violence, child defilement and rape should be dealt with firmly by the law. Good governance has to protect the born and unborn. Abortion threatens families: As Ronald Reagan once put it, “All those advocating for abortion have been born. They were not aborted”. The family needs a firm foundation as it is through the families that “God will bless all nations” (Gen 12:3).

Sharing of Power: Good governance delegates power. It decentralizes activities for effective service to the people. The delegation of power ensures that there is no temptation of setting personal interests against that of the community. Delegation of power guarantees that the exercise of authority facilitates freedom and responsibility by all. Those in authority should exercise distribution of justice wisely.

A sound constitution is one of the most fundamental factors of successful governance. It has to clearly spell out the role of the legislature, judiciary and executive with no overlap or one being more powerful than the other. It has also to state the implementation strategies, give checks and balances.

Strict Obligations

Christians in politics and governance have a strict obligation to have absolute regard for and defend fundamental contents of Catholic faith and morals.

In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political programme or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.

When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such. The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society’s protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example). In addition, there is the right to religious freedom and the develop­ment of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which “the rights of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged”.

[Prof. Michael Ogunu is Professor of Educational Administration and former Head of the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations in the Faculty of Education, University of Benin]

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