top of page

A single Tweet: The Thin Line Between Religion and Politics

Updated: May 20

If there is anything this last 2023 elections in Nigeria has shown is that the line between religion, and politics is very thin. Religion like politics is such a powerful tool for control and power. Religion like tribalism is a reliable weapon to divide and rule a group of people like Nigerians who love their religious piety. That dutifulness to religious teachings is what many Nigerians live for. At least, one would say "dutifulness to religious teachings" on the surface but digging deeper, you find the elephant in the room, comfortably seated.....the elephant in the room here is brainwashing.

A single tweet may seem like nothing but as a Nigerian with everything that has happened since 2020, a tweet from fence-sitting elites particularly a religious leader is dangerous. If you cannot at least use your platform to speak truth to power, you should continue to hold your peace. The tweet is a reflection of a deeper issue; the selective silence of many religious leaders in Nigeria in the face of impoverishing politics and looking the other way when it matters most.

What’s with a simple Tweet?

Days ago, a popular pastor with a huge platform and following in Nigeria's biggest social economic hub, Lagos, made a fencist tweet. “Fencist” is a term I would define as dangerously sitting on the fence as a smokescreen for having no political stance. The pastor, who shall not be named tweeted about Nigerians laying down their grievances to accept the outcome of the last hotly contested presidential elections. The tweet would not have been such a big deal if this was the first time, he was tweeting such a fencist agenda and it would not have gotten anyone riled up if one could ignore the revelations at the ongoing Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) sitting in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

Even a blind man could see the cases at the tribunal have some credibility that would make your hair stand by looking at heaps of evidence available to the public and this is a crucial time in Nigeria's history. An election that divided Nigerians along religious and tribal lines marred with violence as the EU reports confirm (the irony that the document is no longer on the website), is not exactly an election, you would as a pastor use your platform to twist the Bible for your purpose without waiting for the final judgment from PEPT.

Since the pastor's stand was clear already (his previous tribalist tweets masked as a fencist reveals), it would be such low-level shamelessness to come openly with such opinions at a time like this. Well, at least, everyone is entitled to their views. Hence, a man of God, nonetheless, a man, should have a right to his opinions. However, as a person with such a huge following who tells others what to do compared to how many people tell him what to do; it is fair that he embraces criticism as well. Instead of going on a blocking spree with people who have strong words for his stance in a country where millions are dealing with multi-dimensional poverty and people like him enjoy the laps of luxury.

Nigerians and Religion

But let us leave the pastor and focus on the goal of this article which is the thin line between power, religion and brainwashing. Most Nigerians will be up in arms to defend their beloved religious leaders more quickly than they would defend a woman who has been raped. Being spiritual is such an epic high for millions in Nigeria. An average Nigerian household is religious. Atheists are almost non-existence because meeting them is such a rare occurrence. The name of God is constantly on our lips and morning devotion is a staple of daily office routine in many businesses. Sundays and Fridays are special days because it is imbibed into the very depth of our existence while growing up and the more you look, it could seem like a routine.

Some eventually outgrow the routine when they discover their path as they grow up. That religious nature isn't exactly out of their lives, but they have mastered how to fit the routine into their lives, they have become flexible to the realities of life and show up when needed. Some stray off the path to dropping religion altogether because the "scam" of religion is all too evident to them. Then some dig deeper to find their path and build a personal relationship with God, this is no longer about being born into a specific religion, it is discovering the core of their beliefs and the way that keeps them believing. Then some stay steadfast to the religious routine they were born into, brainwashed, swallowing whatever their religious leaders say, hook, line, and sinker.

To this last class of people, their religious mentor is more of a god than God himself. This last category is the place millions of Nigerians fall into. These are the people who like tweets from leaders like the Lagos pastor and would defend him even when what he stays has no bearing on the Bible. They live and breathe the teachings of these religious leaders. They will never pick their Bibles to explore on their own, they rely on what they hear, such that their path to God is tied to another human being. Surrendering their agency to following the man of God, is reflected in their views on politics. This is like people who rather vote for someone because of their tribe rather than competence.

There is no room in their mental faculty to accommodate contrary opinions and anything opposing the teachings they are used to will be met with fierce resistance and arguments laced with only emotions. They will even justify the submission of women to a man at all costs, children never questioning adults and even rationalizing abuse. So, when a pastor who has been silent about the violence across the country pre-, during, and post-elections, a man who has been twisting the Bible to subtly promote political propaganda, suddenly says we should accept the outcome of the elections, as a Nigerian you should wonder where that is coming from when there is an ongoing PEPT hearing, instead of just jumping on the tweet and clapping.

No Questions Asked

The brainwashing effect that says we must never question religious leaders is exactly why he went on a blocking spree and people were still defending him because his word is supposed to be the standard. That very feeling instills fear in followers who see religious leaders as some grandmaster, a supreme deity who has the power of life and death, such that you would not want to thread on their bad side to avoid generational curses. While a pastor can go on a blocking spree, his followers dare not block the man of God. Religious leaders would get away with molestation accusations, but a secular celebrity would be dragged for the same thing.

Religious leaders can send their wards abroad to the best schools, on vacations but members wallowing in abject poverty would still defend them and fight on their behalf when someone dares question the disparity in the standard of living for devout members who cannot afford to go to academic institutions run by their churches. The way followers defend their leader and attack people without ever hearing the logic of another opinion makes you cringe.

Religious places of worship are so revered that too many cover-ups are happening which are accepted as some sort of norm. Religious teachings which have positive, yet negative aspects are used as a tool to control members within and outside the place of worship. The brainwashing goes deep into pulling strings within marriages, raising children, matrimonial intimacy, diet, finances and even careers. Family members are abused, and women’s place in the church is capped, backed with some religious doctrines.

Men who can barely feed their families will spend their limited resources to promote some religious goals, while their primary responsibility suffers but there is a religious defense for that. Followers do everything for the affection of their beloved leaders to be seen, heard and recognized as though this was about worshipping a human. The subtle way religious leaders pull the veil that compels followers to surrender everything is where the skills mastery lies. To think that somehow, giving up your will and ability to reason is something good for the followers but never that is how powerful religion can be because those brainwashing leaders need their senses to keep the scam going.

Social Media and Covid

With social media, brainwashing has gotten worse. Not only are followers controlled off social media, but their engagement is also impacted because whatever the leader says will be liked, retweeted, and reshared no matter what. No one dares have a contrary opinion because the armies are readily available like the beyhive to defend and counter. This is exactly what happened with that tweet. The anger of his followers who have been so "blessed" by his teachings such that he could never err and that no one dares call him out.

Personally, for me, the last election cleared any doubt I ever had about the stance of Nigerian elites and religious leaders on changing the status quo. I would be a fool to make excuses for anyone's political stance knowing how undeniable the level of poverty is in Nigeria and just how dangerous tribalism laced with religion is probably at the same level as racism. There is no one sitting on the fence in Nigerian politics regardless of what anyone would have you believe. People can hide their stance but there are no fence-sitting political views in Nigeria.

Due to the impact of isolation due to the COVID shutdown, the first of this kind in this millennium, there are already cracks in the wall as more people question the need for physical church attendance. In 2019, it was about tithing, a topic so controversial, that it opened the floodgates of religious altering conversations across Nigeria. The relocation trend amongst Nigerians who can afford it is another eye-opening experience for some followers who are left behind in Nigeria while their beloved leader "flees" abroad with immediate family members for greener pastures. Some members also discover the double standards between local and abroad branches of their organizations.

Then realizing the same standards that were deemed universally unquestionable and "cast in stone" are now being adjusted in another jurisdiction to accommodate other humans but why the different standards? The thing is religion is a perfect tool for control. Once a man has found a group of followers to believe, then that becomes the foundation for multiplication. When we are born into a kind of belief system and grow into that system, it will take some sort of reawakening for us to realize where religion ends, and brainwashing begins. You need that awakening to even be sure you are not just doing routine and find the supposed meaning in being religious (because at this point in my life, I am over being religious).

Anyone who has seen the Hillsong Secrets miniseries on Disney plus with all the conversation and mind space many followers of the famed NYC branch operated in, it just shows how a religious following can be built around a single person and their message. It also shows how the lines of idolatry, worshipping the man on the pulpit can become blurred. No one can deny the impact of social media and the influence of celebrity culture in a city like NYC.

The level of volunteering to keep that church-going, producing songs that went viral, winning awards and making millions was insane. The downside was how the former members who were part of the documentary felt scammed and betrayed because of the many expectations they had following this larger-than-life NYC pastor. The danger here was that millions were caught with a pastor, his cult personality which always drew people to church from his days as a single young person at the Bible college in Australia, but the essence of the “come as you are “message was eventually lost.

Being who he is, I bet he will come back stronger, appeal to new followers and expand his influence because that Disney plus miniseries was more about redeeming his image than calling out the underlying issue where the line between brainwashing, cult personality and influence is blurred. This is an example of what happens with many Nigerian churches and I speak as a Christian myself. We often joke on social media that once you move abroad as an average/typical Christian from Nigeria, your prayer points change and how you approach God changes because the society you find yourself impacts you in more ways than you can count.

In closing, I would say we must recognize just how powerful religion can be as a tool for politics and not put our heads in the sand to argue blindly when anyone has something to say about the opinions of a religious leader no matter how much we love them. We should not lose our sense of judgment and agency because we are inspired by someone or influenced by their message. We are all humans and the tendency to be centered on our own opinion happens but knowing where to draw the line is essential and it will help us find that thin line between being positively influenced and brainwashing.

My turning point with traditions being raised in a protestant church was questioning why young people who got pregnant outside wedlock would be brought to the front of the church and ridiculed as a form of correction when it could be done privately. I thought then that would mean many quiet abortions would be happening and many things swept under the carpet by young people who were afraid of being shamed publicly especially women.

The question is if you know where to draw the line with the people you are presently following and if their influence in your life is positive or if you are a piece in a bigger scheme for something sinister, controlling and selfish. Is someone deceiving you in the name of God?

bottom of page