Evidence has recently come to light seeming to show that the Anglican Church of Nigeria received more than five million dollars from the regime of the military ruler Sani Abacha, to allow bishops in the church to attend the Lambeth Conference in 1998. Abacha’s regime repressed democracy at home and was accused of widespread human rights abuses which were condemned by the US State Department. Some are interpreting these funds transfers as Abacha’s purchasing of the complicity of the church in his brutality.
There is a forthright separation of church and state in the Nigerian constitution, with Section10 of the 1999 Constitution declaring that “the government of the federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” The constitution recognizes the plurality of religions and does not privilege one above another. However, despite that clear separation, Nigerian political and religious leaders have been closely intertwined.
A recent editorial on All Africa.com noted that “Every election is preceded by debates about religious convictions of candidates instead of merit and competence. Appointments to the cabinet and boards of parastatals are often matters of debate not based on competences but creed. The overall effect is that we often sacrifice the running of the nation on the altar of religion.”
And many Nigerian states have sponsored citizens pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem, while neglecting other basic services. Regarding Kasina state, a separate editorial said; “It boggles the mind that a state hobbled by a dearth of financial resources which has rendered it incapable of paying its workers’ salaries and pensions has dabbled into the sponsoring of citizens on pilgrimage to Mecca.”
That the church received funding to attend the Lambeth Conference isn’t, of itself, a sign of complicity. The Anglican church seems to have merely been taking advantage of the fuzzy boundaries between the state and itself. However, it has certainly opened the church to questions about its role in the abuses of that period and has cast a shadow on what should be the light of the Good News.
image: Sani Abacha, then president of Nigeria, arrives in Sierra Leone on 10 March 1998. Photograph: James Fasuekoi/AP