The occasion was originally a book launch before it transformed into some debate about his politics of belief systems. That is Dr Otive Igbuzor and his seemingly successful combination of being a pastor with being a Marxist. Marxism and Christianity are widely believed to be the anti-thesis of each other. Of course, Dr Igbuzor is an NGO activist and a politician but it is his Church and Marxist commitments that got his own circle into an instinctive reflection session Thursday, November 2nd, 2017 at the Yar’adua Centre, Abuja where they gathered to witness the public presentation of his latest book, Leadership, Development and Change. Dr Igbuzor is an energetic, combative writer who still starts his works by observing all the protocols that the average reader today no longer cares about – an introduction, conceptual clarification, quotations, etc. But he makes his points and he continues to write as well as invite his circle full of critics to the book presentation ceremonies.
This book presentation particularly went well if one were just considering attendance. It was a well attended occasion, a book presentation which turned out an occasion to also hear the leading voices of the once most distinct tendency in Nigeria as the Ogaga Ifowodos, Salihu Lukmans, Chris Uyots, Kayode Fayemis, Nuhu Yakubu, Husseini Abdus, Jummai Ajijolas and many others looked at the country by situating Dr Igbuzor. But it did not go far before it turned into a debate on Igbuzor’s experimentation with identity. It was not an offensive but a reflective excursio, inaugurated by someone qualified to do so. That was Dr Ogaga Ifowodo, the lawyer poet who told the story of how he was recruited into student movement politics of yesteryears by Dr Igbuzor, complete with the little red book that made you an agitator of a ‘communist’ bent. For the theoreticians of this movement, it mattered both the new and older members understood and accepted that religion is the opium of the masses. Dr Ifowodo’s reflection, or is it bewilderment on the occasion, is how the theoretician who recruited him in the 1980s is today not just a Christian activist but also the General Overseer of the Palace of Priests Assembly, a Pentecostal platform. So, what might have happened? Did Igbuzor experience a variant of the Pauline encounter or he simply jumped ship?
Dr Ifowodo sought a middle ground. First of all, he reminded his listeners of the incompleteness of the quotation attributed to Marx about religion being the opium of the masses. He had in mind the way people stop at that when the same passage goes on to talk about religion being the soul of a soulless world, an expression by which Marx must have been suggesting what Professor David Held calls Marx’s insistence that it is idealism which restores the active side of materialism. David Held’s intervention is dated now but not too far from Ifowodo’s insistence that Igbuzor might not have been too far off the the ‘correct’ line by combining Christianity with Marxism. For him, if Jesus Christ is still the epitome of leadership, then there is no contradiction in being a Christian and a Marxist.
That is also what Fidel Castro said many years ago but in different words. Castro said he could not see what Christianity would not approve in what he had done as the leader of a Socialist revolution. In the context of securing the revolution, Castro did suppress Catholicism in Cuba to some extent but many would wonder how he remained on good terms with every Pope that climbed Peter’s seat. Pope John Paul 11 not only visited Cuba twice, the incumbent did so too and both Pope were very helpful in sorting out a few things between Cuba and the US. Dr Jummai Ajijola who also spoke at the Thursday book presentation quoted Islamic philosophers to buttress the harmony of faith and leadership in Islam, thereby giving the ‘debate’ that component.
It is not a totally new debate. Dr Igbuzor has always been queried for that by his circle of irreverent former activists on how he comes about being a pastor and a Marxist. He has always answered that he came by that after finding that everything he became in life came to him either through Christianity or through Marxism inspired activism. So, he feels obliged to pursue both. He does not see any contradiction in that or whatever contradictions he sees, he is ready to handle them. The matter would have been assumed settled at that, more so that a defining feature of the community of activists who shook Nigeria throughout the 1980s is exactly the Igbuzor experiment. In fact, as at today, no less than a dozen of them are pastors and Marxists at the same time. It is not clear if this applies to former Muslim activists in terms of becoming Imams.
But it is not only members of this kindred that finds something contradictory in that possibility. Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, the US based DRC born scholar told Intervention last June the story of former President Obasanjo’s rejection of that in 2001. Asked by Obasanjo to assemble a brainstorming team for him, Nzongola had the late Bade Onimode on the list. Onimode happened to be the only one Obasanjo picked from the entire list because he (Obasanjo) said Onimode spoke power to truth or ‘truth’ to power unlike those who went to tell him what they thought he wanted to hear. But this was not before Obasanjo dismissed as nonsense the idea of Onimode being a born-again Christian and a Marxist at the same time. For Obasanjo, one cannot be a Christian and a Marxist at the same time. If we must bring all angles to the table in trying to understand an issue, then Obasanjo’s voice as revealed by Nzongola matters.
So, what exactly are we confronted with? Is this a question of whether the Otive Igbuzors are doing the wrong thing or seeing far ahead? Might we be reading the texts too tightly, absolutising what Marx said or did not say at a time when so much re-interpretation is going on about all such old questions? Is it the case that we need the Marxists to intervene in religion and stop it from being served as opium of the masses but as the soul of a soulless world? Is that what the Marxists such as Dr Igbuzor who are pastors and Imans doing now or not? Questions, questions and question that only time, it seems, can tell.