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Simon Lalong: Knight Who Chose Party Over Faith. 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” – Luke 9:23

The man who helped Jesus carry the cross while on the way to Golgotha is named Simon of Cyrene. His Nigerian namesake, on the contrary, turns his back on Jesus in the thick of politics … when he was expected to bear our Lord’s cross. Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong’s wholesale patronage of the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of his party says a lot about him and his readiness to defend the faith.

The governor’s recent gaffe on the Pope has further unveiled his ignorance and the depth of his disrespect for the Catholic Pontiff.

To drag the Pope’s name into Nigeria’s same-faith ticket controversy is a grave error that comes with huge embarrassment to the benighted governor. 

Although he has apologised for the blunder, it has so thoroughly exposed the shallowness of his knowledge of the Catholic Church. But he has to be understood from the point of a man thoroughly brainwashed by his environment. Governor Lalong is certainly among the northern Christians who presume the political invincibility of Muslim solidarity. He is among those believing they cannot amount to much unless and until they subordinate themselves to northern Muslims’ political interests and objectives.

To lead the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign, Gov Lalong shows he could have been privy to the emergence of the so-called Bishops of Baal at the unveiling of Alhaji Kashim Shettima, the APC vice presidential candidate. The “arrangee” bishops were hired to insult Christianity. 

As a knight of the Church, an honour directly bestowed on him by the Pontiff, much was expected of Lalong … to protect the Papacy, project, and promote the mother Church, moreso when the knighthood was for his service to the Catholic Church as recommended by his bishop. 

The 191-year-old knightly order, established on September 1, 1831, was founded to reward meritorious service,  whether civil or military, to the Papacy through the Church. By that honour, Governor Lalong is expected to always defend and protect the faith. But he failed woefully when it mattered most. If a knight of the Catholic Church cannot defend the Church, who else can? The reason knights stay closest to the blessed sacrament during the Corpus Christi celebration of the Catholic Church, is symbolic of their role in the Church’s brigade of guards.  

It’s now clear why the ruling APC ignored the Plateau State governor and never looked his way during the search for a running mate for the presidential candidate Asiwaju Tinubu. They must have found him ill-fitting for the exalted office. His low rating among his peers must have come out of his disposition as an all-weather Christian and politician.

Governor Lalong was the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum (NGF), a position in which he was a toothless leader, unable and unwilling, perhaps, to ruffle the feathers of his political masters in other faiths.

Whenever NGF needed to address or attack the South or Christian-related issues, Lalong was handy for strategic purposes to launch the mouth grenade in the name of the North. 

As the only Christian APC governor in the North, Lalong has an edge over other governors in the choice of a presidential running mate. Perhaps, an inferiority complex will not let him notice his superior advantage. 

During the June 2022 National Convention, APC governors ganged up to torpedo both the President’s and Abdullahi Adamu’s agenda for a northern flag bearer. Instead, they chose to install Tinubu. After that, they could not gang up to enthrone one of their own, indeed the NGF Chairman, to be the running mate because of his faith and possibly they did not see him capable. If a sitting governor has no political capacity to be Vice President, who else has? The next time they were to gang up was to make the not-fit-for-VP Lalong the campaign committee DG, ostensibly to clean up the same-faith ticket and massage the wound of the Christian North for votes in 2023. Governor Lalong did not see any insult in their choice of him. Even if he saw it he was so timid to standil by his faith as they stood by their own.

Those who did not find Lalong worthy of the VP ticket wanted to use him to clean the mess they created and he accepted. If anybody has been thoroughly injured by the refusal to pick a northern Christian as a running mate and should feel so, the person should be Governor Lalong. As if the salt poured on the injury was not enough, he further poured sand in addition by dragging the Pope into his imprudence.

Even if APC wins the presidential election, which is very remotely impossible, and Governor Lalong is given an appointment, he has tacitly undermined his political journey by this act.

Northern Christians, over time, have been at the receiving end of political subjugation and the Muslim-Muslim ticket is a very haughty demonstration of that state of affairs. The arrogant and disdainful manner they went about justifying it should have provoked even the most Lilly-livered. Not for Sir Lalong.

The damage his action has done to the psyche of his people, the Christian northerners will go far because of what he represents politically as a sitting governor and Catholic knight. If he could be so slavish to his political party that could heap any rubbish on Christianity, including hiring fake bishops, something must be fundamentally wrong.

As a Catholic like Lalong and one who is privy to some of his financial contributions to the Church both in Abuja and his state, I cannot understand what became of him. What on earth would he have lost [if not gained] had he declined to take the DG position? Especially as his Christian brothers in the party in the region, including David Babachir Lawal, the man who bought the presidential nomination form for Tinubu and worked hard for his victory at the party convention justifiably showed their anger and decided to stay away from the obvious aspersions. These men by their actions were defending their faith even when they had no known political job, but a sitting governor threw away everything in the name of party loyalty against faith loyalty.

All the Northern Muslims who convinced Governor Lalong to take the inglorious job were defending the faith that encourages them to take everything if possible for Allah. But Lalong did not see anything fundamentally wrong with his anger to rise for his faith. Instead, he is to serve them. To help them market a candidate with unverifiable age, origin, and health plus a questionable source of wealth. Imagine what would befall a Muslim politician agreeing to market a Christian-Christian ticket to Northern Muslims.

Even if faith is not to be an issue although your opposite partners are putting it at the forefront, why not look at the implications of the ticket to national unity and cohesion which a governor should be concerned about?

I read Governor Lalong’s apology letter to his ArchBishop over the Pope issue but it did not address the real issue that borders on the long-term effect of his action, especially in the North and the rest of Nigeria and the Christendom. The apology letter would have seemed more worthy and impressive if Governor Lalong had after the letter tender his resignation letter to the party from the vexed unjustifiable position in defence of his faith.

What Governor Lalong has displayed in all these is to show in unmistakable terms that he is not the kind of leader John Maxwell said “knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” 

The truth is that those who are saying religion should be removed from politics are those dragging it in. 

Religion would not have taken so much centre stage if some people had not chosen to protect their religion by refusing to have a Christian VP come from the North. Meanwhile, the Muslim candidate from the South was boxed into a difficult corner by the northern APC governors. His religion is in the minority in his region. But he won the ticket anyway. Northern Muslims want to dominate the North as well as the South West. And they see no qualms in it.

How can anyone complacent over the injustice in their neighbourhood claim to be a sincere and genuine advocate of peace? This duplicitous grandstanding has made genuine peace unrealisable in our land.

Governor Lalong, being a knight with little faith, refused to stand up to be counted for northern Christians when it mattered most. Very sad and indeed unfortunate that a supposed soldier of Christ chickened out at the battlefront. Lalong has proved himself not ready for the cross, a knight without the armour for the battle. Jesus himself said succinctly to his disciples, you cannot be my follower if you are not ready to carry my cross. Simon of Cyrene, so the Bible says, helped Jesus to carry his cross but Simon on the Plateau sees the cross and chooses the crescent. What a shame!

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