The story of human government and government leaders has been a weary story of power, pride, politics and problems for a prolonged period of time. Two thousand years ago, Jesus commented on the current government officials of his days by saying, “The Kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors” (Lk. 22:25). In other words, government leaders in his days used their positions of power to abuse, oppress and take advantage of those under their control. Publicly, they portrayed themselves as those who blessed and benefited their people, but in reality they were selfish and corrupt. This is an accurate description of the way many high government officials have acted down through history, and also of the way many government official act in Nigeria. Many government leaders use positions of power for their own personal gain. Many also live lives of gross moral evil. This was seen in the life of a recent American President. It was also seen in the lives of some of those who preceded him. Consider this commentary on the lives of the famous Kennedy family in America – John F. Kennedy was a renowned American President in the 1960s.
“It was not Joe [Kennedy] who was accused of rape in Palm Beach, Florida, not so very ago. That was William Kennedy Smith, a cousin who was staying with his Uncle Ted, the Massachusetts Senator at the time. It seems that the sins of the previous generations of Kennedys – and boy did they sin! – are now going to be paid for by this generation. The patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, publicly flaunted his mistresses, cruelly humiliating the saints Rose [his wife]. John Kennedy [the American President] behaved similarly, and he too, was never called to account. It is stunning now to contemplate his presidency… Here was a man who clearly felt that none of the rules, not even ones about co-mingling sex with national security, applied to him. Even so, the knowledge of his behaviour is scant match for the dazzle of his smile. When you look at the old pictures of him, his charisma still triumphs over judgment”(International Herald Tribune 2 Sept. 1997, p.g8).
Compare this description of John F. Kennedy with the brief facts given in the Gospel of Matthew about King Herod, a Roman political leader, in the days of Christ. “Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip wife, for John had been saying to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an Oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist” (Mt. 14:3-8). In this account of an evil political leader of long ago, John the Baptist had the courage to rebuke the man for his adultery with his own brother’s wife. For this courageous act, John the Baptist was beheaded by the order of the king, who did not appreciate having his secret sins exposed to the public (Mt. 14:9-11).
It should not be surprising, then, that many political leaders in Nigeria have enjoyed less than an honorable reputation of character. One general description of such leaders is given in these words: “A Big man who looks like this: his face is on the money. His photograph hangs in every office in his realm … He names streets, football stadiums, hospitals and universities after himself. He insists on being called doctor or … ‘the big elephant’ or …’the wise old man’ or ‘the national miracle.’ His every pronouncement is reported on the front page. He sleeps with the wives and daughters of powerful men in his government … He scapegoats minorities to shore up support. He rigs elections. He emasculates the courts. He cows the press. He stifles academia. He goes to church . . . . He blesses his home region with highways, schools, hospitals, housing projects, irrigation schemes and a presidential mansion. . . . His enemies are detained or exiled, humiliated or bankrupted, tortured or killed. He uses the resources of the state to feed a cult of personality that defines him as incorruptible, all knowing… and kind of children. His cult equates his personal well-being with the well-being of the state” (Dr.Wilbur O’Donovan) In contrast to these discouraging descriptions of very real but very corrupt political leaders of modern and ancient history, the Bible describes another political leader of long ago who was a man of honesty, integrity and godly character. The man was Daniel, a captive Jew, who became the prime minister in each of four successive governments. Just because a person is a government official does not mean that he or she must agree to the corruption, selfishness and moral evil of others in the government. The story of Daniel shows us that it is possible for a godly man to hold a very high position in a secular, corrupt government without becoming corrupt himself. Such a man can be a powerful witness for God to non-Christian government officials, just as Daniel was. Daniel was an uncompromising witness for the true God to the kings under whom he served as prime minister. Consider this strong warning given by Daniel to King Nebuchadnezzar, who could have had Daniel killed for daring to speak such words: “O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue” (Dan. 4:27).
The effect of Daniel’s witness on King Nebuchadnezzar was dramatic. After God judged Nebuchadnezzar with insanity for seven years because of his pride (Dan. 4:28-32), we read these astonishing words written by the king himself in an open letter to his entire empire. “At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My adviser and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride, he is able to humble” (Dan. 4:36-37). Nebuchadnezzar was a man who had scorned the God of the Hebrews (Dan 3:15), but finally he was broken before God in humility and reverence. This story clearly demonstrates that there are times when it is God’s will to put godly people into high government office. We will return to the story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar later next series. It is a fact that much of the suffering, poverty, injustice, war and oppression endured by Nigerian Christians today is directly or indirectly caused by evil governments or corrupt government officials.