Heart of Arts

A Tale of the Church Rat and Poisoned Holy Communion

Eti Best Herbert


In a recent meeting over the weekend with members of the Arewa Consultative Forum in Kaduna, Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress, while fielding questions from members of the press on climate change, gave a rhetorical response that climate change “is a question of how do you prevent a church rat from eating a poisoned holy communion?”

Several social media troll and furore from members of the public have trailed his response. It would appear that most of the public reactions are laden with limited appreciation of the intricacies of the subject matter of climate change. Otherwise, BAT’s use of allegory in this instance may have resonated well with them. Characteristic of most idiomatic expression, BAT actually said so much in few words. Characteristic of an elder statement, he answered the question in proverbs, which is traditionally regarded as palm oil which elders use to eat their yam.

The “church rat” is allegorically regarded as being unkempt, hungry and malnourished. This is because, unlike their counterpart domiciled in living houses, consumables which the rat could feed on are hardly found in the church. On the other hand, ‘hostia’ is a wafer made from whitish wheat flour that is used as the sacrament bread for “holy communion”. Whereas the element outlives its shelf life, it could lightly be regarded as being ‘poisonous’. Since the hostia is one of the few consumables that is ordinarily found in the church, the “church rat” has limited option than to eat the communion at the slightest opportunity, whether in its consumable or poisonous state.

Now to drive the message home, the “church rat” in BAT’s allegory represents Nigeria, considering its status as a developing country, with snail pace towards industrialisation and technological advancement. The ‘poisoned holy communion’ represents the abundant fossil fuel energy endowment such as: firewood, coal, crude oil, gas, etc., which are within the disposal of Nigeria. It is to be noted that Nigeria heavily depend on these energy sources for its economic subsistence and supply of her energy needs.

One of the globally recognised climate change mitigation strategies is the reduction and eradication of activities that enable carbon dioxide (CO2) emission to the atmosphere, that eventually depletes the ozone layer. This can be mostly achieved by phasing out fossil fuel-based energy and transition to ‘clean’ renewable energy mechanisms. Nigeria’s heavy dependence on fossil fuel-based energy and technological naivety in renewable energy makes it a comparative disadvantage for the country to astride the unruly beast of energy transition.

The drive for energy transition rarely catches the fancy of developing countries who have insisted that it would deprive them of the ability to realise their right to development. This has made the common but differentiated responsibility principle a more acceptable ideological underpinning for international treaties on climate change. Thus, before they can come onboard the global energy transition scheme, developing countries claim entitlement to some form of rebate, financial assistance and guarantees from developed countries, who are the largest emitters of CO2 and contributors to ozone layer depletion.

BAT resonated this sentiment when he said that unless developed countries offer financial assistance to poor countries (church rats) like Nigeria, we cannot come on board with the energy transition programme. Yes, we acknowledge that fossil fuel (the holy communion) is poisonous to the ozone layer, which results in climate change that hurts us all in the long run, we cannot starve to death now while we aimlessly hope for long life and prosperity. It is not sustainable to protect the interest of future generation at the expense of the present generation. Indeed, present generation needs to be alive so that the future generation can have progenitors.

The position of BAT is not different from the stance of the present government on the matter. In its declaration of 2021-2030 as the “decade of gas”, President Buhari stated that “gas development and utilisation is a national priority” and Nigeria will industrialise its use of gas. The Minister for Petroleum also stated: “Yes, we believe in the energy transition but we as Africans have our peculiar problems and we are saying that our energy transition should be focused on gas to bridge the energy gap”. These are crystal indications of the government’s unreadiness to phase out fossil fuel and transit to clean energy development mechanism, at least in the next one decade. Unsurprisingly, BAT’s view suggests he will run along this policy drive, should he emerge as president in 2023.

But then again, the argument may be canvassed that the allegory of the “church rat” and “poisoned holy communion” is a reflection of BAT’s stark disregard for the Christian faith, which initially played out in his choice of all-Muslim ticket and his bogus Bishops controversy. The communion is a canonical symbol of holy sacrament that forms the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is a liturgical representation of the body of Christ, “the author and finisher of the faith”. Associating such sacred symbol with poison that is fit for rat consumption in the Church, is no less inflammatory, save for the adherents’ penchant for delegating battles to divine authorities. If the tables were to turn, by now shirts would have been torn. These facts are disturbing, considering that it is associated with a man who may emerge as president of a country that is more divided than united by religion.


Eti Best Herbert, a Legal Practitioner, writes from Ibadan.


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