In line with my tireless position that if I was a 2023 Presidential contestant, my holistic pledge would be the “Reform of Governance structure: Revamp of Physical infrastructure; Recovery of Social architecture; and Remodeling of Political culture”, I again seek to diagnose one of my country’s self-inflicted, silent and persistent social ills that deprives us of peace and harmony. Religion (not Godliness) is one aspect of Nigeria’s social architecture that significantly and infamously contributes to the latter’s dilapidation, vexatiously heats up the society and eccentrically sets Nigerians up against fellow Nigerians. The barbaric extermination of Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a Christian, in Sokoto State last month for alleged blasphemy against the Islamic Prophet Muhammad prompts this intellectual search for ‘warships within worship’ in in the Nigerian context.
On one hand, here is a literary probe of our seeming religious absurdity of that could implode a fragile nation like ours and is being communicated to Nigerians. On the other hand, this worth-drumming-into-them piece is for those seeking to rule Nigeria come 2023, so that they know we’ve gone past the age of surface-dressing campaign rhetoric promising to merely “fix insecurity” without any deep and dispassionate introspection of its origins. Furthermore, knowing that religion is a private and not public affair between a person and God (or gods), this erudition aims to identify some intangible but inflammable religious habits that are habitually brought to the open by Nigerians to beset our precarious peace and shaky security. For example, it comes easy for Christian and Muslim Politicians to remind Nigerians that the country is a secular State because the two creeds have the largest followership among the populace and are thus well acknowledged by the Nigerian authority and people. It’s doubtful, however, that the Politician whose supernatural belief rests with the god of thunder (Ogun) will resonate with that position (or perception) due to the obvious reality that his/her deity receives far less than a thunderous recognition by either the government or the Nigerian people.
Within the political circle of leadership, the views of 2023 Presidential aspirants about the devastating effects of our religious habits are neither being objectively considered nor reviewed at the primaries’ table. As a matter of fact, most of the Presidential hopefuls led campaigns which only superficially touched on our known challenges of insecurity, inter-religious disharmony, inter-tribal conflicts etc. Like President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, most of them demonstrated their unwillingness to critically look beyond and talk past the building of trains, schools, hospitals and roads – the commonplace electioneering slogan among Nigerian politicians. They failed to undergo root analysis of issues like medical doctors do in order to decipher that not all fevers and headaches are due to malaria, even in a malaria-endemic country. Consequently, most Presidential office seekers cajoled the largely disinterested class of delegates with bogus symptoms (and of course, ‘candies’), rather than the scientific diagnosis of the causes of our national problems. The closest political scrutiny or intelligence on religion-based discourse is the deliberate promotion of sentimental and power-grabbing tactics like the need to avoid a same-faith Presidential/Vice Presidential ticket by the two major political parties.
Of course, the least debated and yet predominant social habit among Nigerians is religion. Therefore, it’s not far-fetched that Nigerians – leaders and followers alike – haven’t really pondered over our offensive ways of worship that infuriate one another. Sorry to say that it’s an extremely sad commentary that religion in Nigeria reels a legion of bullets, beasts and brain-washed citizens, more than blissful, believing and brainy Nigerians. If the immortal social and democratic rule is that “the majority should have their way and the minority deserve their say”, how much of the communal and representative space have the two major faith practitioners in Nigeria (Christians and Muslims) afforded non-Christians and non-Muslims? Can anyone identify in the crowd also, the voice of Nigerian Atheists – persons who do not believe in God?
Knowing that they exist in every national gathering and in honour of their fundamental rights of religious choice or association, when did a worshipper of Sango, Obatala or Ogun etc. ever have his/her divinity recognized at official and social occasions. Has an Amadioha or Oya devotee been asked to lead either the needless opening or closing prayers at official occasions? Instead, intra-religious squabbles for recognition and domination are awfully rife such that within Christianity, for instance, Churches struggle to outdo one another with internal or external blaring speakers in perpetration of noise pollution both day and night, and during crusade and non-crusade sessions. Inter-faith tensions between Muslims and Christians are not left out as they are unreasonably generated by State-legitimized religious activities that are of nil value to our collective national developmental indices. Suspicions of higher quota and budgetary allocation to National Hajj Commission than the National Christian Pilgrim Commission are examples of the little foxes and loud foibles that rather plague our worship subsector, causing unimaginable proportions of disharmony among Nigerian believers. To infer, therefore, that Nigerians’ worship habits are national warship harbours wouldn’t be an exaggerated conjecture.
Let’s tell ourselves the truth; Must you and I (who are believers) flaunt our religion in the public space to the point that it irks the next Nigerian? Must believers grandstand about their pious dispositions in competition for government’s undue largesse and unnecessary recognition of our individual faith? What’s the thin line between your right to religion and no-right to rub it in the face of the other person? Fellow Nigerians, below are five examples of our religious habits that cross the line and trigger preventable faith-based frictions and apprehensions;
a. Official ‘opening and closing’ prayers at government functions and in government offices by Christians and Muslims breed unhealthy competition and fail to consider government workers and/or persons with other beliefs, even atheists. Can’t those of us who believe in God (Christians and Muslims) perform our respective prayers at our individual homes before showing up at government functions or our workplaces? Can’t we commit our official activities into God’s hands from our different locations before we later converge and won’t God answer? If it’s about joining our voices and faith, isn’t it feasible for Christian and Muslim co-participants at planned official events and co-workers in a government Ministry, Department and Agency to agree beforehand that such home-based prayers be conducted at a particular time from our various places of abode in order not to be seen to alienate, dominate, torment or terrorize non-Christians and non-Muslims?
b. Incessant noise pollution by Churches and Mosques makes many Nigerians go berserk. This is not to say that traditional worshippers do not also constitute earsplitting worships sometimes, but the environmental nuisance is commoner among Nigerian Christians and Muslims. The night sleep of my family has been truncated several times by noisy nocturnal vigils of churches around my house in Akure, necessitating formal complaints to relevant authorities. I recall my children being woken up in the dead of the night some years back during their school examination period by a particular church and they just couldn’t sleep till morning. Does the mental and consequential havoc wreaked by the inconsiderate attitude of these churches stand good reasoning to me as a Christian, let alone the non-Christians within the neighbourhood? My cousin recently complained to me about a mosque that disturbs his vicinity in Osogbo in like manner. Whereas, there are many unknown neighbours-cum-patients – people recovering from Tetanus infection, or nursing a tension headache, or recuperating from a surgical operation, or nursing mothers struggling with insomnia (inability to sleep). Any of these people could have his/her frail health condition deteriorate because of these noise-polluting religious indiscretions that are distasteful to God. I though God desires that we love our neighbours as ourselves. Noise Pollution by Nigeria’s faith-practitioners in the guise of ‘worship’ are fast-becoming Improvised Explosive Devices to believers and non-believers alike and it contradicts God’s desire.
c. Existence and Public funding of National Hajj Commission and National Christian Pilgrim Commission are to say the least, misplaced priorities. I find this a huge low in the conduct of national affairs by a country with numerous communal challenges that ought to be prioritized over individual faith-based desires. If you so crave a visit to Mecca or Jerusalem, is it too much to dip your hands into your pocket or request that your place of worship funds the trip? Why use billions of naira of State funds for religious jamboree in favour of some sects – Muslims and Christians, when there are several other religions? Or will the Nigerian government set up similar Commissions to pander to the ‘sacred’ wants of these other religions with equal fundamental rights?
d. Deployment of tax-payers’ funds by Government to the construction of Christian and Islamic worship centers is another blow. The other day, I read that the Government of a Northern State in Nigeria donated hundreds of millions in naira to the construction of a worship center and several others have travelled that misplaced lane. Although one may be tempted to overlook these State Governments’ justification of such religious habits because of their governing Islamic (Sharia) laws, I strongly opine that such habits be reconsidered. Fact-check – many of these States have unsettled wage bills! On the down side still, ours is a nation whose Federal Government struggles to fund through external borrowing, her paltry $US30billion budget in the year 2022 for 206 million Nigerians as against the State of Maryland in the United States with about $US47billion fiscal plan for her 6 million population? If Elon Musk sealed a deal to procure Twitter for $US44billion, who is that person that donated pounded yam to some State Governments in Nigeria and promised free soup for them to now gallantly (rather unashamedly) pump State funds to the building of Mosques or Churches? How many traditional shrines have government at all levels bequeathed public funds to their construction? Which country builds an egalitarian society out of a supposedly secular State amidst the obsession with lopsided and whimsical bankrolling of two religions?
e. Exclusive Christian and Muslim holidays are alienating government habits that may someday set religions against one another. That Christians and Muslims are the dominant believers in our population today doesn’t foreclose the possibility of a ‘third force’ with large followership in the nearest future. Will government be ready to grant them public holidays too? As it currently operates, does the Federal Government concede national holidays to deity worshippers?
For these reasons and more, the renewed precedent for our new President is a recommendation of an “All or None” fair play to religious issues. It’s either all religions practiced by Nigerians are ‘officially’ identified, published and accorded equal recognitions and government support, or the authorities steer clear of inordinate promotion of Christian and Islamic beliefs over and above other religions. I’ll rather align myself with the latter suggestion because religions spring up daily and government has more pressing mutual responsibilities to tend to Nigerians than to commit its attention to what is supposed to be our private affairs. For sure, it remains to be seen if the real campaigns by Presidential candidates will dig deeper into these and other pertinent issues.
Finally, we shouldn’t continue our post-2023 era with the inferno chronically raised by our sundry religious habits. Thus, we need a President among the party flagbearers – one of PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, Labour Party’s Peter Obi, APC’s yet-to-be elected Presidential standard-bearer, or anyone else who understands that these profligate and public display of religious habits are unnecessary precipitants of faith-related social conflagration. We need a President whose words and legally-backed actions would reprimand Christian and Muslim places of worship for noise pollution and scrap the funds-draining National Christian Pilgrim Commission and National Hajj Commission as well as the attendant public funding of religious pilgrimages. We need a President whose pious leanings wouldn’t becloud the necessity of doing away with opening and closing prayers at government functions – prayers that haven’t sanctified the corrupt hearts and hands of government plunderers & pilferers. We need a President in 2023 who would be committed to issuing an Executive Order or forwarding relevant Executive bills to the parliament to halt these age-long, publicly manifested, inciteful and extreme religious behaviours. We need a President who would lead Nigerians to truth and subsequent freedom, knowing that when the pointless public display of Religion becomes more pronounced than preferred personalized demonstration of Godliness, what you get is a Nigerian type of misnomer perpetrated against Deborahs and Daaemiyyahs.
Dr. Adetolu Ademujimi (@toluademujimi on twitter; @adetoluademujimi on instagram) is a medical doctor and policy expert who wrote in from Akure in Nigeria via [email protected]