"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots." Marcus Garvey
Nigeria: The Chasm of Negative Religiosity
8 March 2009
Lagos — The great social thinker, Karl Marx aptly defined religion as the opium of the masses. Virtually all religions in the world preach peace, holiness, purity, love, charity, truth and moral rectitude generally. However, when wrongly applied, religion can become a consuming fuel for disunity, destruction and killing. Indeed, religion is at the root of many wars tearing several countries apart.
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka last Tuesday utilized the occasion of the Obafemi Awolowo Centenary Lecture, held at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, Lagos to draw attention to the dangers posed by religious extremism in the country. He surmised in his presentation that frequent riots in the country constitute a deadly threat to the nation. His treatise titled "Between Nationhood and Nation Space" alerted that religion has the potential of becoming a highly inflammable adversary of the Nation State. He rightly reasoned that religion when wrongly applied could spell the death knell on any nation, Nigeria not being an exception.
According to the literary icon, religion has done incalculable damage to the fabrics holding the country since its intervention in our national being. Religion in our clime, he argued, has been the most savage, unconscionable and increasingly intolerant kind. To Soyinka, secularism remains a better option than theocracy. He reasoned that the former is inclusive while the latter excludes and segregates.
I'm certain that every passing month and year, the above concern has continued to sound louder not only in Soyinka's but most Nigerians' sub-conscious. Yes, the fear has been growing in my mind that extreme religious intolerance particularly in a section of my country is gorging deeper and deeper. With practically nothing being done by either the Federal or state governments concerned to curtail the dangerous trend, the chasm keeps widening, tearing us apart. The worrisome development has continued to making it very difficult for us to integrate properly especially in those parts of the country that have been prone to the recurring bloody implosion.. This problem and the growing insecurity in the country, in my estimation, pose the greatest challenges to us as a nation. They are more urgent than issues like re-branding Nigeria, Heart of Africa Project and similar pursuits of the Federal Government.
In Nigeria, several civil disturbances that occurred recently have their immediate or remote causes in religious intolerance or exploitation. While few of the riots were intra-religious, most of them were inter-religious, pitching Muslims against Christians or Muslims against predominantly Christian Southern Nigerians. Most of the riots had also started on a particular day of the week.
In most cases as the riots get underway, hoodlums cash in not only to kill and maim but also to loot valuables of innocent persons. One fearful ripple effect of the riots is the reprisal attacks they trigger in other parts of the country. Thus the multiplier effects of riots have the potential of setting the country ablaze. Then why not nip the monstrous act in the bud before it spreads and consumes all of us.
The damages done by the riots on the country are incalculable. They drive a wedge between the citizens. During the notorious religious riots in the North, Nigerians butchered fellow citizens like animals. In fact during the recent riot in Jos on November 28, 2009, among the hundreds of victims were three innocent National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members who were sent to their early graves in a most dastardly manner.
I believe, there can be no bigger challenge for the respective governments in the riot prone states than to begin to educate and enlighten their people on the dangers posed the nation, their states and our future by their easy resort to killing and maiming of fellow human beings. Resorting to killing of people and vandalization under whatever guise rather than solve aggravates the problems. Today, many prospective NYSC members posted to particular states now reject such deployments for fear of being killed by rioters. Also, many people have closed down their businesses in such states and relocated to states where there is religious tolerance..
Coming down to our country, Nigeria, it is a unique religious, ethnic and cultural hybrid. It is basically a bi-religious country, the two major religions being Christianity and Islam. This is not to deny the existence of a negligible sprinkle of traditional religious beliefs in the country..
The way out of our religious quagmire is first and foremost our return to authentic religious spirituality anchored on love and peace towards all persons irrespective of creed or tribe. Politicizing and commercializing religion can only lead us to damnation. Today, many professed religious leaders have learnt to talk from both sides of their mouths. This situation is not helped by the fact that the church and the mosque have in recent times come to be seen by some individuals as a vehicle for business enterprise. Many fraudulent people now found churches with the intent to reap material gains from credulous citizens. While the church is perverted as a vehicle for acquisitiveness many Muslims have abused their faith by converting the mosque into a tool for political contest.
Politicians and their supporters often campaign openly in the mosques and churches. Sometimes, not only are political meetings held in the mosque but also even important decisions affecting the wider populace including non-Muslims are taken there. Contract seeking businessmen have become used to chasing top government functionaries to the mosques or churches when prayers are supposed to be said.
With such perversions thriving, it is less surprising that religious intolerance, fanaticism, bigotry and hate are fast becoming the defining traits of our inter-relationship as a people. It is high time our elected leaders, particularly in the riot prone states imbibed the political will to rally stakeholders to halt the mad descent to frequent killings and maiming in the name of religion. The barbaric acts which are eternally unjustifiable are greatest threat to our nationhood.