Religion and the Nigerian Condition by Segun Adeniyi

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While the pundits are still analysing the factors that shaped
the outcome of last week presidential election in the United States (comedian
Chris Rock said you don’t beat a Kenyan in a race!), the most formidable
opposition to President Barack Obama’s re-election came from the American
Christian Evangelicals. The reasons were not difficult to fathom: Many of them
could not reconcile themselves to his healthcare reform policy which covered
contraception; his seeming ambivalence towards the State of Israel (which he is
yet to visit) and his open endorsement of same-sex marriage. But at the end, Obama
still won in religion-biased battleground states like the Catholic-dominated
Ohio, evangelical-heavy Iowa and Virginia as well as in Florida.
With the election over last Wednesday morning, I left Washington to spend a few
days in Boston and I decided to visit the Harvard Weatherhead Centre for
International Affairs where I spent the 2010/2011 session as a Fellow.
Evidently delighted to have me around, the Centre’s director invited by me to
join the current Fellows at their Friday seminar last week. The topic of
discussion was “The Challenges of Religious Pluralism in the United States”
with Ms Diana L. Eck, one of Harvard’s most respected scholars and a Professor
of Law and Psychiatry in Society, as speaker.


Quite naturally, Prof Eck spent considerable time in her presentation to speak
on the role religion played in the election but the eye opener for me was the
discussion that followed, as Fellows, one after another, expressed what they
described as a culture shock about their American experience. They found it
difficult to understand why in this day and age, many Americans would still
consider God and religion important in their affairs. Drawn mostly from Europe,
Asia and Latin America, many of the Fellows spoke about their countries and the
fact that the idea of God and religion had for a long time faded away. One
Fellow, a lady who said going to Church was no longer fashionable in her
country, added: “Out of curiousity, I attended a church here last week and I
actually enjoyed it. I found it very entertaining.” The discussion went along
that line until Prof Eck asked Lt. General Abdulrahman Dambazau (immediate past
Chief of Army Staff and the only African in the class), “is religion important
in Nigeria?”.

Without hesitation, General Dambazau answered in the affirmative before he
added: “I want Segun to share the Christian perspective while I will speak for
Islam.” As we explained how religion has become a potent weapon in our country,
I am sure it was also not lost on the Fellows that we are still generally a
poor people despite our religiousity.

In our country today, before every government meeting, prayers are said by both
Islamic and Christian adherents to commit deliberations into the hands of God,
even when the outcome might have already been predetermined by the hands of
men! But this is not restricted to government. In some of the banks that CBN
had to take over as a result of the greed of their CEOs, there were daily
corporate supplications to God before commencement of business. It didn’t matter
that some smart people were already manipulating events outside of God. At
motor parks, there are all manners of charlatans masquerading as pastors and
Imams and at markets, there are also prayer warriors who have no qualms
cheating customers after their profession of holiness.

The result of the foregoing is that a resource-endowed country where majority
of the citizens live below poverty line now holds the dubious distinction of
having the highest concentration of private jets in Africa. Owned largely by
bank CEOs, Christian clerics, fuel subsidy merchants, political office holders
and their cronies, these expensive toys–each of which costs millions of
Dollar—have grown in number to about 200 today, up from about 50 in 2008. In a
brilliant piece posted on the internet last week, Obinna Akukwe wrote on the
contradiction of religion in our country: “…God hears the personal prayers of
Nigerians for a better personal life but when it comes to extending such to
national life, the same God shuts the door. Something is wrong somewhere.”

Yes something definitely is wrong. Today, many otherwise respectable Christians
in government and business would do any deal, compromise any principles and
break any law, all in the bid to make money at the end of which he/she could
deploy some of the ill-gotten wealth to the Church. Their Muslim counterparts
are no better. Many would also steal and spend part of the proceeds either to
erect Mosques or to send some poor folks to Mecca, in a fashion almost akin to
an armed robber sending relief materials to his victims in a perverted sense of
benevolence.

Our nation is now defined by majority of the Seven Social Sins, identified by
Mahatma Gandhi which are: politics without principles; wealth without work;
pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without
morality; science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice. It is
therefore no surprise that the United Nation’s report released on Tuesday
listed Nigeria as leading the world with 10.5 million children not attending
school. Six per cent of the young men (15- 29 years) who left school are
illiterate and 26 per cent semi-illiterate, according to the study by UNESCO’s
Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report.

But since we have elevated religion to a national ideology, the question we
should ask is: why is it that the most religious countries on earth are also
the poorest while the least religious countries are wealthier? Congo, Burundi,
Zimbabwe, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria etc are among the most religious countries
yet majority of their people are poor whereas prosperous countries like Sweden,
Japan, Denmark, Hong Kong, etc are among the least religious. A close
examination of countries where you have the most brutal form of
dictatorship/incompetent government and corruption also reveals that they are
among the religious countries. For instance, a recent 44-nation survey of the
Pew Global Attitudes Project which shows global regional divides over the
personal importance of religion concluded that “in Africa, no fewer than
eight-in-ten in any country see religion as very important personally.” In
actual fact, 96 percent of Nigerians are religious!

I must point out here that I am not in any way suggesting that religion is not
important or that God should have no place in our national life. No, I cannot
suggest that because I firmly believe that God presides over the affairs of men
and indeed, the lesson from the United States is that we can hold on to our
individual faith in God and personal commitment to our religion yet still
prosper as a nation. For instance, a recent survey titled, “Beliefs About God
Across Time And Countries,” conducted by the National Opinion Research Center
(NORC) at the University of Chicago, ranked United States fifth among selected
religious countries. The research was able to establish that on religion
“Americans’ views are closer to people in developing nations than to the
publics of developed nations.”

What that establishes is that it is not wrong, indeed it is right, for every
Nigerian to hold on to his/her faith. But religion should never be a weapon of
manipulation (by politicians) or exploitation (by Pastors, Imams and political
cum business elite). There should at all times be a clear separation between
religion and the state while adherents must live what they profess. As things
stand today, there seems to be but a thin line between religion, politics and
business in our country and rather unfortunately, our people are worse off for
it.

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