Religion In Nigeria: A Private Matter

(By Simon Abah)

I wonder and ponder on the justice of having more than 10 churches on a street for instance with loud speakers blaring the preachers’ messages from the roof top, all in the name of evangelism. The paradox is that most times this goes on simultaneously. So whose message will you listen to? Citizens’ rights to privacy and quietude are not appreciated. Nigeria must have the highest concentration of religious men in the world. Incidentally this religiosity instead of promoting peace and unity has been abused and we get malaise of varying magnitude daily.

OUR country is in a state of religious flux. Freedom of worship has been debased to mean freedom to kill, rob the mentality and fleece innocent people from their hard-earned resources in God’s name.  People of diverse faith all over the world have wondered and are still wondering if religion is higher than the state in Nigeria. Their observation is informed by the trend of religious affairs in the country over time. How can one elucidate and rationalise what happens every day in the name of spirituality? I believe in the freedom of worship that appreciates the right of the individual, the freedom that sees the human being in the prism of brotherhood and a citizen of Nigeria. The freedom that recognises the state, higher than religion and frowns at any status quo which encourages zealotry and  places zealots on a pedestal higher than the state.

  I wonder and ponder on the justice of having more than 10 churches on a street for instance with loud speakers blaring the preachers’ messages from the roof top, all in the name of evangelism. The paradox is that most times this goes on simultaneously. So whose message will you listen to? Citizens’ rights to privacy and quietude are not appreciated. Nigeria must have the highest concentration of religious men in the world. Incidentally this religiosity instead of promoting peace and unity has been abused and we get malaise of varying magnitude daily.

  The pervasive religious insecurity in the North at the moment didn’t start from 2009. It started when the government looked the other way when immigrants from neighboring African countries came into Nigeria in the 1980’s without any agenda but to wander and hide under the pretext of being religious leaders extolling radical religious values, most times denigrating the state and men from another faith. This lethargy by government emboldened some well-known religious clerics to see religion as a tool not to preach peace at all times but to brazenly condemn the faith of people from other religious divides on television and off screen while cheer leaders cheered on. What was the effect of this? Bigotry was promoted and has festered leading to perpetual suspicion and war. Today tolerance of differing faiths is thrown to the winds as we engage ourselves in the war of supremacy.

  While these wanderers were allowed to stay, other illegal migrant workers (mostly Ghanaians) who came to work in industry were deported. This gave the clerics and their followers the belief that they could ride on the ‘will of God’ to commit impunity. And impunity they committed. The religious crisis in the North caused by the politicization of Sharia in the late 1990’s remains one of the worst religious pogroms in our history. The offshoot of that crisis is what we are currently witnessing with the ‘Boko Haramist’.  It is a well-known fact that most of the arrow-head of that organisation are not Nigerians. Our country’s borders (my assessment) must be the only one on earth where it is porous enough for all and sundry to gain access without checks and documentation.

  I demand that religion must be a private matter in this country. A situation where people hold us to ransom under the guise of religion is totally inexcusable. There was the ‘State’ and the ‘People’ before the importation of religion. The state owes us a duty to free us from the shackles of our religious oppressors. This shouldn’t be on a White Paper alone. White papers don’t solve anything. We need action-oriented policies to rid society of this menace. So many unemployed people due to hunger have turned to churches. They see visions of evangelists and pastors, and in every nook and cranny of the country, you see churches (mushrooms most times) claiming stage-managed miracles. Distressingly, most of these religious leaders have been accused of adultery, ritualism, hypnotism, abduction and even murder while the government watches.

   Terrestrial television stations have not helped matters in all of this. Services these days must be televised. Our television houses do not produce programmes anymore. What thrives at the moment is money from Men of God who pay sponsorship for air time. That is what keeps most television houses in business today. Ask a pastor and he will rationalise why television is so important for evangelism. But how come they don’t go to the rural areas and interior villages to set up camp? Most men of God have turned orderly Nigerian societies into disorderly ones. They establish churches to attack practitioners of other Christian faiths to get attention.    They re-establish pagan blame-games, so when you see yourself visiting a lady in a dream, it means you have a spirit wife (even though you had thoughts of that before you went to bed). A headache is now an attack from your village, and your kinsmen are responsible for your not succeeding in life even when you do nothing to further your growth in life. Our thoughts define us.

  At business meetings where you find Muslims, Christians and traditionalists, prayers must be offered, sometimes prayers of one faith overriding others. Wouldn’t it be better if we prove our faiths at our workplace by coming to work early and treating our brothers and sisters first as human beings and as Nigerians? Wouldn’t it be nice to sing our Nigerian National Anthem instead of offering prayers by people of different faiths at business meetings? Wouldn’t it be better to show how religious we are by standing for what is right and not joining the bandwagon? Wouldn’t it be alright not to be underworked because we engage in prayers at crucial times at government agencies? Religion shouldn’t be a toga that we wear. There is a need for a religious paradigm shift.

  India, in August 2013, recorded a feat by unveiling her first home-built aircraft carrier from a shipyard in southern Kerala State. We should be classed amongst other nations of the world as a place where people are desirous of growth and not otherwise.

  The government should compulsorily make religion a private matter. The freedom it has got has not helped our people. Worship should be private and I don’t see the need for the fanfare attached to worship when it is aired on radio and on terrestrial television.

  I propose the establishment of a religious police force all over the country. A force with people of all faiths principally set up to scientifically weed out crooked religious men and prosecute them if need be. A force to ensure that religion remains private and never higher than the state. Enough is enough.

  We should take care not to allow this country to run downhill.

• Abah is an executive team leader, Rinasham Multi-Services Ltd, Port Harcourt.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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