(By Philip Tomi Adiyan)
“The security crisis ongoing which started in the North East, gradually extending to other parts, was initially seen as a mere religious issue going by history of upheavals generally in the North, but every right thinking Nigerian knows better now. It would be foolhardy for anyone to think that the present Boko Haram insurgency is solely a religious one even though this is what has been portrayed by henchmen of this terrorist group in their evil agenda to forcibly turn the country into a republic in the mode of the Iran and co of this world“.
“I was taught by God’s grace to hold the faith and believe quite seriously that everything would turn out all right. “ –Lady Julian of Norwich
After more than half a century as an independent nation, Nigeria indeed has come a long way in her quest for nationhood. Her chequered history has offered so many dynamics on different levels as it affects individuals and groups. Whether we have been able to learn from these past events is another thing entirely. Only a mad man keeps doing the same things repeatedly and expects a different result. Even common reasoning tells us that when we fail to learn from history- especially the unpalatable side of it, this tends to repeat itself. Today in Nigeria, our inability to learn critically from past errors seems to be the bane of progress as we find ourselves currently.
Taking a look back, the crux of many challenges being faced today can be adduced to so many divergent factors. But one major issue for discussion here is that of RELIGION. The subject has played a tremendous role in shaping us both as individuals and as groups. In several facets of our daily life, we are confronted by this force which always seems to loom large when some crucial actions or decisions are up for consideration. All over the world, people practise different religions in ways and manners best suited to them as and are thus bound by whatever philosophy it preaches. They are sometimes ruled by moral ethics while searching through the tenets of those religious inclinations when they deem it necessary. Coming back home, the situation is one that really calls for serious concerns; this is in order to understand what are the causes of our shortcomings.
For analysis purpose, the following interesting facts must be highlighted. Nigeria is regarded as one of – if not – the country where you find the most religious people in the world. It is even said that the country possess the highest turnover of religious houses in terms of churches, mosques and just to add shrines! Also, it was revealed a couple of years back that in Nigeria lays the habitation of the happiest people you will find in the world based on a British survey carried out. A reality buttressed by the typical sheer levels of societal relations and functions that dots many Nigerian cities on average weekend days, whereby Nigerians regardless of status, exhibit tendencies that would rival that of the Epicureans back in medieval times! It is a popular belief that no Nigerian can commit suicide, but that line of thought now seems archaic – except one is fooling himself – going by endless news of bombings involving suicide bombers that makes the headlines these days.
As I have always maintained that Nigeria is a country of paradoxes because the reality faced is highly at variance with the earlier stated facts. When you consider the level of subjectivity attached to religion, juxtaposed with existential reality at hand, then we begin to wonder what is really missing in the way our people imbibe the various respective religions they practise? We all know that in Nigeria, Christianity and Islam predominate when we talk about religion in the country, even ethnicities tend align with these religious lines. Notably, these two religions are not native to Nigeria; they were introduced to us centuries back from their original owners to propagate sometimes noble, some other times for commercial purposes such as when the objectives are aided by factors like colonialism, power tussle and others by external powers. If many adherents of these religions understand this underlying fact, then there may not be some of the crisis on ground in present time.
The low literacy rate coupled with the poor socio-economic status of the majority is an issue that affects how religion is viewed. A lot of people have challenges in drawing the line between faith or religiosity and practicality. This has not also been helped by situations whereby religious leaders are perceived as symbols of authority in a country such as this. The followers of these men hold on to words of their religious heads making what they say a kind of law to live by even in cases where it may be misleading, because there are some unscrupulous ones who parade themselves as sent by the Almighty and prey on the ignorance of their observers. Those who exist on society’s margins engage in religious escapism in a bid to shield themselves from the precarious state of Nigeria’s social reality. The country has been unable to get the fundamentals right by letting primordial sentiments get in the way of national progress. The security crisis ongoing which started in the North East, gradually extending to other parts, was initially seen as a mere religious issue going by history of upheavals generally in the North, but every right thinking Nigerian knows better now. It would be foolhardy for anyone to think that the present Boko Haram insurgency is solely a religious one even though this is what has been portrayed by henchmen of this terrorist group in their evil agenda to forcibly turn the country into a republic in the mode of the Iran and co of this world.
The influence of religion in our psyche manifests in almost every facet of national life be it politics, education or in government. Politicians in Nigeria have always used religion as a joker to manipulate the minds of many ignorant citizens just to achieve their own ulterior motives as many tend to become sensitive to such. The major opposition party in Nigeria has been accused in some quarters of being an assemblage of adherents to a particular religion in their executive body while the ruling party latch on to this to score their own cheap political points. For instance, there is a raging debate as to having a non-Moslem person succeed the incumbent Governor of Lagos State because it is falsely claimed that since inception no Christian has ever been number one citizen of the state. They forget Mobolaji Johnson, Ebutu Ukiwe, Gbolahan Mudashiru, Mike Akhigbe, Michael Otedola, and Ndubuisi Kanu. For a country aiming to realize vision 2020, the primary consideration for whoever is to lead should be the capacity for effective leadership, selflessness. He should be someone who can deliver people’s mandate regardless of ethnic or religious affiliations. This country is at a stage whereby it should not matter where a man hails from – Mars or Pluto! – as long as he has the wherewithal to deliver world class social infrastructure and create a favourable atmosphere – all of which are desperately lacking – for citizens to achieve their potentials.
On the micro level, we as individuals must realize it is high time we took absolute responsibility for our destinies. The time should be past where people fail in the obligation required of them, hoping that an omnipotent being somewhere would descend to turn things around. When discussions about Nigeria are being made, popular phrases like; ‘God will do it’, ‘it is well’ and several others often crop up. My pastor always says that “any faith that puts absolute responsibility on God is an irresponsible faith.” It is appalling when you see able bodied human beings ambush you at commercial bus parks and the likes, chanting God’s name in your ears to cajole you into parting with money. Even some of our youths neglect their beat while banging on Heavens doors for a miracle.
From scriptural studies, one will discover that for every promise God made towards His people, there is still something they must do to bring it to pass. With all that said, the effect of religious embrace by the Nigerian mass also can be seen in good light, as one is tempted to think what would have been if not for the constraint of faith because religion is the opium of the Nigerian state at present, keeping many at bay, aside this, it is virtually impossible to see things improve as anarchy pervades the length of this country. Like Karl Marx explained that religious practice is what keeps the society going in the midst of great crisis almost or if not similar to the current Nigerian state. However, in everything that is done, collectively there is need to put any form of religious biases aside for a moment and tackle every challenge head on in a realistic manner so we do not make it a cog in the wheel of our development.
• Adiyan is a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology, OAU, Ile-Ife.
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