Friday, November 28, 2008

Much ado about religion

Much ado about religion


Paul Adujie

New York, United States

No Nigerian should be proclaiming any fears when churches or mosques are opened in any part of Nigeria, some Nigerians recently appeared to have been doing just that, as if to say, "there goes the neighborhood!" Nigeria is a country with a multiplicity of religions; There are animists, Christians of Catholic, Methodist, Apostolic, Baptist persuasions, including others too, like Jehovah Witnesses and even Hare Krishena! And of course, Nigeria has millions of Muslims as well.

In Nigeria, there is no separation between government business or activities from religious affiliations or activities and religious beliefs, this has been the case during my whole life in Nigeria and it is still currently so; The government of Nigeria have actually established and operated Pilgrim Welfare Boards to regulate Pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina and the different levels of governments in Nigeria have funded and or subsidized these purely personal spiritual efforts for private Nigerian citizens.

The governments of Nigeria at all levels, ought to get out of the business of mixing religions with governance, let religion be personal and individual Nigerian citizen's private concerns, government officials from the president down, should refrain from holding any religion up, as if it was a matter of national security and national interests, what with the talk about Nigerian Television Authority devoting inordinate amount of airtime to religious activities from Aso Rock State House Chapel? Nigeria has no official or government religion, no president should create the appearance of that.... However, a president may be shown as attending religious obligations in Churches or Mosques and only if it is newsworthy. Nigerians who are expressing concerns over the establishment of a mosque in Umuahia appear not to have been cognizant of the fact that the different levels of governments in Nigeria have co-opted religions that are popular or favored, depending on the locale, it could be Christian or Muslim, usually determined by the prevalence of one group or the other in the vicinity.

So then, what else is new? Or what is the new big deal in the fact that the government of Governor Kalu Orji participated in activities leading to the creation and opening of a mosque in Umuahia? Is the concern because, Umuahia is a predominantly Christian city? But we know that Umuahia will not change or suffer any loss because a mosque is built! The sky will not fall because a mosque is built or because a is similarly church is built in Kano or Zamfara. The world will not end. Nigerians should learn religious tolerance, because if nothing else, Nigerians should learn from history, the damage, disaster or catastrophe that could arise from religious intolerance, so that, the building and opening of Churches and Mosques in any parts of Nigeria should not cause any fears, panic of hysteria... As a matter of fact, Marble Collegiate Church in New York, where I have worshipped for years as a semi-retired Catholic, is an embodiment of examples of religious tolerance and the celebrations of diversities and religious cooperation... As Marble invites Imams, Rabbis and Christian leaders of other denominations or congregations to our Church to deliver sermons, working for unity and cooperation for the exemplification of all religions and general understanding.

Why should any Nigeria engage in unnecessary hysteria over the opening of a mosque in Umuahia? Why are some behaving as if, there is an outbreak of a contagious disease of some pandemic proportions? If there is any concern at all, it must be focused on the fact that, it now appears that, the more church, mosque and other religious buildings that are opened in Nigeria, and the more fervor and passions that some Nigerians express about their varied religions and or spiritualities, the more there seem to be vices, such as avarice, greed, corruption and even religious intolerance! How come the holier that Nigerians get, the more intolerance seem to raise its ugly head?

Mallama Zainab Usman raised similar questions in her recent article, where she stated how some are doing all types of things in the name of "God" I wish only that Nigeria has become a correspondingly better country, in view of all the religious passions that we are too quick to claim; A majority of Nigerians, are hardworking, law abiding and are worshippers of different holies, it would have nice, for all these to have some positive effect on how Nigerians relate and deal with one another on a daily basis, all our holier and holier attitudes, ought to lead to our collective ability and willingness and desire to have mutual respect and admiration for each other's different religious persuasions, our claim to holiness ought to lead us to have faith in each other, and have tolerance for each other's point of view, political, religious or otherwise. But, it is currently the case, that, our religious claims or pretensions, have unfortunately, not translated into some love fest between Nigerians of the different religions or even of same religion, The religious passions that Nigerians claim, that some will kill other Nigerians for, these religious passions and fervor are yet to transform Nigeria positively, these religious passions and fervor have not as yet been translated into positive benefits for Nigerians and Nigeria, Nigeria is still not a crime-free society.

Nigeria has not been able to rid itself of activities that have hindered and prevented Nigeria from attaining sorely needed developmental progress and this, despite all the abundant resource that Nigeria have always possessed. In Nigeria, so many public conversations are held in the name of "God" as we recently witnessed Col. Abubakar Umar inform President Obasanjo about "God" and "Devil" in his open letter to the president discussing public policies! Col. Umar is the erstwhile firebrand governor of Kaduna state with good education, here he is, he could not stick to the debate of important national issues with the god and devil pejorative metaphors? Why cant this Officer and gentleman calibre of Nigerian, not stick to the issues of public policy formulations and implementation or faulty executions? Without the introduction of this god and devil appellations? What role has any religion in the debate or public discourse of national issues? Regrettably, the presidency did not stay above the fray! It did not do any better, it could and should have maintained a moral high-ground, but instead, it allowed the it to literally degenerate to the god and devil adjectives that the colonel had used.

The sad thing is, Col. Umar and the presidency are not the only ones that are guilty of introducing their religious passions into public discourse, the truth of the matter is that, too many Nigerians are guilty of interjecting religion into everything, and this happens frequently. Mallama Zainab Usman and I, are in complete agreement on this issue, too many Nigerians are conspicuously and ostentatiously religious and yet, we wonder where corrupt Nigerian Christians, corrupt Nigerian Muslims worship? Are corrupt public officials in Nigeria part of any organized religion? Please don't tell me that they are just bad Christians and bad Muslims. Where are the good ones? What is the religion of corrupt police officers? Corrupt Customs Officers are neither Christians or Muslims? How about corrupt bank officials? What is the religion of corrupt a Minister? How about a corrupt governor or president? What is the religion of a political godfather and political god son?

What indeed is the religion of a Divisional Police Officer or DPO, who detains an innocent Nigerian, detains an innocent, knowingly, but for the sole purpose extortions from the hapless detainee? What is the religion of those Nigerians who hoard petrol and maker fellow Nigerians suffer endlessly? What is the religion of 419ers and scammers? Nigeria will do better to leave their conspicuous religiousness out of public debate of policy formulations and executions/implementations, unless and until that happens, a mosque opening in Umuahia and the opening of a church in Kano or Zamfara, whether engineered by government or individual private citizens, will continue to sound like an assault or some invasion by foreign imperialists; Whereas, in truth, this ought to be a news item without these concerns that some had expressed.

The opening of any religious institution, such as a church or mosque in a multi ethnic, multi religious country as Nigeria, should not lead to any drama or mass hysteria. It is even quite possible that, the presence and co-existence of religious opposites, in various parts of Nigeria, may actually lead to religious and cultural tolerance and better understanding, greater understand between Nigerians, this will in turn lead to a better and greater country.... Governor Orji invited a Muslim counterpart to the opening of the mosque in Umuahia, who subsequently detailed his suave moves for the sake of unity and understanding in Nigeria, with his appointment of Ndigbo sons and daughters as advisers on particular matters of concern. Cooperation and understanding. Imagine Nigeria as a country with religious tolerance, a nation with unity and mutual understanding and respect for every our unique religions and culture? And everything that Nigerians hold dear individually and collectively? This is the Nigeria we want.

Feb 2004

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