By Samson Osagie, Esq.
As I approach my golden age, I have never been so worried and scared of the critical dimension that religion is assuming in negatively affecting the health and indeed the totality of our national life. This is even more so going particularly with the events currently going on across the Country where almost everyone is caught in the frenzy of defending the faith he or she professes.
And whereas, the issues affecting our national development and impeding same are by far different and unrelated to who each and every Nigerian prays to for his or her salvation, some religious fanatics, across board appear to be assuming that the God they serve has become so weak that they have to fight for him. This to me is most unnecessary.
The number of deaths that have resulted under the guise of practicing or defending some religious beliefs: from the ravaged Boko Haram in the Northeast region, to the killings in Agatu, Southern Kaduna, Mbatse in Naassarawa Eggon, Herdsmen attacks in various parts of the country and some retaliatory attacks are alarming yet these do not in any way improve the lot of the average citizen or the economic and social condition of the Country at large.
Writing on the reasons people embrace religion, Andrew Pepper posits that “it has been estimated that nearly 90% of the people in the world belong to a religion; even if you exclude the children of religious people (in many countries children are legally of the same religion as their parents until they are adults), it is clear that a large percentage of people have religious beliefs…” He advanced reasons why people hold religious beliefs among which are: Superstition, Need for a purpose in life, Belief in justice, Hope of afterlife, Fellowship and salvation. If these reasons are taken on their face value, none of them carries with it the need to be intolerant of one another either expressly or implicitly.
In today’s world, neither religion nor religious beliefs propel development in any part of the continents. Albert Einstein, a foremost world acclaimed scientist and Nobel Prize winner in Physics is not known to have been helped to achieve several successes by his fanatical practice of any religion. The Wright brothers, Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur (1867-1912), two American siblings born in Ohio and Indiana respectively, who are generally credited with inventing, building and flying the world’s first successful airplane, were not extremist adherents of any religion.
Benjamin Franklin, Hans Christian Oersted and Michael Faraday, all of whom variously invented different aspects of electricity, and Thomas Edison, an American inventor who successfully produced the electricity bulb in 1879 were neither detained nor facilitated by religious beliefs in their quest to contribute to the advancement of mankind in their chosen field.
In the same view, the Briton, George Stephenson who developed and created the world’s first successful locomotive for railroad was not known to be a religious fanatic.
In Africa, while various nations struggle to exit the colonial rule, those who fought for the liberation of their countries, the Nelson Mandelas (South Africa), the Kwame Nkrumas (Ghana), the Nnamdi Azikiwes, the Obafemi Awolowos, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Herbert Macaulay, Chief Anthony Enahoro (Nigeria), Ahmed Messali Hadji (Algeria), Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, Sam Nujoma, Haje Geingob (Namibia) and a whole lot of others did not use religion as a tool for liberation from colonialism.
In Nigeria, even though our foremost nationalists were drawn from the different major ethnic nationalities with some from minority tribes, they were all united with the support of their people for the common purpose of attaining self-governance and self-determination for a sovereign nation, Nigeria.
Today, we are embroiled in a war of attrition in which those on the vanguard of discord are employing the instrument of religion to set the people against themselves.
Just recently, precisely in February 1, 2017, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo set up a Presidential Task Force to inquire into the astronomic increase in the prices of food items, religion cannot therefore be allowed to distract the government from looking for ways to find succor to the already pauperized populace.
While our political and religious leaders appear to be opposed to this turn of events in words, a lot is still left undone in terms of practical steps to stern this ugly trend. I agree with those who opined that the beating of the drum of war by religious bigots is a lazy way of trying to explain the failure of the institution of State, particularly security, in enforcing the secularity of our Nation State.
Our Constitution as amended in section 10 states “The Government of the Federation or any State shall not adopt “ANY” religion as a State religion”, how do we explain the colossal losses we suffer today in terms of human lives, time and resources in the aftermath of religion induced conflicts? How do we interpret the corrosive verbal exchanges among religious leaders currently going on? How do we guarantee the impartiality of the security agencies in the midst of these religious brouhaha? And more importantly, how does our individual faith guarantee stable electricity, employment, stable and prosperous economy, educational advancement of our country and its people, reliable transportation system, eliminate kidnapping, armed robbery, terrorist bombings, poverty, corruption, etc.
These issues are weighty enough to demand our total attention rather than the use of religion as diversionary tactics. Methinks that rather than patriotically unite to tackle our problems, our religious leaders are deliberately promoting these issues in order to continue to attract large multitudes to their faith in search of miracles. Have they therefore become religious entrepreneurs?
Yes, I think so. Come to think of it, which of the two dominant religions in our country today is opposed to peaceful co-existence and harmony – None. So what is the problem?
Does it matter the religious or ethnic identity of a President or a Minister, a Governor or a Legislator, if we can have stable electricity, good road networks, gainful employments stable economy and the like? Should it matter to an average Nigerian if our socio-economic and political problems are solved by a leader of any religious persuasion?
Like Senator (Prof.) Sola Adeyeye, Chief Whip, 8th Senate, said “when we board an airplane do we ask of the religion of the Pilot and the Cabin Crew”? Certainly we do not. What we are concerned about is the competence of the Pilot.
On the other end of the stick is the issue of militancy which has targeted national assets and impacted very negatively on the nation’s economy. When we examine the prognosis of religious crisis, one cannot but conclude that, they are all clear acts of sabotage, lack of patriotism and absence of love for one’s country – they are all to be condemned in all their ramifications. But that doesn’t solve the problem, if the State does not pursue the issue of justice in all its ramifications and ministering to all segments of the country. And this is where I think religion and development meet.
If one of the reasons people pursue religious belief is to seek justice, religious leaders in Nigeria should come together as a pressure group to influence government to administer justice to all segments of the nation. In that way, we may be assisting government to curtail the rising wave of criminality whether in Borno, Kaduna or in the Niger Delta.
The senseless killings and the attendant reprisals under the guise of defending one’s religion or other economic purposes cannot and will not propel development in Nigeria. As it stands today, poverty does not discriminate between Muslims and Christians. The problems of development confronting the Nigerian Christian in Calabar is not different from the problems facing the Nigerian Muslim in Gusau.
Across the nation, the imperative for overall development is more than ever compelling and religion is by no means one of the solutions to the problems confronting our Country today.
The time to seek urgent solutions to this religious tension is now. I recommend that Muslim and Christian leaders should undergo a tour of the various states to prevail on the faithfuls to embrace a more cautious practice of their faith with absolute tolerance and accommodation of others.
On the whole, government must engage all religious leaders to reiterate its assurances and commitment to the secularity of the Nigerian state, without giving room for any side to be suspicious of its intentions. Ultimately, Nigerians, like the Koreans must learn to love their country by downplaying religious sentiments and extolling the virtues of nationalism, patriotism and upholding the spirit and letters of our National Anthem. Our collective prayer should therefore be:
We Pledge to Nigeria, Our Country
To Be Faithful, Loyal and Honest
To Serve Nigeria with All Our Strength
To Defend Her Unity
And Uphold Her Honour and Glory
So Help Us God.
Samson Osagie, Esq. is a Lawyer and a Ph.D candidate in Political Economy and Development Studies at the University of Abuja, Nigeria.