Issue: On The Politics of Being Religious

Rev. Father Mattew Kukah, a religious icon in Nigeria
Nigeria definitely is not the country with the most religions in the world. The honor I’m aware belongs to India. It must be acknowledged, however, that it boasts a sizable number too. 

If I'm correct, the Yoruba nation alone has more than 200 hundred deities that are being worshipped. If you add that to whatever number from other ethnic nationalities, the figure could reach up to a thousand or more.

This is in addition to Islam and Christianity which interestingly have overtaken the traditional religions in order of national political importance.

To buttress my point, in states like Lagos, Kano, and Kaduna to mention a few, there is at least one religious facility belonging to either Islam or Christianity within a half kilometer or less drive of every street. 

Unlike in India with staggering 3000 religions, and still, they play no direct role in their body polity; religion has continued to have an increasing impact in Nigeria’s body polity whereas the constitution clearly designates her as a secular state.

In spite of this, Nigerians, according to a school of thought, are arguably the most religious people in the world but remain yet largely an ungodly bunch. They are always ready to proudly rub in the fact of their faith or any of its denomination whenever the occasion permits and rightly so. 

At the same time, they also routinely forget to ponder why it hasn’t so far had a meaningful impact on the downing moral and socio-economic indices of the nation; they argue further, juxtaposed with the fact that these religious houses are always filled to the brim every other day. 

Even working days and hours are not excluded outside of customary Friday and Sunday set aside for their faithful to congregate for prayers. For instance, religious activities are regularly scheduled for morning Mondays through Fridays. 

Instead of imparting on the nation’s developments and expectedly so, all you get more often than not are diversionary flashes of disruptive and destructive incursions.

But things have always not been like this. Indeed, the role of religion in Nigeria body polity has evolved over time. In the Nigeria of my teenage years, and especially in the West, boundaries of these two now rivaling religions of Islam and Christianity have been fluid or blurry. 

The popular saying that ‘don’t carry your sacrifice beyond the Mosque or in some cases the shrine lest it will be eaten by the faithless was continually ignored’. As a Christian, I’m an enthusiastic partaker of Islamic feasts season in season out. 

A similar gesture was equally reciprocated by Muslims. And in most families too, there is a good mix of people from both faiths. This has helped in the promotion of religious harmony over the years. We eagerly looked forward to religious festivities.  

I’ve also eaten of the so-called umble-meat without the slightest of worry about spiritual corruptibility. I was a big fan of masquerades; the big masquerades and scarcely come last in their festive entourage. Such experiences had helped to shape my poetical sojourn. Above all, I love to bits the Oro cult. 

Now things indeed have changed like I said earlier. People now view with great suspicion drinks and delicacies served even with the most genuine of intentions by elements of both religions during their festive periods. 

I know of people who collect these items only to dump them in the waste bins. I also know of people who outrightly reject them pointing out their faith forbids such. These are new trends. 

The same attitude has also been extended to people suspected of or known to be traditionalists. Whereas my Bible tells me ‘it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles the body but what comes out of it’.    

Like I was saying, evidence that things have spiraled out of control abound. Whereas the state is secular, state officials voted into offices by people from fundamentalist and moderate Muslims, Christians, traditionalists, and atheists are continually being sworn in using either the Bible or Quran. 

At best, they have acted continually at variance to oaths administered from them. And the suggested alternative to swearing them in using the local deities is ‘unthinkable’ because it would be deemed contrary to the professed faith of elected public officers. 

More so, worship centers belonging to the two have been erected in government houses at both state and federal levels. So far, such moves haven’t led to the enthronement of a Godly society in which peace, unity, equality, prosperity and social justice reign.

Concurrently too, well reported are incidents of violent clashes between members of both religions across the country. More than ever before, it is now religious and fashionable to destroy and kill fellow human beings for religious purposes. 

Heads of alleged blasphemers have been used as trophies by processions of fundamentalist Muslims in times pasts. The unfortunate Stephen Akaluka readily comes to mind. He was said to have used a leaf from the Quran to clean his anus after defecating. 

Christian’s crusades have been brought to an abrupt end by Muslim youths with special reference to the botched crusade by German Evangelist Reinhard Bonke in the 90s or thereabout.

Traditionalists too are not left out. They sacrifice human beings to their gods; kill for money ritual amongst a host of other clearly satanic indulgences. That is not to say that desperate ones from the big two don’t also partake of these dastardly acts. This is little wonder, after all, money and other worldly gains have been elevated to the status of gods.  

Muslim brothers have been known to deceptively invade Christian congregations to court and marry their ladies only to shortly afterward revealed their true identity leading to the collapse of such marriages. 

Many Muslim fathers especially are known to oppose, disown and fought their daughters who openly tries to or got married to Christian brothers and vice versa. There are widespread stories of fathers who went as far as throwing their sons down from high rise buildings for converting to the Christian faith.

By the constitutional provision, Patrick Yakowa emerged as the governor of Kaduna state when the then governor-elect Namadi Sambo was selected to deputies for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2011. 

All initially appears to be cool with everybody. Midway into his reign as governor, he died suddenly in an air disaster alongside a military top brass Gen. Andrew Azzasi. But shortly after the news hits the airwaves, a spontaneous celebration erupted in the state spearheaded by Muslim youths. 

Conspiracy theorists are still insisting that the air mishap which claims the lives of the two notable personalities was the handiwork of Islamic establishment in the state. That is how bad being religious could get in Nigeria.

Recall that a mild succession drama had ensued after it was confirmed that president Yaradua had died. Without much ado, Vice-president Goodluck Jonathan should have been sworn in as stipulated by the constitution. 

But there was some dillydallying which could have led to a power vacuum in the country but the day was saved when well-meaning Nigerians protested and he was sworn in. On the surface of it, politics was believed to be a reason. However, a school of thought, continue to argue until today that it was more religion other than politics.

After all, it was the turn of the North to produce the president after the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo has ended. It was clearly unthinkable that a southerner and Christian for that matter would succeed him. 

But that is what it is because the drafters of the constitution did not imagine this and therefore did not factor such in. If the North power bloc has had their way, they would have preferred a situation whereby a political solution to the quagmire then is brokered and a Northerner is able to continue through a substitutionary arrangement. 

A school of thought strongly believed it was the major reason incident of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East actually did spiked. And it is still very much with us today having graduated from a sect that initially opposes western education to one with the ambition to establishing a caliphate and finally kidnapping for ransom and wanton killing of both Christian and Muslims alike, destroying schools, churches, and mosques.

There was a time in this country when Muslim-Muslim ticket did fly through late Bashorun MKO Abiola and Babangana Kingibe’s ticket of 1993 presidential election. Now things have drastically changed and such is no longer feasible. Elements on both sides now strongly hold their ground against any form of marginalization. 

The aspiration to or consideration for elective offices is now subjected to both rotational and religious considerations except in regions where one of the two religions is predominant. E.g. South-South and South-East of the country.  

There was also the case of Sharia Law defiantly introduced by former governor of Zamfara state and later Senator Ahmed Yerima. Though the unwarranted hydra-headed religion motivated monster died a natural death as accurately predicted by the then president Olusegun Obasanjo; but it was not without creating a near onset of religious unrest and bandwagon effect in the North. 

The same controversial character would go on to marry a 12y-old Egyptian girl and who reportedly was the daughter of his driver as a senator of the federal republic. And if the historicity of the quintessential Nigerian politician is anything to go by, one is certain that not only would all his own daughters be studying abroad; they would also certainly not be available for marriage at that tender age.

There is also a case of silent religion supremacist struggle. The reports say or should I call it rumors that there are attitudes ranging from reluctance to outrightly refusal by Muslims from a section of the country to worship standing behind the one leading the call to prayer if he is not one of them. 

While some Pentecostal or fundamental Christians likewise view people who attend white garment church as following the Old Testament which the birth of our Jesus Christ has superseded.

With all of these, what I’m driving at is the fact that religion and politics are not a good mix in many countries. It must be said, however, that some countries have managed to marry the two successfully. 

Unfortunately, Nigeria does not belong in this exclusive comity of nations because it is a peculiar country with two of world most popular religions among others struggling to co-habit and dominate others to the detriment of the desire national developments. 

Religion to the best of my knowledge is personal. As such, it is common to hear Christian evangelists ask there would be converts to accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior. God, I also understand deals with people on the basis of their faith individuality and not as collective. Respect for one another viz their religious leaning would not only engender harmony; it would also be a catalyst for good governance in Nigeria.

In a nutshell, what I’m saying is each and every one of us should try to keep our religion or religiosity as personal as possible and not be unduly intrusive, deceptive, touchy or destructive about it because Nigeria is a secular state and no one religion can lord it over the other no matter how appealing it might look. 

Let’s give it careful handling when winning or losing souls from across the seemingly endless divides.  Yes, your maker can be the almighty Allah and mine the almighty Jehovah; the difference is still the same which doesn’t really call for warring of any kind.  And if you hold opposing viewpoint, please don’t insist everybody embrace it with force of arms instead of conviction.

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Deji Olaluwe
Abuja, FCT, North Central,, Nigeria
Deji Olaluwe is a writer, poet, and blogger. He's the brain behind this blog. Some of his hobbies are travelling, listening to good music (especially Afro-centric genres), and meeting people.