Very few people could ever hope to match the dry humour with which Geoffrey Chaucer, an English writer lampooned the dominant characters of his time, in The Canterbury Tales. Perhaps not too keen to criticize the inconsistencies in the system he worked for as ambassador plenipotentiary, he opted to be the sublime ventriloquist by putting words in the mouths of the monk and Friar as his marionettes. In that quaint profile, Chaucer said that the monk, ‘was a prelate fit for an exhibition/He was not pale like a tormented soul/He liked a fat swan best, and roasted whole’. He said that the Friar was ‘so glib with gallant phrase and well-turned speech’. What evolved at the end of the day was a profile of a nation whose dominant political cum religious characterization was not too different from what we have today.
But there were others quite unlike Chaucer, who chose not to be this suave. Take the example of an ordinary German pastor, Martin Luther. He was said to have compiled 95 of the worst sins that the church committed against its very own, and nailed them to a church door. The biggest of them was the collection of indulgences, a ‘little’ fee Christians paid if they wished to release their relatives from hell. Even though what the sale of indulgences generated went into the construction of Saint Peter’s in Rome, it also generated strong feelings of apathy and antipathy for the church. In effect, the reason why you now have many people known as Protestants or Pentecostal is that with the help of their pastors they rejected oppression, expressed through the Papal Bull of infallibility, a doctrine that suggested that the pope is above wrong. It introduced the Reformation, a movement that swept through Europe like a gale of fresh air after decades of foul air.
Another reverend gentleman who believed that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’, was Martin Luther King Jnr, a pastor from Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States of America. According to records, King challenged segregation and racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s and helped in no small measure to convince many white Americans to support the cause of civil rights in the US. Before he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, King championed the cause of African-Americans particularly with his ‘I have A Dream’ speech. While he was doing this, there were certain men of God who thought that this stormy petrel had abdicated his role as ‘pastor’ by challenging the status quo. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, King told his traducers that, ‘the contemporary church is often a weak ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silence and often vocal sanction of things as they are’. Today, if Martin Luther King did not provoke the conscience of the establishment with his Mahatma-Gandian species of non-violence, the phenomenon known as Barack Obama would still be within the netherworld of the American nightmare of racial segregation. One of the things that make this category of pastors special is that they continued to speak out and very vociferously too, even when they knew that their progenitor, John the Baptist was beheaded when he spoke against Herod’s infidelity.
Indeed the church’s silence on the injustices in the land resembles what Martin Luther King expressed up there. By contradistinction however, some of our men of God, both Christian and Moslem, are no different from Chaucer’s marionettes. On a Sunday morning, you should try this experiment: turn your television on, sit back and listen. From some Christian sinagogues, to some of the mosques that dot the Nigerian stratosphere, you find men of God playing hide and seek with the destinies of an already traumatized people. Their credo, which effectively stamps religion as the opium of the people resonates with the oft-proselytized phraseology, taken from the book of Romans 13 that, ‘everyone must submit himself to the government authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established’. Good talk pastor, preach on, Hallelujah! They still preach that kind of good news, to a people who are still in the dark, even after every other nation have entered their promised land of steady power supply, and who do not have to spend productive hours queuing for fuel at petrol stations.
Of course nothing is wrong with submitting oneself to the authorities as long as the authorities do the right thing. Also, there is nothing wrong with praying for the leaders, and asking God to change their attitude to us. But everything is wrong to continue to pray for them, especially when it appears that those prayers are efficacious – it is only in a Nigeria that the rulers and leaders are always better off than the people they rule or lead. It would be wrong to continue to ask Nigerians, considering what they go through everyday to still ask them to ‘submit’ to people who steal monies meant for rural electrification, to people who travel abroad for medical treatment, letting our public hospitals rot away, to people who tell us to rebrand when they are unable to come to equity with clean hands. And you know what? It was these same conditions that Nigerians are passing through that brought out the holy anger in both the German and American Martins, and for Chaucer, a weapon of guile to speak up. Their speaking up did not in any way diminish their value as men of God, and in fact it added value to their nomenclatures. What then are the Nigerian servants of God, both Christian and Moslem waiting for to speak the truth to power? Why are they still telling Nigerians that they should be patient and have faith in a system that consistently devalues the Nigerian spirit?
At this crucial moment when the lives of Nigerians is not worth a dime in the international community, when there is an outpouring of the spirit of God with a superabundance of churches and mosques, when the authorities cannot even conduct elections, when the Nigerian government should be making plans to resign en-masse for its inability to meet the yearnings and aspirations of our people, our pastors and imams must raise their voices. They must stop telling our people to wait for miracles. They must join civil society groups like the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and other faith-based organizations whenever there is a confrontation with the demons of religious riots, graft, hunger and starvation in the land.