I have always felt that the destruction of Nigeria would come by way of one or a combination of the following cleavages: ethnic and religious conflicts, cataclysms with origin in the Niger Delta, or the combustion of pent-up anger within the military. Lately however, a fourth dimension seems to be manifesting itself within the Nigerian fault line: the religionization of Nigeria.
In the 1970s through the 1980s, one could count the number of Churches in Nigeria — including those on the fringe and sects like Jehovah Witness, the Aladura, and Cherubim & Seraphim. This is no longer the case. Churches are now as common as fast-food joints. But of course, there are exceptions. There are Churches and pastors who are faithful to their callings. However, the duplicity of some religious leaders and the gullibility of the masses appear to have found a common ground; the weak and the poor are now at the mercy of predators clothed in religious apparels, speaking in obfuscating language that’s couched in religious terms.
In theory, there is “Separation of Church and State” in Nigeria; but in practice, secularism is not part of the political conversations, as Nigerians, in public and in private, believes that God or Allah has a role in politics and in governance. The Nigerian seat of government has both a Church and a Mosque, and office holders are not bashful about using state resources to promote religious undertakings. And in fact, it would be heretical for any politician to question the public romance between Church and State, or to demand a clear delineation between the two.
In today’s Nigeria — especially since the 1990s when poverty and hopelessness became the common currency — religion has been playing an increasing role in the life of the nation and of the general populace. Increasing too is how difficult it is to tell where religion ends and politics begin. In order words, politics and religion have become indistinguishable; and this indistinguishibility is having an adverse effect on the growth and wellbeing of the nation. Nigerians, in effect, are tinkering with a livewire!
There is no precedence for current (religious) events in the history of Nigeria. I cannot remember a time in contemporary Nigeria when religion became this dominant, this pervasive. And our history books too do not record a time in modern Nigeria when religion became this suffocating and insidious. Suffocating, sinister and menacing it has become.
The Born-again are everywhere, all claiming to be God’s children, all claiming to be the chosen ones. There are more born-again in Nigeria than the USA, UK and Canada combined. There are more born-again in Nigerian prisons than in all the prisons of the Western world combined. Active villains are born again; active prostitutes are born-again; active armed-robbers are born-again; cheats and vagabonds and everything and everybody in between are born-again. It is only in Nigeria a woman with several years of sexual experience would — after claiming to have seen the Holy Ghost and a supposed rebirth — claim to be a virgin. That’s Nigerian-style religion for you.
Prior to the 2003 Nigerian elections, President Olusegun Obasanjo was asked whether he was going to contest the elections, his answer had a fantastic and fatalistic tone. He said: “The decision will be made by God” and that ‘Whatever God decides, you can be assured that I will abide by him.” It was so funny I laughed. Well, two years later he has yet to tell the country how and when he received God’s permission. The truth is that the President was merely following in the footsteps of others before and around him as they all used “God and religion as a ruse to misrule and swindle. These same politicians who place their hands on the Bible or on the Koran would be the first in line to take bribes, inflate contracts” and commit all sorts of falsities and iniquities.
And indeed, Nigerians are wont to attribute events in their lives to the “act or will of God.” On or about Wednesday October 5 2005, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God was quoted as saying Nigeria “requires divine intervention to solve its myriad of socio-economic and political problems.” Really? While some regions of Africa and the Global South are gradually developing and “moving on,” Nigeria and Nigerians are waiting for divine interventions. Sorry folks, that’s not the way of this world. When it comes to the affairs of men and of the nation-state — men and women makes all the decisions. If God managed the affairs of the state, then Nigeria would have been the most economically, politically and technologically advanced of all nations — considering the number of Churches and Mosques that litters that land.
How God solves a nation’s problems is beyond me. Whatever happened to good public policies (design and implementation), good governance (democracy, accountability and transparency) and to viable institutions (independent judiciary, press, parliament and things like that), or to first rate leadership and cultured and concerned populace? Is Pastor Adeboye saying that God had a hand in our history of incessant military coups and political instability which helped trigger brain-drain, capital flight, general apathy, and internal upheaval and discontinuity in governance? Was God absent in our nation’s life when we experienced a modicum of economic development in the 1970s? If only seventy-percent of Churchious or religious Nigerians changed their ways (for the better); Nigeria would be a better place to live.
Poorly trained pastors — or self-ordained pastors — who are misquoting, misinterpr
eting, and misapplying the Bible are everywhere. Men of the robe who are hedging their bets by mixing and matching Christian tenets with African primal religion are the order of the day. Supposed men of the Lord who, in the dark of the night, confer with voodoo and Babalawo priests are now two for a dollar. Liars, crooks, cheats, adulterers, and money-doublers now parade themselves as men of the Holy Ghost. How low would these men and women crawl? It’s hard to tell, but I see their stomach rubbing and denting the grass.
The vast majority of Nigerians are not just poor, they are miserably poor. And they are uneducated or poorly educated, hence their susceptibility to religion and to the hocus-pocus of religious figures.
Poverty — especially the type Nigerians are suffering from — has a way of messing with ones mind. It has a way of clouding ones judgment. Otherwise, how does one explain the thinking and the judgment of poverty-ridden people who continually donate to religious figures who rides in Mercedes Benzes, Jaguars, Bentleys and Pathfinders? A people who would rather spend hours and hours and hours in Churches instead of devoting ninety percent of those hours to education, businesses, and strategies on how to improve the overall wellbeing of self and nation or on other meaningful endeavors? Five to eight hours of Sunday worship, 2-4 hours of Bible study, 2-4 hours of Choir practice, and 2-4 hours of consultation with the high priest and countless hours spent to and from Church…what a waste!
In the not too distant future one or two pastors will assume the “status of God” and consequently command a group of people to do a Jonestown. And worse! But the truth is that most of these pastors are not interested in the end of time, they are not interested in going to heaven. Oh no! They’d rather wine and dine and buy the best and the latest money can buy. But here is the kicker: soon, very soon one or two religious figures would control more power and more souls than the Nigerian State, and would attempt to subject the State’s apparatus to their will. You watch…a bet?
Here are what we currently have in the keg: extreme poverty; marginalization; endemic corruption; festering institutions, slavery-type exploitation; a history of religious and ethnic conflicts; and select military officers with messianic mentality who believe Nigeria is on the road to damnation. All we need are two Muslim giants against two Christian titans with conflicting and competing interests and aspirations. The result would be walls of fire and rivers of blood from North to South and from the East to the West. We are getting there. We are getting there. And indeed, we are getting there…