Archive for May 2014

Chasing Shadows With Religion

May 30, 2014

First published in TheUnion Newspaper

Some years ago, authorities of the Catholic Church composed a prayer for Nigeria. It is entitled, ‘Prayer for Nigeria in Distress’. Every Sunday, Catholic faithful say this prayer religiously. But rather than getting better, the distress appears to be getting more distressful.

Ironically, religion is the major cause of this distress. Last Tuesday, the National Conference recognised this fact when it resolved that no government at any level should use public funds to sponsor any religious programme, especially pilgrimages for any category of citizens. The Confab also resolved that apex religious bodies should be allowed to handle pilgrimage issues through the Pilgrims Commissions.

The role of government, it notes, will be to provide consular services for the pilgrims through the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the established Nigerian foreign missions in the relevant destinations. Delegates also agreed that profit-making businesses of religious bodies should pay taxes and that nobody should be victimised for wishing to convert to any religion of choice. The Conference took these decisions based on the recommendations of the Committee on Religion co-chaired by Bishop Felix Ajakaiye and Alhaji Nurudeen Lemu.

These decisions are commendable. Only those who are soaked in the waters of hypocrisy will frown on them. My supplication to God should remain my private business. Nobody should compel me to worship God their own way. Nor should government, under any guise, dabble in the way I choose to pay obeisance to this God.

Most of our rulers use religion to manipulate people. Some state governments have actually built worship centres in their states. Unfortunately, they count such things as their achievements in office or what some of our people call dividends of democracy.

Our hypocrisy knows no bounds. Today, many public functions in Nigeria start with prayers and end with prayers. You are seen as a son of the devil if you don’t participate. This is not to say that I don’t believe in the efficacy of prayers. It is a matter of faith. And, as the church makes us to believe, blessed are those who do not see but believe. We do not see God but we believe that He is everywhere. He hears our prayers and decides whether to answer us or not.

But then, that should be between me and my God. At the public and government levels, we must strive to emulate many other nations that continuously look for scientific and practical ways to solve their problems. We should desist from always disturbing God to solve the collective problems we imposed on ourselves.

Take the kidnap of Chibok schoolgirls, for instance. The authorities of the school and the government of Borno State failed to provide security for these girls who had come to write their exams. Boko Haram members abducted them. Our security men have been wobbling in attempts to rescue them. We have had to invite foreigners to come and help us. Typically, many Nigerians have resigned to fate and now want God to bring back the girls for us.

Last Monday, the South-East Executives of the Peoples Democratic Party and Stakeholders, Federal Capital Territory chapter, held a prayer session. “Oh Lord,” they prayed, “Forgive Nigeria her sins and rescue the country from the bloodletting demon that has taken over the land, spilling innocent blood across the land and expose all persons in government, security agencies and citizens colluding with the insurgents.”

We are a very ingenious people. In the markets, people close their shops to engage in afternoon prayers. For some groups, God does not hear well in the afternoon.

So, they start their own by midnight, casting, binding and disturbing the entire neighbourhood. For them, the more they shout, the more accessible they are to God. Listen to them pray and all you hear is: any altar built in my name, catch fire! Every enemy working against my progress, Holy Ghost fire! All the powers fighting against me and my family, die by fire!

In all this, only a few people pray for salvation of souls. Only a few individuals remember to pray for the underprivileged. Only an insignificant few ask God to touch the souls of evil doers. The self-styled pastors among us go the extra mile to convince their congregation why paying tithes is the most important religious obligation. They preach prosperity. They live opulent lifestyle. Even when they establish institutions like schools and hospitals, they charge exorbitant fees.

For some of them, entering Jerusalem or Mecca on pilgrimage is another big achievement. They add JP (Jerusalem Pilgrim) or Alhaji to their names. And woe-betide you if you address them without adding those titles. Some General Overseers end up overseeing wives of their members. Some take young girls to London where they transport them to a higher realm of spiritual romance. They luxuriate in private jets and tell their followers to sow seeds and grow rich. That is why somebody without any visible means of livelihood will sow the little he borrowed to eat into the coffers of his pastor.

Grand delusion! That is the problem with many Nigerians. Even when you want to point out some of these pitfalls, the ultra gullible ones will tell you, “Touch not my anointed.”  Only in Nigeria!

Even those that brought these religions to us don’t behave this way. Pope Francis visited some parts of the Middle East recently. He flew commercial airline. This is despite being the Head of the Vatican City and the most influential cleric in the world today.

Of course, there are some deviant clerics in the Western world. But their people don’t tolerate them. For instance, the Pope had in March this year formally accepted the resignation of the Bishop of Limburg, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who was suspended last October over lavish spending. The bishop allegedly spent over 31m Euros (£26m) to renovate his official residence. The bishop of bling, as he is also called, received severe criticisms for a first-class flight to India to visit the poor.

Religion, which is supposed to guide and mould us to become better citizens, has actually done the opposite. Today, many people perpetrate atrocities in the name of Allah. The Boko Haram terrorists are doing just that. The height of their perfidy was the kidnap of innocent schoolgirls who went to school to better their lives. Many Muslims have condemned them, but they remain resolute in their belief that dying in the course of their evil deeds will give them automatic ticket to paradise where virgins will attend to every of their needs.

Elsewhere in Sudan, a court sentenced a woman, Meriam Ibrahim (27), to death for marrying a Christian. The court pronounced her guilty of apostasy and adultery. She was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and to be hanged for apostasy. Latest reports have it that the woman has given birth to a baby girl in the Khartoum Prison where she is being held with her 20-month-old son. The Sudanese authorities said they would defer her death sentence for two years to allow her to nurse her baby. I won’t be surprised if those who sentenced her to death wake up tomorrow and decide to also sentence the baby to death for being the fruit of an ‘unholy alliance’. All in the name of Allah!

Politicians have even devised a means of using religion to achieve their selfish ends. Rather than consider the manifesto or programmes of those who wish to rule us, we first look at which religion the person belongs to. If it’s a state with predominantly one religious faith, the question will be which sect does he or she belong to?

Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, was spot on when he observed recently that no prayers heralded the just concluded World Economic Forum for Africa held in Abuja. This was so because the event, essentially, wasn’t a Nigerian affair.

Even outside religion, sane countries do not use government funds for any other purpose that is not in the public interest. A few years ago, a United States four-star General, William Ward, made 52 of 79 trips on military aircraft with his wife for purposes that were not strictly official. He was demoted to a lieutenant general and asked to reimburse $82,000 for allegedly using Pentagon travel funds inappropriately.

The point here is that government should withdraw from funding any venture that is largely private. Going to Mecca or Jerusalem is one of them. Religion is strictly a private affair and should remain so.

Make no mistake about it; I will be in church on Sunday to continue to pray for Nigeria in distress. It is my personal decision and that’s how it should be. If I now decide to go to Jerusalem to add JP to my name or even convert to Islam in order to answer Alhaji, it is entirely my business.