Opinion article by Festus Adedayo
Trapped for about thirty minutes in a lone-occupied lift a few minutes before I began to write this piece, I frenetically prayed to God. So, I can connect with what Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas, United States, Ebenezer Obadare, in his book, Pentecostal Republic, called the “theological project” and the different ways in which “religion and religious factors” continue to shape our lives as Africans.
Thus, when I read about Jigawa State government approving constituency projects of N1.5billion for state lawmakers to complete “ongoing constituency projects initiated by the members,” which included “134 community mosques, 23 Friday mosques, renovation of 17 community mosques and construction of the District Head of Babura’s house,” I understand how imprisoned in the gulag of religion the mind of an African is and how this detained mind is a major factor for his stagnation.
Badly terrified, wondering if I was going to be choked to death inside this obodo oyibo Britannia hotel in Docklands, London this Saturday morning, I pounded the metal panel of the lift so many times that my knuckles ached. My friend and I had earlier been trapped in the same lift the day before for about three minutes and we had complained at the reception but apparently, the hotel couldn’t be bothered. The alarm bell in the lift, I presumed, was useless as no one came to my aid for the first twenty minutes, even when I repeatedly pressed it. It was later I heard the voices of three white folks struggling to liberate me from my caserne. With that too, it took not less than ten minutes for redemption to come my way. When they prized the metal door open eventually, with profound apologies from them though, shaking and mentally drained, what came to my mind was the current fate of Omoyele Sowore in the hands of today’s tenants of the Nigerian state. If I could be this sapped of my being in thirty minutes, I imagined what state my fellow Great Akokite was at that moment, quarantined the public simply because he desired a good country, prized off the hands of a commune of impostors and cavalier cabal. I had always anticipated that if I would be denied my liberty, it would be from the de-essence-sense (if you know what I mean) and not in this outwardly glamorous 600-room hotel that broke the contours of the narrative that black-owned establishments are the only poorly managed dumps in the world. For the remaining days of my stay here, I swore, this imprisonment would be a blessing in disguise as I would thenceforth expel what one of my silly friends called my illicit fat, by climbing to and fro my seventh floor apartment.
Anyway, sorry for that imprisoning narrative. The Jigawa story is what we confront daily in Nigeria in our interface with religion. With a bludgeoning number of out-of-school children, terrifying number of beggars scavenging for a living, terrible infrastructural deficit but a growing number of locusts who suck the nectar of government for survival, religion should be the least of the grooves where the legislators would want to make sacrifices. The question to ask is, of what existential essence would such “constituency project” be in the lives of the people of Jigawa State? How would the projects advance the course of development in a world in which there is a stampede by countries seeking spatial relevance in the competition to be covered by the radar of global development?
Jigawa isn’t alone in this malady. A few weeks ago, the Borno state government contracted 30 Saudi-based clerics to pray for spiritual rescue from the hands of bandits who have seized the jugular of the state. Early January in Zamfara State, the government also called on its people to embark on three-day fast and intensive prayers for God’s intervention in the banditry and kidnapping that had seized hold of the state. As we speak, the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, is empowering some spiritual zealots and counterfeiters to, rather than deploy sophisticated armaments to pummel the infidels called Boko Haram, replicate Nigerian troops, as this war, in his very narrow understanding of the war, is “a spiritual battle.” A few days ago, the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, said that it is criminal to spend state funds to sponsor pilgrims to wherever. This anathema of religion and pseudo spirituality is the god that virtually all governments in Nigeria propitiate on a yearly basis, with billions of money that could rescue people from their dungeons of underdevelopment and acute want.
Repeatedly have I emphasized how religious craze has become a major calamity that has befallen Nigeria and indeed, Africa. Some weeks ago, while at the Catholic Church in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo on a Monday morning, I observed a stream of young boys and girls trooping into the church to observe an imprisoning ritual that took them ample hours of the day. In whichever country you see this level of religiosity; it is always a façade for a bigger rot that undergirds the running of such society. They are emblematic of societies where their leaders are asking the people to pray, their own hands up in surrender, while the leaders prey on the country’s wealth. In Nigeria’s southern part especially, the most recent pestilence that has afflicted it is a re-routing of able-bodied men and women, young and old, from hard work and struggles for their existence and essence towards the “solemn” and “sacred” route of church sacraments and Islamic liturgies.
Societies like Nigeria where there is absolute, and I dare say, foolish dependency on the magic wands of religion to bail out the people from the throes of underdevelopment – health, economic, political, social and what have you – don’t always progress. What the holy writ commands is to work and pray and not one in isolation. Such religiosity hides a decadence of immense proportion, just as we have in Nigeria. In most of those churches and mosques on parade, the mind-boggling decay they hide from view would be enough to ask that the persons behind them be publicly stoned. Corruption, defilement of under-aged, pedophilism, tribalism and allied evils reign supreme therein. When the minders however appear in their sparkling attires, we tend to see cousins of God. This is why there is an upsurge in the number of women who are abused by these “men of God,” because women, being the weaker vessels, are more impassioned, easily emotional and are thus swept off their feet by religious fakers.
Of course, the Nigerian power elite manipulate this religious inclination for acquisition of political power. This is where the Jigawa, Zamfara, Buratai and other nonsensical manipulations come from. Assured that Nigerians are slavishly tied to the apron strings of religion, politicians fiddle with this trope, to their advantage. Once they fling this enticing religious bait inside the river, the ignorant followers scamper to swallow it. Once it is swallowed, the political person can then do no wrong. The moment he sends them on pilgrimage, he becomes a faithful of that religion and he can do no wrong. Thereafter, he can continue as a backer of the faith while under this veneer, he siphons billions of their money to Europe and America but unknown to them, he has morphed into a dragon with fire emitting from his mouth. When the President kneels down in the front of Daddy G.O., then worshippers in this Pentecostal sect see him as their own possession and when the other president shows his attachment to his sect by imprisoning a zealot of another sect, he is carrying out the instructions of God. Between these two set of carcasses being swallowed by the religious vultures, there would be no realization of the fact that they are mere objects of manipulation. It is so bad now that religion is used by those in government to imprison the minds of their people, at the detriment of development of society.
On another plane, these religious faith vultures of Jigawa masquerading as lawmakers, who feast on carcasses of our hopelessness, using this religious trope as object of manipulation, would certainly not jump on this train if the funds of state were taxes from the sweats of the people. Because oil wealth which they spend this recklessly is free money, it not only makes the people to develop lethargies to critical reasoning, it also makes it easy for those in leadership positions to use it to their advantage. Nigerians have to be made to realize that their hyper-religiosity is a weapon for their enslavement. Their slavers are happy with their imprisonment and want them to continue being objects of manipulation. It is also why Pentecostal, regular Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the different other leaders of Islamic sects have literally captured political power, wielding it for advantage.
You and I, as well as virtually every African, are languishing in this prison. I must confess however that global economic meltdown is forcing people to be critical. Today, churches’ tithes and offerings, as well as mosques’ bags of Zakat, from where religious charlatans buy jets and build castles, are evaporating hyper-rapidly. Churches, for example, aware of this famished road, are enticing followers by doing a lot of CSR. But for the seeds of hopelessness sown by political leaders, we are getting to the era of our own enlightenment where people are realizing that countries that are progressing, yes don’t belittle God and prayers in their engagements, but don’t also become prisoners to religion as Nigerians are. Religion is created for man and not man for religion, I guess?
Aketi, get on your feet now and walk!
In the last few weeks, the grapevine, especially the one in Ondo State, has flourished tremendously. Their lawyer governor – Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, popularly known as Aketi – is said to have escaped from the radar of governance. Teaching Nigerian political elite behind the driver’s seat some cogent and instructive lesson, he was said to have transmitted power to his deputy. However, tongues have wagged unstoppably that Aketi is unwell. This has become a weapon for his political enemies to go to town with, in very inhuman celebration, while his own political commune is either neutralizing this narrative of the governor’s un-wellness by dissolving it or providing another narrative that it does not matter. Or even claim that it was a machination of enemies.
The truth is, we lionize political office occupiers and make God of them when we reason in this abstruse manner. Aketi is like the fellow next door. He is composed of flesh and blood, is capable of falling ill, prone to human existential travails, is capable of falling into our kind of foibles, can be well and at the same time, unwell and thus is not a god who cannot have such unpleasant manifestations of existence. Like you and I, he sh-ts and his poopoo smells, so why will anyone want to make a god of him by believing that he cannot fall ill?
I think political officer holders are the architects of this mindset. The way they carry themselves, you would think they live in Uranus and are mummified from human feelings. This is why, every time, I keep referring to the Muhammadu Buhari example who his aides Godified – pardon this coinage – while he went abroad for treatment but who came back to tell Nigerians that he was indeed ill and had received blood transfusion. At that stage, it became very easy for Nigerians to connect with him as mirroring the imperfections that they themselves have. Unless you are evil and your heart made of steel, at this intersection, you cannot but pray for the president, or the governor in this case, to overcome his own human portion of existential travails.
So, if Aketi is still on his sick bed, let him at this moment tell Ondo people that he is ill. Anyone who makes politics out of this natural consequence of his humanity will certainly receive the back of the tongue of Ondo people who I know aren’t evil. Pardon me as I mimic hawkers of religious remedies: I command you, Mr. Governor, get on your feet and walk now. Now!