About taming religion
That Nigeria is enormously rich is no news. She is endowed with oil wealth and potentially lucrative solid minerals she is yet to exploit. Her agricultural wealth should make her breadbasket of the West African sub-region, if not of the whole continent.
Within her borders are ancient sites and civilisations—exquisite tourists’ attractions. Nigeria’s tourism industry can be sustained by her cuisine, and her cuisine sustained by agriculture. Blessed with some of the finest footballers on this planet, if Nigeria can organise her soccer league, sports will combine with agriculture and tourism to earn her more wealth. Nigeria has no business with poverty. It is a scandal that such an enormously endowed country is inhabited by a people impoverished.
What has impoverished us is the ill will of the people and the government. We fought for democracy. But we have repeatedly refused to cast our vote responsibly. Neither are we ready to hold our politicians to their words. Successive governments talk of how there is need for Nigerians to take to agriculture. But if you are a Nigerian who would like to take up the challenge you will soon discover that there is a lot to discourage you.
In a country whose government would like us to take to agriculture, getting a piece of land is extremely difficult. After buying the land, the process of securing government approval for the certificate of occupancy is seemingly unending. Before securing approval for the certificate you are obliged to pay the equivalent of 10 per cent of the value of the land to government, that is, 10 per cent of the value as determined by government. In other words, if you paid one million naira to procure the land, government may estimate its value to be higher. It is 10 per cent as determined by government. After the certificate of occupancy is signed, it is only valid when you pay stamp duties to government. After you would have scaled all these hurdles, the omo onile (land speculators) are waiting for you.
After omo onile, another problem awaits you. Nigeria’s dilapidated transport sector makes transportation of farm produce a nightmare of nightmares. Since it is difficult to transport, do you want to process the food? In a land of perpetual power outage, that too is a no-go area. Meanwhile, your investment in agriculture is going down the drain.
You want to take to driving a bus or taxi to earn your living. You then discover that obtaining or renewing a driver’s licence in Nigeria is no tea party. It took me two and a half years to renew mine. By the time it was renewed, it was one year before its expiration.
You want to earn your living by making shoes in Nigeria? Ask those who have tried it. You have to use materials that need to be imported. Then you need foreign exchange to buy those materials.
Our land is beautiful. A clement climate. But who wants to visit Nigeria? We have no dependable national airline, foreign airlines are fleeing, airports are dilapidated to the point of national disgrace, and our cities are not functioning. I once asked: What is the difference between a Nigerian airport and an oven? Someone responded that the difference is in what you put in them, cake or bread in the oven, human beings in the airport. I was waiting to board a flight at the international terminal of the Lagos airport. It was so hot, people began to take off their shirts. And to add humour to the heat, a rat was playing around the boarding gate, perhaps ready to board a flight.
Nigeria’s wealth is in the hands of government, and government is the politician. Access to the wealth is open only to a few. To be among the few, you must either be in government or befriend those in government. Politics has become the most lucrative venture in Nigeria. Without possessing the qualities of a good administrator, play the card of ethnicity, package hypocrisy as piety, disguise malevolence as integrity, press the button of decadent religiosity, confuse the people with pseudo-mysticism and call it prophecy, extort money in the name of God and call it tithe, you will be in power, and gain access to Nigeria’s riches.
Ours is a land governed according to the whims and caprices of ethnocentric jingoists, and politicians and pastors who are not different from unscrupulous merchants. The politician goes to the pastor, not to seek the face of God, but to seek power. And the pastor goes to the politician, not to seek a soul to save, but to seek material prosperity. An alliance of the pastor and the politician, a deadly mixture of corrupt politics and corrupt religion, a coalition of government officials and their friends, a gullible populace ready to believe anything politicians say on the campaign trail, and anything the pastor says at the pulpit, an electorate voting according to the criteria of ethnicity and religion without administrative competence—a recipe for our self-inflicted poverty.
We are victims of the kind of politics and religion we practise. We languish in the reciprocity of our poverty and our religiosity. Our poverty induces and perpetuates a strain of religiosity that fails to address causes of poverty. Our religiosity nourishes our poverty and, at the same time, simply wishes it away. In our theologically undeveloped society, such wishful thinking is mistaken for prophecy by preachers untrained in Biblical hermeneutics and by a gullible audience.
But we must differentiate between religion and religion, a differentiation that was glaringly absent when Nigeria’s famous playwright, Wole Soyinka, recently asserted that Nigeria must tame religion because it is responsible for many killings in Nigeria. Soyinka’s concerns are understandable. It is scandalous that the type of religiosity that is so popular in our land aggravates our poverty and insecurity. But the privation of distinction from which Soyinka’s assertion suffers brings him close to demonizing religion. Politics is also responsible for many killings in Nigeria, and the economy too. Must we therefore demonise politics and the economy? Some have committed arson because of their inordinate passion for football. Must we therefore demonise the beautiful game?
We must differentiate between religion as self-love and religion as commitment to the common good in love of neighbour rooted in love of God. We must equally differentiate between politics as love of power for the sake of riches and pleasure, and politics as love of and commitment to the common good. The problem is not religion. The problem is those who have turned politics of Machiavellian inspiration into a religion. Let us stop blaming politics and religion. Politics, rightly understood, is a virtue. So is religion. Let both be practised, not to satisfy our inordinate thirst for power, nor in ways that amount to incivility, but for the sake of the common good.
Father Akinwale is at the Dominican University Ibadan.
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