This year, at least 1,627 Nigerians have been killed by other Nigerians. Some of the killing was done by security agencies and others by civilian militants (see Sunday Trust report, 12 May 2013). A lot of the killings used barbaric methods too gory to retell. It is obvious that there is very little regard for the value of human life. Over the past two weeks as the killings moved from Baga to Bama, Yola, Wukari, Gumi, Alakyo, and Agadi, I have wondered about our claim of being the most religious people in the contemporary world. We might well be the most Godless people in the world today and the evidence, I believe, is massive.
Yes we do have a very high level of religiosity in society and the indicator people tend to look is the amount of time and money we spend on religious rituals and events, the loudness with which we pray and our determination with which each of us tries to show he or she is more religious than the other. And the result is that we kill in the name of God, contradicting God’s own injunction to respect human life. We have an extremely high level of public, private and community corruption – both at the moral and material levels. We espouse religious values, we speak about them and we amplify religious words on megaphones. At the same time, we are a society with a very high level of violence, immorality, intolerance and conflict in complete contradiction to accepted religious principles we amplify on load speakers such as peace, love, forgiveness, truthfulness, moral rectitude and fraternity of human kind. Every day we read in the newspapers numerous stories about mega corruption, adultery, even incest, theft, murder, even fratricide and so on. It is clear that we are in crisis over the core values we believe in.
I just read an article by Rev. Fr. Emeka Nwosuh on “Pentecostal Spirituality and Noise Pollution” (Guardian, 10/5/13). He said he was moved to write the article at 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night when the noise pollution from a nearby prayer house denied him the opportunity to concentrate, meditate and write his homily for Sunday morning. He complained bitterly about the “Noise pollution emanating incessantly from the neo-industries called churches, prayer houses, and of course mosques. Since the collapse of our manufacturing industries and producing industries is more or less coterminous with the rise of Pentecostalism in Nigeria, the industrial pollution has not ceased.” Spiritual pollution replaced industrial pollution as loud speakers got bigger and louder.
He argued passionately that by preventing themselves and their neighbours from sleeping, we are denied the opportunity to rest and sleep, and thereby recover from the toil of the previous day. He also complained about how “religious lunatics” have been sacrilegiously denying people the right to quiet meditation, which he says is the advice of Jesus Christ to Christians. We know from the literature unscrupulous intelligence agencies use sleep deprivation as a means of torture to disorient, confuse and destabilize people they are trying to extract information from. Nigerians must begin to question and contest the motives of religious leaders who subject them to sleep deprivation. Indeed, sleep deprivation might play a role in creating the mind frame that producers the growing barbarity we are witnessing in this country today.
It is important that we begin to study the Nigerian personality which is based on a wide gap between values expressed and values practiced. This is not only at the spiritual level. We lay claims to a consensus that Nigeria must practice true federalism, and yet, our political system is more centralist than federalist. We all affirm our commitment to democracy and yet our political class is composed of people who are experts in subverting democracy. We live a life of deceit, denial and falsehood in our religious piety, morality, peaceful coexistence and tolerance, federalism and democracy. Our most serious problems might emanate from our non-belief in our core religious values. In fact, our religions are undergoing transformation in doctrine, structure, membership and liturgy. That is why there is a multiplication of religious organisations in the country.
The most important change is that we are redefining religion and transforming it into an instrument with capacity for providing instant gratification. We make daily demands that our religions make us healthy, make us rich, get us employment, prevent us from dying and even more important, destroy our enemies. We are therefore orienting our religious engagement away from spiritual values and towards the fulfillment of our materialist needs. Religious values have changed radically in today’s Nigeria. It used to be respected that religious people live a life of piety, service and poverty with the expectations that their reward will be in heaven. The focus on the hereafter has disappeared and we want our gratification here and now. There is an incredible rush for making enough money to buy personal jets for some religious leaders. They live a life of opulence and ostentation, values alien to religious servitude and devotion.
Even paganism is affected. In the terrible narratives of the “ombatse” cult massacre of policemen last week, rituals and secret oaths were ostensibly being defended by spilling human blood, a far cry from the tolerance of previous forms of paganism. As a multi-religious and multi-ethnic State, Nigeria needs to develop integrative mechanisms in the society. The Abrahamic religious could have played the role of providing the value system to sustain the efforts at national integration. As the 1987 report of the Political Bureau stated in clear and unambiguous terms however, “The two organised religions have the tendency to delay national integration” because of their “negative tendency” to “create competing social orders”, and to define “the most basic community” thereby challenging “the national community of Nigeria”.
As professor Ahanotu explained, in Nigeria, the meaning of the state has come under religious scrutiny. Both Christians and Muslims are rethinking their identities and redefining their notions about politics and sovereignty within the nation-state. Muslim clerics and Christian secularists are asserting their perceptions of the state… The Muslims are trying to desecularise the constitution, the Christians are trying to put up a defense of secular society. For both religions, the state is a system of spoils to fight over and the nature of the fight is to point out and emphasize differences rather than similarities.
Section Ten of the 1999 Constitutions states that: “The Government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as a State Religion.” Christians have argued that the interpretation of this provision is that the country is secular, a position that Muslim activists, have rejected. The attempt by the 1989 Constituent Assembly to include a proviso that: “No Government shall overtly or covertly give preferential treatment to any particular religion”, was rejected by the then Armed Forces Ruling Council. They way we practice our religions erodes our civil culture and focus on what divides us. And yet, we all know that the core values of Islam and Christianity are capable of bringing us together in a life of peace, tolerance, honesty and morality. If only we believe in what we say, we will stop killing each other.