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Nigeria: A Catch-22 or Nation of Churches and Mosques?

In matters that concern Religion and Philosophy, scholars have always leaned on the timeless remarks of John Mbiti’s African Religions and Philosophy (1969:1) that: “The African is notoriously religious” to argue that there is a religious signature on African cultures and peoples. The demographics of the key faith groups in Nigeria prove the point. For example, a 2019 report released by Pew Research Center in 2015 estimated the population of Muslims in Nigeria as 50% while that of Christians at about 48.1%. In another 2019 report from The World Factbook by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Muslim population was put at 51.6% while that of Christians was 46.9%, traditionalists 9% and others designated as unspecified at 5%.  

As a nation, we seemed to have nosedived into a catch-22. A catch22 means a paradoxical situation which a person cannot escape from because of contradictory rules or limitations. The term was first used by Joseph Heller in his blockbuster 1961 novel entitled “Catch22.” For Beidler (1995), the phrase means a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. On Mar 21, 2018, one Nzekwe Gerald Uchenna with the account @NzekweGerald twitted:  “Nigeria has more Catholic Knights than Italy. Nigeria has more Anglican Knights than England. Nigeria has more Alhajis than all Arab countries combined. Ironically, this our religiosity does not reflect in the religious and moral fabric of the nation.” 

In his own version, one Collins lamented that: “This is not entirely bad. Ironically, this our religiosity does not reflect in the religious and moral fabric of the nation. Each year, we budget billions of Naira sending our people on pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem to pray. We pray for development; we pray for long life and good health; we pray against sudden death; we pray against the accident of any kind; we pray for employment; we pray for peace [and] above all, we pray to make heaven.” Their legitimate grouse and mine too is the fact that as a nation, we have failed to provide qualitative and innovative education with modern curricular and model schools; our health centres are at best dormitories for Aspirin and Panadol if at all you will find one; our roads are death traps where you will sit in a car and wake up in Sheol; housing and transport are for the rich and job creation for the youths, an eternal promise. 

Collins (2018) contended that: “We choose to spend that amount to go pray for development; we choose not to spend that amount to take care of our health, rather, we choose to spend it to go and pray for our health; we choose not to spend that amount to build schools and train our children to be wise, we choose to use it to go and pray for wisdom; we choose not to spend that amount to build good roads to avoid and reduce car accidents, we choose to spend it to pray against accidents.” He concluded that “These are our choices. We will live with them.” An apparent Catch-22? Well, you say!

It is worrisome that despite our being religious, we are not making any progress. For example, in both Christianity and Islam, some foreign donors would prefer to send aid for the purpose of building a church or mosque in a rural community that has no school. We seem to have lost sight of the giant strides of the early missionaries who sandwiched religious education with civic education and health care delivery. As a result, some “sacred spaces” that are meant for spiritual and moral upbringing have become epicentres of radicalization. A situation where the religious teacher is as ignorant as the disciple, learning becomes brutal-indoctrination. While religious centres are increasing by the day, godlessness seems to overtake it. In some major cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar, a Church in the morning or afternoon automatically translates into a beer parlour in the evening. 

While we were busy jubilating our independence in the 1960s, the Four Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan were preoccupied with building a high-tech economy that would be fueled by exports and rapid industrialization in the near future. Like Nostradamus (1503 –1566), they saw tomorrow and for them, tomorrow is here. Today, they are standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States of America and the United Kingdom in science and technology, trade and investments and global recognition in the international community. Sadly enough, as it is, China has become a Mecca and Rome for Africa’s economic pilgrimage and patronage. 

While journalism’s 5 Ws and 1 H namely who, what, where, when, why and how are crucial to finding concrete solutions to the problems of this country, it appears that there are more questions than answers. That notwithstanding, me thinks that the trouble lies with employing ethnicity and religion as modus operandi for the nation. There is too much ethnicity in our religion and too much religion in our ethnicity. Since it is the grass that suffers when two elephants fight, the casualty in this battle is Nigeria – a nation that is raped of patriotism, the utmost sense of nationalism and practical spirituality. On June 20, 2018, it was in the news that Japanese and Senegalese fans cleaned up the World Cup Stadiums in Russia after both countries won their first group matches. Can we learn something from this? 

It is perplexing to recall that India like Nigeria was a former British Colony. What did India do differently that we are not doing which is yielding results for them? Ironically, India is Nigeria’s destiny for medical tourism. At least my love for the 1976 Indian movie Dus Numbri produced and directed by Madan Mohla as a kid would later confirm that country’s global rating as the largest film industry in the world in terms of several films released and second-best after America’s Hollywood. Just as the biblical story between Saul and David (1 Samuel 17:57-18:9,20-30), India like David has taken “the tens of thousands” while Nigeria like Saul is only managing “the thousands” concerning exponential growth in ease of doing business (Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises), increase in the number of middle-class citizens and medical tourism among other giant strides in science and technology that that country is recording. Only recently, India joined Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway to be elected a member of the United Nations’ Security Council for 2021-2022.  

It must be said that Churches and Mosques are crucial places of encounter between God and humanity. As epicentres for spiritual rebirth and incubating prayer worriers, they should equally be citadels of empowering believers to be good citizens. This is where the marriage between faith and reason as well as religiosity and spirituality should take place. Expectedly, while religion should not build an exclusive hostel for the righteous, sinners must reform and embrace humility if they are to be so accommodated. This means that a bad Christian or Muslim is a bad signature for religion. How did we get to a situation where an Alhaji would steal from government coffers to give Zakat (obligatory alms-giving) or build a Mosque in his private residence in what is called Allah Ga Naka – “God here is your own” without remorse? How did we arrive at a situation where a Christian would steal millions to build a Church in his village or give tithe without feeling terribly guilty?  

If you have ever taken a night bus from Jos to Lagos you will understand this point better. As soon as the vehicle is about to move, one or two prayer warriors will appear from nowhere. Sometimes, they start by sharing tracts or imposing fear in the travellers. Then, they will remind everyone about the inevitability of death. In the end, they will invite the passengers to donate for the kingdom or sow a seed. By this time, you are in Mararaba Jama’a, Kuru, Jos South LGA. They will then disembark and return to Jos. Sometimes one is tempted to rationalize whether it is really about prayer, God or for mere pecuniary reasons? 

By the same token, if you take a commercial vehicle from Minna to Gombe, the driver will either start playing tafsir (Islamic preaching) or stop for Friday prayers not minding the sentiments of other passengers who are not Muslims. While the Angelus is said daily at Ariaria International Market, Abba or Onitsha main market, crimes have not abated. I was shocked at the level of praise worship and extraordinary drumming plus ecstatic frenzy typical of the false prophets of old I saw at Arena market, Oshodi sometimes in January when I visited Lagos. Even some politicians who cannot remember when last they prayed, often begin public engagements with divine innovation as if they cared about God and his creatures under their subjugation.     

It is even worrisome to see how some Pastors and Imams have become the praying wing of some political parties. What is more, those with “superior anointing” would often “prophesy” victory for political gladiators who are heading to the polls. There is mushrooming and departmentalization of worship centres with each acolyte claiming uncanny anointing. Unfortunately, the poor masses who are often confused, are caught in the midst of this cacophony as they are promised gain without pain, sweet without sweat, crown without the cross and a better life without the corresponding hard work. It is not uncommon to find some Nigerians literally sleeping in the Church or Mosque while others are busy working hard. If their God suddenly becomes deaf like those of the Prophets of Baal, they would end up either begging or accusing someone of snatching their destiny. I was taken aback recently when someone tried to sweet-talk me into believing that there are “destiny snatchers.” Well, truth is, if I believe that kind of theology, I have no business being a priest. 

As I have indicated earlier, we appear to have concentrated so much on what is pursuing us as a nation rather than what we should be pursuing. The current crop of accidental leaders in our country are bereft of vision and mission – As such, the simple card they are shuffling is, balkanize the people, then divide and rule. Well, those who have been enjoying this honeymoon must realize that it is short-lived. Citizen journalism is daily offering young people the opportunity to express themselves and canvass for change. To return this great country to its erstwhile days of glory, we must reset our modus vivendi into the default settings of knowledge and good morals. From the amateur videos of Nigerians who are not happy with where we are heading as a nation that is trending on social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, ours will be a Social Media Arab Spring. For how long would we be entrapped in this Catch22? Unless and until we purge ourselves of the unredeemed elements of religiosity and ethnicity, our bank of opportunities would remain bankrupt. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!  

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.   

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