The Insight by Lateef Adewole
Conscience is an open wound, only the truth can heal it. I seem to bother my head too much about Nigeria. Many times, I tried to take my mind off the country. I tried to be immune to what goes on around here. I tried to be unconcerned. But, was I ever been successful in doing so? Not really. Sincerely, many times, I am overwhelmed. The question I often ask myself is that: “Lateef, wetin be your own sef? You no be politician. You no dey contest for election. You no dey inside government. No be you dey responsible for whatever happens in the country. Why carry naija matter for your head?”
This and many more concerns agitate my mind everytime I begin to think about Nigeria. But, can I really afford to ‘abandon’ my country, especially when I still live inside it? When I still feel the impacts of (mis)governance directly. When I still do business here. When the policies, actions and inactions of government still affect me. When my children go to school here. When I need healthcare, power, water, rail and other infrastructures. When I still drive on Nigerian roads. When I am still concerned about my safety and security, and that of my loved ones. Can I be unconcerned? I don’t think so.
The most heartbreaking is to imagine what would or should have been and what is possible in Nigeria, as against what it is. This country is too blessed for us to be in such a big mess that we have found ourselves all these years. Where do we start from? Is it natural or human resources? Fertile lands or friendly weather conditions? Water resources in abundance. Capped with the strong will and resilient spirit of Nigerians. Yet, here we are, an eagle that has refused to fly. A giant that never rose.
In my last Saturday’s article titled: “Was Nigeria Ever Great Before?”. After it was published and available on various social media platforms, I received many reactions / feedbacks to it. There were few who felt some “flash in the pan” events that Nigeria got engaged in, in the past, like our roles in the ECOMOG in Liberia, Congo, Sierra Leone, etc, fight against apartheid in South Africa and so on. Also, building 3rd Mainland bridge and some others in Lagos. They believe these qualified for being “great”. I was amused.
There were many others who felt we really haven’t attained feats that qualified us for greatness at any time, in the league of the few countries I highlighted in the article: China, Singapore, UAE and even Rwanda here. This was my point. And everyday I asked: God when? This is a typical Nigerian mindset, who puts everything at the doorstep of God. Even things which God has already given us the needed human capacity to do by ourselves, Nigerians will still expect God to do them for us. And that’s why nothing gets done in Nigeria.
Imagine someone appointed as a Minister of Works, whose responsibility is it to ensure that Nigerians have good, durable and safe roads to drive on, instead of doing that, he or she will be praying against accidents when the roads are death traps. Aviation Minister will pray against plane crashes instead of ensuring that all the facilities at the airports are functional, the airlines are following the rules and the aircrafts are in top quality conditions. Same as Minister of Health and the rest. How does this make any sense? But, they do, a lot. Because we are Nigerians in Nigeria.
Well, many times, “ise ile n gbe wa de ode” (we wash our dirty linen outside). There was this story few weeks ago, about a Nigerian in UK who was working as caregiver in one hospital. She was caring for a patient on terminal illness. Rather than her to mind her business, no, she didn’t. What did she do? She started praying for the patient that it was not her portion to die. That the “holy ghost fire” will cure her.. bla bla bla. The patient felt she was stupid to be praying such, after she already saw the results from clear diagnosis.
The patient reported to the hospital authority and she was fired. She lost her job for being foolish as not behaving like Romans in Rome. She lost her job for such an “ordinary and common practice” in Nigeria. In fact, it is “compulsory” practice in some organisations and institutions that staff members must pray every morning. This happens in both private and public. Was that not how school children are trained? What do they do on assembly in the morning and afternoon? Pray ofcourse. Most Nigerians, irrespective of their religion, are brought up to see prayers as solutions to everything.
This indoctrination was actually perpetuated by foreign religions: Christianity and Islam. In these two religions, their adherents entrenched that praying culture so much so that it has entered and become part of our national life. Some of such practices even found their ways into the constitution of the country. Ironically, the places from where these religions come, are no longer doing it as we do here. To us, it is opium. Everything about us is weaved around it. Religion defines how we do everything. But, why is this so? It is because some have turned it to business.
Religion is a very big business in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. But, why Nigeria? Why Africa? And with such high level of our prayerfulness, what have we achieved with it? What benefits have accrued to us as a people and country? There used to be some fraudulent part adduced to it. I once watched a billionaire in Nigeria asked how she made her money, guess what she said. “Because I found Jesus and became born-again.” I said what! I am yet to see someone help to explain that to me.
Few weeks ago, the analytical platform, StatiSense, released some reports about ranking of countries around the world about how prayerful their citizens are. The results will pass for bittersweet. In the list, Nigeria, with a score of 95%, came second position globally, among the most prayerful countries. The report showed that 95% of Nigerians said they prayed daily. Isn’t this supposed to be a good thing? But wait for the shocker. Other basis were done too. It turned out that Nigeria was the 25th most corrupt (on Corruption Perception Index- CPI) country globally and it is the 8th most terrorised.
Afghanistan topped Nigeria as number one most prayerful country with 96% score. In the same ironic manner, it is also 25% most corrupt nation, just as Nigeria, and the number one most terrorised, far ahead of Nigeria on that scale. Wait for this. The country that is least prayerful is China. Its score is 1%. UK is second to the last, with just 6%. Followed by Switzerland with 8%. By the way, wasn’t Britain our former colonial master? Were they not the people who brought Christianity to Nigeria and most parts of Africa? How come the “trainee” has now surpassed the former coach on the scale of 95% to 6%? What is actually going on? Something is missing somewhere.
Now, China prays least worldwide. The same China that rules the world now with their countless breathtaking unprecedented advancements in all spheres of human life. Doesn’t it look contradictory when viewed with the religious lens of Nigerians who pray for virtually everything? How do we reconcile this? Then UK. Germany is number 6 from the bottom with 9%. France is number 8 with 10% of citizens praying daily. These are countries that are far more developed than Nigeria, irrespective of their shortcomings. What’s really going on?
Can we conclude that development is inversely proportional to prayerfulness? Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam, didn’t even appear in the top ten most prayerful countries, compared to Nigeria. Same as UAE. Yet, as religious as they are, they have been advancing gradually over the years. But, our prayerful, religious and muslim-dominated northern Nigeria is nothing to juxtapose with them or the Christian-dominated southern Nigeria be compared to UK or Germany. Doesn’t that need sincere and dispassionate reflection?
Let me make something clear, I have not said that there is anything wrong with prayer. I also did not say it is bad to pray. I also have not said the foreign religions, Christianity and Islam, are the problems. What I am saying is that, something must be wrong with the ways and manners their adherents have been going about practising them here. The problems are the followers, not their religions.
In fact, with the much I know about these two religions, if Nigerians can just adopt and follow 30% of the teachings in them, many ills that have bedevilled the country for decades will disappear. And these ills are the bane of our advancements. However, it is all about religiosity for us with little or no Godliness. It is more about prayerfulness but little or no righteousness. How can we reconcile these pairs?
For instance, with the high level of our religiosity, no country should have been least corrupt than us but we are 25th most corrupt among about 200 countries. Why should that be? What exactly are we being taught in our religions about corruption? Were we not told be our religious leaders (another special case) how much the religion we practise abhors corruption? Where are all the teachings? Which impacts are they making in our lives?
All our elected and appointed public officials get sworn-in using qur’an and bible, as they claim to be muslims and christians. After getting to office, what do they do? Cast away all the rules, guides and admonitions in these religious books and start to do as they wish. The monumental corruption allegations that come out daily were committed by these people who claimed to be muslims and christians. So, who is deceiving who?
Worse still, they are accorded special places in the religious gatherings. Their seats are in the front row because of the largesse that the churches and mosques get from them, apart from the personal benefits that go privately to the religious leaders who wouldn’t ask the source of such largesse, even when they know it is above their pay grade. That was why I said the case of religious leaders “na special”.
Corruption encompasses many wrongdoings, though we are mostly fixated on stealing of public funds. It is also not peculiar to only politicians, or public office holders. Civil servants, people in private sector organisations, religious organisations and so on, are all involved. How can a religious organisation gather money by crook or hook, from the members, build schools but they are so expensive that the children of the members cannot afford to attend them? Isn’t that criminal? Yet, they are said to be faith-based institutions.
What about sexual harassment in schools and offices? Teachers, especially the higher institutions, sexually harass female students majorly. They terrorise them for sex before they will be passed. They collect bribes from boys for same reason. And they are christians and muslims. There were recent cases in University of Calabar and University of Lagos where the lecturers have been sacked. These are more prominent in our public schools in Nigeria. May be the private institutions might be fairer, because of more discipline by the owners. Same happen in public and private offices where bosses sexually harass their subordinates. Some started at recruitment stage. Job and or promotion for hand, back for ground. All the people involved belong to either of the two main religions.
On the second index of terrorism, Afghanistan, the most prayerful country in the world is said to be one with the highest level of terrorism. Nigeria that followed it on prayerful index is also number 8 on the terrorism list. So, what’s the correlation between prayer and terrorism? It is most unfortunate that many people who get into terrorism are brainwashed with religion. Many of them are so ignorant concerning the religion they claim to be fighting for.
In Nigeria, we have battled boko haram terrorists for over a decade. Other insurgents like ISWAP and killer Fulani herdsmen bandits got into the mix. That boko haram was said to be ideological based. What were they fighting for? Islam? Because of what? To establish Islamic Caliphate and use of Sharia? Where? In a multireligous, multiethnic country like Nigeria? That must be a joke. Let’s even say that’s their sincere objectives. How have they been carrying that out?
They started with attacking government infrastructures and security agents. Then, churches and christians in Northern Nigeria, especially in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. The insurgency has subsided in the last two states. Borno state remains their perpetual base. Then, they begin to attack mosques and muslims. They were kidnapping, maiming and killing innocent people, christians and muslims, as long as you are not part of them. Is that Islam? Is that what the qur’an directs them to do? How do you kill muslims, bomb mosques and still claim to be doing so for Islam? Isn’t that contradictory? Does that make sense?
So, these are the hypocrisy of the many adherents of the two main religions. Majority are not interested or practising what their religions say. They cherry-pick parts of the religious books that suit them and continue to perpetrate their heinous and greedy activities while ignoring the parts that condemn all they are doing.
In my opinion, there is need for religion to be subjected to strict regulations in Nigeria. In Rwanda, you must go to theology school, get qualified and be certified before you can open and start leading any place of worship. The era of “God spoke to me in my sleep”, which no one else could verify and you start to call yourself prophet, needs to end.
As part of the regulations, there are existing guidelines which are not followed and no one is enforcing. This needs to be revisited. Government has to shun all the blackmails that usually arise whenever such actions are planned to be taken. I remember how this same Jim Obazee shook the country in 2017 when he was the Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), as he wanted to implement the code of corporate governance law. He was hounded, blackmailed, threatened and faced all sorts. The government of the day at the time eventually succumbed. He was sacked. All his plans were discarded and efforts wasted. What would anyone expected when the sitting vice president at the time was a senior pastor of one of the biggest churches in Nigeria, whose leadership was affected too? That is Nigeria.
Also, religious organisations have become the richest business in Nigeria. They generate money that dwarf some states’ revenues, not to talk of companies. Yet, “dey no dey pay shishi” as tax. Some days ago, while we were discussing how to strengthen naira through locally made goods for export to earn forex somewhere, one contributor said that the greatest exported indigenous product from Nigeria is religion.
He said there are two prominent Nigerian churches that are present in about 197 countries around the world. Isn’t that wonderful? Imagine these are Nigerian companies earning foreign exchange back to Nigeria and paying taxes. They hide under non-profit-making lacuna to exploit the system. Where then do all the money go? It is expected that they are used for charity works to help the less privileges. Where are that done? In what scale?
While they do some smokescreen activities to cover up, the big money goes somewhere else. How many religious houses can open their books for government to audit? What will be found will be astounding. Religious organisations should start to pay tax on excess money beyond their charity expenditures. Government needs to pay more attention to their financial activities and scrutinise their books regularly. Anyone who has nothing to hide should not be afraid. “Enití kò se oun ìkòkò, kìí kíyè s’éyìnkùnlé”.
In all, Nigerians needs to be sincere with ourselves and stop all these pretences under religiosity. If we truly want to be religious, we should allow Godliness in our lives too. Let the teachings in our holy books be our guides. Like I earlier said, if we all, from leadership down, can judiciously apply just 30% of these teachings, Nigeria will transform miraculously. But are we ready? This is the crux of the matter. We cannot be hiding under religion but continue to perpetrate evils; stealing public funds, committing various acts of corruption, and many bad behaviours. We must grow conscience.
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.
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November 18, 2023.