Delivering an address on Saturday, 25 November 2017, at a two-day retreat organized by, for the Nigerian Southern Senators’ Forum in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Sokoto State, Nigeria, and Chairman of the Governing Council of Nasarawa State University, Nasarawa State, Nigeria, Bishop Matthew Kukah, urged Nigerians to put a stop to Christian, Moslem prayers at all public (secular) events in the country. As a substitute, he suggested the use of the second stanza of the Nigerian National Anthem in place of Christian and Muslim prayers at all events. According to cleric, the move would further promote unity in the country, because Christian and Muslim prayers only makes Nigerians more aware of their differences along religious lines, thereby dividing the country. Hear him: “I am worried that we are increasingly making ourselves aware of our differences.” (see http://dailypost.ng/2017/11/25/stop-christian-muslim-prayers-events-bishop-kukah-tells-nigerians/). The second stanza of Nigeria`s National Anthem reads as follows:
“Oh God of creation
Direct our noble cause
Guide our leaders right
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And live in just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace
And justice shall reign.”
I heartily commend respected Bishop Matthew Kukah for this timely call, and especially for his continued posture in favour of true unity and oneness in Nigeria. I personally believe that implementation of such wise counsel is long overdue, considering the damage Nigerians have used mismanagement of religion to wreak on the country. Religion is good, very good. But Nigerians have turned religion into a tool for propagation and promotion of discord, disunity, rancor, hate, and backwardness. While the Holy Books of the major religious groups in the country, Christianity and Islam, each preach love, unity, oneness and care, most religious leaders and their adherents in Nigeria practice an entirely different thing. Even within and among people of the same faith, religion, the matter is no better. For instance, among Christians, there is a persistent cold war, sharp division among the various, ever-multiplying, denominations. Ditto for Moslems! It is therefore either that we do not study these holy books with a proper understanding of what they contain or we have chosen of our own volition to deploy religion as a weapon of segregation and division, to destroy this beautiful country. If we must call a spade a spade, we would admit, for once, that religion has almost destroyed Nigeria. Most Nigerians raise so much uproar in Churches, Mosques and other places of worship, but there is hardly anything to show for it in our daily lives, conduct and behavior, especially towards fellow citizens. I will illustrate this with a few examples.
In more civilized countries, citizens show love and respect for fellow citizens, irrespective of religious, ethnic or sectional affiliations. They cherish sincere love for their country and its citizens, over and above sectional, religious or tribal affiliations. In Nigerian, religion has caused so much acrimony, hate and mistrust among the citizens. Nigerian political space is hence choke-full with politics of bitterness, thuggery, hate and violence, while governance is guided by the leaders` and followers` religious and tribal attachment, leading to marginalization of opposing religious groups, intimidation, exclusion discrimination and lawlessness. Ordinarily, a true religious person should not think that “my religion alone is the right path and other religions are false.” In truth, all other religions are also so many paths leading to the same domain of transcendental bliss. This is partly why Abhijit Naskar, best-selling author and one of the world’s celebrated neuroscientists, wrote in the book, The God Parasite: Revelation of Neuroscience, “regardless of the perpetual battle between believers and atheists, for me, religion is a tool of making friends, rather than making enemies.” Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the reverse appears to be the case!
Again, in some of the countries that brought the (Christian and Islamic) religions to us, religion and spirituality have their proper place and limits in the lives of citizens and residents. Citizens refuse to be slaves to religion and religious practices to the extent of allowing the same to become a division agent in their countries. Conversely, most worshippers in Nigeria have surrendered their brains, being, and souls for religion. The situation has become so bad that many a religious adherent in Nigeria is even prepared to eat the grass or eat his own “shit” and drink his own urine (not minding that these are harmful to his health) provided it’s his pastor, priest or imam that asks him to so do. Some are prepared to kill, and indeed do kill, in the name of religion. People in more civilized societies control their religious lives; Nigerians on the other hand are controlled by religion. Yet, there is hardly any manifestation of the positive effects of religion in our daily lives as Nigerians; the higher the number of mosques and churches and other places of worship in Nigeria, the higher and deeper the degree of disunity, hatred, infighting, backstabbing, corruption, depravity, vice, mischief, injustice and iniquity. What an irony! What a shame for a people who claim to believe in God!
Furthermore, the archetypal Nigerian religious fanatic or worshipper believes that God plans to do virtually “everything” for man. Some hence do nothing good for themselves, but rather depend wholly on God for virtually all. An important question is, if it is true that God plans to do everything for man, why did God Almighty equip the man with a mouth, sharp two ears, capable hands, bright eyes and the active nose, alongside a very sharp brain, an able body and an immeasurable thinking faculty? Honestly, God`s plans for man is that man must engage in good, honest work, that is, use his brains and think, reason in order to solve his own problems, instead of lazing about and foolishly waiting for God to come and solve his problems for him. We are expected first to work and provide for our needs and the needs of our society; thereafter, we can ask for God`s grace to complement our efforts. Now, if one has not made any efforts at all, what does one expect God to complement? The unemployed Nigerian graduate who wants God to “give” him his dream job must be prepared to show God what practical, honest efforts he himself has made towards securing a job for himself. The young Nigerian lady who is desperately in need of marriage and is moving from one church or mosque to another, praying, fasting and asking for God`s intervention in this respect, must first prove to God that she is responsible, well-behaved and mature enough to be and behave as a wife. The farmer who looks up to God for his daily bread and for a bounteous harvest must be prepared to point to a particulate farmland or farm location on which he has engaged in active, positive and honest farm work. You do not place something on nothing and expect it to stand. A popular man of God who goes by the name T.D. Jakes captured this well when he declared: “if you put in nothing, you get nothing in return….” It is garbage in, garbage out. Even the Holy Books (for Christians and Moslems) discourage laziness and idleness; he who refuses to work should be ready to harvest nothing. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7). God Himself has commanded, “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest” (Exodus 34:21). Also, we are informed that “Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). Indeed, the sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing. (as in Proverbs 20:4).
Islam as a religion also lays great emphasis on work. In many places in the Quran and Hadith, it has been made clear that time should not be wasted. The Qur‘an directs that humanity should contribute positively to the earth by working to make use of what is created for their benefit. Man can have nothing but what he strives for; that (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight: Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete. (An-Najm 53:39-41). In Islam, work is therefore given special importance to the extent that it is considered as an act of worship in itself. The Muslim scholar Imam Al-Ghazali mentioned in his book Ihyaa’ `Ulum Ad-Deen (Revival of the Religious Sciences) that Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) once saw a man who had completely devoted himself to worship. When he asked him how he got his daily bread, the man replied that his brother, who worked, provided him with food. Jesus then told him, “That brother of yours is more religious than you are” (The Book of Provision, Chapter 1). Al-Ghazali also mentions the Prophet’s Companion `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who used to stress this point further by telling people, “Never should anyone of you think that du`aa’ (supplication) for sustenance without work will avail him, for heaven never rains gold nor silver” (The Book of Provision, Chapter 1). (see http://musliminc.com/what-islam-teaches-about-hardwork-3943) There is a simple way of summarizing this in Islam: “Human being gets what he strives for. Man sees the result of his efforts” (An Najm 39-40).
Thomas Jefferson, notable American statesman, a Founding Father of the United States and the principal author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, once declared, “I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work the more I have of luck.” All these go to show that a dream doesn’t become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work for one to realize one’s dreams. Heaven helps only those who first initiate concrete steps aimed at assisting themselves. I do not revile prayer (God forbid!), neither do I underestimate the vital role prayer and religion play or could play in our lives. The point I try to make here is that prayer without good work is fruitless and dead ab initio. This position is explained by Saji Ijiyemi, in his book, Don`t Die Sitting: “praying without working is faith inaction.” Mere prayer and faith, if not accompanied by actions and good work, is fruitless! (see James 2: 17). Every one of us has a head but not all of us are able to get ahead; it is only those who make good and gainful use of their God-given heads and brains that would get ahead. Those who stay at home or only inside the church or mosque, praying for God to come and use their brains for them, or waiting for some manna to fall from heaven, would end up going nowhere in life, because there is no food for the lazy man! Some Nigerian Christians and Muslims do not yet appreciate this. And this why I agree with Mokokoma Mokhonoana, South African-born philosopher, social critic, satirist, aphorist, essayist, a cartoonist, graphic designer, and iconoclast. He once declared thus: “Whenever He answers prayers, God usually prioritizes those by people who, instead of their mouths, have prayed with their hands and/or feet.”
What is more? In more civilized climes, greatly value is placed on the human life; human life is respected and preserved by all means lawful and necessary, especially by the state. In Nigeria, citizens’ lives mean nothing and are both surreptitiously and openly sacrificed and unscrupulously snuffed out at will; human life in Nigeria is worth nothing more than that of a chicken. Ours is a country where, as Ann Landers says, many people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We easily forget that human life, being a creation of God, in God`s image, is most sacred, and that indeed one human life is worth more than all the treasures of the earth. Who then are we to continually permit any human being to die by the hands of fellow citizens, when ours is to prevent it? As former US President, Bill Clinton once advised, “each bloodletting hastens the next, and as the value of human life is degraded and violence becomes tolerated, the unimaginable becomes more conceivable?” Yet, in Nigeria the proliferation of religious organizations has not helped us to understand the value of human life. Things like this are among what led George Denis Patrick Carlin (1937 – 2008), American stand-up comedian, actor, author and social critic, to throw the following poser: “Life is sacred, no doubt. Who said so? God? How come then God is one of the leading causes of death throughout history?” I think this question is for Nigerians. Why is it that most Nigerians find it easy to kill and main in the name of religion, culture and tribe and in the name of the same God Almighty who has himself made human life sacred and placed a absolute ban on any form of taking of the same life? How do we expect to nurture a greater and safer Nigeria in face of our brazen, unscrupulous disdain for the sacrosanctity and inviolability of human life? Suzy Kassem is an American author, film director, philosopher, short story writer, essayist, and poet. She wrote in one her famous book, Rise Up and Salute the Sun, “We are the flowers that make up the Creator’s vast and beautiful garden.” Continuing, she declared, “humanity is lost because people have abandoned using their conscience as their compass.” Accordingly, if we had conscience, which is one major teaching of the various religious groups, we would never, ever deliberately take the life of another human being, a fellow citizen, because if one cuts short another`s life, one is thus placed under a perpetual curse, and condemned to interminable damnation, both on earth and in hell. It is immaterial that one did or does so in the name of a religion or of a God!.
Additionally, Nigerians are too materialistic. We have wittingly or unwittingly misused, misapplied and neglected the Bible declaration in Ecclesiastes 10:19, that “money answered all things.” The pursuit of money has rendered us irrational; we have abandoned our conscience in our chase after material things. Materialism has become the in-thing. Do not get me wrong; it is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s better to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy. Besides, a wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart, because it is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. Finally, on this, please permit me to refer to a passage from the Christian Holy Bible (with sincere apologies to persons of other faiths). I think this is an appropriate counsel to those Nigerians who agree that money answers all things: “Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, …, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.…” (1 Timothy 6: 9-10).
It is for the above and so many other reasons that I wholeheartedly countersign Bishop Kukah’s call for an outright ban of Christian or Moslem prayers in schools and at all public events in Nigeria. We have so abused religion to our detriment. We have mismanaged God’s purpose for religion. Should Nigerians not emulate Zak Ebrahim, the US-born peace campaigner and author, who in the book, The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice, made the following declaration against the bad influence of religion: “put people before gods. I respect believers of all kinds and work to promote interfaith dialogue, but my whole life I’ve seen religion used as a weapon, and I’m putting all weapons down.” Mr. Zak Ebrahim gave reasons for his decision: “No one’s ever sat me down and taught me what empathy is or why it matters more than power or patriotism or religious faith. But I learn it right there in the hallway: I cannot do what’s been done to me.”
We Nigerians need to urgently retrace our steps about the way we approach religion. We must be made to understand that, as Amit Ray (famous Indian author and spiritual master who is notable for his teachings on meditation, peace and compassion) once said in his book, Nonviolence: The Transforming Power, “spirituality is not making walls in the names of religions and prophets but to make more roads and bridges to reconnect with humanity.” I would therefore like to think that God created this planet with peace in mind, not violence. So much may change from one day to the next, but the one thing that always remains the same is God. Let us trust in, and stay focused on only Him. And May He protect us from all the religions! May He guide and lead Nigerians to understand that no region should divide a people of one destiny, because as Mehmet Murat ildan has suggested, in the future, after all is said and done, all these religions will sink, only God will remain stand-still! Suzy Kassem put it morew succinctly: “if we are to become true global citizens, we must abandon all notions of ‘otherness’ and instead embrace ‘togetherness.’”
God Bless Nigeria!