The issue of religion is a very important one in the development of any society. It doesn’t matter what the belief system is; even traditional societies were held together by scary religious beliefs. In modern times, religion has become such a complex matter especially when the issues involve the basic religions ruling the world: Christianity and Islam. We like to pretend; otherwise we would have had a consensus that one of the banes of development in our nation is religion. The truth is that religion has influenced most of the policies, programmes and decisions our leaders have taken since our nation became independent and in spite of the negative effects, the trend seems not to be abating but increasing at an alarming rate. Before I go on to expatiate, let me draw attention to the title of today’s piece: what we have is politicization of religion and not playing of religion. There is a difference between the two: when former President Jonathan or the incumbent President Buhari goes to either the Church or Mosque, what they do is trying to posture to curry support from members of their faith – that is playing politics.
I don’t have much space to talk on the merits and demerits of playing politics, but one thing I am certain in my heart is if I had my way, our leaders’ religious indulgencies should be removed from public view, that is to say TV and newspapers, to play down on such outing by giving it scant mention. I strongly believe religious outing should remain what it is, strictly a private affair. Building churches and mosques in government houses would have made sense to me if our society were to be a mono-faith society, but in this case, we are not, so commonsense should detect that no matter how fanatical one wants to be about his faith, your right, even when constitutionally guaranteed, should stop where the rights of others begin. Politicization creeps in when the state, through political players, begins to take deliberate steps to make the state favour one faith above others and to make laws that attempt to make a particular faith look like a state religion.
This phenomenon has been with us since Independence; our leaders have always attempted to see the eminence of one religion over the other particularly between Christianity and Islam. The issue of pilgrimage has been one sore point in our national life. Until one or two years ago many of our leaders did not see the futility of using public funds that should have been ploughed into development to sponsor individuals for pilgrimage. There is nothing wrong with pilgrimages, it can rejuvenate the spirit and the truth is that man requires spiritual nutrition as much as physical food; yet as important as this is, pilgrimage if well situated, is still a private affair, the ideal thing to do is to encourage faith-based organizations to work with their members to organize smooth and successful pilgrimage outreaches. But this is not what we do, even recently with the issue of scarcity of foreign exchange, government still found it expedient to make foreign exchange available for religious tourism at a time manufacturers were closing shops for inability to procure same.
It is the shortsightedness our leaders have displayed that has taken us into the vicious circle where we find ourselves today; even in simple harmless issues we have always displayed amazing stupidity. As you read this, the thick dark clouds are gathering, the atmosphere is charged and volatile, and as in our character, we lack ability to see, because we have leaders and also citizens who allow their backs to move before their front. We have no respect for data and this omission has placed us in a situation we can’t even read events around us and make rational deductions. Is it then surprising why circumstances we provoke are about to consume us? Religious tension is seriously building up and this has arisen because of some of the development we have allowed to happen in the last six months.
In Kano, for instance, a bonafide citizen of this nation entitled to the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom to live, move, reside anywhere and do her business, a 75-year-old woman, wife of a pastor objected to the front of her shop being used for religious rites, pronto, she was accused of blasphemy and murdered in front of her children and husband. At about the same time, in Zamfara, 11 other Christians were accused of same offence and summarily executed and few days later in Niger State, a similar incident occurred. In-between all these, we have the herdsmen’s menace, as if this is not a handful, some parliamentarians in the National Assembly began moves to make Islamic law a national law. In Kaduna State, we are hunting and killing the Shi’ites in the manner of animals.
If you look at the developments, we would have strong reasons to believe that the state is into politicization of religion; last week a magistrate court discharged and acquitted the suspects accused of killing the 75-year-old woman for lack of evidence. The dastardly act happened in the open! We are yet to hear diligent prosecution is going on concerning the other incidents mentioned. The herdsmen have been with us and suddenly they are going wild across the nation and the government is yet to take a stern stand against their acts of barbarism. What we have done to the Shi’ites is not only unconstitutional, it is wicked, abominable, and the height of inhumanity against man. The ones in the National Assembly, who have left serious matters to pursue divisive issues, don’t love this nation. They have no regard for the sanctity of the human life, because if they did, they will know that their reckless act is capable of plunging this nation into a situation similar to what we see in Sudan and Central African Republic, where everybody carries arms and nobody knows who is who. It is important we stop them before their satanic minds become a source for necessary bloodshed. Most of those who wave the religious flags in character are not true faithful.
Freedom of religion is the first right to be promulgated before political rights; the bloodless 1689 revolution in England was executed to achieve religious freedom; it produced the Act of Tolerance, which clearly specified rights to hold beliefs and to profess same publicly. It is true Anglicanism is the state church, but the British law still allows for freedom of religion. But America did what I recommend that we do: it improved on what Britain did. In the first amendment to the American Constitution it inserted a clear principle that says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It added clear proviso called establishment of religion and exercise clause, which the court interpreted to mean never would any denomination or faith be legislated into or accepted as state church or religion. It is important when we say one Nigeria, we should mean it and take actions and make sacrifices that would produce what we mean. Those who politicize religion should not underestimate the power of the others to stand to their right. Sudan and Central Africa Republic are there to teach us that when the conflagration is ignited, even the weak will be powerful.
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