It’s harvest time for sowing religious discord by successive Nigerian governments – Tola Adenle

Retired General Obasanjo’s “democratic” government looked elsewhere as one state government after another in Northern Nigeria declared Sharia despite secularity enshrined in the Constitution because of selfish reason of self-perpetuation.  Earlier, rtd. General Babangida’s military government ensured Plateau would never know peace by the distribution of local governments that pitched Christians against Moslems, etcetera.

I think most people in the predominantly Christian South were not bothered by the mindless figures ascribed to President Jonathan victory during the last elections because most people that I talked to saw the election as a South vs. North War and as far as they were concerned, the South won.

The rise of the Boko Haram cannot be separated from the confidence and implicit support fanatics believe they enjoy from these governments.

Governor Aregbesola may not be aware of an incident about five years ago when Moslems at Osogbo went on rampage and destroyed the fence of the Anglican Cathedral, All Saints’ Church.  This comes to mind now that huge billboards placed in various spots in the state – including one at the state border at Asejire on the highway between Ibadan and Ile Ife  –  carry the picture of Governor Aregbesola in Moslem garb in Mecca.  It shows the Mecca praying spot and I think it’s an unpardonable act in these volatile times.  Osun is NOT a Moslem state just as Nigeria is not. 

When his predecessor, retd. Brigadier Oyinlola put up huge billboards showing him in flowing diaphanous agbada and trite religious sayings like “there is only one God do the right thing …”, I wondered aloud in one of my essays for The Nation on Sunday at the false piety.  Now, this is worse because Aregbsola had his picture superimposed against a backdrop of the Moslem landmark.  It is uncalled for; those huge posters should be removed from Asejire, Osogbo, Ilesha where I’ve seen them, and wherever else  they may hang not only as they may embolden Moslem fanatics at Osogbo or elsewhere but also because they must hurt the sensitivities of Christians who are forced to look at them daily as they hurt mine and many other Christians’ I’ve spoken to.

Whatever prayers the governor offered on behalf of Osun people in Mecca need not be advertised on billboards as they are right now.  Fashola and his predecessor, Tinubu are both Moslems both Moslems but they keep their religion private.  It ensures harmony.

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Religion is not one of my favorite social discussions and it has nothing to do with being afraid of people’s perception of me.  I am a Christian, though not of the modern Nigerian stripes.  While a very liberal and progressive person (pardon my saying so!) in most areas of life, I am a religious conservative.  You will therefore not find me in more than one church (unless to fulfill social obligations) as I do not believe that my path to heaven will be assured through a particular pastor, evangelist, etc.

Those familiar with this column have an idea of where I stand politically, especially on the issue of a national conference, sovereign or otherwise.  In his well-thought out treatise on a ‘Power-Sharing Constitution’ that is a must, Chief Enahoro enumerates how we can solve the Nigeria Problem (capital ‘p’) if we must be saved from ourselves.  May he live longer to see the fruits of his labor.  In the section on religion, he suggests:

“The Union shall be a secular state and the Government of the Union shall not adopt any religion as a state religion or use public funds to support or promote any religion except on equal terms with all other religions in the Union.”

Personally, I do not believe there should be any occasion for a state to support any religion because whoever believes it is a must for him/her to visit Jerusalem or Mecca must find the means to do so.  The bureaucracies set up to cater to pilgrims of the two major religionsat state and federal levels are just too big, too costly and too wasteful for a country that takes loans and grants as small as a million dollars. Of course once the country becomes a Union of Nationalities which is inevitable, each nationality can then set its priorities which will allow the component parts freedom in the area of deciding what is best for it.

St. Andrew’s College, Oyo was like a university in colonial Nigeria; there was also Wesley College, Ibadan.  Both trained male teachers at Grade Two level while the United Missionaries College (UMC), Ibadan, trained females at the same level.  St. Andrew’s was Anglican while Wesley, of course, was Methodist (Charles & John Wesley were pioneer Methodists and composed many of today’s Christian hymns).  UMC was a joint effort of both missions and the three produced most of Nigerians’ earliest educated elites.  In most countries, these colleges would be left to develop along the paths they chose; they could become universities and, a Bowen University that is just taking off at Iwo this session, would claim:

Bowen University, Since 1846”

or whatever year during the mid-1800s Dr. Bowen first collected his stewards, some labourers and other interested to start a Baptist School in Nigeria.  The Nigerian Baptist Convention would not be misstating facts but would only be following a tradition practiced worldwide.

It is not so in Nigeria.  These storied institutions were destroyed through government take-over in an attempt to stem the south’s “mad rush for education,” to quote an Abacha “Minister” of Education although this had happened much earlier.  St. Andrew’s may be an NCE college now but I understand a mosque has been provocatively sited there!  What kind of “unity-building” is that?  If there is the need for a mosque, why couldn’t one be built near the gate?  I doubt if a church would be allowed if it had been a Moslem college.  Moslem principals have been posted to traditionally-Christian schools in the south-west but I am not aware of Christian principals heading any of the few traditionally-Moslem schools.  How would a church/chapel located at, say, Ahmadiyya College Agege sound?  Would be an oxymoron dreamt by a mad man!

Successive governments in Nigeria have sown the whirlwind,and pray, what can the harvest bring?

Religion is THE subject that gets most humans most passionate.  That is why a woman, a girl really, would gird herself with explosives in spite of her gender being known for life preservation, and take her own and several lives because she believes her religion supports such.  Instead of discouraging such horror that is wiping out gradually an entire generation of youths in Palestine, several Arab countries tacitly support it by paying compensation to families of these kids.

Being passionate about religion would explain why a young man would lie down in front of a hut used as an Anglican church, cutlass in hand, daring masquerades to enter during the early part of Christianity when Christians risked death for going into churches in the Ondo/Ekiti part of the then Anglican Province of West Africa.   The Uganda martyrs were passionate enough about their religion to have surrendered their lives rather than their faith.  The Little rebel, Joan of Arc was so certain that God spoke to her and so did St. Catherine that she went to an Inquisition and later death, at the stake;  she refused to say what would please the Church hierarchy to save herself.  Religion is why a Yoruba Moslem would think the burning and maiming in the north is a welcome “nuisance value of Northern Moslems”, to quote her word.  All the people referred to above might not, under other circumstances, do or say what they did but such is the passion that goes into religion.

I always saw the Palestinian side in the Middle East conflict.  Neither side of the conflict is Christian although most Nigerian Christians have always been pro-Israel because of Jerusalem.  My choice of the Arabs was simple:  I saw them as the underdogs and in spite of the long-suffering Jews from Biblical times, something in me saw the situation as a mismatch.  Watching any sports in which I have no predetermined favorite, I always go with the underdog.  Anyway, since September eleven, I am not so sure because I ‘ve wondered why one’s hatred would justify the taking of thousands of lives in the name of religion.  I wondered at the insensitivity of Northern Nigerian almanac producers of bin Laden within a week of September 11.

I’ve asked myself several times of late if my decision was a retaliatory one against the Palestinians as Moslems since the horrible, horrible event also started the burning of churches and Christians in Northern Nigeria.  If it was, then I would not be living according to Christ’s teachings which tell us to always forgive our enemies.  We cannot and should not fight on behalf of God or Jesus because it is not in our position to do so.  Where does that leave me?  I’ve recently discovered that I no longer wait around to listen to events in the Middle East when I turn on the news.  Only experts in matters of diagnosing and sorting people’s emotions would be able to unravel my state of mind.

During the first weekend of November or so, the rapper, P.Diddy /Puffy Dad (Rap is not on my list of music genres) had a birthday hosted for him in Morocco at State expense.  Why?  I read that Sean (his birth name) was planning the party, dubbed something like Greatest Party of All Time which was to be held in a Caribbean island but on learning this, the young king (son of late King Hassan who reputedly had nothing but disdain for the poor of his country) called his Tourism Minister who offered to have Morocco pick up the tab in exchange for the party holding at Marakesh or so.  He donated the use of his home to the rapper/designer/impresario and his girl friend.  Morocco, a Moslem state, would spend a million bucks, i.e. almost a hundred and forty million naira to host the party.  Part of this amount would be used to ferry Diddy’s exotic Hollywood-type friends who could wear anything as long as it was any of three designers:  I think Versace, Armani and his own label, Sean John!

No, the young king had not gone mad but he was bottom-line driven in spite of the excesses of Hollywood types.  He cast his mind back to Morocco’s glorious movie past and the money it used to bring to the economy.  A Hollywood buff, he must remember Bogie (Humphrey Bogart) and the movie,Casablanca; he must know designing giant Yves St. Laurent’s home in Marrakesh and he must also remember Casablanca as the site of Roosevelt  (FDR) and Churchill’s conference in 1943 during World War II. Not caught up in the feudalistic ways of his dad, he has reportedly sold many palaces and put the money to good use towards health care of his subjects.  He and his glamorous young queen seem to be saying, International Jet Setters, come on down and drop tons of money here!  Of course the young king is a Moslem.

Now, to the Miss World competition. I probably would not have watched the pageant because I stopped being excited by such years ago, but I am not against beauty competitions.  In fact, I used to watch just about all on television in the States:  Homecoming Queen (university queens); state pageants; Miss Black America; Miss America; Miss Universe, you name it.  Most of the winners have parlayed their crowns into successes in acting and other great careers.  Vanessa Williams won the crown and in spite of some brouhaha that had happened before the competition which later made her forfeit the crown, she has a successful acting and singing career.  She is also Estee Lauder’s (the cosmetic giant) spokesperson.

Although I got tired of James Bond movies after Sean Connery (who, over fifty isn’t!), Halle Bery just might make me watch the latest Bond movie.  Watching the former winner of a state pageant of the Miss America competition walk out of water on a beach while ‘Bond’ looks through his binoculars reminds me of Ursula Andress and Sean Connery.  Halle, an African-American already has an Oscar for best actress under her belt.  Even winners who do not go into the movies still leave with a lot: college scholarships, exposure that help in their chosen careers, etcetera.

Would I want my daughter to compete in a beauty competition?  Not here in Nigeria because young females are at risk of sexual harassment

It is a shame that the pageant was moved.  Attributing this to foreign press conspiracy as Jerry Gana did and as, I was very surprised President Obasanjo also did, is the Nigerian mentality of never accepting responsibility for our actions.   Did the so-called foreign press burn churches or throw Christians into wells to kill them?

Nigeria should forget the [2006] World Cup.

[First published as “The Miss World Saga”, The Comet on Sunday, December 2002. Original reduced.]

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