Don’t throw the child away with the bathwater. While many of you are calling for Isi Bewaji’s head because of her rant against the Halleluyah challenge, you seem to neglect the salient lessons. She was wrong to have interfered in the religious business of faithfuls who decided to come together to worship their God. It was not the Ministry of Science and Technology or the Ministry of Education that called the challenge, it was a group of Christians and that is why they called Christians. But she was also right in the rant; religion has to a large extent adversely affected us. It has made us more selfish, close minded and unquestioning.
So, I went to an ‘SU’ secondary school, those schools where the proprietor is an ultra-religious adherent. We had a long list of dos and don’ts. The school directress, who at that time was running her PhD in English, told us not to read Festus Iyayi’s Violence, a NECO prescribed text. Her reason: it was ‘corrupt.’ The intolerance was top-notch; these were people willing to kill with the rod in order to bend you to the mould they think is right.
In general, it seems besides salvation a number of Nigerian churches have no other good to offer. Church here means an organized body of people on earth who gather in a place regularly to listen to a scriptural exegete. What obtains in the religious circles in Nigeria and some African countries is different from the reality in Western countries, where Christianity and churches appear to be compassionate. In Germany for example, I know that the Catholic Church and the Protestants have scholarship stipends for students. They have hospitals and organise conferences and fairs. In Nigeria we build big churches and organise big programs year after year. How do you explain to the people that they are the real church when we spend millions adorning buildings? And are those private jets really for evangelism or for jetting out to world capitals where the honorarium is heavy and enticing? Do our super-pastors travel to the villages in Adamawa, the poorest parts of Malawi and Mozambique to preach? It seems to me that the good news is only for the super-rich. That is one other thing I like in my German church; offerings are collected to travel to the very poor, for ‘development aids’. Just look at the good Pope don’t you like him?
Religion for a number of us is a tool for control; a tool to force people into your line of scriptural interpretation. It is the reason we are so quick to fight for our God. Imagine! In my second year at the Obafemi Awolowo University, I had picked a Quran to read, so this boy called Maxwel, who we had all thought to be Ibo and consequently Christian told me to drop the Quran. I smiled and thought the bros was joking until he picked a knife. I like my life! I dropped it immediately until another good Muslim friend, Damola is his name, explained to me that they don’t treat their holy book the way we did ours. I asked Damola why he chose not to stab me instead. After all, they are both Muslim . Damola condemned the action of the violent Muslim.
Still in my second year, a group of student-religious leaders decided for the whole hall that it was wrong to watch adult movies in the common room on Friday nights. They succeeded because they added violence to their quest. This was a hall of residence for students majorly above 18 years. adults. Anyways, we went on a two week break after that, we called it Mojo break.
As a child of about 8years, my mum once left her work to come pick me and my siblings at my grandma’s place in Ijoko-Ota because the Gods of the Ota people did not know it was the dusk of the 20th century. Businesses shut down and a pin-drop silence accompanied by a palpable fear enveloped Sango-Ota area, a midway city to Ijoko-Ota, and its environs. The Oro festival was being held. Talking about Oro festival, I once attended a vigil as a child and Oro visited. They charged at us because there were women in the church. Women should not see Oro. Well, our Pastor’s wife and also a family friend said she was not going to hide that she had rights. Fearless woman! Whether you interpret this as a Westernized Christian woman, disrespectful of her culture, standing in the way of tradition. Or a fearless woman standing for her rights against a patriarchal religion is another matter. I choose the latter.
Family members, friends complain about the gridlock along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway from time to time. True, it might not be the responsibility of the churches to build roads, but I believe these churches have enormous influence on governments.
Whatever shape or form religion takes in Nigeria, it seems that those at the helm of its affairs are one way or the other complicit in the oppression of the people. Our ancestors had seen the tyranny of religion and concluded that religion or whatever deity we choose to serve must be able to save us and make our lives better. Orisa bi o le gba mi, se mi bi o ti ba mi, our ancestors warned. In the act of our ancestors, they preempted a danger of an unbridled deity, hence the insertion of the freedom clause in the design of our Gods. The freedom to choose is important, saving which the head of a particular God may swell and tell adherents to kill or punish non-adherents so that (s)he can be more God.
Christianity, Islam and our traditional religions sure have many positive sides. But to be a slave to religion is to be a slave to unreason. Religion should help and not be a problem. In fact, I am against this seeming adopted Westernized religious manicheeism in Nigeria that clearly divorces reason from feeling, and religion from science. Fact is, science and religion can walk hand in hand and lead humans to a more humane world. It does really not have to be this manicheeism kind of approach as it is presently in Nigeria.