For those of us who became more politically aware about two decades ago, when a new democratic dispensation was sworn in 1999, parts of the dividend of democracy our political leaders seemed to have bequeathed us are ethnicity and religion. Thanks to politicians who in their bid to win election constantly appeal to ethnic sentiments and wouldn’t mind turning religious houses to campaign grounds. Without minding the consequences of their actions, they deliberately make us think that only those of our primordial groups have our interest at heart and would deliver to us the dividend of democracy we desire.
With the exception of those power prostitutes – “yesmanship” intelligentsia, profiting from every regime in power, during the military era, Muslims, Christians, Traditionalists and the various ethnic groups all had one common enemy – the military dictators in power. And they all seemed to have one common aim – to get the dictators out of power. I believe this was the reason for the public outcry culminating in wide spread violence in the aftermath of the annulment of the 1993 election won by late MKO Abiola. Even in the comfort of my pants, I still recall many of my peers and myself running after the egbons (the big brothers) in the area celebrating the victory. I didn’t even know that both MKO Abiola and his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe were of same faith.
That was then. Today, it’s all about ethnicity and more about religion. The competition between the two dominant religions since the fourth republic is one every Nigeria should be concerned about, so much so that the adherents of one thinks is own is more superior to the other. In this regards, the politicians alone are not the only ones to be blamed. Our religious leaders too cannot be completely exonerated because they have consistently made us believe that those who are not with us are unbelievers and therefore are against us. As a result, we have lost the much needed tolerance required to coexist peacefully in other to build a great nation.
One thing I know of every religion, including the traditional religion, is that, they all believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, an Invisible Hand that controls the affairs of men. If this is true of every religion, why is it difficult to allow one another stay on the path each believes would lead them to Him? Why should we discriminate against the other and even despise them because they refuse to tread our trail? Allow me to paraphrase the words of Swami Vivekananda, “The Muslim is not to become a Christian, or a Christian to become a Muslim. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth”.
For many, their religious identity was not a choice they made themselves. They simply continued on the path shown them by those who nurtured them. So if later in life, and for reason(s) best known to them, they decide to tread another path other than the one bequeathed them why should they be persecuted for changing side? I do not think the Heavens celebrate the ignoramus amongst us who go berserk, maiming and liquidating others in the name of religion. These ignoramuses are too shallow minded to know that good and bad men and women are on both sides of the divide. The words of Swami captures this more appropriately: If there is anything the parliament of Religion has shown us: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church (or mosque) in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight”, “Assimilation and not Destruction”, “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension”.
The argument here may not align with some people’s preconceived religious beliefs. But knowing the carnages men had committed and are still committing in the name of religion, why not worship and pray your way and allow other too do it their way? Let the Man above whom we all believe exist and are calling upon decide which worship or prayer is more acceptable, while we direct our energy towards the common foes that makes us really look like a shithole nation.
Shola Olayiwola is a freelance writer. He loves to write and defend the course of his country.