By Deji Okegbile
Nigeria, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state with over 426 ethnic groups covers an area of 924,000sq km. Nigeria’s major religious groups with an estimated youthful population of over 220 million, the seventh most populous country in the world are Christianity, Islam, and African Traditional religion. Nigeria is a product of persistent high fertility over time and consistently declining mortality. Nigeria population is projected to increase above 400 million in 2050. Atedo Peterside, Nigerian entrepreneur, investment banker and economist, in an interview with ARISE TV explained that five per cent of the Nigerian’s population are 65 years and above, while 95% are the youth, mostly unemployed.
The youth age group have borne the most impact of bad governance namely unemployment, political and religious seduction, corruption, hunger, and brutality, hence the #EndSARS protests to end police brutality and specifically the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The shooting of the protesters at the Lekki Toll gate, Lagos, by yet “Unknown soldiers” and its aftermath through the arsons, killings, and looting of public and private properties reveals a religious nation that does not translate to responsibility and integrity. What exactly is amiss with Nigeria as a nation? The answer ‘is that our institutions, especially our religious institution among ‘the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fall are degenerating.’ The four pillars that sets a nation on the path of global dominance and citizens’ welfare are representative government, the free market, the rule of law and civil society. The question is what is the state of these institutions and its manpower – political and spiritual?
For the past 40 years, these institutions have deteriorated in disturbing ways.
In my book, Healing of the Land: A Call to Nigerian Rebirth, I explained that the tragedy and decline of religion in Nigeria include having a large membership even with the right scriptural knowledge without a corresponding moral uprightness in the society, leadership, followership, and governance. The truth is that a corrupt religion cannot save a corrupt nation. Religion in Nigeria has become highly commercialized. The quest for personal gain and how our enemies must die has become religious mantra in Nigeria. The question is are we just religious because we do not trust the government? The decline of religion in Nigeria is shaped by spirituality of individualism that reflects the lifestyle, manners, power politics, and attitudes of the political elites, a cultural system that focus on the self and less on social rules. The symptoms of decline of religion in Nigeria are all around us but the #EndSARS protests has exposed the state of religion and the spirituality of Nigerians in general, a very religious nation without the fear of God and value for human life. Symptoms of decline of religion in Nigeria include: self-centred leadership, slowing growth and development, greed, corruption, lack of respect for authority, and broken homes. Believing and belonging to a religious group means following it beliefs and practices but this is difficult in a cultural enviroment that favours personal choice and freedom.
Decline of religion in Nigeria is not in the church or mosque attendance but lack of God’s consciousness because ‘an awareness of God lays hold of the leadership and society in general. Are our leaders who are either a Christian, Muslim or Traditionalist (president, vice- president, legislatures (national and states), judiciary, executives, civil servants, market leaders, road transporters, teachers, medical workers and armed forces) giving unequal consciousness of God rather than of tribes, regions, or religions?
The religiosities and democracies of our leaders continue to break the contract between the generations by heaping hunger, division, seduction, and unemployment on the 95% of our youthful population. The diseases like hunger and unemployment our leaders are expected to cure is what they are spreading like Covid-19. Using the words of Niall Ferguson, our ‘rule of law has metamorphosed into the rule of lawyers. And civil society has degenerated into uncivil society, where we lazily expect all our problems to be solved by the state.’ #EndSARS is a powerful and polemical indictment of an era of negligence and complacency’ in the Nigeria political and religious landscape. A big Cathedral or a ten million Camp auditorium or the biggest Mosque may promote decline of religion if there is no fear of God. #EndSARS has revealed that many Nigerians do not know that he or she is a thief until government treasury or warehouse open; even with our speaking in tongue, born again scarf, turban or hijab. Decline of religion in Nigeria is not about church or mosque membership or church building and mosques in every street but lack of sensitivity to sin, lack of a deepened conviction of sin in governance, market, motor garage, offices among others. Now, political leaders are issuing ultimatum to the protest looters to return all the loots; some youths are also calling on the leaders, past and present to return all looted funds. We need to be sensitive to sin and collectively repent. Cornerstone of law and liberty are laid on religious foundations, hence religious doctrine provides the proper basis for “the rule of law.”
To know the truth and still stay or practice falsehood is hypocrisy in every religion. The importance of authentic religion is to lead to a rehabilitation of religious doctrines, moral doctrine inclusive. Decline of religion in Nigeria is not about religious relevance for today but lack of ethical standard of conduct among the leaders, followers, Armed Forces and our value systems.
Since 1960, corruption has multiplied and manifested itself in various forms, much like cells in micro-organisms. President Olusegun Obasanjo in his inaugural speech on May 29, 1999, said, “Corruption, the greatest single bane of our society today will be tackled head on … No society can achieve anything near its full potential if it allows corruption to become the full-blown cancer it has become in Nigeria.” Twenty-one years after, #ENDSARS, the middle-class protesters is followed by the poor, and looters, and the carnage is no respecter of any party or person or fake news progenitors home and abroad.
For the tide to turn and in the aspiration and vision of #EndSARS to have a NEW NIGERIA, we need a national rebirth, a call for a positive change and attitude among the leaders and the masses. Rebirth in this context ‘is proclamation that God’s law broken through unrighteousness could not be mended by means of religious rituals.’ #EndSARS movement is primarily a call for national rebirth, a protest against the perversion of justice, greed, oppression, ostentatious living, sensual indulgence, armed forces brutality and ruthless exploitations of the 95% of Nigerian youth by the 5% political elites and their religious godfathers. A post-#EndSARS protest reflection calls for a stop to SARS viruses, especially the high cost of private school education while public schools are decaying. Nigerian youth needs affordable education for positive orientation and skill developments.
It must first start with our religious leaders through the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) in other to help Nigerians to rededicate themselves to repentance, reconciliation, and peace. There is need to rededicate ourselves to the well being of others regardless of position, party, region or religious affiliation. We need fair treatment and just wages for the workers and creating of an enabling social, economic, and political environment so that all people can take part in decision-making at local, state and national level. #EndSARS protest was not a war, lives were lost and trillions of naira worth of property were lost, burnt, and looted, millions lost jobs and businesses.
- Very Rev Dr Okegbile is of Nigerian Methodist Chaplaincy, UK.
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