Victor C. Ariole
The failure in governance, evident form the various lapses in the educational sector, has the most severe impact on Nigerian youths who lack, today, the moral foundation needed to transform the animal into a human person.
– Professor Godwin Sogolo
The above assertion of Sogolo at the 21st Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) held at the University of Lagos, on the 8th – 10th August 2019 which tried to anchor its brainstorming session on Religion and Secularism, contended that secularism does not mean a Godless entity. In effect, to be human and be tolerant of fellow humans requires great deal of moral foundation without which the animal in all humans could hold sway to make life very brutish.
Even in communist states, awareness of belief system hinged on the sayings of given people like Confucius and Mao, could not be said that the so much revered people were acting or making comment out of no prior belief system. China tells the world that their current moon exploration has a mythical understone; and that it was emboldened by belief system derived from that myth. Even agnostic, gnostic or atheist could not escape belief system pattern.
Reading Prof Wole Soyinka in FT, he told his interviewer in a Restaurant that he had to bring out a pepperish item in his bag before continuing the interview or taking the menu. So, he has a belief system which is possibly not elaborate or could not be transformed for the acceptance of the majority. Hence, as they say in education, you start teaching from a known premises before you enter to the unknown.
Most Nigerian youths seem to be lacking in foundation of any known belief system as they stray unprotected to the unknown arena, hence getting attracted to the occultic domains. Sowore, as former president of student union claimed he was fighting most of his colleagues who were enmeshed in cult then. The revelation then, proved how the youths stray to the unknown even when education is there; and as Sogolo mentioned, the same education misses in giving them a strong, moral foundation on which to build their leadership features for a better tomorrow.
In effect secularism does not translate to godlessness. It only states that human beings in a country can belong to any religion they want but must not enforce such religion on the entire country hence a constitution that states that there is no specific religion as Nigeria’s religion unlike it is known in Chyprote or Mauritania; respectively Christian and Islamic; or Hindu in India.
However, within the educational arena, freedom of association permits pupils or student to adhere to a given belief system or organizations preaching some kinds of belief system as long as such belief system understands that its freedom of association or adherence are not brought to the public sphere where other people of different belief systems share common grounds; that was what France preached at the time it receded its catholic inclination, towards the 1789 revolution.
How such comportment could be adopted without infringing on other people’s belief system is very tasking and greatly demanding and could enter into what Sigmund Freud expressed as suppressed ego that could bounce back in later years the way the French government and people are questioning, currently, what it meant by declaring laicity or secularism leaving the educational system to anchor its curriculum on “Freedom, Equality and Faternity”. That was a system that was once based on Catholicism and decided to accommodate, as modernity reared its head and demanded for rationality as against divinity. Like René Maran, a French of African slave descent narrated in his Batouala, rationality could take the shape of Chameleon as Chameleon moves on to different shades, and could require profuse “upside down” logic to justify it like climate change is becoming, as humans fail to see the behaviour of both sun and moon in all their rationality.
That is, in all changing patterns, a constant must be observed, morality or progressive religion. It is in deed staying on a known ground to project into the unknown as the Chinese moon explorer is doing by not going beyond 270 meters on the moon after watching the dark side of the moon for almost half of the year now, on its landing site. Firm landing site is where the educational system needed to get Nigerian children from pre-school to the secondary level and watch them explore the unknown at the University level as the lecturers stand as guides.
A student asked one of the NAL fellows why he should wear the NAL gown and still proclaim his faith. To the student, the gown was anti-religion from the perspective of the religion he shares with the NAL fellow. However, it took the sagacity of the NAL fellow to convince the student that it is a structural issue like obeying cold or hot weather without necessarily going naked, which is the utmost. And, sometimes in a classroom where the teacher is the “CEO”, it is not abhorrent to give some facts of many religions known by the teachers and allow the students to make up their minds; as per facts are sacred, comment is free. The background of those students from their pre-school to the secondary level before accessing university could only be enhanced or allowed to face new reality with utmost zeal to better the society or give them out as renegades and it is seen in some students who stray to a point of requiring quick counseling intervention or outright expulsion.
Every nation needs a cohesive youth with cohesive strong belief in the system to aim higher and achieve loftier goals for the good of the collectivity. The late president of Cote d’Ivoire, Houphonet-Boigny, acknowledged that to the extent that he built both church and mosque in his village so as to allow people make their choice with a strong etho – “Peace is our religion and dialogue is our ammunition”. On that etho, Priest and Imams were kept on their guards as teachings and preachings tilted to that etho.
Now, NAL intends to see a Nigerian nation where a given philosophical ethos could be elaborated and people of any religion background could channel their energy in making it work. And this is where the second stanza of the National anthem comes in and why it matters that some of the confirmed ministers could not recite it. So, “O God of Creation direct our noble cause…” Those items of noble cause or course, not curse, should be clearly stated so that Nigeria moves beyond the immediate and aim at salvaging the African person. Acceptable religions matter here. Divisive ones must be kept on check.
Ariole is a Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos