Carl Marx was definitely right when he described religion as the opium of the masses. This is even more so in Nigeria, a country that is on record to host the largest number of churches and mosques in the world.
Nigeria has some of the most educated and sophisticated people in the world. But when it comes to religion, you get amazed at the kind of sheepish arguments a professor could churn out. Once religion is involved, you hear them behaving worse than illiterates, in many cases.
Someone posted on the social media last week that, in Nigeria, if a 10-year-old boy opens a church anywhere in the country, thousands of adults will follow him and subscribe as members. The same with establishing an Islamic sect. It is that bad!
It is, therefore, very easy for those seeking to destabilize Nigeria to leverage on this fact and poison the minds of Nigerians against any cause or system they do not believe in, or prepare them for any sinister agenda they want to pursue.
There is the tendency on our part to readily dismiss press statements emanating from the Department of State Service (DSS), and, indeed, when penultimate week the Nigerian secret police released a statement that destabilization plots against Nigeria were real, I was one of those who dismissed it with a wave of the hand, until I came across a move by a relentless French philosopher, a certain Bernard-Henry Levi, to use concocted falsehood to fan the embers of division in Nigeria’s socio-political structure.
Also, for the second time in five months, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has published a story capable of causing serious religious upheaval in Nigeria. In July last year, the WSJ published a false story that 1,000 Nigerian soldiers were buried in one night in a secret military cemetery in Maiduguri, Borno State. The Nigerian Army was forced to declare that it doesn’t operate any secret cemetery; that it has only one, which is known to the public, and that any soldier buried there is accorded full military honors, with members of their family either present or at least informed. But opponents of government, who, sadly, always make the terrible mistake of including the military and the security services in their hatred for the government of the day, went to town with the story, insinuating all sorts of things, so much so that the military authorities had to do the best they could to stem a creeping dampening of morale on the part of the troops fighting to keep Nigeria safe.
Journalism is a profession meant to advance the common good of societies, and part of the rules is that stories that do not conform with that ethical rule should be discarded. How a false story clearly aimed at causing subversion in the Nigerian armed forces was beneficial to WSJ, only the paper could explain.
Five months later, specifically, on December 20, the same WSJ published yet another completely false report. But this time around what it did was even worse: the story it published was very much capable of causing religious war in Nigeria.
Bernard-Henri was commissioned to write fantasy stories about a visit he claimed to have made to Nigeria, where he found out a “massacre of Christians that is massive in scale and horrific in brutality.” Just imagine!
The author knows very well that, in Nigeria, fantastic stories like that sell like hot cake. But even beyond that, he also knows that there are organizations like the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that will readily latch unto such stories to buttress its unsubstantiated claim that Christians are endangered species in Nigeria.
He also knows of the existence of MURIIC, a Muslim group that will foul the air by issuing threats and thereby alienating Muslims from Christians, the same way CAN alienates Christians from Muslims. Obviously, the latest ranking of Nigeria as a country that does not tolerate religious freedom had its foundation from the WSJ story, and the desperate efforts of people like Bernard-Henri, working in cahoots with some opposition religious elders who got the very best from Nigeria, but who, even a small child knows, are desperately desirous of not just bringing down the government in power but also bringing to a violent end the Nigeria project.
To start with, I am a highly cosmopolitan Nigerian who is heavily averse to primordial sentiments. I have published here that I am one of the few Nigerians who, at a very early age, were heavily exposed to Christian knowledge and culture, eventhough I am a Muslim from birth. At age six, I was enrolled in a Christian boarding school that had the biggest church in old Kano State, but which did not have a mosque. I know Christianity more than many of those prompted by pecuniary interests to use the religion to fan the embers of discord, and I can say, as I do everywhere, that Christianity is a religion of peace.
One then wonders where some of the people calling themselves our religious leaders learnt the use of foul language to advance interests that are more often than not self-serving. In most cases, these leaders promise fire and brimstone to justify the millions of dollars they collect from foreign governments and groups.
I believe that Nigeria of the 21st century cannot not afford the serious distraction of religious sentiments, especially of the dangerous hue that we waste a whole world of time over, at a time when peers and juniors in the global marketplace are competing in making life better for their citizens.
I wonder how anyone could believe the false tale that more Christians are killed by terrorists Boko Haram or even Fulani bandits.
To start with, Boko Haram has its origins in Borno, a state whose population is overwhelmingly Muslim. It then spread to Yobe, and later some parts of Adamawa, all of which are also overwhelmingly Muslim.
I once narrated here that, in 2012, while being editor of a national newspaper, Abu Qaqa, the then spokesman of Boko Haram, called me on phone and issued all kinds of threats against me for merely describing them as the terrorists that the group he represented truly was. When I reminded him that I was also a Muslim, he told me I was worse than a Christian, because a true Muslim, according to him, would not object to the Boko Haram ideals that I was opposed to.
Of course, it is on record that Boko Haram has attacked many churches and killed many Christians. But it is because Muslims hardly have the media to project their interests that, when mosques are attacked, the story mostly only gets scant attention in the media.
For Boko Haram, any Muslim who does not subscribe to its horrific ideals is worse than a Christian, and will be treated worse than one. All that is needed to prove what I am saying is as simple a task as googling the facts.
On November 24, 2014, the group launched one of its deadliest attacks on Kano Central Mosque on a Friday when several thousands of worshippers had gathered for the congregational prayer. Almost a thousand Muslims were killed, though the official figure had it at over 200.
The group has also killed numerous Islamic clerics it disagreed with, and the attacks it carried out on mosques in Borno State alone are more than the entire churches it attacked anywhere else in Nigeria.
Also, talking about Fulani herdsmen or bandits, it beats the imagination that some people are out there concocting falsehood that they are targeting Christians. For almost two years, until recently when the security forces raised the ante and subdued them, the same Fulani bandits were all over the place terrorising one of the busiest roads in Nigeria, the Abuja-Kaduna highway, on almost daily basis. The records are there, and the fact that anyone could verify is that, of all the people kidnapped on that route, more than 90 per cent were Muslims.
The same situation obtains in Zamfara, Katsina, Birnin Gwari and other northern localities where the activities of bandits are most rampant. In fact, the state that could at a time pass for headquarters of bandits, Zamfara, is overwhelmingly Muslim.
You see, I am one person who believes it is the height of callousness to reduce such attacks to political readings, as some of our religious leaders are doing. It pains me to write this because playing politics with our compatriots who were killed in cold blood does not portray us as decent people. And that is why it pains me deeply when I see religious organisations making all sorts of spurious claims about their members that were killed by terrorist bullets or bombs.
Neither Boko Haram nor Fulani bandits operate on principles of Islam or Christianity. In fact, it is also on record that almost 100 per cent of the Fulani bandits are stark illiterates who know nothing about Islam or Western education. The reason they are engaged in what they are doing is purely economic.
In the case of Boko Haram, whereas their crusade could be said to be religious in nature, the fact remains that nothing in what the group is doing is Islamic. The Prophet of Islam is a known advocate of peace, who had given shelter to Christians, and who issued a proclamation directing all Muslims to hold all Christians as their own and not to harm them or destroy their place of worship throughout the ages. Anyone in doubt could simply google Prophet Muhammad’s treaty with Christians and confirm that nothing in what Fulani herdsmen or Boko Haram are doing is Islamic.
I believe that the task before us is ensuring cohesion and unity in our society. At personal level, I have more Christian friends than Muslims, and this started from a very young age till today. I have also benefitted from the kindness of Christians than my Muslim counterparts. I would have attained much higher heights in life if not for sheer acts of hatred from one or two fellow Hausa Muslims.
We must rise to the occasion and shame all the foreign powers quietly working hard to divide this country or cause a war between Christians and Muslims. We must know that the religious leaders supporting falsehood have the means to escape to foreign countries if we make the mistake of erupting in war and they could not withstand the heat. At the end of the day, only you and I will be left behind, as some of us don’t even have the money to relocate within the country, not to talk of some cozy foreign land.
And it is only when you travel out that one appreciates the fact that no other country is as good as your own. You are a guest wherever you might be, and chances are that you will be treated as a second class citizen in that country you take so much pride in travelling or relocating to.
The French philosopher writing all sort of trash about Nigeria, taking advantage of our sensitivity and thereby deepening our religious division, will run away to his country of birth the moment we start taking up arms against one another. It is from there, in the comfort of his home or office, that he will marvel at our stupidity, knowing very well that his country stands to make billions of euros from sophisticated weapons that it will sell to us to kill each other on a grand scale.
It is amazing that some Nigerians are being made to believe that the government of the day is anti-Christian, or that it is supporting Fulani or Boko Haram to kill Christians. The argument itself is so cheap and irresponsible. One needs to come even close to power, especially in Nigeria, to know that those holding the levers of power are the last set of people to trigger war, even if they are the worst of sadists. Those in authority know more than you and me that only when there is peace could they continue to govern us. A governor is no longer in authority when there is total breakdown of law and order in his state. So also the President and leaders at various levels of government. They need peace more than we, ordinary members of the society, do.
It is only when there is peace that we can go to church or mosque. It is only when there is peace that communication service providers will continue to exist, meaning that once any war reaches a certain stage, we cannot even communicate with each other or engage in mischief in the social media. Worse of all, with all your billions, you cannot even get food to buy, but the difference is that whereas the rich and the powerful will simply pack members of their families and escape to a peaceful country, those of us that don’t have the means will remain here and await a cruel fate, God forbid.
You won’t even see the same pastor or imam that has spent a lot of time indoctrinating you, making you hate your fellow compatriot just because he or she belongs to a different religion.
As a philosopher once said, the whole matter is in our hands. God has nothing to do with it because He has played His own part by making us the best of His creations, imbuing us with intellect to sieve the grain from the chaff, to differentiate our left from our right, and to stay away from danger.
Those societies that we marvel at attained greatness not because they did not have religious or tribal differences. They did so because they managed to eschew those differences by mastering the art of tolerance and forgiveness, major virtues all major religions of the world strongly promote.
NOTE: I have once published the piece below. I am not the author, but it makes a whole world of sense. I recommend we all print and paste it near our pillows, to serve us as constant reminder that our hope lies in peace, not war. This can only be occasioned through tolerance and forgiveness. A stitch in time, it is said, saves nine.
In the new year 2020, let us all pray for Nigeria to experience renewed hope for a better and more assuring future, devoid of religious recriminations.
To those calling for war…
In war, everyone is a prisoner of captivity, both the belligerent and the cheerleaders. Keep drumming for war because you feel displaced and dislocated.
In war, the market closes to everyone, including you and the one you hate. When the bullet flies around, it hits everyone in destructive staccato.
When bodies fill the ground in debris, we all take in the stench in exhilarating doses.
In war, no one buries the other, we perish in bloated bodies and burst in smelly particles, to be fed on by vultures.
Keep mobilising for showdown, when the doom comes we shall face it in boom of woes.
The call for war can be very sweet, it gives the feeling of conquest, but like the rain, it usually ends with drench.
When the war comes, we all cease to be Igala, Yoruba, Igede, Jukun, Igbo, Angas, Beriberi, Chibok or Fulani.
We all become entrapped bodies of human waste, we will be buried not in tribal identities but as wasted human bodies.
In our carcasses, mutilated by the vultures and left for archaeological fossils,
Shall be us in historical reference. Skeletal heaps are the remains of a people who preferred to perish as fools than to live in dignity.
• Belligerently musing ©️Haruspice