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Troubling religion

On a number of fronts, the endemic frictions between faith and Nigerian politics are becoming more intense. These skirmishes remind us that Nigerians have deep…

On a number of fronts, the endemic frictions between faith and Nigerian politics are becoming more intense. These skirmishes remind us that Nigerians have deep and widespread faith in God, but tend to use Him in manners that suggest that the Supreme is only a weapon in our arsenal to fight for advantages in pursuit of goals He will most likely frown upon. Often, we give the impression that we act in responses to His bidding, but when we fight, as we often do, you have to wonder which God we fight for, or if we have a license to interprete Him in any manner we choose.
It makes no sense to give any credence to the idea that our constitution provides for a harmonious co-existence between different faiths, or between fractions of the same faith. Beyond provisions that we should enjoy freedoms to practice our faith without let or hindrance, and that the state shall operate in such a manner that it favours no religion over others, or adopt a state religion, our positions as a nation have shifted between acknowledging the demand that governance must be deeply involved in faith matters; to attempts to distance the two;  to resolve major conflicts when religions clash, or when religion and state disagree over strategies and goals.
You can go all the way back into the early days of our history to validate the assertion that the Nigerian state has never successfully regulated faith, in spite of its awesome powers to deal with security matters, which is what religion had very often become. Failure or indifference by the state to establish and police boundaries between the practice of religion and related matters such as where and how this is done meant that the state yielded space to all manner of religious leaders and charlatans to decide how God should be worshipped. When those boundries were breached, the state came in with a heavy hand, boots, bullets and laws that bought us some relief, but froze the problem. When it is let out, the nation finds itself in the same, or worse situation. Knee-jerk reactions to provocations dealt with symptoms, and attempts made to look deeper into intra and inter-religions conflicts tended to scare off leaders by their sheer magnitude and complexities.
The nation is now dealing with a number of developments that remind it that faith will continue to be a key element in our endeavours to build a nation where citizens live safely and freely within the laws of the land, and practice their faith without the feeling that their basic rights are being abridged. The Shiite-military clash in Zaria being investigated by a Judicial Commission of Inquiring is being torpedoed by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN)’s insistence that its participation is contingent on its lawyers having access to its leader, El-Zazzagi. There must be some very compelling reasons why this access has become a major stumbling block, and if it is not resolved, the Commission is likely to proceed without the participation of major party in a dispute with frightening dimensions.
The long-term implication of shutting out the IMN from an important process under powers of a Nigerian authority that it barely recognized a few months ago are very serious. The significance of having IMN submit to this process, whatever its motivation, is profound. This is why all steps that should both protect national security and accord the leader of the IMN and the Movement itself deserved rights and facilitation to participate in the preceedings of the Commission should be taken. Needless to say, the work of the Commission without the IMN will be at best an exercise in futility. The Commission’s work should be a critical stepping stone that should begin the process of re-inforcing leadership accountability and re-designing boundaries between religion and the state.
Just as the IMN-state issue is threatening to run away from control, the Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai begins the process of legislating religious practices and conduct in a State where faith politics has taken more blood than any other. He is running into a storm for all sorts of reasons, principal among them being that people who have been well served by having an entirely unregulated environment do not want it changed. It will be difficult to fault the governor for attempting to curb hate speech clothed in religious preaching, assaults on basic rights of citizens by people who claim to be licensed by God to offend us and set us up against each other, and, on the whole, rid religion of appendages that it had accumulated over the years, owing to weaknesses of the state to draw the line between what is allowed in the name of God and what is not. It is necessary, however, to advise on the need for wider and deeper consultations, (and even engagement with the very people who constitute the problem) before legislation is made that will improve the environment. This will avoid making a mockery of law-making and providing entry points to mischievous characters who have made much in the name of God. There are obviously a number of areas that have been identified as problematic in terms of management of the law by people who mean well. The governor will be well-advised to look at these areas.
Finally, the dust being raised by a group who title themselves Christian Elders, over the decision of President Buhari that Nigeria will join the anti-ISIS coalition will be mentioned even if only to demonstrate how much damage is done to our otherwise genuine commitment to our respective faiths by those who volunteer to police them on our behalf. In saner times, a decision to commit Nigeria to a patently religion-tinted military alliance will be condemned even at the level of contemplation. These, however, are not saner days. The anti-ISIS coalition being put together and led by Saudi Arabia represents a key component in our fight against the insurgency that has ravaged our nation, and claims linkages with similar insurgencies and terrorist groups that also claim to be inspired by Islam. No group of nations are better placed to de-mystify and destroy this coalition of evil that has firm roots in our country. The pretentions to inspirations from Islam has long been abandoned by Boko Haram, and the murderous tendencies which kill and rape Muslims and Christians alike ought to provide support for any initiative that cripples it. Lets be very clear about this: even if it stays firmly at a symbolic level, there is nothing wrong in Nigeria’s participation in any coalition that fights terror, a phenomenon that is miles ahead in establishing global linkages than those who are its victims. If there is a Christian coalition that seeks to fight allies of Boko Haram, we should support it as well. This is one of those occasions when elders are told, rather sadly, to go sit down.

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