Nigeria is the most religious country in the world. And that is official. A study by a group of serious scholars in the eighties established the fact. A full 91 per cent of us profess our belief in God, by whatever name he is called. I suppose the remaining 9 per cent of us believe in gods.
The investment of belief in just one God has certain risks. If you have many gods, you are safer because if amadioha ignores your sacrifice, you take your case to the denizens of Okija shrine.
Makes eminent sense.
The evidence of our religiosity is everywhere in our towns, cities, villages and hamlets. With such abundant evidence, no one would be so uncharitable as to question our closeness to God. We are God pikins. The many places of worship are indisputable evidence that we take our religiosity much more seriously than other nations. It reflects our determination to shut out Satan and shut in the angels. Places of worship are sacred. And all things being equal, they are so solemnly treated with the respect due them. Even the angels enter them gingerly lest they inadvertently violate their sanctity.
The irony is that our religiosity does not translate into our godliness. We are not famous for advancements in technology; we are famous for advancement in all forms of crimes. Our singular crime were armed robberies, pen robberies and the 419 scam. But things are rapidly changing for the worse. The sacred places of worship are being desecrated. They are rapidly being turned into hunting grounds for those who lust for money and blood. In other words, the places of worship have now been invaded and more or less taken over by sinners who think less of the threat of their souls burning slowly in hell and more of their mansions and healthy bank accounts. To prevent sinners from thriving is the reason the places of worship exist in the first place. Reminds you of the title of Mabel Segun’s novel: Many Things You No Understand.
The inherent contradictions that set Nigeria apart from other nations is putting our religiosity under a huge question mark. The places of worship, once the refuge of the undefended, are being systematically destroyed by men who kill worshippers even as the worshippers are busy asking the same God to protect and defend them and their families from killers, bandits, kidnappers and sundry criminals. How does anyone explain the wanton killing of worshippers in Owo, Ondo State? How does anyone rationally explain the kidnap of priests for ransom?
I know many things are wrong in our country today. The religious fault line has always been there to be exploited. I know we are where we never hoped we would be. The religious irredentists are busy sounding the gongs, trying to exploit our different modes of worship. They want to light the fuse that will lead to a religious conflagration. It will spare no one. We would all be losers. It is one of the inexplicable facts of our nation that our political leaders are blissfully looking on as if they cannot see the looming danger.
Roman Catholic priests have become soft targets for kidnappers. This is a veritable attempt to create the condition for Christians and Muslims to reach for one another’s throat. They are routinely seized for handsome ransom. The church cannot protect its own servants who took the vow of poverty and dedicated themselves to leading sinners away from the paths of sins and turn them towards the path of salvation of their souls and the safety of their persons. The sinners, Satan pikins, are fighting back. Maybe, they do not want to be saved. It is their constitutional right.
The mother church remains a conservative religious institution. Its priests are not in the business of fake miracles. They must be the poorest of the men and women who labour with honesty and diligence for God, doing good for mankind with church-funded educational, health and other institutions. But for them, many of us would never have been educated. Remember the saying, as a poor as a church rat? Church rats are poor and underfed because the crumbs that fall from the tables of the priests will make baby rats starve.
Their priests do not own private jets and mansions. They do not own sleek, expensive jeeps and other expensive cars. They live in modest church houses, not in gleaming mansions, and ride, in most cases, vehicles that rattle as if vehicular rattling is the new music.
Still, the criminals kidnap them and shake the lonely kobo out of the pockets of their cassocks. It may be argued, with evidence garnered from the history of the church that it has always been its lot to contend with evil in all societies. But this is the greatest age of enlightenment in human history. It ought not to be turned into the dark age of criminals who, to repeat the obvious, make life brutish in our country.
Our constitution grants us many rights. The right to worship the God of one’s choice is one of them. Bishop Hassan Kukah said recently that Nigeria is the ninth most dangerous country in the world where Christians face existential threats.
The rising religious intolerance has no place in a multi-religious nation such as ours. I do not want this to sound preachy. It is not my place to throw fat into the fire. We must all pull back and pull our country back from the brink. Sadly, the Nigerian state is absent in our lives. We live at the mercy of criminals. The Pentecostal preachers daily call on Holy Ghost fire to consume the criminals and other evil-doers in our country. Still, the evil doers thrive and multiply and make our country look like a God forsaken nation. Perhaps, it is time for all of us, whatever may be our mode of worship –one God or many gods – to call down the fires of heaven on them, if that is what it will take to end their bloody reign of terror in the land. We must protect our places of worship and make our priests safe again to carry on with the thankless job of trying to save the reluctant from eternal perdition. These attacks, especially on the churches and priests may, unless we rise up as a people to the challenge of saving our country, take us down the road to Golgotha. It would be a lonely walk for our country.