Religion: Is it moving Nigeria backwards or forwards?

“Blacks hold onto their God just as the drunken man holds on to the street lamp post–for physical support only”. Dr Tia Solarin

 “CHEI. CHEI. There is God O! DIERRIS GOD O!!!” Patience Jonathan

Was up Ya’ll

This week’s post comes courtesy of a debate organised by a group called Nigerian Thinkers.  Members meet once a month to have honest, stimulating and intellectual discussions, debates and dialogues about all topics relating to Nigeria. The topic for this months’ meeting was to debate the notion: Religion: Is it moving Nigeria backwards or forwards?

The discussion was opened up by a brief debate between two members, one arguing for the “forward” notion and the other arguing for the “backward” notion.  Both sides put forward solid arguments before it was opened up to the floor. The chair for the “forward” notion opened the debate with reference to philosophers who have long argued that religion has no place in the advancement and progress of society. She deftly countered this statement with reference to Plato’s “allegory of the cave”, arguing that education is the key to breaking the culture of those who use religion as a platform to perpetuate intolerance and abuse on the masses. In support of this, she highlighted the role of faith based organisations have had on building educational institutions.  The “backward” notion strongly argued that the Abrahamic (monotheistic) religions have moved Nigeria backwards.  The spokesman argued that the `African` has lost his mind in religious dogma and for him to move forward, he has to release `himself` from the alien religion.

The discussion was opened up the floor and for the first few rounds, the notion for religion took a beating. The opening salvos highlighted the impact the Abrahamic faiths have had in relegating the traditional African/Nigerian faiths to the level of been seen as backwards or satanic. Before the “alien” religions were brought over and forced on the Africans through violence, (a notion I don’t agree with personally) there was a spiritual system which enabled the African man to connect to his creator. The inconsistency in the African way of thinking was also highlighted, on one hand, we say we are proud Africans, yet we worship a white Jesus while millionaire preachers fly around in their private jets. There is irony in the fact that Nigeria is the most religious country in the world, but there is strong perception (with valid reasons) that it has changed the way we treat each other which is holding our country back. A profound statement was made at this junction “faith without deed is death, where is the action”. 

A strong theme which ran through the whole debate was regarding identity, history and education. The adoption of the “alien” religion was a plausible reason for the loss of identity in the modern era at a subconscious level. Because we have moved away from our traditional religions, we have moved away from our culture and are losing our language in the process. This is despite the fact that although our forefathers adopted the Abrahamic faiths, they never lose their identity, ethics, culture and moral values which have been passed down many generations, but this is slowly being eroded because of the adoption of western ideology and culture in the new generation.   A statement was made in the heat of the debate that a lot of Yorubas are Muslims but they are not terrorist like the Hausas in the north because Hausas consider themselves Arabs. The role that religion played with regards to the transatlantic slave trade was hot button issue; the Catholic Church was accused of using “Christianity” to justify slavery. An attempt to counter this argument was made that although “Christianity” was used to justify the trade in human cargo, it was also the basis used to abolish it. In addition, the point was made that Islam and traditional religions also held slaves. This argument was swiftly batted away with a counter argument stating that the slaves of our forefathers were captured during inter-tribal wars and were eventually assimilated into the relevant tribes.      

The spokesperson arguing for the “forward” notion raised a valid question as to what did the western religions provide in terms of education that the native religions did not or could not provide, to meet the needs of the people. This caused a heated response; the question was described as fallacious because “African history and education” was transferred orally. The “African” tribal religions offered a sense of communal togetherness, living off the land etc. With regard to education, two members from each side made what I consider to be excellent points for the importance of self-education. Babatunde in the “backward” notion camp highlighted the fact that he made a conscious effort to take a personal journey on the quest for identity which led him to gain a better understating and to connect with the spiritual gods of his ancestors.   A young lady named Fatima made what I personally believe was the most cogent argument of the evening. She said personally religion has given her inner peace and has moved her forward.  She was a Christian, became a freethinker, and then became a Muslim. Although from different ends of the spectrum, these two individuals shared the same virtue which I feel many people lack-courage.

Towards the end of the evening, somebody asked a poignant question, why do Africans cling onto religion like a drunken man leaning on lamppost? (I paraphrase). Why would they give their 10% tide to the preacher before buying food for themselves to eat? Or join a terrorist organisation. It brought into contention the state of our nation. Hope of the better tomorrow caused many people to look to the Church or Mosque for support. The stress of the daily grind, no job, no money, lack of health and security makes people look to a higher power for “salvation”. This is not to say that only poor people go to religious institutions. The social structure of religions provides a communal sense of togetherness, there is a need for welfare, which religious institutions are able to provide if applied in the right way.  A member made a statement regarding preachers which I find humorous and equally serious; preachers could not be politicians so they should not use religion to achieve their goals, doesn’t that just put the cherry on the parfait?

The debate was put to a vote at the end of the evening; and the “backward” notion camp was in the majority.  I hope I have provided an impartial analysis of a very lively, intelligent and stimulating discussion of an important subject by a group who obviously love Nigeria and want the best for their motherland.

On a personal note and writing as an independent observer, I feel that although illuminating, most of the evening’s discussions did not achieve the outcome I would have liked in the sense of answering the question- what do we do now? I reject both notions!!!!! Since the dawn of time, religion (or any other form of ideology) has been used as tool for evil and has also been a force for good. From the Catholic Church condoning* the trafficking of human cargo from the 16th-19th century, to Boko Haram today, these actions dramatically demonstrate man’s inhumanity against man using religion as a tool. Religion should not be blamed if “man” cannot live up to the ideals of the relevant faith, be it alien or native.  I put it to my fellow Nigerians and fellow human beings, we should work together to build a society of pluralism and tolerance in all spheres.   “Religion” in all forms is not going anywhere in our beloved Nigeria. Our country is at the cross roads and is ripe for change, I propose that we as Nigerian Thinkers and patriots  (regardless of tribe, religion, class, sex) come together to develop cohesive and sustainable solutions to the problems facing our country. Religion cannot be solely or majorly blamed for the problems in our country nor should it be seen as the singular solution. I firmly believe that it has a major role in creating a better Nigeria and a better tomorrow which we all yearn.  Based on the discussions by the Nigerian Thinkers members, I believe that education is key tool; personal and societal, take note from the two names mentioned in this post. For a better Nigeria, with equality and freedom for all, hope, courage and perseverance is required. We should not be naïve and must remain vigilant; we must not ignore “man’s” innate desire for power and selfish interests for the few. This must be countered through the constant strive for peace and freedom by all and for the masses. 

Ultimately I believe that we as a society have lost the essence of religion, with education we can get it back and build a society we all deserve. To move forward, we have to look at history, but we cannot be bitter. So I put it to you, my fellow Nigerians (and friends of Nigeria) what shall we do now to move our country forward. What say ye?

Till next week




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