By Busuyi Mekusi
The best way an individual could be made a fool is through his/her religion, or religious beliefs. The imperatives of such complications continue to make the opinion of Karl Marx, that religion is the opium of the masses, very patently relevant. Religion has not just been used to make people to like their enslavement, but hail their oppressors, by ascribing their disempowerments to the will and discretion of the Supreme Coordinator of man’s activities, which is normally the conceptual God of most monotheistic religions.
From the level of primordial evolvement of religion to speak to certain inexplicable aspects of Homo Sapiens, to the level of seeking the interventions of supernatural powers for better existence, greater agrarian successes and general enhanced productivity, religions have been escalated to the point of improved human relationships, even though with the hijacks by certain mischief makers, who indiscriminately deploy religion for selfish ends.
Every traditional society, with clear evolutionary template, had a default way of relating with natural and conceived or created supernatural elements, as religion got entrenched with the increase in efficient systems of communication and governments during early agrarian civilisations. Pre-western African societies had their various approaches to the Supreme God before the advents of the two major foreign religions, Christianity and Islam, that later characterised the people. With the arrivals of the western and Arabic religions in Nigeria in 11/12th centuries and 15th century respectively, traditional African religion became demonised, rejected and abandoned, to allow the two new religions carry out proper supplanting.
Even though certain religious elements, totems, and nuances got recovered and blended into these religions for the sake of African content and variations, indigenous religion remains pariah in the 21st religiously contentious space. Whereas traditional religion still parades unrepentant adherents, some Christian and Islamic converts are still surreptitiously connected to indigenous beliefs, with sacrifices littering public places, and donations made for the purpose of vicarious worships of family and town gods. Interestingly, notwithstanding the virulent Pentecostalism that once dwarfed orthodoxy, and the fanaticism introduced by some sects, both Christianity and Islam have not completely stopped some faithful from relating to surviving vignettes of the Eurocentric-designated despicable atrocious traditional past, as they argue that their new faith would not clog their interface with traditional worships.
Globally, seven major urban or cosmopolitan religions have been identified. They are: Hinduism which was believed to have started in Northern India in c.2000 BCE; Judaism whose evolution in the Middle East is put at c.2000 BCE; Buddhism linked to Northern India and which stated in c.500 CE; Confucianism, a product of Northern China, that started in c.500 CE; Daoism (Taoism) a c.550 BCE idea from Northern China; Christianity, with the start date of c.100 CE, and Islam with the approximate date of c.622 CE, both from the Middle East. Each of these religions has its formats of operations and practices, with varying answers to the many questions confronting humanity. However variegated the different faiths are, including traditional worship, the religions prescribe that human relations should be guided by kindness, selflessness, and decency.
In apparent total departure from the dictates of these religions, the many perversions introduced by some irredentists or fanatics have exterminated the existential propensities that were at the core of the evolution of religion. Religion, just like the reception and deployment of race by some for political purposes, has become an instrument by which people gain power, fight wars, inappropriately grab advantages, and manipulate. The volatility in the Middle East is predominantly driven by religion, with the West remaining the ‘Other’ that must be demystified. Militant groups like the ISIS, ISWAP, Boko Haram, etc., remain virulent, riding on perverse Islamic ideologies and civilisation. With Libya down, Afghanistan manacled, Chad depraved, and Mali devalued, Nigeria continues to feel the heat from the Sahel, with porous unguarded borders facilitating the immigration/emigration of criminal elements, sometimes camouflaging as herders and itinerant street workers.
Nigeria, in spite of her constitutional posturing of secularity, is being strangulated by religious considerations and manifestations. While the constitution prescribes that no religion would be adopted by the state, it goes ahead to negate itself by making room for Sharia and customary penal codes. Governments in Nigeria recognise religious holidays, send people on Holy Pilgrimages to Israel and Saudi Arabia, pray at official events, even though the content of such a gathering might be irredeemably abhorrently evil, and get enmeshed in needless religious controversies, such as witnessed recently in the fallouts of Supreme Court ruling on the use of Hijab in public schools in Lagos.
Religion has similarly been leveraged on by politicians to magnify fault-lines and selfishly attain political capital, laced with ethnic chauvinism and monetised grabbing. Discourses continue to suggest that ethno-religious cards led to the ‘importation’ of the ideas that delivered terror and banditry to our doorsteps, as the President’s advance convoy came under attack in Katsina, and the prison door opened to dangerous Boko Haram warlords, held in Kuje Correctional Facility.
Clerics thrown up by the three major religions in Nigeria; traditional, Christian and Islamic, are made up of the good; the bad; and the ugly, the latter too based on the scandalous activities of some of them that have been involved in rape (particularly sexual violations of minors and the vulnerable), duping, drug peddling and murder. Spiritual merchants using the platforms of the three major religions have capitalised on the poverty in the country, which forces people to seek spiritual solutions to virtually everything, including what science, hard-work, diligence, attitudinal change and commitment could ordinarily resolve, as ridiculous as what food to eat, and how to mitigate a health challenge or pass examinations.
This is more so as majority of the people are gullible and open to manipulations. The unlicensed ‘spiritual’ business-minded fake/false clerics find in these malleable people a fertile ground to kill their hunger, satisfy their greed, and feather their nests. As broached earlier, there are narratives to the effect that some Islamic and Christian clerics freely patronise traditional spiritualists to get magical or transcendental enhancement for their activities, in the areas of increased attendance, tellability, invincibility, etc. For these double-faced clerics, religious cloaks, totems and insignias become mere masks to bury their despicable personalities. Therefore, semiotic coding, signification and receptive interrogation are redundant in the Nigeria clime to the extent of gauging an individual through mere physicality. The Yoruba are right that a thin skin-layer covers the evil intentions that lie in the belly of the wicked.
The last religious assault on our sensibilities was the uncovering and release of 77 worshipers, including children and adults, from the basement of The Whole Bible Church, aka “Ondo Church”, located in the popular precinct of Valentino, in Ondo Kingdom. This church was said to have taught very weird doctrines to its members, including the need to be rebellious toward parents, divorce among spouses, abandoning of education and careers, expectation of the second coming of Jesus, among others, with dubious dates set for the rapture.
Josiah Asumosa, an assistant pastor in the church, analogous to the psychological reconfiguration of recruited terrorists, was said to have perversely indoctrinated the followers, with the families of the released captives claiming that their relations refused to follow them home, but rather insisting that they would stay with their pastor in detention. These distrust families felt that their relations were magically bewitched or hypnotised by the shadowy buffoon.
As laughable as this religious and other escapades might look, the development is a statement about the collapsed family integration and discipline that feed Nigerian society with compromised individuals, some of whom are ready-made tools in the hands of manipulators. The “Ondo Church” is representative of the abnormalities ongoing in most mushroom disaggregated proliferated spiritual places, and the untoward things taking place right before our very eyes.
The 77 caged persons are characteristic of the warped civilisation majority of Nigerians are exposed to in the 21st century, with unscientific leaning, devoid of critical thinking, defining the perception and decisions of people that should have been schooled on how to go to the moon, or simply make humanity better. The unproductive period of their hibernation in the basement, waiting for Godot, exemplifies how time slips off the hands of Nigerians, with most youths hailing their politico-economic oppressors online, when they too should have been involved in nation-building and life transformation.
Faith in God remains a personal enterprise, and religion mere opium for the subjugation of the vulnerable. We must play down religion in our national life to be able to tame the shenanigans of political profiteers, who rely on ethno-religious sentiments to divide the people, while they stay united by their interests. Parents must end religious pretences, and stop giving excuses about the anti-social behaviours of their children, as they would not just damage the scarce Omolúàbí that humanity needs but hurt the peace that the world desperately seeks. Government and all stakeholders must reverse this negative trend, before it unites with other vices to buffet us perpetually!