By virtue of the Nigerian Constitution, we are a secular nation, with no state religion. Yet we have managed to infuse religion into our secular day to day lives and activities; Markets open with traders singing Christian hymns and making supplications for a successful day. You wait for the Muslim trader, to say his prayers before selling his wares to you, if you get there around his prayer time.
Fridays are unofficial half days in Nigeria. Once most people finish from Juma’a prayers, it’s TGIF, and even non-Muslims use the prayer time to gauge when their day ends at work.
Secular work meets, symposia, workshops, commence with a word of prayer.
In fact, we have perfected the art of inculcating prayers in everything, so much so that in small meetings a Christian for instance, is asked to open with their own mode of prayer and a Muslim ends with theirs. In bigger functions, both happen at the beginning and end.
The funny part is how this happens, without consideration for other religious sects, free thinkers, agnostics etc. In Nigeria, for purposes of such, the only recognized religions are Islam and Christianity. Everyone else can go to blazes, right?
Serving on the committee on religion, at the National Conference (confab) gave me deeper insight into how the mind of the average religious Nigerian works. Story for another day…
Yet, with all this religiosity we are neck deep in corruption, crime and all manner of vices. Armed robbery, kidnapping and banditry are on the rise. Armed robbers, yahoo boys, militants all say prayers before operation or attempting to scam an unsuspecting victim.
Bandits and insurgents, openly declare their religious tenets as they maim and kill innocent people.
So yesterday, I saw pictures of two parents, wishing for their future children. Whilst one was focused on raising prayerful children, another felt that children exposed to the wonders of science, innovations, were the custodians of the future.
It’s obvious the first parent is a typical Nigerian, who says ‘God bless you ‘ or ‘Insha Allah ‘ right before he takes a bribe or cheats someone.
He is the one who does nothing except his pastor or Imam approves with a plethora of prayers to chant and recite.
They are the ones who mutter ‘Only God can save this country’, as they beat the red traffic light or shunt the queue to buy petrol.
The second parent is like me, if I ever decide to become a parent, I won’t put my child through the torture of having to unlearn religion.
Rather I will equip them to be empaths and humanists.
I will teach them that great nations are not built on Amen and Alhamdulillah, but on consistency, honesty, hard work, integrity and purpose.
I will allow them to choose their paths early in life, by exposing them to books that build their minds and spur them to ask questions about life.
Not books, touted as holy and divinely inspired, but only stifle the questions and imaginations of humanity.
Such children will grow to be wholesome leaders, who don’t need to consider if their closest work allies are their church members or attend Islammiya with them, before giving them an appointment. They will hire based on merit and competence. Such children’s decisions will be informed and not beclouded, by bigotry and extremism.
Which is why three years ago, when the gubernatorial hopeful of Benue, Emmanuel Jime, hosted Benue lawyers to a luncheon, during the NBA National Conference, and yours truly was called in following the pattern of prayers to give the closing prayer, I opted for the 2nd stanza of the National Anthem, to the consternation of the host and everyone else. I recited it with a straight face and a few people quickly snapped out of their shock and recited along with me.
If we must recite any prayer publicly, that should be it as it is a reminder of the fact that we owe this country, ourselves and the generations yet unborn, a duty to do our bit to keep it one entity by doing the right thing.
You cannot absolve yourself of guilt and only blame those at the reins of authority. We all have failed this country one way or another as she has also failed us.
Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause
Guide our leaders right
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace and justice reigns.
Ms Adzuanaga, a legal practitioner, writes from Abuja