It is not in doubt that Nigerians are very religious. Religion is very sacred and central to the existence of most Nigerians irrespective of social class or status.
Nigerians hold their religion very dear and a negative allusion to any religion, either deliberate or in error, is a sure recipe for discord or even violent reaction and can snap the already fragile fibre that still holds the country as one.
The edifices of churches and mosques that litter our streets and neighbourhoods bear testament to this fact. The blaring prayers that emanate from churches and mosques, along with the ecstatic religious gatherings you see everywhere, are clear indicators of the value Nigerians place on religion.
In fact, religion has been a tool for the growth and development of society. History has it that the early Christian missionaries did not just preach the gospel of Christ, but also brought about what is (was) regarded as the ‘social gospel’. The movement sought to apply Christian ethics to social problems.
Although, the movement generated some controversies in Christendom, the movement recorded some successes. They fed the hungry, tackled unemployment, clothed the poor, and tended to the needy. They brought education to rural communities and provided medical services for disease-ravaged areas. The recipients were better for it; they received both the gospel of Christ and better living conditions.
However, we live in different times. As the number of churches and mosques increases almost on a daily basis, and in a most unprecedented manner, one would expect a corresponding decline in crime and corruption, greater progress in the welfare of the people, and advancement in society generally.
Evidently, the tenets of integrity, hard work, fairness, justice, and respect for authority are values espoused by both Christianity and Islam, the two major religions in Nigeria. Ironically, the above mentioned values are on a great decline in our society as there seem to be a direct correlation in the increase in religious activities and the increase in crime, corruption and poverty.
Why is there so much religiosity yet so much corruption? So much piety yet so little progress and prosperity? Why do light and darkness seem to be so compatible in our society?
From the foregoing, it appears that many Nigerians are religious without being righteous. We observe all the prayers, fastings and attendance of services, but do not reflect the true teachings of our religions in our day-to-day interaction with our fellow citizen. We compartmentalise our lives such that, what is taught in our churches or mosques stay there!
A case in point is the story published recently in a national newspaper of a female police officer said to have attended a church service at a very popular Pentecostal church at the University of Lagos. According to the writer of the story, a demand was made by the security personnel at the university gate for the disc, usually handed to motor vehicle owners upon their entrance into the institution premises. It is a standard practice at UNILAG that the disc be returned upon the exit of the vehicle owner from the premises. The female police officer did not only refuse to return the disc, but hurled insults at everyone who appealed to her to do so including the deputy registrar of the institution. She revealed that she was a police officer and promised to ‘deal with them!’
What I found interesting about the story was the fact that the police officer had just attended a church service! Praying in one breath and cursing in another! She is not alone in this conduct. Apparently, the conduct of the police officer is at complete variance with biblical injunctions which talk about submission to constituted authority. Her conduct is not peculiar or unheard of; it actually is a reflection of the current state of affairs of the larger society.
The man who gives the bribe, the man who receives it, the one who diverts public funds for personal use, the one who inflates the prices in government contracts, these people are not ghosts, but our “fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord”! Many of them even occupy high positions in churches and mosques because of their ability to donate heavily towards building structures for religious bodies.
Furthermore, the inane worship of wealth and material possession in the society has eroded the values of hard work, integrity, forthrightness and delayed gratification. The manner in which corrupt politicians and businessmen are idolised by religious leaders is shameful. It sends a clear message to society, on the thing that is of most value in the society, wealth. Whichever way it is got is irrelevant.
Nigerians seem to wallow in wilful amnesia as regards God’s incompatibility with sin. We mention God’s name all the time and pray for His help even in the process of committing heinous crimes. The politician who seeks to alter the votes in his favour, asks for God’s blessings. The band of robbers before it carries out its operations, says the Lord’s prayers.
Perhaps, we need more fiery clerics, more of the ‘wages of sin is death’ sermons. We need preachers that would speak it, as it is, pointedly and directly! Religious leaders, who would not be swayed by “hefty donations” from their members, whilst turning a blind eye to their atrocities!
Ironically, though instructively too, societies that are not half as religious as we are, seem to make more progress and advancement in all spheres of human endeavour while we struggle to get things right. These societies notwithstanding their seeming apathy to religion, have built strong institutions over time, and have integrated the values of fairness and accountability into the system.
Really, it is not enough to be a church-going, “Bible welding” Christian nor is it enough to be a Muslim who prays five times a day! It is not enough to host large religious conferences, and proclaim a fast. Nigerians need to step up; we need to stop fighting God’s battles and start fighting ours. If our religion is to affect our society for good, we must translate religion into righteous living.