True religion | Opinion

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Updated: March 9, 2021


By Joseph Olaoluwa


“Religion is what works for you and what you choose to believe.” – Anonymous

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I have a love interest. For a well ordered person like me, choosing a second half has to be almost perfect. As much as most people believe nothing or no one is perfect; I beg to differ. If I can strive to be a hardworking Nigerian youth, possess good manners, be blunt and honest to a fault; add a bit of humour in it, I think I meet the perfect quintessential Nigeria stereotypical husband material fit. In a world where searching for a perfect fit can be hard. I know someone will be rolling their eyes here- boys kiss frogs too before meeting the right one. It is not only the ladies. So I met her, my love interest. You don’t need to keep testing several bulbs if you know what you are looking for.

In my own case, the first date was all that it needed to know I have arrived my final bus-stop. In between those years of combining a successful career run plus failed relationships, I knew that I wanted to look no further. Since I was just two years ahead in all things and working class, I knew all I need do was to wait for her. But there was a big problem in all of these; she is a very liberal Muslim and me, a very conservative Christian. That difference alone was the beginning of the end of a very beautiful relationship. In all of our meetings, religion has been an underlying comma to the perfect togetherness we had both envisaged. Not that we don’t get along- but what happens when we tell our families? The obvious is the answer. They will kick against a Muslim-Christian marriage ticket. For two mature individuals, it wasn’t a matter of tribe but religion. A very important factor for Africans, and specifically Nigerians.

In a hurried trip that took me to Lagos, this month, I watched how six people went back and forth over religion. You know what is worse: they were all Christians, so it was not a Muslim, Traditional and Christianity thing. I make bold to reiterate they were Christians. So you might want to ask what the argument was all about. Apparently, we had two members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in our vehicle. Coincidentally, the three of them sat together, along the same aisle. The first man, a Deeper Life member, the woman, a missionary with RCCG, while the man was a pastor with RCCG as well. They were arguing with the woman in the front about her faith as an ecclesiological adherent, “eclist” for short. I haven’t heard that word before- but they said there is a sort of Christianity called Encarta Christians (Members of the Christian Church, according to Wikipedia) and they are sort of a cult than Christians. The lady said she was an initiate for three years but left because the church wasn’t working for her. She was proud to say her dad passed on as a senior initiate and he was no cult member since the generality of other Christians despise them.

She said her Dad was a higher initiate, an equivalent of a Pastor in any modern church and they had their own ways and bible. That was enough for the Deeper life member, the RCCG Pastor alongside the missionary to poke holes in her argument. What the trio established in their own side of the argument is anyone that doesn’t follow the biblical dictates is a sinner, or better still, an idol worshipper. The basis relies on the fact that if you ascribe more importance to any person or material object above God, you are an idolater, in simple terms. So for the lady whom they attempted to convert to the true religion, they made it known to her that the three years she spent following her Dad was sinful and wrong by biblical standards. The Lady took a long time before she conceded; it was an argument that was funny, sad and dramatic. It was also filled with lots of biblical exegesis. That was when this quote above came to mind: “Religion is what works for you and what you choose to believe.” So the lady closer to me at the back of bus began to air her thoughts, noticing my decision to quietly observe the heated proceedings on-going in the bus. She said the problem with Nigerians is not tribal per se, it is religion.

For the trio that chose to engage the former Encarta initiate, they felt RCCG was the best church ever. In the bus, the Pastor there said he made a decision to convert from Catholicism to join Redeem. If it is the same God we all claim to serve, why do we have several Christian ideologies? In the Christian faith, we have the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the CACs, the Pentecostal which is subdivided into: RCCG, Mountain of Fire, Covenant Christian Centre, Daystar, Foursquare, Deeper Life, Winners; White garment churches, Evangelical Church Winning All, Mountain of Fire and Miracles, Christ Embassy, The Synagogue Church Of All Nations, The CommonWealth Of Zion Assembly (COZA), the Aladura Church, Baptist, Seven Day Adventist and the list is endless. The sad part is that we are all following different doctrines and hate each other very much. For the Islamic sect, they have their obvious factions too.

According to Wikipedia, here is a little Intel on the Muslim factions:

The vast majority of Muslims in Nigeria are Sunni, belonging to Maliki school of jurisprudence; however, a sizeable minority also belongs to Shafi madhhab. A large number of Sunni Muslims are members of Sufi brotherhoods. Most Sufis follow the Qadiriyya, Tijaniyyah or Mouride movement. A significant Shia minority exists. Some northern states have incorporated Sharia law into their previously secular legal systems, which has brought about some controversy. Kano State has sought to incorporate Sharia law into its constitution. The majority of Quranists follow the Kalo Kato or Quraniyyun movement. There are also Ahmadiyya and Mahdiyya minorities.

Nevertheless, a 2001 report from The World Factbook by CIA, says about 50% of Nigeria’s population is Muslim, 40% are Christians and 10% adhere to local religions. But in a recent report, the Christian population is now slightly lesser than the Muslim population. An 18 December 2012 report on religion and public life by the Pew Research Center stated that in 2010, 48.3 percent of Nigeria’s population was Christian, 48.9 percent was Muslim, and 2.8 percent were followers of indigenous and other religions, or unaffiliated. Additionally, the 2010s census of Association of Religion Data Archives has reported that 47.5 percent of the total population is Christian, slightly bigger than the Muslim population of 45.5 percent, and that 7.0 percent are members of other religious groups.

Of the three religions we have in Nigeria, namely: Christianity, Islam and traditional African religion, the popular of the trio is between Christianity and Islam. Christianity is one of the three main religions in Nigeria and Nigeria has the Largest Christian population in Africa. According to a recent report conducted in 2011, 51.6% or more than half of Nigerians are Christians. Among Christians, 24.8% are Catholic, 74.1% are Protestant, 0.9% belong to other Christian denominations and a few of them are Orthodox Christians. The ecclesiastical provinces of the Church of Nigeria are: Lagos, Ibadan, Ondo, Bendel, The Niger, Niger Delta, Owerri, Abuja, Kaduna and Jos. Its primate is Nicholas Okoh. The Church of Nigeria has about 17 million members while the Nigerian Baptist Convention has about three million baptized members.

Christianity has evolved in recent times with the rise of new generational churches; however Islam in Nigeria has witnessed a rise in the numbers of Islamic extremism notably among them, the Boko Haram, Maitatsine, Darul Islam among others. These sects have sometimes resorted to the use of violence in a bid to realizing their ambitions on the wider Islamic and Nigerian populations as a whole.

The rise of these radical movements has been attributed partly to the poor socio economic infrastructures and poor governance in Nigeria. Poverty has been seen as the major catalyst leading to the rapid increase in the membership of these religious extremist groups. The rise of these sects has also been linked to the increase and aiding of religious extremist by politicians for their selfish ambitions.

In the 1980s, serious outbreaks between Christians and Muslims occurred in Kafanchan in southern Kaduna State in a border area between the two religions, propagated by extreme leaders who were able to rally young, educated group of individuals who feared that the nation would not be able to protect their religious group. The leaders were able to polarize their followers through speeches and public demonstrations.

The activities of some of these sects has in recent times led to the loss of lives and properties as they move about destroying government facilities which they see as legacies or replica of western cultures in their various communities. These religious campaigns have seen an increase in gun battles between the members of these sects and security forces with loss of lives witnessed on both sides. Although direct conflicts between Christians and Muslims were rare, tensions did flare between the two groups as each group radicalised.

There were clashes in October 1982 when Muslim zealots in Kano were able to enforce their power in order to keep the Anglican House Church from expanding its size and power base as they saw it as a threat to the nearby Mosque, even though the Anglican House Church had been there forty years prior to the building of the Mosque. Additionally, there were two student groups in Nigeria who came into contestation, the Fellowship of Christian Students and the Muslim Student Society. In one instance there was an evangelical campaign organised by the FCS and brought into question why one sect should dominate the campus of the Kafanchan College of education. This quarrel accelerated to the point where the Muslim students organised protests around the city and culminated in the burning of a Mosque at the college. The Christian majority at the college retaliated on March 9 when twelve people died and several Mosques were burnt and a climate of fear brewed. The retaliation was pre-planned.

These radical Muslims were inspired by Alhaji Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine. He was a Cameroon preacher who slated the government, something which led to his arrest in Nigeria in 1975, yet by 1972 many people followed him across society, ranging from the elite to Koranic students called almajiral or gardawa and unemployed migrants. Maitatsine and his followers became separate from orthodox Islam, condemning the corruption of the religious and secular elites and the wealthy upper classes’ consumption of Western goods during the petrol boom in 1974-81. The Boko Haram movement has been connected to the Maitatsine movement. They want to implement sharia law across the whole of Nigeria.

You may or may not agree, but religion is the cause of Nigeria’s major problem. As far as this history dug out from Wikipedia goes, Muslims and Christians cannot see eye to eye. For Christians who worship the same God, it is now a matter of converting from one church to the other. This could be where the Muslims irrespective of their ideology could be said to be in one harmony. If you are dressed in appropriate apparel, you will be allowed to enter any mosque and worship. Ironically, the Koran happens to confirm many Christian truths. Sadly, both Muslims and Christians alike don’t believe that they worship the same God.

As far as politics can go, even in the numerous attacks by Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen, Leah Sharibu’s prolonged kidnap and even the mouth-watering seat of Presidency and elections generally in Nigeria, religion plays a vital role in the polity. It is either manipulated by politicians to cause a division or some sect just decide to go on a deliberate killing spree like we have seen here on the Plateau, as the root of herders-farmers conflict, a road kill where Christians and Muslims are separated for execution or the after effect- a mix-match of burnt churches and mosques.

We need to understand something. We are a people; we are humans before anything else. Before our religions, tribes, political ideologies, cultures and traditions. This way, we can respect human life and our beliefs. To be frank, we were practising the traditional African religion before Christianity came to our shores in the 14TH Century, same thing goes for Islam. They are both borrowed religions that were dished out to us. Sadly we copy models from other countries without even placing limits! We could have managed this religion thing well and maybe discarded it after our colonial rule. I make bold to reiterate that Sango, Amadioha and the millions of lesser gods were all we had before now.

For my love interest, it could be impossible for us to be together. I can’t continue to count how many Nigerians had to elope with their lovers, defy their families or end key relationships because of the diversities in religion and faith based circumstances. Look at other countries, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, USA, Morocco, Libya, Liberia and the endless list. They are blessed to be in a country that has the same religious belief as a whole country unlike Nigeria that is ethnically, religiously and ideologically diverse. The Saudi Arabians are predominantly Muslims, same for all Northern African Countries like Tunisia and Egypt. The United States are majorly Christians, this helps to curtail unnecessary clashes that could bring about insecurity and forestall unity. This would have been a much accepted scenario, personally.

Howbeit, as a country, Nigeria is indeed diverse. Diverse in ideology, politics, ethnicity, language, religion and the way we live. True religion for a diverse country like ours should be peace, love, tolerance and peaceful co-existence. It is the breakdown of barriers and the re-integration of cultures, traditions and religions. Not ethnic cleansing; some self-centered decision to kill a certain sect of people or wipe them off the earth as sport, or casualties in a civil war just because your faith do not match with theirs. True religion is what works for you and being civil about it, in love, harmony, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence for better society.

But the big question is, we will ever get there?

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