Amidst the grief and outrage sweeping the land in the aftermath of Boko Haram’s latest acts of Satanism — Abubakar Shekau and his fellow psychopaths are disciples of Satan — I crave the indulgence of the reader to allow me a moment to ask the simple question: How did we get here? How did we become a nation that murders at midnight sleeping schoolchildren and burns down their hostels, as happened at Federal Government College, BuniYadi? How was it possible, less than two months after, for 300 girls of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, to be abducted from their beds and their school razed to the ground, and for them, save the lucky few who escaped, to remain in captivity 20 days after? How did we get to the point of assassinating individuals; bombing buildings, churches, mosques and motor parks; burning down whole towns and villages while looting and raping, yet doing so in the name of God?
The answer, to borrow a refrain from the musician, Bob Dylan, “is blowing in the wind.” It is also to be found in a little but trenchant book written 27 years ago by the late Dr Yusufu Bala Usman: the manipulation of religion in Nigeria. His focus was the decade of 1977-87, spanning the bitter Shari’a law debates at the Constituent Assembly and the first Maitatsine riots but his observations are as valid today. Our power elite, he found, use false piety as a cover for morbid self-interest, a cheap means of gaining political leverage over opponents in the fierce struggle for power. As he put it, they do so to “cover themselves with religious and ethnic disguises in order to further entrench division among our people (and) slow down their awakening at any cost.” Because the religious manipulator cannot afford to “appear as what he really is in the political economy of Nigeria,” he must “find a cover. He cannot claim political leadership openly on the grounds that he is, or wants to be, an exporter-importer, a contractor (etcetera) . . . he has to take cover as a Muslim or Christian.”
And once false piety has been turned into a political tool, the public space ceases to be the arena of persuasion, of civilised discourse. Colonialism offers us the prime example: the coloniser had to impose his god as the only God so he could gain undue political advantage by first conquering the heart and mind of the colonised. Which then extends the political battle to the cultural terrain, making a retreat to sanity very difficult. The one safeguard is the separation of state (politics) and religion, as in Section 10 of the 1999 constitution, its countless faults notwithstanding. But our so-called leaders destroy its true intent and meaning by a noisome display of sanctimoniousness while giving daily proof of their dubiousness through the yawning gulf between their words and their actions. They steal, and lie, and rig elections, and pervert justice, and indulge in all manner of debauchery without remorse. Why, a governor even went as far as claiming that God rigs elections for his chosen candidates!
And once we have made God in our image, turned him into an election-rigger, treasury-looter, murderer, arsonist, rapist, etc., we give a licence for any fraudster to proclaim himself God’s anointed prophet or avenging angel. Ironically enough, this can even serve a perversely plausible cause — democratising the religio-political playing field! Take for instance the recent news report about a Satanist group in the United States getting ready to install on the lawn of the Oklahoma State Capitol a bronze statue of Baphomet being adored by two exultant children. They want it “directly next to a highly controversial monument of the ten commandments that was donated by a state legislator and subsequently placed on the grounds of the Capitol.”
According to their spokesman, one Lucian Greaves, the statue is meant as a symbol to “celebrate our progress as a pluralistic nation founded on secular law.” But his group, he says, would not “petition to have the statue installed should the ten commandments monument be removed,” adding that there is no “shortage of public locations across the US where religious monuments await a contrasting voice.” (See “Satanic group reveals crowdfunded monument for Oklahoma State Capitol, The Verge, 3 May 2014, http://www.theverge.com/2014/5/3/5678782/satanic-group-reveals-crowdfunded-monument-for-oklahoma-state-capitol).
Evidently, this is a protest action, whatever the actual belief of the group might be. Still, it points to the slippery slope of religious anarchy that non-strict adherence to secularity in a plural society presents. That is how we got to our current troubling state of pre-Armageddon. We must beat a quick retreat to the fortress of sanity: secularity in word and deed. And so I propose to the 492 wise men and women at Jonathan’s National Conference who will save Nigeria the addition of a subsection to Section 10 so the whole reads as follows: (1) “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion. (2) In the performance of his- or her duties, a public officer shall not expend public funds, act or conduct him- or herself in a manner that may be reasonably construed as promoting or favouring a religion, religious belief, faith or practice.
We must return to the quiet and peaceable practice of our individual faiths and beliefs. No debate about this if we must be one nation. But this is only one aspect of the dangerous phenomenon of religion-driven terrorism of which Islamic fundamentalism is the most widespread and for that reason alone the most dangerous, though we mustn’t forget about the unspeakable terrors that Christian fundamentalism has visited on the people of Uganda. This will be my starting point in my next column that would also address the socio-economic dimension of religious terrorism.