Jun 15, 2013

The Place of Traditionalists and Animist in the Nigerian Nation

Picture Source Urban Intellectuals
The Lagos State Government recently placed a limitation on the use of Hijab by students in public schools in the state.  Critical comments by some members of the society followed the decision. One critic was heard saying that Islam never said that the Hijab should be worn only at certain moments but all the time as long as the individual is outdoor.

A lot of Nigerians feel the Lagos State Government should not be seen to have done anything wrong. Rather the government of that state should have been commended for allowing some sort of usage of the veil. The Nigerian constitution says that the country shall be multi-religious but that it shall not use its resources to help the growth and development of any of the religions. From common sense, it could be seen that the law was designed to avoid friction that may arise from perceived discrimination where some religions could be unjustly treated.

The enormity of constitutional abuses in Nigeria has reached a dimension where people claim rights in situations where their actions are apparently in violation of the laws. The unending episodes of people claiming rights to constitutional violation have, over the decades, been encouraged by the actions or inaction of the different tiers of government itself. For instance, it is in public schools that Christian and Islamic Religious studies are taught using government school buildings, teachers and other academic resources. The situation is even worse in the north where Islamic Religious Studies is taught exclusively.

In any school where any single religion is taught, the laws of the land are infringed upon and the rights of other Nigerians are also violated. It should be a cause for grave concern if we understand why such laws were enshrined into the statute by our founding fathers.
The ease with which the government has continued to encourage violations of the law could been seen also in recent events within the country with the establishment of Islamic schools in the northern parts of the country in a bid to impose a limitation to the Almajiri problem that has become a nagging source of embarrassment and a huge security threat to the nation. Some argue that should ordinary Nigerians or even the other religions go to court, they will have a good case.

The Nigerian Television Authority and state government televisions corporations across the country, also public properties, have been used to support Islam and Christianity through sermons that are aired on Fridays and Sundays for Islam and Christianity respectively. There is the need to distinguish between paid religious programs like those from churches like the Chris Embassy, Redeemed Christian Church of God and many other similar ones who pay to have their programs aired and the others, particularly the orthodox churches whose programs are usually aired without them paying a dime. This implies that the government is paying for such programs. Along that line, animist, the new generation churches and traditional religious groups are cheated.

For as long as one can remember, the use of public resources to send Christian and Muslim pilgrims to holy lands to perform religious obligations has been a tradition in the country. Politicians use this as a means of rewarding their relations or supporters whose ballots ensured they won elections. The use of public finances to send people to pilgrimage has even demonstrated what the founding fathers feared, which is that it will create room for easy discrimination to the ‘weaker’ religions. All one needs to qualify for sponsorship to the holy land is intimacy, in one way or the other, to a powerful member of the incumbent administration in your state.

It has been difficult to get clergymen, who together with their followers have been the beneficiaries of the unconstitutional tradition, to comment on the issue. All they do is to circumvent the issue and then drag you to other irrelevant issues.
The government has also encouraged claims of rights to constitutional breaches through their attitude of building chapels and mosques in government houses across the nation. In the predominantly Moslem north, state resources are used to, solely, build mosques. The reverse is true in the predominantly Christian south of the country where state resources are used to build chapels to the detriment of other religions.

Nigerian constitution is not against any religion. The freedom of religion implies that religious groups can use their own resources to build religious institutions for their followers.

There is no doubt that the ugly trend was encouraged by the long decades of military in the corridors of power. It was easy for them to do these things since they ruled by decrees and the gun. The suppression of the views of the people was the reason why some people fought and died, asking for democracy. If democracy will encourage rather than discourage these constitutional infringements, then democracy is yet to start in Nigeria.

There is the need for our leaders to look around the world to see how democracies are growing. Democracies do not begin and end with elections and swearing-ins of electoral beaters. This is rather the beginning. There is also the need for our leaders to understand that sustaining democracy is not a bed of roses but courageous undertakings that involve sacrifice. 

Our leaders can score a democratic point by directing that all chapels and mosques in government houses be demolished and that the teaching of all religious subjects in public schools, primary and secondary, should end.

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