By: Kenneth Kaunda Adamu
Elsewhere in the world, religion is the bastion of peace. It is a unifying factor. It comforts where there are wailings. It shelters the homeless, regardless of tribe or political affiliations. Through it, humanity seeks the face of God Almighty and rediscovers the essence of communalism which is Biblically expressed in the dictum of being your brother’s keeper or loving your neighbor like yourself.
Outwardly, Nigerians are very religious, no doubt. They are also very passionate about religion. The easiest way to swindle Nigerians is to rent a cubicle and anoint yourself a Bishop, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet (ess) or a cleric of any hue, endowed with powers to perform miracles. Nigerians besiege you in droves, daily seeking favours (not necessarily salvation) of all kinds.
But in morality and conduct, whether in private homes, worship centers, offices or public places, Nigerians display a confounding aversion to all the ideals of religiosity. But a more disturbing dimension has been added to the fake religious bigotry of Nigerians. The freeness some clergy mount the pulpit to preach messages of hate and incitement to congregants is becoming intolerable.
One recollects with a lot of disappointment the message of hate and violence propagated by one Pastor Boson Emmanuel in the build-up of the 2015 general elections, where he unfairly reduced the presidential contest into Muslim/Christian affair and predicted some indefinable agenda by Muslims to hijack the political leadership of Nigeria. These narratives were utterly false then, as they would ever be. Yet, a servant of God claimed it was handed down to him by God Almighty to propagate. God assisted Nigeria to survive it.
But it does obviate the fact that religious tension has always been high in Nigeria. The suspicion between the two official religious sects; Christianity and Islam has over the years refused to dissipate. But fortunately, God has been able to assist Nigerians manage the fragile religious co-habitation.
It means messengers or agents of religion (whether Christian or Muslim) ought to not only know the delicateness of the matter, but should be hypersensitive to the feelings of members of opposite religions when commenting on public matters. That this is often disregarded bespeaks of a moral degeneration on the pulpit.
No Nigerian is in doubt about the dust and bad blood generated by the Southern Kaduna killings. It is still hovering in the air and the ill-feelings are yet to be assuaged or frayed nerves calmed. But some Pastors who have interpreted the unprovoked gruesome killings and acts of arson on innocent Nigerians as perpetrated by suspected Fulani herdsmen, as Jihadism against Christians in Nigeria are calling for reprisals.
Two instances would suffice: News reports credited to Founder and President, Living Faith Church Worldwide ( a.k.a. Winners Chapel International), Bishop Dr. David Oyedepo implored Christians to violently challenge Muslims on the recent killings in Southern Kaduna.
Oyedepo was quoted as saying; “God has anointed me to lead a revolution against the Islamic jihadists,”
The Bishop later recanted the outbursts though its chairman, Editorial and Media Board of the church, Dr. Sheriff Folarin. But his further explanations left Nigerians with the same problem, he was refuting and desperately attempted to exonerate himself.
It’s instructive that Bishop Oyedepo knows “There are too many problems at hand, which require divine intervention. He will not add to the throes and utter such divisive words.”
But what left a sour taste in the mouth is the reality that Bishop Oyedepo did say these sacrilegious words, but not in 2017 as reported. According to him, the reporters lifted excerpts from a 2015 video during a Sunday service at the peak of Boko Haram insurgency when churches, including Winners Chapels were under consistent attacks.
From Oyedepo’s response it can be gleaned that Bishop Oyedepo’s only problem with the utterance is timing, as he confessed to saying such comments in 2015. If the vitriolic comments are adjudged wrong today by his estimation, what made them right yesterday, if one should ask Bishop Oyedepo?
The church he presides over as Bishop belongs to God Almighty or at least, that’s what Nigerians are told. So, what makes Oyedepo feels he can assume the position of God by asking his congregants to take up arms against Muslims, when even the Holy Bible has admonished against such proclivity. Is vengeance not of God anymore?
At another angle in Auchi, Edo state, Apostle Johnson Suleiman, the General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries reacted to the Southern Kaduna killings in similar light. Also in a video, Apostle Suleiman prodded Christians to kill at sight any Fulani herdsman and behead him. With such utterances, one begins to wonder whether these men of God really worship God Almighty or they are disguised messengers of Lucifer.
Some unconscionable Muslim clerics too have been found wanting over these hate speeches and inciting statements. The likes of Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky of the Shiites brotherhood or Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and others delight in this unacceptable sermons. It informed the idea of Kaduna state Governor, Mallam Nasir el Rufai’s attempts to regulate religious preaching.
While such despicable utterances are freely bandied to incense members, hardly do the authors pay attention to the dire dangers it poses to breach of national security, in the event opposing members of religious faith act on the strength of such persuasions from the pulpit to unleash violence. Nigeria will end up with a religious war.
Many have contended that the rise of pentacostalism in Nigeria is becoming a problem. In social circles, they are freely touted as business or else why would the founder of a center of worship perceive the church as his personal asset or loss to the extent of calling for war at its destruction?
Freedom of worship is guaranteed for every Nigerian by the 1999 Constitution. But abuse of this liberty is becoming too rampant. These days, it appears the clergy scout for ways to invent problems for the country so that they can organize national prayer sessions. Rarely do they pray for the peace and prosperity of Nigeria. Hardly do they pray God to give Nigerian leaders the foresight and wisdom to lead the country to the Promise Land.
The clergymen and women do not pray for the improvement of the public education sector, because it would amount to decongesting the universities they have built and earn profit through exorbitant tuition fees. It has always been their wish that unemployment rate continues to soar because it’s more lucrative to pray for jobless people and request them to sow monetary seeds. When crisis affect parts of the country and people are displaced into IDPs camps, these mega cleric visits such states under the pretext of evangelism or crusades, but do not feel compelled to visit these camps to condole and sympathize with victims. They remain special guests of Government Houses.
While no one is attempting a judgment on the clerics, it is good for them to view the observations as commentary on their public conduct and change where necessary. Increasingly portraying themselves as some sort of jungle warriors for Christ, instead of replicating Jesus Christ as fishers of men is anti-religious. It is an obligation and a sacred responsibility of all leaders and stakeholders in Nigeria to midwife the process of peace and unity in the country, as against stoking the fire of religious violence.
But if this task is too heavy for them, security agents such as the DSS should henceforth question clerics and indeed, any other Nigerian who markets inflammatory comments capable of breaching national security. Hate speeches and inciting comments used to be the exclusive preserve of politicians during partisan campaigns; but they have migrated into centers of worship and the time to act on the troublemakers and enemies of Nigeria is now.
The federal ministry of Information and the National Orientation Agency have to step up efforts in enlightening and sensitizing the people on the need to promote peace and unity in the country. It should sponsor campaigns to drum it into the ears of every Nigerian the consequences of hate or inciting speeches on the unity of Nigeria, especially from those who grab the religious dais and the prescribed penalties for violators. It must be understood that the national security of Nigeria cannot be compromised by the liberties granted the citizenry who tend to abuse such privileges’.
Adamu K. K writes from Lokoja, Kogi State.