Of God, Human and Ethics: The Church and Islam in Nigeria, By Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo

Nigerians seem not to have missed a nauseating coincidence a while ago during the first round of the transportation of Muslim faithful to Mecca for the 2012 holy pilgrimage to the holy land. While on one hand, some Nigerian female Muslims were being harassed and deported from Mecca, on the other hand two catholic churches in Ibusa, Delta state were embroiled in an alleged receipt of stolen money from Mr. Francis Atuche.

I must make a public disclosure in my moral reflections on these two coincidences. I am Christian and I am Catholic. Therefore, I am interested.  But beyond this, as a very conscious Nigerian, my interest in my country of origin takes over. Hence, I reflect as a Christian Catholic and as a Nigerian.

To call the serial deportation of our women from the holy land a national disgrace to all of us Nigerians is to put things mildly.  And to call the reason for such deportation morally dubious is to struggle to be nice about it. Borrowing from the feminist argument that the private is public and therefore political, in matters like these, one becomes very personal for the personal becomes public and social. That personal is my everyday family dialogue with our children in the Diaspora.

As  proud Diaspora Nigerians, my wife and I pass on our heritage to our children for as the African Yoruba fragment argues, “whichever river forgets his or her source dries up”. We hold it dear that our heritage is honourable, hence we pass this on. You can then imagine  our sense of helplessness when our children asked us why our women, our mothers, our wives  are being deported  from Mecca and why  this should  happen.

Thus, the difficult questions in the Mecca mess are: should we in the name of “God”   and a pilgrimage morally violate ourselves, our women, our dear country, our innocent children who we socialize constantly to think and love Nigeria but whose deep intellect disposes them to ask we elders critical questions about what we tell them when they see a  moral contradiction and paradox?

As I was scrambling to provide  answers to  my children without hiding anything from them on the deportation of our  pilgrim mothers  from Mecca, I was hit by the alleged theft of Mr. Francis Atuche.  With  the  Mecca mess and Mr. Atuche’s Catholic case  I was badly harassed within the same week  by my dear country.

Given the dizzy  nature of news in Nigeria, hence for those who might have forgotten the Mr. Atuche’s case, I will give a very brief re-cap. Mr. Atuche is a Christian Catholic like me. I do not know him, but looking at his photograph, I believe he is a family man, a parent like me.  Given that in the Catholic Church and Christian faith generally, we have the moral obligation to live a family life I have good reasons to believe that Mr. Francis  Atuche  has a wife and children.  Therefore he talks with them.

Mr. Atuche is alleged to have donated  45 million naira to two Catholic Churches. He allegedly distributed the money this way. To St Monica Catholic Church in Ibusa, Delta state he allegedly gave 35 million naira, and to  St Augustine Ibusa, Delta state he allegedly gave 10 million naira.

I recall that some of us who read my previous moral reflections  in two letters to Nigerian Christian Pastors and my objection to the gift of a contractor-friend of Mr. president  to  President Jonathan’s Otuoke Church gift were disturbed that I brought our venerable Pastors and  Christian faith to the public square.

I had thought about those letters, and my  objection to the Otuoke Church   gift and I still stand by them for I think we owe our children (even if we do not owe ourselves such moral obligation) the moral obligation to say the truth and nothing but the truth. We owe these children the moral obligation never to be selective with truth and facts. Hence, in this, and for the sake of our Nigerian children we are justified in “disturbing” the “faithful” if we did.

 A Catholic like myself, Mr. Francis Atuche  was a former MD of Bank of PHB, Nigeria.  He is alleged to have dipped his hands into the money of depositors of Bank of PHB, and given same as tithe to the Catholic Church. I live in America, and  in spite of the numerous unpardonable sins of our church,  I am aware of the faith teachings of our church and its religious obligations to the needy and the most neglected of our society.  The Catholic Church holds this obligation dear, and does this religiously. However, as Catholics we are the first to acknowledge our unpardonable sins and errors –both historically and in contemporary times.  In spite of these challenges, our faith remains intact and undiluted because it is divine and not of human.

In view of this  and Mr. Francis Atuche’s theft of depositors’ money, the faith question is: Is there anytime we are obliged by our faith  to raid public money, public treasury in the name of “God”? If and when we do this, do we look our children in the face when we are returning from the raid we have just conducted on public treasury and money? If our children see us as we carry the public loot  in our business bags, posh SUV cars,  under our agbada, babanriga, and suits, underneath our caps, and ask “dad what is in there bulging underneath?” what do we tell these children?

What did Mr. Francis Atuche tell his children as he and his wife and children danced   towards the altar praising “God” to “show appreciation about what God has done in his life” by presenting 45 million naira to the priests of St Monica and Augustine Catholic Churches in Ibusa, Delta state?

When I read about Mr. Francis Atuche’s theft, I went back to the bible. I read  Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 : 42-47. This chapter does not talk about stealing. It talks about Christians sharing a communal life. It says ”they(the apostles, disciples and faithful) devoted  themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and prayers…all who believed  were together  and had all things in common, they would sell their property and possessions  and divide them  among all  according to each one’s needs…” Herein lies the source of our faith and  our social teachings, herein lies the faith obligation of the Catholic Church. We are  called,  and in being called, we are called to share,  but nowhere in the bible are we called to steal-either private or public money. We are called to share what God gave us including our talents, we are NOT called to be thieves in the vineyard of God. Though innocent until found guilty, but if found guilty, Mr. Atuche becomes a  sickening thief.

Mr. Francis Atuche, the priests of St Monica and St Augustine Catholic Churches in Ibusa, Delta state if found guilty,  have violated the very foundations of  religious life. They must be tried, and if found guilty they must be jailed. They have violated our moral perceptual space, and for this we  morally recoil, and morally  turn away quietly. We have the religious and ethical obligation to turn our backs on them.

Adeolu Ademoyo (aaa54@cornell.edu), is Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

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