“You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry to me, I will surely listen to their cry. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you must not act like a money lender; you must not demand interest from him.” (Exodus 22: 20-23, 24,) and “You shall not deny one of your needy fellow men his rights in his law suit. You shall keep away from anything dishonest. The innocent and the just you shall not put to death nor shall you acquit the guilty . Never take a bribe for a bribe blinds even the most clear-sighted and twists the words even of the just. you shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23: 6-9).
The Christian Lent season is a period of complete spiritual and bodily retreat in total submission to the will of God in order to be in complete and total unity with our creator. On this journey, we exhibit quiet charism of unity with our creator. As mortals, we struggle during this period. Sometimes we fail to reach that total spiritual unity, sometimes we succeed. Our failures and successes during this period point to the essence of our mortality, our fragility as humans. That act of spiritual surrender, which our faith requires, took me to the scriptures. One dawn, last week as the day rose reluctantly with heavy grunts for the mortality of the body is beginning to assume and show its weakness and fragility, a voice took me to the scriptures, one of my family’s daily catholic prayer texts. I hurried. I opened. I flipped. I read. There, I saw graphically a representation of the national and social questions in human societies, which profess faith and spirituality. The quote above is what I saw. I decide to share it with fellow Nigerians for we claim to profess faith and spirituality. But at the end regardless of what we profess, we must ask ourselves (including myself) candid questions about our faith and spirituality.
Reading the scriptures, I started wondering how we humans create and ascribe values and esteem to words such as Christian, Muslim, Òrìṣà, Yorùbá, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Ibibio, Edo, Ijaw, Jew, Chinese, Indian, American, black race, white race, Asian race etc when God says all humans are one and indistinctive in values, personhood, and dignity before HIM. I also ask myself whether those words we have created to represent and practise exclusive and pre-stone age jingoist and chauvinistic ethics in Nigeria have any content or meaningful substance. In my meditations, I could no longer see the qualitative difference between myself and fellow Nigerians, fellow humans who superficially belong to a “different” ethnic group and who profess “different” faiths, which we represent differently and ascribe, values to –perhaps because of our mortality. This is because if there is one God, it must be our mortality that disposes us to worship HIM differently and freeze that mode while making it exclusive to ourselves alone. We surely can do better as peoples of faith.
With these biblical scriptures, I started meditating on the challenges of citizenship in my dear country, Nigeria and how we are straining our country through crude and pre-stone age ethnic and religious bigotry. As revealed by our God, I could see and read how the scriptures go against the crudities of the ethnic jingoists and religious bigots amongst us. The scriptures say “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” This represents the portability and ever changing nature of residency and citizenship in modern world. Why? This is because -for any human and on this reading which even the scriptures are testimonies of-yesterday you, the “alien”, the “resident” were welcomed and tomorrow, you, the one who was welcomed yesterday is welcoming “others” today, and will welcome “others” tomorrow as citizens. It is called global citizenship where you port your residency and citizenship; where you are welcome today while you also welcome “others” who(figuratively speaking) arrive after you tomorrow. It would seem therefore that the bible and the scriptures provide spiritual and faith backing and support to the quest by those patriots, decent women and men -who gathered in Abuja last week- for a more modern and just account of residency, and citizenship in our dear country Nigeria. Here, I refer to the recently concluded National Dialogue on Citizenship jointly organized by National Human Rights Commission, Open Society of West Africa and PREMIUM TIMES. Their quest for modern citizenship in Nigeria has strong faith and spiritual backing because their quest is the just and ethical thing to do.
But I do not know if Christians who espouse ethnic and religious jingoism and bigotry read this section of the Bible which is the ultimate faith and spiritual representation of the global inclusive ethics which deep spirituality and faith in God enjoins us to uphold. Also, I do not know if Muslims who are religious and ethnic bigots and if the visible and invisible sponsors and supporters (among our elites) of the walking evil and death machines called Boko Haram and Ansaru (masquerading as Muslims under Islam) are aware of these words of God.
Then my meditation sent me back to my childhood roots in Àláfíà street Mọ́kọ́lá, Ìbàdàn, western Nigeria and to my dear parents at whose feet(like any other human) I grew up watching and knowing the spiritual meaning of the Christian Lent. Less than a kilometer away from our own Àláfíà street are the following streets and communities-Àgọ́ Ebira-mostly populated by Nigerians of Ebira cultural extraction from Kwara and Kogi states, Àgọ́ Tapa-mostly populated by Nigerian citizens of Tapa cultural extraction from Niger state, Àgọ́ Ìlọrin-mostly populated by Nigerians from the city of Ilorin. My bible reminds me of the global and inclusive nature of my and our parents’ 1950’s Mọ́kọ́lá, Ìbàdàn, western Nigeria where Muslims, Christians, Yorùbás, Ebiras, Tapas, Ìlọrins, Hausas, Fulanis, Igbos, Edos, Ijaws, Tivs etc mingled and jingled heartily while holding hands to the rhythms of daily living. They laughed with one another, smiled with one another, cried with one another and established families with one another. The Exodus chapter I commit to fellow Nigerians reminds me of Mọ́kọ́lá, Ìbàdàn, western Nigeria in the 50s where every saturday morning as I swept our front yard with our native broom, my dear father would stay out there with the morning newspapers in hand greeting and chatting- with his friends and other passerby and Mọ́kọ́lá residents- in Tapa, Hausa, Fulfulde, Igbo, Ebira languages with native nuance. No one on Mọ́kọ́lá, Ìbàdàn, western Nigeria saw the other crudely as “indigene” or “alien” for they were one. “You shall not oppress a resident alien for remember you were once an alien in the land of Egypt…” so the Bible says. Given what these biblical scriptures say, and given what we do to one another, I wonder at the nature of the faith we profess and if we (including myself) are true Christians, if we are true Muslims.
Also, on the social front, the scriptures enjoin us to solve both the national and social questions. In this regard, the scriptures privilege the weak, the dispossessed, the unemployed, the unemployable, the widow, and the orphan and enjoin us to solve the social problems, the unjust and unethical class structure that creates the dispossessed in our society. And because it is the word of God which is about faith and ethics, the scriptures anticipate and pre-date the EFCC and the ICPC-our presumed fraud and bribery fighters. This is how the bible puts it. In the eyes of God, bribery and corruption blind and corrode for the scriptures say “… Nor shall you acquit the guilty…Never take a bribe for a bribe blinds even the most clear sighted and twists the words even of the just…” In the eyes of God, our creator bribery and corruption therefore lead to the physical and moral death of societies. The society dies dead morally when we acquit the guilty, the corrupt, the bribery merchants, the money launderers even if they are “kingly” “queenly” “princes”, “princesses” Mr. President’s men and women of yesterday and of today. Based on what the bible says we must question some of the Christian and Muslim leadership in our country who through their acts of omission and commission support corruption in the land.
In view of this, in total submission to the will of God and in eternal union with our creator, during this Christian Lent season, one must ask what kind of faith and spirituality Nigerian ruling political and economic elites of Christian and Muslim faith profess. Are they true Christians? Are they true Muslims?
As we continue our faith journey during this Christian Lent season, let us not forget the spirituality and faith meaning of the ash of ash Wednesday, but let us remain steadfast and hopeful while acknowledging our deep mortality in profound and total reverence to God, our creator from whom we came and to whom we shall return
Adéolú Adémoyọ̀ (email@example.com) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.