During our undergraduate days we read literature texts from every part of Africa. Two that stayed with me since are Ayei Kwei Armah’s classics on the paradoxes of the African condition. They are “Why Are we So Blest”? and “The Beautiyful Ones Are Not Yet Born.”
I use that condition to explore the paradoxes in Nigeria: why on one hand we are net exporter of religious faith-Christianity and Islam, and on the other hand our rulers are net generators of corruption.
I offer ten reasons to the question: “Why are we so ‘faithful?”
These reasons provide the philosophical frame of the backward and atavistic versions of the dominant Christian and Islamic faiths in Nigeria. Nigerian rulers and their acolytes middle class Christians and Muslims dubiously frame these versions to hoodwink the working people into silence so that they can continue the looting. They use religious faith to checkmate and ambush resistance of the working people to their corruption.
Reason 1: Remove the log in your eyes. This is a common Nigerian response to public scrutiny of rulers. Defenders of the looters of our treasuries even rely on Biblical and Koranic references as justification. But it is a parody because it is only half of the story in the holy books. God does not say, “Remove the log in your eyes and shut up.” The complete and liberating thing is that I should introspect as part of a critical process and, this gives me the moral license to publicly scrutinize the rogues in the corridors of power. Half of a story cannot be the whole story. We must not allow the dubious use of the Bible and Koran to legitimize filth, theft and desecration of our common estate.
Reason 2: We are all sinners. Because we are sinners, therefore we should not criticize. This is part of the opium that has created an alliance between the rogues in power and our Pastors and Imams.
A twisted variant of this frame is the spin put on it that our God does not turn away sinners. So? Leave the looters in power because our God says we must not judge. This frame acknowledges the moral evil of the corrupt but attempts to adroitly cover them up. Question is: if God does not turn away sinners does God allow them to sit on the throne, loot public treasury and destroy God’s people in HIS vineyard? God does not license looters to destroy his own people, it is humans like you and I, the Pastors and Imams that create conditions for the looters to thrive.
Reason 3: Our rulers are chosen by God otherwise they will not be there. So do not criticize them. While these Pastors and Imams conveniently forget that elections are rigged and that God does not rig elections, the Pastors and Imams point to the Bible and Koran for this dubious reason. On their part, the Pastors use Acts 23:5 which says, “Brothers I did not realize he was the high priest. For it is written, ‘You shall not curse a ruler of your people.’ They even twist an open scrutiny of Pastors and Imams to mean questioning God. They turn Pastors and Imams to God to frighten away critics of the unholy alliance between the backward aspect of faith and the rogues in the corridors of power.
But Pastors conveniently forget Jesus’ cleansing task in John 2: 13-16: “Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep and doves, as well as money -changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area with the sheep and oxen and spilled the coins of the money -changers and overturned their tables and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here and stop making my Father’s house a market place.” Here Jesus himself drove the rogues out of our Father’s house.
When Pastors who are in bed with the rogues in power use Acts 23: 5 which deadens the critical capacity of the people to act against corrupt rulers but fail to point to John 2: 13-16 which inspires and justify capacity to resist corrupt rulers based on the Bible, it clearly shows that our Pastors twist the holy book to give a free passage to corrupt rulers and legitimize their own kiss of filthy power.
Reason 4: Faith Insularity. I am a Christian, non-Christians are non-believers. They cannot enter the kingdom of God. I am a Muslim, non-Muslims are kaffirs. Our president is Muslim, you Christians must not criticize him or her. Our president is a Christian, you lose your right as a Muslim to criticize her or him. This is the reason the looters in government need to divide working people.
It is an extremely backward and atavistic version of Christianity and Islam that gives an open check to the treasury to both Christian and Muslim rogues in the corridors of power. Faith is one. The unity of the Christian and Islamic faith is a threat to rogues in the corridors of power. The rogues in the corridors of power do not want the unity of working peoples of all faith.
Reason 5: The loss of the capacity for moral shock. Religious faith is used to deaden our capacity for moral shock. Simply put, we are no longer shocked at the monumental crimes being committed daily against the public treasury by these rulers. An example? What is wrong if our President “simply” asked one of his contractor friends to help him renovate the church in his village? Being beneath standard has become a norm.
Reason 6: It is turn by turn. This is the para-logic in this thinking. It is classic thinking of zonal men oiled and greased with “faith” and filth. Day before yesterday it was the turn of the North, yesterday it was the turn of the Southwest, today by the special grace of God it is the turn of the south –south, and tomorrow it is going to be the turn of….. So? Shut up, shut eyes, do not talk, and do not see, it is “our” turn to empty the treasury. In other words, when it is your turn, empty the treasury too.
Reason 7: Be contented. God gives and God takes away. Here this false thinking boldly and dubiously refuses to separate a state of hopelessness and hope. This is done to hand over the key to the public treasury to the anointed looter.
Reason 7: Cynicism. I am okay and that is all. God has helped me to take care of family and myself even if stench passes and drains through the front of my house. I have property X, Y , Z. And at least my children dey go private schools. Wetin I want again? Thank God for his mercies. What else can I ask from my God? So I am fine and okay. That is the classic Nigerian middle class Christian and Muslim. There is nothing that protects the rogues in power than this kind of twisted religious and social mindset. This is the classic complicity of the Nigerian middle class through a backward version of faith that hands the public treasury over to our ruiners called rulers.
Reason 8: You are only envious and jealous of the wonderful things that God has done for the rogues in power. If you get “there” you will do the same! This is a state of hopelessness framed in faith terms.
Reason 9: It is only God that can change Nigeria. If it is the will of God Nigeria will change. Even Pastors and Imams preach this to give a safe passage to looters. It is opium, which prevents Nigerians from taking their Fate in their hands as commanded by God and blessed by God. The true Christian and Islamic Faiths are clean and against corruption. And they DO NOT condemn us to a state of hopelessness. In fact as true children of God the faiths ask us NEVER to tolerate filth as Jesus himself never tolerated filth and corruption.
Reason 10: Religious Fatalism. What will happen will happen. If God does not will it, X will not be in power. When it is pointed out that X is bringing down the nation by X’s corruption, the answer is that it is God’s will. But issue is: it is not God’s will to rig an election. Rigging and corruption are human acts.
The theological frame of the moral legitimacy that is given to Nigerian governments has always been that the Nigerian presidency is an act of God even after the election is human rigged.
In other words ask a typical Nigerian Christian or Muslim why a Nigerian president is there despite an act of monumental corruption and rigging. The answer is: it is the will of God or Allah. Each time I hear this, my moral wonder and pain is: does God or Allah will corruption? How can God or Allah will corruption? How can someone steal and come straight to the church and mosque to praise the Lord and give thanks to Allah for his abundant mercies? Why through their body language do mosque and church congregation, Pastors and Imams still receive from these corrupt men and women?
I have decided to single out a distorted form of religious faith because this explains our loss of capacity and sense for moral shock at the moral crimes and evil being committed by the so-called rulers. And that loss of capacity for moral shock is woven around an impoverished sense of the public. If this is what we call faith, then the faithful ones are not yet born.
Next Sunday we will discuss the “Acts of Apostle Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo”
Thank you, and have a blessed Sunday.
Adeolu Ademoyo, firstname.lastname@example.org, is of the Africana Studies Department, Cornell University, Ithaca New York.