By Babatunde Jose
Devil’s Rectangle is an apocalyptic scenario depicting the satanic coalition of political leadership, the gullible and lethargic followership, and irresponsible mass media and conniving religious institutions. When these forces are mixed together in the political blender, the result is a poisonous smoothy capable of oozing noxious political instability and retrogression.
The worst side of this rectangle is the religious as it is usually the source of social and communal unrest, riots and general state of insecurity. Religion which ought to bring some temperance into the political atmosphere and check the utterances and behaviours of political players has sadly failed. Rather, Religion has formed an alliance with the political actors and in the process the conscience of the people has been killed.
Religion is a complex phenomenon which Bouquet described as “a fixed relationship between the human self and some non-human entity, the sacred, the supernatural, the self-existent, the absolute or simply, God” (J.I. Omoregbe, A Philosophical Look at Religion. Lagos: 1993).
However, religion could be seen as human activities manifesting through beliefs and ritual practices in response to the Super-sensible Being, believed to exist.
Seeing as it were that man is homo politicus and at the same time homo religio, it follows that we cannot do without politics as well as religion in our everyday life. Therefore, we tend to politicize religion and religionize politics. Mixing the two however makes religion to lose its sanctity. This is the reality of our post-colonial state, particularly the capture and control of state power by a self-centered and divided political class. They whip up religious sentiments and accentuate its divisive tendencies. Hence, almost all political actions are seen through the prism of religion. A Moslem President becomes a Jihadist and religious extremist in the eyes of the opposition, even though there are Moslems within their own ranks. The herdsmen imbroglio was also used to whip up anti-Islam sentiments amidst name calling and painting of the President as the mastermind of a situation which ordinarily resides in the socio-economic domain.
The Boko Haram issue is also a good example. These misguided terrorists and their international affiliates have continued to wreck havoc on our society, killing, kidnapping and maiming, regardless of the religious affiliation of their victims. Yet, they have been seen as an arm of a wider Islamic tendency to Islamize the country.
According to Onapajo, the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 and the emergence of indigenous national politics saw religion effectively representing a source of ethnic identity, group unity, political mobilization, regime legitimization and delegitimization in the country (H. Onapajo, “Politics for God: Religion, Politics and Conflict in Democratic Nigeria”, in The Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol.4, No.9. pp. 36-46, 2012.).
Basically, this accounts for the reason why the first political party in the North, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), overtly and covertly bears the touch of Islam. To this, Prof B J Dudley (B. Dudley, Parties and Politics in Northern Nigeria, London, Frank Cass, 1968) affirmed that the NPC represented the consensus of the Northern Muslim Society- the Ijma.
Similarly, the non-Muslims in the North formed opposition political groups and parties to protest the ethno-Islamic political hegemony of the NPC in the region. Among such groups are the Tiv Progressive Union (TPU); Middle Zone League (MZL); Middle-Belt People’s Party (MBPP); United Middle-Belt Congress (UMBC); Northern Nigeria Non-Muslim League; Birom Progressive Union (BPU), with a strong backing from the Christian Missionaries.
According to Prof H O Danmole (A Visionary of the Lagos Muslim Community: Mustapha Adamu Animashaun, 1885-1968), Animashaun formed a Muslim party in Lagos in the 1950s and it had the support of the Lagos Central Mosque.
Today, the politics of religious identification and affiliation has gone beyond that and now revolves round the religious inclination of the political leadership of the country. Hence, Moslems identify with a Moslem president and support him regardless of policy issues. This was also the case of the massive support of the Christian community for the presidency of Obasanjo and Jonathan.
Under this ‘satanic’ atmosphere incumbent presidents are vilified, bedraggled and abused by opposition based on the religious affiliation. This is often translated into hatred for his party, despite the fact that these parties are not in any way monolithic religion-wise. Currently, the president has been labeled as a Moslem Fulani irredentist whose raison d’être is to Islamize the country. Yet, when Obasanjo and Jonathan ruled for a cumulative period of 13 years there was no outcry of perceived Christianization of the country. It is however, inconceivable and an over-stretch of the imagination bordering on incredulity for anyone to say that a President harbors an agenda to Islamize or Christianize Nigeria, more so with the National Assembly and the Judiciary in place. Obviously, the days of Jihad and Missionary Evangelism has passed.
Religion and politics some may argue should not mix but it very obvious that religion cannot be divulged of politics; especially in a society where political leadership find it very convenient to hide under the umbrella of religion. There is no doubt, as Prof Ali Mazrui noted:
In those African countries, where Islam is in serious competition with Christianity and both are politicized, the two creeds become divisive rather than unifying, destabilizing rather than legitimizing. Where religion reinforces ethnic differences on regional variation, governments become less stable rather than more… On the whole, the two Semitic religions in Nigeria Christianity and Islam reinforce regional and ethnic differences, and make stability more difficult. (Mazrui, A.A. (1996) “Military Intervention in African Politics”. In Ralph Uwechue (ed), Africa Today. Third Edition. United Kingdom)
It would be misleading to conclude that religious organisations have been uniformly or consistently supportive of democratic processes and values in Nigeria. On the contrary, they have periodically exhibited disturbing anti-democratic proclivities that have found expression in religious violence and intolerance, in the corruption and manipulation of religious leaders. In general religion is functional or dysfunctional, depending on the extent to which it contributes to the achievement of societal goals.
The ferocious gyration of Nigerians about religious matters which will not be replicated when it comes to national interest has weakened the Nigerian state. A survey of ethno-religious crisis in Nigeria reveals that blood of innocent Nigerians are shed and properties destroyed on account of this passion, fervour, emotional and emotive reactions, moral certitude and religiosity. (Ojo, E.O. (2006) “A Survey of Ethno-Religious Crisis in Nigeria and its implication for Democracy” in Ojo, E.O. (ed). Challenges of Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria; Ibadan). Unfortunately, the North has always been the bedrock of religious crisis.
Since 1992, over tens of thousands of people have died from communal-religious conflicts. Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Borno and Kaduna States constitute the highest figure of causalities. In recent years, incidents of Christian Muslim violence have become more frequent and bloodier.
The political class cannot exonerate itself from the present predicament of Nigeria. A lot of useful energy is diverted to building religious sentiment. Rather than mobilize Nigerians to their cause as politicians, the new political elites are busy mobilizing their religious constituencies for a war against one another. With religion generating so much passion, the polarization of the nation has found full expression as the country is finally pitched as a battleground between Christians and Muslims.
Religion does not make people good or bad. On the contrary, it is being used as an instrument of oppression and deceit in Nigeria. It appears that Nigerians have resigned themselves to fate and this is possibly further compounded by poverty, illiteracy, and lack of political education on the part of majority. (Egbewole, W. O., and Etudaiye, M. A. (2011). Religion, Politics and Justice: Interplay of Forces in Nigeria).
The manipulation of religion by some powerful individuals who hide under the guise of religion to pursue selfish interests, and the greed and avariciousness of some religious leaders who patronize corrupt rulers remains part of the negative effects of religion on the polity. Efforts by Nigerian politicians to gain ascendancy and power have led to situation in which politics have swept away sacred precepts of religion, and in the process, contaminated the hearts of people with bitterness and enmity for the religion of others
After Obasanjo was elected president, Pentecostal leaders conducted an all-night prayer meeting for him. This gesture was politically endorsed and rewarded with the construction of a chapel in the Presidential Villa.
The effect of religion on politics all over the world is bifocal, in the sense that it is both positive and negative. It is positive in the sense that religion, as earlier identified, is value- driven and it naturally robs off on the polity through the participation of ardent religious believers. The negative effect could be deciphered from the perspective of sectarian tendency; where religious bigots do anything in the name of religion to ensure that positions or offices are gained by their adherents. Such people stand on the position that their ideals and beliefs dominate any environment they find themselves (New York Times, 2005).
Barka Juma’at and happy weekend