Monday, 20 February 2012

Editorial: Nigeria - The North, Religion and Politics


The incessant debates
Many a time in the discourses I have had on Twitter on that enigma of a country called Nigeria the politics of religion and the religion of politics have been so conflated that it permeates all facets of life with either associated or distant consequences.
It is quite debatable that many of the problems the country faces are political but the infusion of religion either as political tools of cohesion or ways of tapping of the innate docility of the people opiating them against agitation for lasting change can presage interminable arguments with every view containing nuggets of truth.
Religion and State
I have long advocated a genuine and complete separation of religion and state [1]. In the case of Nigeria, the fact that even the distinctive core religions which are Christianity and Islam are splintered into factions of adherences, creed, persuasion and passion is enough to put forward an strong argument for a purely secular state, religion being confined to the boundaries of the places of worship.
There are many factions of Islam just as there are many denominations of Christianity, the introduction of Sharia Law in the Northern States of Nigeria does not present a uniformity of access to fairness, justice or mercy as a secular civil law requirement will provide. In fact, it will be disingenuous, dishonest and naive for anyone to suggest there is any homogeneity in the North in terms of religion, ethnicity, politics, education or wealth.
The demographics of Nigeria
North of the rivers Niger and Benue you see such an ethnic diversity [2, Graphic] that sadly gets subsumed into the majority Hausa-Fulani linguistic group [3, Graphic] and consequently is presented as predominantly Muslim North – this is far from the truth as the graphics show.
However, much as there are many who might not agree to the idea that religion conflated with either politics and/or traditions has contributed to serious inequalities around the country especially when it pertains to critical fundamentals for economic growth [4, Graphic] as female literacy [5, Graphic] and health [6, Graphic], the correlations in parts of the country cannot be easily discarded with.
Beginning the analysis
This is not the complete picture of the how and why of troubles that Nigeria faces but it presents a starting point for honest discourse of a complex issue that is for long lacked objective truthful and searing analysis that could lead to addressing the problems and creating solutions.
The state maps should already show that beyond the much documented failings of the federal government, the state governments and local governments have hardly really suffered the necessary scrutiny and engaging need for accountability to force them to commit to serving their people – those inequalities are majorly the responsibility of leadership closer to the people than from the centre, it does not however absolve central government from inspirational leadership and infrastructure development necessary to tap healthy and educated human resources.
The cases being made again
More and more we hear from learned people about the need for religion to be personal rather than public. Senator John Danforth [7] of the United States of America has both been a senior politician and is an ordained Episcopalian priest, he probably has devoted a good deal of time considering the issues of religion and politics in society especially in America where an almost implacable activist conservative fringe is gaining undue vocal advantage in the politics of electioneering.
He had this to say about politics and religion [8].
“The language of politics is different than the language of religion -- politics is not religion. The language of religion is based on creedal affirmation, while the language of politics, when it works, is the language of compromise. To confuse politics for religion results in gridlock from the political perspective. To confuse politics for religion from the religious perspective is idolatry.”
In short, politics requires compromise which religion does not condone else you end up in gridlock and idolatry – he cannot have found a better choice of words to address this matter to Americans at first and then it should be amplified in Nigeria too.
Avoiding democratic faux-theocracies
Religion and politics can work together if in the service of humanity where the respect of humanity derives from religious persuasion of whatever sort and the politicians are statesmen with a purpose for progressive change – much of this almost sounds Utopian where selfish interests of leaders in either religion or politics comes before service and allows for the propagation of false doctrines and corruption in public office.
It remains the goal of many voices speaking up for change and coming out onto the streets in protest all around the world for more accountable representation which provides for equality untainted by the influences of religion because as the aptly named Lord Justice Laws of the UK once said [1] in a judgement:
“We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.”
And of theocracies, he had this to say [1]:
"The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”
In other words, a genuine democracy has to be devoid of religious or political ideological influence for the people of any state to be free. The need to abrogate the religious sway over politics has only become more urgent.
Sources
Other references

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