By Sunny Awhefeada
Nigeria remains a nation of more than many oddities. Just when you think that you have heard the most disheartening of things, you get confronted by another miasma and yet another and another! What usually follows is a feeling akin to helplessness, the kind that would make you sigh, throw up your hands and surrender to the inanities. But surrendering should not and must not be an option. We must learn to brace up and confront the demons that befuddle our country and putting us on the path of retrogression in perpetuity. The truth is that they have succeeded in running Nigeria aground because the people allowed them. The tendency for the people to be docile remains a cardinal factor in the inability to realize Nigeria’s high destiny as a leading nation. Nigeria’s inability to develop and realize her lofty aspirations, her impediments and the many ills afflicting her derive from citizens’ docility and inactivity which conform to complicity.
Nigerians have for too long failed to ask the right questions and take those who run the country to task. That is why they have been taken for granted by the rulers who shove everything and anything down their throat. The very recent revelation by an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the sum of 2.2 billion naira was spent on prayers against Boko Haram throws up another insidious index of our underdevelopment. It is no longer news that prayer is on sale in Nigeria, but the thought of purchasing prayer with 2.2 billion naira must be revolting to the most thick-skinned! Our rulers, devious, benighted and desperate, are besotted with prayers and more often than not corrupt its essence. Our history is replete with the destruction wrought by prayer when what was needed was simply to do the right thing.
The most massive carnage during the Nigerian Civil War was caused by the reliance on prayers and prophecies by marabouts, when what was needed was the application of the practical logic of military science. It was said that the then Colonel Murtala Muhammed often consulted marabouts and would go to battle only after their approval. He heeded their augury and suffered unimaginable casualties at Onitsha when he attempted to cross the Niger Bridge at Asaba. Murtala, in spite of his military training, didn’t understand Napoleon’s submission that God was on the side of the strongest battalion. The strongest battalion won battles with strategies. Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo, supported and tutored by Lt. Cols. Godwin Alabi Isama and Alani Akinrinade, accomplished the river crossing and ended the war. Murtala later became head of state and the marabouts couldn’t save him from Dimka’s men on 13 February 1976 when they came for him.
The marabouts were at work again in the service of General Sani Abacha in the 1990s. Different accounts put the number of marabouts waiting on him at more than one thousand. Sourced from climes like Chad, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Guinea and beyond, the marabouts, we were told, ordered the steps of Abacha, Nigeria’s most feared dictator and inculcated in him a sense of invincibility. Deluded by the kind of assurances the Three Witches conferred on Macbeth in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, Abacha rode roughshod over Nigeria. But when the grim reaper called at Aso Rock one midnight in June 1998, the marabouts couldn’t save him.
Religiosity and spirituality are good in as much as they are not deployed to deceptive and selfish ends as the case has been in Nigeria. Our leaders do not want to work, but want to reap. They do not plan or follow up development plans with the rigour and critical mindset it deserves yet they anticipate development. They forget the injunction in James Chapter 2 verse 26 that “faith without works is dead”. Every event in Nigeria opens and closes with prayers. Every now and then governments at all levels summon religious leaders to parley and pray. There is no government house in Nigeria without a chapel or mosque.
The idea of religion as an opium has taken deep roots in Nigeria. The rulers often ask the people to seek the face of God and the people in turn think that God allowed all that is going on to happen and they submit to the yoke imposed by bad leadership. Many of the religious leaders are in cahoot with the rulers as they give justification to their actions and encourage the people to sacrifice, yes always sacrifice, and pray. One of the aftermaths of the #ENDSARS protests has been the summoning of religious leaders, both at the federal and state levels, to all sorts of meetings with the injunction that they should rein in the people. How many of these religious leaders have looked the rulers in the eye and referred them to the book of Amos chapter 5 verse 24, “But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream”? The upheavals that birthed #ENDSARS were provoked by the absence of social justice and righteousness and not the absence of prayers.
Social justice is the foundation of peace and development. Social justice abhors corruption and exploitation. It banishes bad governance. Adherence to social justice will make our education and health systems work. It will enable government to deliver on the security and welfare of the citizens. It will engender economic opportunities and put poverty, hunger and deprivation to flight. It will enable government to built functional roads and housing system. It was lack of social justice that bred Boko Haram and not lack of prayers.
Nigeria has been praying without working. Former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon inaugurated “Nigeria Prays” some years ago, one of his successors, General Olusegun Obasanjo not only became a pastor, but took degrees in Theology, another pastor in Professor Yemi Osinbajo is now vice president, former president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was often found in the company of men of God, the Catholic Church has a “Prayer for Nigeria” item, many churches, pastors and prophets have been contracted to pray for Nigeria, but our problems remain intractable simply because Nigeria has been praying without working. Some years ago, I was course adviser to a student that was asked to withdraw from the department because of poor academic performance. She turned her fingers round her head and snapped them muttering “I reject withdrawal in Jesus name”! I asked about her routine and discovered that she abandoned her studies for campus fellowship. I told her that she needed to adjust and give more time to her studies. She protested and accused the devil for her predicament and concluded by saying that the devil was a liar. I did all I could to let her see the problem, but she assured me that she would do better in another department. I did a follow-up on her in the new department. She again failed woefully and was asked to withdraw from the university.
One cannot deemphasize the significance of prayer. It is a desideratum in our journey through life. But we must meet certain conditions for our prayers to work. Those ruling Nigeria must according to Isaiah 1: 17, “Learn to do right: seek justice. Defend the oppressed….” And elsewhere in Isaiah 61: 8, they should know that God, “hate (s) robbery and wrong doing”. Yes, state robbery manifesting in corruption and social injustice bred Boko Haram and the nationwide tension of the last five years. Nigeria cannot pray and prey, pardon the pun and alliteration, on her people and expect that all will be well.