Opium – The Other Nigeria
A Muslim, Christian and Buddhist died and their corpses were examined to determine the condition of each brain. The Buddhist’s brain, scientists found, was worn and distended from use. The Muslim’s all the more! Her brain had shrunk in both mass and weight from excessive use. Finally, the Christian was inspected…his brain, scientists likened to that of a new-born. It appeared his brain had experienced the same level of activity in his lifetime as it had witnessed in the womb.
A miracle indeed.
I heard a pastor tell this story once, in a bid to remind his congregation that religion is worthless when it is impractical. A poignant message to a nation crippled by, amongst other things, its citizens’ faith. The Nigerian brand of religion distracts the masses by encouraging intense mental inertia. We rely so heavily on the supernatural that we ignore our present realities and fail to act even when necessary. In a country where some cities house more churches per square mile than hospitals, the deplorable state of our nation is no wonder.
As the pastor’s parable on the three religions suggests, a typical Nigerian Christian appears to regard the brain as a vestigial organ. He so heavily relies on God to do all things; “…give me a car, a house, a wife and a girlfriend too, KILL MY ENEMIES! Stop the rain, make my boss like me, fix my DSTV…”. It is little wonder his brain remains neonate from lack of use. He is willing to face every challenge with no identifiable logic and even less action, but fully fortified with many a-scripture. In an interesting contrast however, he is intensely aggressive on the subject of his enemies; actual or perceived. Most fascinating is his possession of a perceptibly primal desire to eradicate enemies using, frankly, innovative techniques. Chants of “…somersault and die!!!” for instance, are not out of place in many churches. For a religion founded on the tenets of mercy, grace and love, the irony is acute. Perhaps as interesting, is the fact that the destruction of enemies is illogically self-destructive if said enemy truly holds the key to ones’ blessings in his wicked grasp.
These opiate qualities of religion are not only obvious in the Christian faith. Islam is another religion founded on peace and service but its doctrines have, unfortunately, been misinterpreted by some Muslims. It is unsurprising in northern Nigeria, to find the home of a wealthy Muslim surrounded by a host of beggars fully expecting to be catered for by his benevolence. Many of these mendicants carry with them a strong sense of contentment and entitlement over nothing, believing that the one duty of the wealthy is to cater for the less-privileged. As such, there is little incentive to work. It appears that in the absence of a welfare state, citizens expect to rely on each other to act in the stead of the government; to provide an eternal ‘social crutch’.
This sense of entitlement is rooted in a religion that encourages contentment with one’s lot in life. Resultantly, a socialist-democracy is established within the nation; citizens provide for each other, excusing the government from its responsibility to its people. Like 19th century English Conservatism, a skewed, ostensibly impervious social order is created. This system eradicates both need and desire to advance economically, eventually creating more problems than it resolves. And the cycle continues.
The problem with religion might have been manageable if its effects could have been contained in the religious and economic spheres. Miserably for Nigeria, this is not the case. Religion is a powerful force that has insidiously spilled into Nigeria’s political arena. Worst of all, our brand of religion has a superstitious strand that affects the purity of our worship. Preying on fear, vulnerability and standard stupidity, Nigerian religion presents the perfect divisive force and the most manipulative tool to our leaders…in direct contravention of everything my good and loving God desires for His children.
Nowhere was the influence of religion more ubiquitous or indeed more dangerous than in the 2011 general elections. Mr. Goodluck Ebere Jonathan, PDP presidential candidate in 2011, had risen quickly through the ranks of power professedly by mistake, by coincidence or (fan-favourite) by ‘favour’. By 2011, Mr. Jonathan through this special grace had occupied several political seats and wielded substantial governmental power at state and federal levels. In 2011, he attempted to crown his political ambitions by aspiring for the presidential seat.
In a sensible nation, Mr. Jonathan would be the perfect presidential candidate! Having occupied so many seats of power, there would be a documented, measurable trail evincing his social and economic impact. In any rational nation, the citizens would have scrutinized the works of this man who had been given so many opportunities to contribute to the government…and discovered that not one core industry, at neither state nor federal level had improved materially under Mr. Jonathan’s tenure. At that point, a sane nation would have chosen accordingly.
Many Nigerians appeared to vote for Mr. Jonathan on the sole ground that the Hand of God was upon him. “How else”, we wondered, “could one man by a series of unfortunate events rise so quickly to power, with so little effort on his part, without supernatural assistance?! Impossible!” President of Nigeria was surely his destiny and “Good luck Nigeria!” the corresponding battle cry, hemorrhaging from the fragmented Nigerian nation. Clearly, our duty, as children of god (any god), was to help Mr. Jonathan attain this divine mandate; the presidential throne, his rightful seat. I watched in fascinated horror as citizen after citizen pledged allegiance to Mr. Goodluck Jonathan based solely on this coincidence of office. All of this despite the lack of evidence showing any kind of change would result from his election? His election and the events following, tell the tale of how we allowed our nation be manipulated by a religious harmattan; we switched off our brains and led with our mindless hearts. Today we pay the price for yesterday’s emotionality.
On some level the naiveté and hope Nigerians often display is so wonderfully human. It is very ‘Nigerian’ to hope despite the obvious lack of evidence. After all, what is faith if we cannot believe in the evidence of things not seen? Well, until change comes, I join millions of the Nigerian religious in uttering that most vague yet beloved pious Nigerian phrase:
“It is well.”