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POLITICS OF RELIGION AND RELIGION OF POLITICS

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By Jide Afolabi
And what is religion, you might ask. It’s a technology of living.- Toni Cade Bambara (1939 – 1995)
One of the most difficult topics I hate discussing is religion unfortunately, I have to make some clarifications on my FB post of Saturday June 11, 2015 which many people took offence in while several others found it worth sharing even some of my American partners. Let me apologise in advance to those that may find this offensive or disappointed and for using the words – I, Me, Myself, Christian and Muslim – which I hate to use but needed to in this piece. The essence and central message of the post which was ‘religious tolerance’ was lost because I was apparently misquoted by some; misunderstood by others and misrepresented by several people. I am not writing this piece as a response to the very many conjectures formed as a result of the said post rather, to correct the wrong impressions from both ends of those that applauded me and those that reprimanded me.

First and foremost, I am a Christian by providence because I was born into Christendom and a proud Baptist albeit a very moderate and liberal one which some refers to as a nominal Christian. I’m sure many people except those that are very close to me don’t know my religion. In fact, a friend of mine whom we have been together for two years didn’t know my religion and asked me recently and in affirmation I said, I’m a Muslim. She asked because she observed that I was using the word ‘Insha Allahu’ and asalam alaikum’ often in our discussions even though I knew that she’s a Christian. I’m sure that many still don’t know my Christian name simply because I only use it on official documents. I have sisters bearing Christiana, Rachael, grace etc. and so also sister bearing Fasilat and brother bearing Ganiyu. They are not my cousins or nephew rather, sisters and brother! I have in my short lifespan on earth worshipped in Churches, mosques and even shrines. Religion which I believe is personal; has never influenced my relationship with anybody. I relate with you as a human being regardless of where you come from or the faith you profess. I have been privileged to hold (still holding) several religious positions that I never counted myself worthy.

I have had issues with our Christian brothers in North on my stand on Hausa/Fulani vis-avis religious crises in the North. I have made several Muslim friends and even Muslim Hausa/Fulani and I have worked greatly with them in the last seven years in the area of conflict management and peace building as a development worker. I remember posting something that ‘Muslims are not terrorists neither terrorists are Muslims’. I was discussing religion recently in Osun and I condemned the two major religions – Christianity and Islam and someone at that discussion said ‘If I had not known you, I would have said that you are a devil’, I smiled when he said that. It is however unfortunate and disappointing when some of my followers on FB and even Comrades misunderstood me. I innocently posted the comment and didn’t even bother to check my wall throughout the day until later in the evening when one of my most respected Comrades jokingly drew my attention to the matter on WhatsApp and said ‘For criticizing our Governor, we are going to banish you from Osun. Don’t come back o! Because we will deny you entry.’ I smiled when I read it but then, it prompted my curiosity to check my wall and alas, it has generated a very heated argument between my Muslim and Christian friends. He told me that he read the post on a WhatsApp group page that someone shared it on. I was surprised by some, felt betrayed by others and out rightly disappointed by a few. Of course, I have taken it up privately with those very close to me and they have apologised. However, the various reactions drew my attention to the fact that many people may have misunderstood the post. Some felt offended by the word ‘Muslim Justice’ while some perceived that I attacked Gov. Aregbesola in that post and some thought that I was defending my faith – Christianity. How wrong were they all?

What is religion? It is simply people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life. It can also be referred to as a set of strongly – held beliefs, values, and attitudes that somebody lives by. An 18 December 2012 Report on religion and public life by the revered Pew Research Center stated that in 2010, 49.3% of Nigeria’s population was Christian, 48.8% was Muslim, and 1.9 percent were followers of indigenous and other religions, or unaffiliated.
Christianity began AD 30 in the Middle East while Islam began in the 7th Century in Mecca. Obviously the world has benefitted from both religions but from inception; they were all created to control people, power and resources. In fact, politics created religion and religion is the dictating factor of our political life today. A Muslim Man, Khan was elected London Mayor recently in England and was subsequently sworn in within the Church premises. The violent beginning of the two major religions in the world is an attestation to the fact succinctly captured by the great Malcom X that ‘Religion is the opium of the masses’. These has manifested (still manifesting) in various religious conflicts around the world and Nigeria in particular that has even graduated to terrorism.

Religion to me is irrational and dogmatic and any attempt to criticize it makes you an enemy of all. I have once asked some faithful about the authors of Bible and Quran which I (like many others) still couldn’t get a satisfactory answer to. I laughed when Aregbe began sponsorship of traditionalists to India et al. countries to go and learn more about their religion and both Christian and Muslim Communities who are at each other throats today became united against the government. Hypocrisy! Aren’t they been sponsored to Israel and Saudi Arabia on what I view as religious tourism? Isese Day was also declared as Public Holiday in the state and they became what the Americans will call ‘Fre-nemy’ – ‘Friendly-enemy’. Interestingly, I was excited at such just, equal and fair action of the government. Government is for all!

Our leaders over time have deployed the full strength of religion to sway our votes unfortunately, has our lives been bettered as a country and individuals? I have had cause to defend Aregbe and even PMB against allegations of fanaticism. I have defended the actions of Gov. El-Rufai of Kaduna state to close down a branch of the Assembly Church of God in the state and the proposed bill to regulate religious activities. I have disagreed with both my Christian and Muslim brothers on LGBTI and strongly opposed the Same – Sex Act signed by Goodluck Jonathan. I supported Former Gov. Fasola of Lagos when he introduced tax on establishments/investments owned by religious bodies save for those registered or existing as Not for Profit. My principle in life is ‘live and let others live’. I have even criticized our security agents for killing Boko Haram members which I considered as extra judicial killings. I can get very emotional and passionate when it comes to issues of good governance, human rights, transparency and accountability etc. but never on religion!

Perhaps, religion has created more problems than it has solved especially in Nigeria. Though, our Constitution prohibits declaring an official state religion but today, aren’t we practising state religion in our distinct states especially in the North and South? Today, there is high tension between Christians and Muslims with a record of violence against both groups. Our sharp divisions along religion and ethnic lines were further exposed in the 2011 and 2015 general elections where Muslims largely queued behind Buhari and Christians behind Jonathan.
We have seen a Christian Gov. Fayose of Ekiti state visiting a Muslim Gov. Aregbe of Osun state hugging each other like a new wedded couple. I have taken time to study the ethnic and religious dispositions of those involved in the Dasukigate scandal and I discovered that they are all Christians and Muslims, Northerners, Westerner and Southerners. Our common enemies always agreed on how to share the national cake irrespective of their religion and ethnic. They have all deceived us for too long on the basis of religion to support them yet, they are even worse than the Satan that we are going to Mecca to throw stone at!

Even within the religious cycle, the ongoing politics is worse than that of the partisan politics. Catholics are not ready to work with Baptists neither Redeemers nor Winners can work together. What of Sunnis and Shiites? Our Pastors and Sheiks are living large with our sweat, flying jets around the world and cruising the town with exotic convoys and security personnel while we followers are living in poverty. Funny enough, we even built schools for them and our children can’t attend the schools simply because we can’t afford their jaw breaking fees.

I learned recently that Iran leader who is the leader of the Shiites worldwide declared that Iranians wouldn’t be participating in this year’s Hajj exercise. The reason for this is simple – international politics. Whenever something happened, the next thing you hear is Jesus or Allahu Akbar as if they actually believed in these names. I was in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osu state sometimes ago and I heard a very popular philosopher who is an atheist (though his wife and children are Christians) shouted Jesus; I was perplexed so, discussion ensued from there. He stated that shouting Jesus or Allahu Akbar is a routine thing so, it doesn’t matter who you are, we are simply used to it. The names Jesus and Allah here therefore have lost its values because we have bastardised the supposed reverenced names.

Back to the matter, I used the appellation ‘A Muslim Justice’ for two reasons. One, because the said Justice has a questionable character and can easily be influenced. Many of us cannot forget in a hurry how he was a ready willing tool under Oyinlola to deal with dissent views then, including opposition party members and even students. Two, to draw the attention of the various stakeholders to the fact that the judgement was given by a ‘Muslim Judge’ which might have raised suspicion from some people who are keenly interested in the matter. I wish it was a Christian Justice or a very liberal Justice that delivered that judgement.

On ‘controversial policies’, this I think is unambiguous. We all know that Gov. Aregbe made some controversial policies including demolition of schools and merging of many schools. This precisely was the genesis of the current crises.
Finally, I’m still appealing to various stakeholders and leaders of thoughts to sheath their swords and embrace peace after all, this is what we all claim that our religions stands for and wade into the matter before it degenerates. I have almost been killed by mob during religious crises in Plateau state and graciously escaped bomb blast that went off few metres away from me so, many may not understand now, why I considered it imperative to make that post. No war has ever been won at the battle front rather, at the dialogue table. Let’s go back to the table because religion is politics and politics is religion!

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