Chained by religion
It’s barely four weeks after Korede Taiwo, the nine-year old was rescued from a church where his father, dreadlocked pastor Francis Taiwo, held him hostage, inside the Key of Joy Celestial Church of Christ, Ajibawo, in Atan Ota, Ado-Odo, for allegedly stealing eba and soup. Now, the Police are investigating another dreadlocked prophet, so-called, who was last week exposed for putting chains on a whole community of 28, 13 of whom are children.
According to reports, the prophet, one Emmanuel Adeyemi who operated a worship home at his swampy abode at Olamidu Close, Unity Estate, Okeira, claimed the captives were mentally sick. But initial checks by the Police revealed that some of the victims might be of sound mind, especially when taken to another environment and given time to recover from an apparent spell. Three graves, reports said, were found in the compound.
The Police are said to be working to establish a case of inhuman treatment against the prophet. Meanwhile, the Lagos government has taken custody of the 28. This is another case of undocumented healing centre or worship centre, where citizens are at the mercy of one man, who uses unorthodox methods to operate a commune and take absolute charge of lives of others. From pictures posted of the place, it does not look like a good place to raise children. The environment does not appear to meet minimum requirements of sanitation, where inhabitants, especially minors, could experience average lease of life. It is not clear yet if the children go to school, but in their dreadlocked appearance, they may have been primed for the same trade as their captor – prophecy. It also means that they may not have been regular beneficiaries of government programmes, like immunization, basic education and other social interventions. On the flip side, they are also not guided by state laws. They are simply a law unto themselves, without oversight by government agencies.
Hundreds of similar outfits are allowed to thrive across the country because they put on the cloak of religion. They are encouraged to proliferate by our acquiescing and abdicating governments. At other times, governments are intimidated by religion. Over time, individuals are chained by religion and the larger society is held captive too. And so far, there has been no correlation between our religiosity and development.
Until the military employed force to rein in members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) last December, they had operated their commune in Zaria, Kaduna State, without much interference from government for years. Occasionally, there had been skirmishes whenever it was found that IMN was on the verge of trespassing their constitutional space. Each time, it was always at some loss to the movement, which some trace to its minority status within the larger Islamic body in Nigeria. But the last encounter (December 2015) was simply colossal, as not less than 347 IMN members were dispatched so untimely, when they gravely confronted the military convoy of the Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Yusuf Tukur Buratai. The propriety or otherwise of that encounter, on either side, is not part of this narrative. An inquisition and judicial procedure is ongoing, but suffice to add that, whether Nigeria records casualty as in deaths or inhuman abuses resulting from religious afflictions, it hurts to the marrow. When non-taxpaying individuals and organisations inflict collateral damage on the country, such figures do not add to the county’s Gross National Product, they diminish it.
For instance, the military/IMN encounter cost money, though not budgeted. IMN, on its part, recorded losses as its base was grounded and infrastructure pulled down. The panel instituted by the Kaduna State government cost money. The hurried burial of slain IMN faithful in the night, the logistics and morgue fees were all borne by government. And they were never budgeted. Even cost of litigation on either side is being serviced by funds that could have gone into productive endeavours. Since December, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, leader of IMN has been guest of the Federal Government and wherever he is quartered, the expenses are a drain on the budget of the interior ministry. Head or tail, these are losses, which drafters of the Constitution of our beleaguered Republic, to an extent envisaged and attempted to mitigate. But which religious profiteers and political parasites have continued to frustrate.
I have not heard or read it anywhere, that the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) has looked into our religious industry, to see what could be added from there to the Federation Account. Even the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) does not include in its tax net opportunities that could accrue from the sector. All because we have deluded ourselves that some areas are ‘no go’ because we pretend to and are actually acclaimed to be the most religious people on earth. Yet, we go on pilgrimages and pay taxes to host communities.
To rehabilitate the Northeast after years of mindless Boko Haram onslaught will cost Nigeria trillions. According to figures from the Finance Ministry, Presidential Intervention in the Northeast for second quarter of the 2016 budget is N3, 476,768,138.00. Don’t forget, we are just at the preliminary stages of managing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Meanwhile, foreign countries are dropping huge sums into the Northeast bowl. The United States gave huge sums recently, just that we do not know how the donations are being handled, whether they are appropriated within the 2016 budget. Yet, there are stories of IDPs going hungry and on verge of death. That’s just at the level of housecleaning.
When the situation finally calms, when Boko Haram is fully degraded with no more traces, the homes and schools, which they wantonly destroyed, have to be reconstructed. The roads they vandalized and the bridges they blew up have to be fixed. The farmlands they cruelly laid with explosives have to be demined and the psychological bruise they inflicted on the Northeast and Nigeria has to be systematically cured. The exact military cost of containing Boko Haram may never be known, especially as some Nigerians had and are still helping themselves to it unlawfully, but let it be said that it is huge. At a time countries are spending to recover ailing economies, we are spending to cure ailments caused by religion. The matter is not even helped when government still concedes special allocation for persons who decide on their own, to embark on religious tourism to service the economy of others.
It is more horrifying when religious conversations continue to be morbid. It means that after Boko Haram, we have not learned anything. On a day the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry was visiting the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, who is head of the Muslim community of Nigeria, in neighbouring Zamfara State, where politicians have elevated the Sharia above the Constitution, some citizens were roasting eight others for alleged sin of blasphemy. What a shame!
And that was not all. Someone sent an sms the week before Kerry arrived Nigeria. The news had been abroad that Kerry would visit, but would restrict himself to the North. The sms read; “What’s the meaning of the story that John Kerry, US Secretary of State would visit Nigeria and as part of his itinerary would meet with ‘northern Governors’? Is this not an intrusive, divisive endeavor that seems to elevate a particular section of Nigeria over others?”
I told him I was yet to read the said story and its context; that, when I do I will engage him. Kerry has indeed come and gone; he actually met with northern governors. And since then, many, including the Christian community have queried Kerry’s meeting with only northern governors.
Sincerely, I do not see what the hoopla is. Kerry, with due respect, could be the equivalent of a cabinet minister of our own Republic, except that we so challenged and lacking in self-respect. I am not aware that Kerry administered any preferential treatment on the north. Kerry cautioned against excessive use of force against militants. That speaks to the situation in the Northeast, as well as the military campaigns in the Niger Delta, and at other places. The US president, Barrack Obama, had himself crisscrossed Africa twice, at least, and was so close to us in Ghana. I did not hear Christians or Muslims complain. If Kerry visited only the North, doesn’t that justify the scriptures, when Jesus said He did not come for those who are in good health, but for the sick? Sincerely, North and South, we need to break the chains of religion!