In God’s name
Human beings do hideous things. And they visit these horrible things to their kind under the pretext that they are doing so on God’s behalf. Or, that they are fighting for Him.
In 1984, the stellar investigative writer, David Yallop, made literary waves. He published an explosive book entitled: In God’s Name. In the said book, Yallop alleged, among others, that Pope John Paul 1, Albino Luciani, was murdered, in cold blood, to pre-empt an impending and comprehensive set of radical reforms, which would have upset a cabal which had a firm grip on the Vatican and Italian society. Those who allegedly despatched the Pope to the great beyond thought they were acting in God’s name.
Notable amongst those to have been affected, directly or obliquely, by the raft of reforms were the powerful head of the Vatican Bank, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus; the ubiquitous Italian Mafia; the puppet master, Licio Gelli; the President of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi, also known as God’s Banker; and prominent Italian politicians.
At first mention, Yallop’s hair raising findings were dismissed as rumours. But two decades later, when the corruption scandal unfolded and rocked Italy to its foundations, the web of intrigues and series of hitherto inexplicable high profile assassinations diligently chronicled in Yallop’s best seller were authenticated. The revelations from the corruption scandal also provided sauce for screenplays and a movie such as Francis Ford Coppolla’s Godfather III.
Circa two thousand and twenty two years ago, Jesus Christ was crucified. Crucifixion at the time was the most humiliating form of execution. It was reportedly reserved for robbers. The fellows, who alleged that Jesus had committed blasphemy and who performed deicide, thought they were fighting for God!
A week ago, as we were processing the absurdity and obscenity of the motley presidential aspirants who picked nomination forms for one hundred million naira a piece, students of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, took the laws into their hands. They lynched and burnt to death their fellow student, Deborah Samuel, for alleged blasphemy.
It is heartwarming that members of the international community, the president, Muhammadu Buhari, and prominent clerics across religious divide have condemned, in the strongest terms, this barbarity. They have also insisted that the perpetrators of this heinous act should be made to face the full wrath of the law. Remarked an outraged Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina J. Mohammed: “Justice must be done for the senseless, brutal killing of the young Deborah Samuel in Nigeria. Religions should not be misinterpreted to preach violence when they promote peace.”
It is, however, unfortunate that this issue of extra-judicial murder of those who allegedly commit blasphemy continues to rear its ugly head, particularly in Northern Nigeria. It is true that the country is hurting on account of bad governance. It is also true that nerves have frayed and are at edge as a consequence of this bad governance and the government’s divisive tendencies. But these dire and unfortunate circumstances do not justify the taking of life, particularly in the horrid manner and with the wicked glee with which it was done. It speaks eloquently to our intolerance of each other and our inhumanity, especially in the North, where people sickeningly flaunt their faiths and wear them as if they were some ceremonial toga or regalia.
As Christians, Muslims and Traditionalists, we believe that God is the Alpha and Omega; and that God is the creator, owner of the universe and the day of judgement. We also acknowledge His awesomeness, His inordinate power and majesty. We believe He is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. Our holy books chronicle His wondrous works, His salvaging people with a mighty hand in times of peril, His dethroning and humiliating wicked and haughty kings and His tender mercies and loving kindnesses.
If we so fervently believe these sublime qualities of His, why then do we have to fight for God? Come to think of it, was there any prophet who was not misunderstood or mocked? Our easy recourse to fight for God knocks the bottom out of our profession to faith and belief. We inelegantly truncate and abridge due process each time we kill, with impunity, those who allegedly blaspheme. We deny them the opportunity to regret their actions, learn lessons, make amends and make it right with their Creator for their alleged errors.
Additionally, this quick recourse to extra-judicial measures casts us as intemperate people who are prone to violence and blood-letting. It presents us as displaying a distemper and impatience for the law and due process. Certainly, these aforementioned predilections have consequences for Foreign Direct Investment and tourism. No serious foreign investor will put his hard-earned money in an environment that is unstable, prone to violence and does not observe due process. Neither will he invest where hoodlums go on a looting and burning binge each time an alleged blasphemy has been committed.
My fear, and with the many possibilities which the internet offers, such as photo shopping, it will not be surprising if we begin to witness an epidemic or a rash of videos and audios criminalizing persons or political opponents of blasphemy. Which is why this latest extra-judicial killing should not be swept under the carpet or left to go unpunished.
While we should be sensitive and respectful of each others’ beliefs, it is clear that a lot needs to be done to disabuse the minds of the believers of all faiths. Men and women of goodwill must continue to use their platforms to educate Nigerians on the need to tolerate each other and to co-exist peacefully. Our multi ethnic and multi religious nature, urgently and clarionly, call for these.
Even as we respect each others’ beliefs and sensibilities, we should not live in silos or strait jackets. We should not live in fear of each other, either. We must imbibe the culture of tolerance, the type for which the South West of Nigeria is renowned. Apart from putting all faiths on the same pedestal or footing, we should encourage interfaith relations and interactions. Our clerics, across religious divide, should refrain from sermons and homilies that incite their adherents to violence. Our leaders should always issue pronouncements that espouse peaceful co-existence and bring healing to our troubled country. We should emulate other jurisdictions such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where all faiths are respected and adequately catered for.
Dazang is the immediate past Director of Media and Public Enlightenment of INEC.