Nigerians at lent: Restoration time
On Ash Wednesday, March 1 this year Christians started the 40 days’ journey of Lent. It is supposed to be an intense spiritual journey. It is a journey of repentance, renewal, conversion, healing and restoration. A friend wrote to me that “Whatever form the journey takes, it is always a journey back into the heart of God.” I cannot agree less. Nigerians are used to such religious journeys without spirituality. Muslims do the same ritual yearly during the month of Ramadan. In Ramadan every Muslim fasts from food but that does not stop him or her from doing damages to the country. Every day we hear of primitive looting and stealing from government coffers in states that are known to be of Sharia. We forgot that Sharia was only to stop poor people from stealing livestock and farm produce, to stop alcohol consumption and to separate male from female in public places. That is why we do not hear of public officers, elected, appointed or employed subjected to such public opprobrium prescribed by Sharia for stealing public money. What it comes to say is that Lenten Season and the Month of Ramadan has not had its desired effects on the nation yet. This is the crux of my discussion.
Recently the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo said that this country is being held captive and hostage by a group he termed “Evil Civil Servants.” He said they are subverting every good effort to make Nigeria great for personal gains. He is right. Both the evil civil servants and the thieving ‘Oga at the Top’ are Christians and Muslims. Very negligible few of them may belong to other faiths or no faith at all. I am speaking to the majority of them who are Muslims and Christians.
The season of Lent should be a journey of restoration. We are very good at asking God to restore to us our lost individual territories. We spend nights and days at prayer houses, churches and before the Blessed Sacrament asking for restoration of our lost glories and opportunities. We embark on many religious activities like the Ramadan fast, forty days of Lent and all night vigils. We make local and international pilgrimages, Rome, Israel, Mecca, Medina, Fatima, Lourdes, to Shiloh Camp in Ota, Ogun State, the monthly Holy Ghost Vigil organised by the Redeemed Christian Church of God and the activities of the many Adoration Centres. We are involved in such religious activities to demonstrate our love for God and his ways. But hear what Prophet Isaiah says “Fasting like yours today will never make your voice heard on high”. Though Isaiah is specifically talking about fasting here, it is the reality on the ground in Nigeria.
We put up shows by building big churches, making big donations and expensive thanksgiving activities, all from looted public funds as if such religious activities justify the stealing. This season of Lenten is a season of restoration. Return what you have taken illegally from the public funds. Our Lenten meditations should take us on the short journey into ourselves. We will realize how our activities have boosted the activities of Boko Haram. You are responsible for the death of thousands of people and destruction of towns and Villages. In Nigeria where electricity supply is considered a luxury whereby it is taken for granted in many other countries, one person is hording tens of exotic cars that he does not need. Billions of cash are stolen from poor states where the poor workers are owed salary arrears of over eight months. It is ridiculous to learn that people who perpetrate such acts belong to churches and actually pray to God. Is it possible that such people observe Lent? Is it possible for people with such character to believe in miracles from God? Every day they withhold miracles of good education, payment of salaries and allowances, electricity and good roads from happening to fellow citizens?
I can feel the frustration the few sincere people we have in government are going through. Such frustration made the Acting President to call some people Evil Civil Servants. The fact that the people are still civil servants shows that they are still not retired, and so they are not elderly. If the young people are into atrocities such as this, what hope does the nation have? That is why it is disheartening to hear of people who are genuinely young as governors who cannot be trusted with government funds.
The only way that our Lenten season would become spiritual and not just religious is to allow the Lenten penance touch the hearts of Christians to restore the stolen funds and properties to government. It is not enough for us to cry ‘religious persecution’ or selective persecution when in reality you are a thief. Do restoration at this season of Lent. And for the Evil Civil Servants who make it difficult for governance to reach the people, this season of Lent is your opportunity to ask for forgiveness and restore sanity to your office. Corrupt act and lawlessness in financial matters have assumed a life of its own in governance. Let this season of Lenten make us understand the teaching of Jesus Christ who came not to be served but to serve, to offer his life in atonement for our sins. Let us restore governance to its proper place.
Can we allow the spirit of fasting and prayer, abstinence and almsgiving to influence our daily decisions in the office? There is enough money in government to repair our roads, repair broken down school structures, return our trains to the tracks, release our aircrafts into the sky, give life to the engines of our industrialisation, rebuild and make functional Ajaokuta Steel Company, Delta Steel Company, the four national refineries, all the moribund textile industries in Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, the National Fertilizer Company (NAFCON) in Port Harcourt, reactivate NIPOST to do modern postal services, return NITEL and electricity companies to their glorious days. All these companies can absorb the teeming unemployed youths who have become kidnappers, armed robbers and hired assassins. But we stole all these companies to death and used the proceeds to buy multi-million dollar cars, private jets and houses in other countries. Since these companies and industries are no more, we have gone after the state governments. Most of the states in Nigeria only exist in name and the map as they have no content, no programme. Remember that we do not have functional local government system in Nigeria anymore. Which state is still establishing industries and viable companies? All they do now is awarding supply contracts and repair roads. When last did a State governor in Nigeria start a viable industry that can employ up to ten thousand persons? They promise employment and end up engaging graduates as traffic controllers in funny uniforms. Can such method of governance ever grow the economy of a state and nation to take it out of recession?
This is why this season of Lent should be a restoration season for the nation. Every Christian in leadership, for the sake of the Sorrowful Passion of Christ should have mercy on Nigeria and Nigerians. And for the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, anyone who has stolen things that have thrown Nigeria into recession, should please return and restore it to the rightful place. This is the spirit of Lent. When you do this, “Your integrity will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you. Cry and the Lord will answer, call and he will say I am here … your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows become like noon. The Lord will always guide you, giving you relief in desert places. He will give strength to your bones and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose water never runs dry. You will rebuild the ancient ruins, build up on the old foundations. You will be called ‘Breach-mender’ ‘Restorer of ruined houses’”. (Isaiah 58: 8-12). Nigeria is in ruins, where are our ‘restorer of ruined houses’?
Idoko is the director of Pastoral Affairs Department, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.