Religion and the sanctity of human life
The spate of religious-inspired violence and gruesome murder in Nigeria of late belie the lofty ideal of religion being not only a very personal matter between man and his creator, but also a way of canvassing peaceful co-existence.
With three fatal incidents coming within six weeks across the country, this ideal has virtually been rendered invalid, particularly as no one has been brought to book if only to deter prospective other violators.
For a professed secular or multi-religious country, killing on religious grounds, in a manner circumventing the law or the constitution, is an ill wind that will wither the tiny existing knot holding the country together.
In recent times in Nigeria, people have been lynched and burnt to death for alleged blasphemy starting with Sokoto State where Deborah Samuel was mobbed and burnt to death by a motley crowd of religious zealots who accused her of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed. This happened in a tertiary school, Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, an incident that simply adds to the long list of similar incidents in Nigeria.
And before the dust of the extrajudicial murder settled, a security guard was set ablaze for alleged blasphemy in Lugbe area of the Federal Capital Territory, signposting that religious extremism has crept into the nation’s capital.
According to the Spokesperson of the police, DSP Josephine Adeh, Ahmad Usman, a 30-year- old member of the local vigilance group around Tipper Garage at the Federal Housing Estate in Lugbe area of the FCT got into an argument with a cleric (Malam), whose name is yet unknown from the same area. The heated argument degenerated into an outbreak of violence that led to the murder and setting ablaze of Ahmad Usman by the enraged mob allegedly mobilised by the clergy, numbering about 200.
The Commissioner of Police CP Babaji Sunday, while warning against the indiscriminate act of self-help in obtaining justice known as jungle justice, said adequate sanctions would be meted on subscribers of this crude and dastardly act. The police later announced the arrest of 15 suspects fingered in the killing and burning
Just days apart in Lagos, there was a report of a sex worker who was lynched and burnt for possessing the Holy Quran while practising that trade. The action was allegedly instigated by her client with whom she had a disagreement. The incident happened in the Alaba Rago in the Ojo Local Government of Lagos State where Hannah Aliu plied her trade. According to the police, three people have been arrested while the investigation is still ongoing on the circumstances. However, it is a fact that jungle justice has been carried out on a fellow human beings.
It is an irony of immense proportion that man should lose his life because of religion which promises to take care of man even beyond the earthly life. Religion, in a sense, is man’s attempt to understand his creator and the purpose of his sojourn on this earthly plain. Most religions preach peace, harmony, respect for the sanctity of life and joyous life hereafter. To them life is inviolable.
These extra-judicial deaths point to the decreasing value of human life in contemporary Nigeria. The need to rein in these marauders and enthrone the dignity of life has become imperative. We cannot continue on this deadly path.
Religion has featured prominently as the main cause of some of these deaths but religion is not the problem. The problem lies with those who weaponise religion for selfish interests such as power-mongering. They pose as defenders of the faith but are only interested in instrumentalising the faith to achieve prominence and power. Their machinations are helped by mass ignorance and widespread pauperisation of the people.
In this circumstance, genuine religious leaders must rise up to educate their adherents on tolerance and the need to respect the rights of others to freely worship their own way. They must intensify education on the sanctity of human life and the dignity of man. They must also be educated on respect for constituted authorities and more importantly on the fact that no citizen has the right to kill another citizen.
What happened to past perpetrators? That is a question that agitates the minds of right-thinking citizens. What has been happening so far is a rash of condemnatory speeches from the authorities and bland assurances that the culprits would be brought to book. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done. Nigerians want to see culprits being apprehended, tried and punished according to the law of the land. This will not only serve as deterrence to would-be perpetrators but engender confidence and cooperation of citizens. But a situation where only initial statements of the custodians of law and order are all the citizens hear without subsequent trial and convictions is a subtle encouragement to would-be perpetrators. There is a widespread suspicion that the perpetrators get released when the righteous indignation dies down. This cycle of impunity must end.
But the greatest blame should go to the government both at the centre and the other tiers. It bears repeating that the primary purpose of government is to ensure the security and welfare of the people at all times.
Governments have failed the people in this regard. Good governance that will deliver the greatest good to the greater majority of the people is what is needed to stem the tide of wanton killings.
Food security, good infrastructural facilities and a general sense of belonging for all citizens are the basic ingredients of good governance. It has become continuously elusive in Nigeria, hence the parlous state of things.
Nigerian politicians are busy thinking of the 2023 elections but how many are thinking of real positive changes in the polity as required of true statesmen? The situation now is akin to Nero fiddling away while Rome burns.
To get Nigeria back on track, the sanctity of human life must be enthroned by all.