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Religion and tradition as sureties against corruption

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There is a quip from the Holy Bible, to be found in the Book of Psalms 37: 25. It says that ‘I was young and now I’m old, but I have never seen the righteous left all alone, and have not seen their children begging for bread.’ Yes that statement is true. But apart from the semantic implications which this aphorism conveys, it is in the dearth of certain values and norms which we have all taken for granted that have prompted me to attempt to develop my own ecclesiastical expression which highlights one of our collective frustration with the anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria.

But before I begin to examine this ecclesiastics let us at least look at the background of certain aspects of governance in Nigeria. Every four years after election, elected public officials are sworn into office on the platforms of whatever religion they profess. If the public official is a Christian or Moslem, they would clutch a copy of the Holy Bible or Quran, stand on the public square and take an oath to defend and protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That singular act in itself is reminiscent of the position of the religious and traditional leader who takes on the mandate of either a preacher or an Imam and takes responsibility for the lives and property of the people who have entrusted their destinies to him.

But more often, after these public officials would have taken oaths on either the Bible and the Quran, to provide security of lives and property, what results is a looting frenzy – both legal and illegal, public monies. The result is that there is often poor governance and large-scale cases of poverty and underdevelopment. A High Level Report on illicit Financial Flows chaired by former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki says that every year as much as $50 billion leave Africa. And yet the surprising thing is that I was young, and now I am getting old, I have never seen the politically unrighteous get struck down by lightening or thunder for impoverishing the very people they swore on the Bible and Quran to secure and protect. Since I was young and now getting old, I have never seen any public official or indeed our politicians get sworn into office through the deities and principalities from their clans and hamlets. Some have said that the reason why the God of the Heavens and the Earth will not strike these politicians is that most of them are neither really Christians nor Moslems. Most are said to often take the real oaths before juju priests and shrines, in the dead of night, where occultist covenants are made to impoverish Nigerians. I have seen a naked Nigerian politician on the internet allegedly taking a bath in the dead of night in a local market square. If such a politician gets elected to represent the market women in that locality, do you think he wouldn’t exploit and further impoverish those women?

The above leads most Nigerians to believe that Nigerian politicians seem to fear the juju and the occultist practices of their clans and hamlets much more than they fear God. Recently the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, organised an anti-corruption workshop in Asaba Delta State, with a focus on traditional and religious institutions. The plan is this: even though the relevant laws are there, working with a plethora of anti-corruption institutions like the EFCC, the ICPC, the Code of Conduct Bureau, corruption, poverty and underdevelopment seem to be on the increase. Could it be that in drafting the legislation and putting the institutions in place that we inadvertently left out religion and tradition? Recall that these institutions have wider reach and an audience much larger than the interface which government provides through radio and television. Is it possible that we can somehow co-opt these institutions, together with the family institution in the battle against corruption?

At the ANEEJ workshop, it became clear that Christianity, Islam and the traditional institutions all abhor pilfering from the public purse. Representatives of these institutions – pastors, imams and traditional leaders all committed to taking the theme which that workshop sought to pass across – Changing Social Norms and Behaviours that promote corruption – to their adherents. What seems to separate tradition from the Christian and Islamic religions is that while the traditional religion deals with you here and now if you dare infract upon it, the other religions will rather get you to a fiery, burning furnace and only in the long run. There is one example. It is from the revered Omo NoBa N’edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II’s gesture of March 2018 in Benin City. In full glare of television cameras, His Royal Majesty seeking to nip the abomination of parents and husbands sending their daughters and wives abroad with the help of juju priests to prostitute to eke a living, invoked the gods against such norms and behaviours. The effect has been nothing short of a miracle.

And therefore, as we seek to change social norms and attitudes which promote corruption in Nigeria, most Nigerians are on the verge of asking all traditional and religious institutions to replicate the example of the Oba of Benin Ewuare II in the fight against corruption. In addition to this, I would suggest, as a first step that at the point where public political office holders are being sworn-in, let them show up with their pastors or imams and with the juju priests from their villages and ask to be struck down by lightening if they so dip their hands in our purse. What this may likely produce is an insurance policy which names, shames and sanctions a religious or traditional institution which stands surety for a public office holder. At this point in our national history, where we are all fed up of the poverty and underdevelopment which corruption exerts on us, Nigeria needs a deterrence mechanism against corruption. If it is the traditional religion or the Christian or the Islamic religion to which Nigerians have strong respect and awe, then let us by all means get them to sign on to the fight against corruption.
Etemiku wrote from Benin City.


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