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Sunday Narrative: in defence of country, not religion

By Alabi Williams
20 March 2016   |   4:20 am
Nigeria is perhaps, one of few countries where consensus is difficult to procure on crucial matters that are necessary for growth and development.


Nigeria is perhaps, one of few countries where consensus is difficult to procure on crucial matters that are necessary for growth and development. And that is deliberate because some, just a few, benefit hugely to have the country perpetually bogged down and frustrated. Others who may not benefit materially receive morbid gratification from just seeing the country stagnated. Nation building is supposed to be work in progress; after more than 50 years at it, there should be clear signs that the project has left foundation stage. Unfortunately, this country has not stopped crawling.

There is no longer harmony in national discourse. Public space conversation has retreated to the internecine rabble of pre-independence and pre-colonial times, when there was no country and no constitution. Even when the Constitution of the Federal Republic has sensibly provided middle ground for all to surrender group and individual identities in order to engender civilized harmony, some have continued to opt for anarchy.

Take for instance, the trending story of under-aged girls that are kidnapped in different parts of the country and then the crime of kidnapping generally. When the Ese Oruru subject broke, some were sincerely shocked that such social crime could still happen in today’s Nigeria; that a young man of any name would summon the courage to steal a young schoolgirl from Bayelsa State or anywhere for that matter, and take her to Kano or anywhere for marriage. It was more confounding that one of the young man’s parents, his father, applauded his son for bringing home the booty, without asking the young man and the girl to go back and invite her parents to foreground the relationship in proper African style. Nobody said anything about the young man’s mother, who was supposed to play a vital role in welcoming the young bride to her new home.

Socially, for who we are as Africans, there was everything wrong with what happened and that elicited comments from those who suffered culture shock. In my reaction, I thought it was inter-tribal marriage taken too far. I acknowledged that there is a good sense in people of different backgrounds and from different ethnic groups marrying and bringing to life a special breed of Nigerians who can lay claim to embodying our diversities, for purposes of harmony and cohesion. Someone even reminded me that the Constitution encourages inter-tribal marriage in Section 15(3c). I checked it and it is true.

From the various conversations on the Ese Oruru and Yunusa affair in the media, it is clear that there is no consensus on what constitutes a social crime because persons are arguing more from their religious biases. While the subject was hot, some refused to say anything. Instead, in their usual style, they picked faraway subjects to discuss. Two weeks after, they harvested all that was said and not said in order to establish a new trend of conversation, which is that abductions are happening everywhere and in other religions. They said the entire story was amplified because Yunusa is of the Muslim faith and refused to believe that crime had been committed.

Indeed, all men are fallible despite bogus claims to religious piety. And there is no better country than Nigeria where this is exemplified. Despite our religious hypocrisies we rob the poor and steal monies that are budgeted to fight crimes, build roads, hospitals and make life comfortable for all of us. We go on pilgrimages every year, but we are listed as one of the most corrupt people on earth. We are known globally as a very religious people, yet we cannot be trusted on matters of integrity. We have the biggest churches and mosques and we pray endlessly, yet, corruption flows in our blood. Corruption has humbled us and we have become Lilliputians among the comity of nations. Of the names of persons being unveiled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for degrading the economy, Christians and Muslims take the front seats. Adherents of other faiths are few and of very little consequence. Yet we are not ashamed to be seen as religious and ethnic jingoists. What is the value of our religions if our country does not benefit from it?

We therefore now have a situation on our hands where some begin to justify crime because of religion. Some said there are baby factories in the South and there are kidnappers everywhere in the South. They say pastors are also guilty of the crime of abduction and rape. That’s true. In fact, there is hardly a week without a so-called pastor messing with an under-aged girl. And no sane person should justify a crime because it is associated with a religious cleric of either religion. A crime is crime and no matter the effort to paint Yunusa’s and no matter how deftly he is tutored to explain his crime, he was found in company of an under-aged girl, abducted.

The latter rationalisation was that Ese’s parents were lax, in policing their daughter and preventing her from being abducted. They should have hired a policeman to watch over her. I have not heard anybody blame Yunusa’s parents for failing to train their son properly. How would an 18 year old with no tangible economic base rush into marriage, even if the girl had forced herself on him? That again is a social problem that should concern any serious parent. There is of course a problem with teenage pregnancies, which I guess is more rampant in the South because of the air of freedom in this part of the country. It also cannot be exonerated.

Leaders of our religions must begin to examine the harm we are doing to ourselves, when we elevate issues of faith above the Constitution of the Federal Republic, which envisaged that in a new Nigeria of the dreams of the founding fathers, there is bound to be interfaith relationships and marriages. We are also lucky to have our rich cultures and traditions to run to in case our Constitution becomes limited. But we cannot continue to excuse crimes that are not permitted in countries where similar religions hold sway. I shudder to imagine the penalty for what Yunusa has done, allegedly, since the matter is now in court, in some Middle East countries.

As for those who have elevated kidnapping to an economy in the South, it is our prayer that law enforcement becomes strengthened to deal decisively with such crimes. Some states have made kidnapping a capital offence punishable by death. Edo State has done that. In Anambra, the law against kidnapping is very harsh. Even before conviction, hideouts and properties of suspects are pulled down as initial forfeiture.

Beyond punishment, we also pray for governments to make education accessible to every Nigerian, as well as provide skills to engage them. At the risk of sounding like a broken gong, I say again that the Almajiri system in the north has to be dismantled. It is an unfair system to put children of the poor out of school and out there in the cold. Children of rich people are not part of it and that should concern every educated adult in Nigeria. Yunusa is very likely a product of that system and I don’t see how we can continue to justify that.

And then we talk of the girl child, now so endangered that even national lawmakers cannot protect her. Nigeria ranks so lowly on all development indices because a good chunk of the population is idle and without skills. But if we begin to train every girl child, in a matter decades, every family will become empowered to create and produce. And crimes of abduction and cultures that tend to see the girl child as a commodity to be stolen or traded could become socially liberalized.

Someone sent me an sms asking; “which class of kidnappers is worse; commercial kidnappers (who may kill afterwards) or marriage kidnapper (and marriage is honourable by all standards)?”

To keep the conversation going, even though I’m not a judge or marriage counselor, I told him that the two forms are abominable and condemnable and no God-fearing man should justify either. I also told him that marriage is a process and not a commodity to be stolen and eaten in hiding. It is supposed to be a joyous experience to be savoured by both families, not one destined for the prisons.