The answer is in secularism
Ordinarily, religion should stabilise the functioning of the social machinery and promote on earth that primary law in heaven, order, by teaching us love, patience, toleration, respect for others, etc. Lamentably, it has brought humanity so much hate, violence and disruption of the social order. This is because every religion tends to claim a monopoly on the Truth. It is this erroneous belief that it is only one’s religion that encapsulates the Truth and the consequent disdain for the doctrines and devotees of other religions that is the basis of religious hate and violence. This contempt for other faiths can be so gross, to the point of considering their members deviants or infidels, whose continued existence is an affront to God. Therefore, that in slaughtering them, you are doing nothing wrong, but actually, establishing Divine Will.
Thus, arises the dilemma of how can peoples of different religions, each, with its own false sense of religious superiority, co-exist peacefully in one country. The answer is in secularism. Ostensibly, Nigeria is a secular state. At least, our constitution affirms it. However, secularism, in a way, is comparable to democracy in that it is not an end-product; it is a process. It is a process that can be undermined by the forces of obscurantism, ignorance, and intolerance or strengthened by forces of enlightenment, moderation, and toleration. Just as Nigerian democracy is being buffeted by President Buhari’s despotism and repression of free speech, Nigerian secularism is being bludgeoned by fundamentalism.
The lynching of Deborah Samuel by her schoolmates at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State, for alleged blasphemy, is an unvarnished proof of the evisceration of secularism in Nigeria. The revelry and merriment that was conspicuously evident in the mood of her assailants, that is, that students of a higher institution of learning found something celebratory in the lynching of a schoolmate evinced that secularism is on its deathbed in Nigeria.
But then, the cruel and brutal religious intolerance that pervades northern Nigeria did not bloom out of a void. It bloomed from the incendiary rhetoric of narrow-minded demagogues and rabble-rousers masquerading as political and religious leaders. The people generally have no understanding; they imbibe and do whatever their leaders are pleased to tell them. Not surprisingly, the killing of Deborah was in consonant with the religious convictions of one of the most important Islamic leaders in Nigeria, the Chief Imam of the National Mosque in Abuja Mosque, Ibrahim Maqari. In his justification of the killing, he babbled like a frenzied zealot, “We, the Muslims have some red lines beyond which must not be crossed. If our grievances are not properly addressed, then we should not be criticised for addressing them ourselves.”
And a number of other Muslim leaders also justified the killing; others equivocated, and quite a few, in their sensitivity to the national political barometer, half-hearted denounced it. A renowned cleric, Sheik Gumi, skirted the crucial issues raised by the murder: the imperative of religious tolerance, inviolability of human life, illegality of mob action and perils of jungle justice, and piffled about Muslim that involves in such murder will not make paradise. In his cynical opportunism, the former vice president and the PDP presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, withdrew his earlier twitter post that condemned the killing. As to why he removed the post, he quibbled and hedged, but still did not denounce the killing.
Islamic fundamentalism and its blood-soaked fanaticism are deeply entrenched in parts of northern Nigeria. The responses of Maqari and other northern political and religious leaders to the lynching of Deborah are powerful indicators that the situation is not changing anytime soon; northern Muslim leaders and opinion molders will continue to egg-on their followers to hysterical intolerance and wanton brutality.
The promotion of secularism in Nigeria demands the election of a new breed of Nigerian political leaders into every stratum of our governments, especially, the presidency. It is all about leadership, especially, political leadership. Just as the present prejudiced, retrogressive presidency subverts secularism, an open-minded, progressive presidency will reinforce it by cultivating religious tolerance and ensuring severe punishments for acts of religious intolerance.
In 2023, we must elect a president that appreciates that Nigeria is a secular state; and will by his words and actions advance secularism, and evenhandedly enforce the laws of the land. The power, influence and consequences of presidential leadership are so enormous, almost all encompassing; it can literally re-define Nigeria. Invariably, Nigeria is in her present disgraceful state because of irresponsible and dishonorable leadership.
• Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria. (email@example.com)
0803 529 2908