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Truth about religious intolerance in Nigeria

By Raymond Oise-Oghaede
31 May 2022   |   2:42 am
The recent incident in Sokoto which has attracted serious backlash and disaffection from within and outside the country is extremely unfortunate.

The recent incident in Sokoto which has attracted serious backlash and disaffection from within and outside the country is extremely unfortunate.

The spillover effects which have been generating ever since need proper and careful handling by all and sundry in order not to escalate into unpleasant situations with irreparable consequences. There is no other word that could better be ascribed to the heinous act than “intolerance”; and, the misconceptions and misinterpretations that a lot of people have been disseminating around are not helping matters.

It is in view of the foregoing that this review is necessitated as a way to pacify the already tense atmosphere and proffering suggestions to preventing the reoccurrence of such in our societies. Therefore, the aim of this writes up will not be to apportion blame in order not to aggravate the situation and prejudice the case in court; but, it will not also be silent or fail to state in categorical terms that the lynching of the victim for whatever reason is barbaric, callous and unlawful; and, such should not be condoned in any sane society, to say the least.

Our country is operating a democratic system of government with the “rule of law” as one of its cardinal principles; therefore, it is expected that the citizenry shall be guided by the law. There is no place in any subsisting law of this country where it is provided that anyone has the right or authority to take laws into his hands. More so, Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)states it clearly that “every person has the right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria”.

Be that as it may, what happened in this circumstance could be said to be an aberration from the law of the land. This is totally unacceptable; and, such should be “firmly condemned” in all its ramifications. The authorities must rise up to the occasion towards ensuring that the n

However, it needs to be quickly mentioned that those that have been arrested and charged for the death of the victim are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction as provided in Section 36 (5) of the same Constitution under reference. In this situation, the burden of proof shall be on the prosecution; and, they are expected to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Now that the incident has happened and there is nothing we can do to bring back the dead to life; our best option would be to wait for the outcome of the court proceedings hoping that justice would be served at the end of the day. At this stage, it is very important to delve extensively into the issue of “religious intolerance” being the major revolving factor of this incident.

“Religion”, according to the Oxford Languages Dictionary, is simply defined as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”. It could also be put differently, as a particular system of faith and worship. In the Nigerian settings, the three major systems of faith and worship are Christianity, Islam and the African tradition or others. Majority of the people “do not joke” with their religion; and, as such, it will be safe to say that Nigerians, to a large extent, are “very religious.”

Therefore, it is not surprising that Section 38(1) of the Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, such freedom is to the extent of allowing every citizen to choose, decide, manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. As a result of this provision, no one can compel you to practice any religion against your wish; and, no one can deprive you from practicing the belief or religion of your choice.

The above provision notwithstanding, it is very important to quickly mention that, the freedom does not “permits” anyone to “abuse” or “disparage” other people’s religious beliefs or inclination; because, in the face of the law, no one religion is taken as being superior to the other(s); and, that is why the country is termed as a secular state.

It is in recognition of this basic fact that the people are expected to co-exist peacefully and harmoniously in every nook and cranny of the country regardless of whichever religion they practice. Consequently, there is expectations of high level of tolerance amongst the people in order to make the coexistence to remain meaningful, cordial and mutually beneficial. It is only in circumstances where this high level of TOLERANCE breaks down and slide into a state of INTOLERANCE that such ugly incidents like what happened in Sokoto rear their ugly heads.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the minimum requirement for living together happily and coordinately, is TOLERANCE. If we tolerate one another, then there will be MUTUAL RESPECT for our different styles and modes of worshipping God, (whilst also noting to accommodating and respecting the positions of those that do not even subscribe to the existence of God).

The most important thing here is that every man has got the right to his beliefs and unbelief. As such, you are free to propagate your beliefs to high heavens (provided that in doing so, the rights and sensibilities of others do not encroach); and, in the same vein, you can also hold onto your unbelief (provided such is also done without trampling on the beliefs and sensibilities of others).

You are free to solicit and encourage other people to embrace your religion; but, in doing so, there shouldn’t be any form of compulsion or intimidation in your mode of trying to convert them, Furthermore, as a traditionalist, a Christian or a Muslim today, you can freely convert to any religion tomorrow; because, the choice is yours.

Looking at it holistically, Nigerians could be said to be highly tolerable in terms of religious differences. There is hardly any community that you go across the length and breadth of the country where you would not find people of different beliefs living and doing businesses together. As you see different denomination of churches on almost every streets; so also you see mosques of different sizes along the same stretches.

As, you hear melodious songs and praises coming from loud speakers of churches; so also you hear the Muslims calling for prayers five(or in some cases six) times daily in the same manner without anyone complaining against one another. The Traditionalists and others are not left out as they also go about their worships and businesses without condemnation from the Muslims or the Christians. So, to a very large extent, it is safe to say that religious tolerance is prevalent in the country.

In the dim and distant past, some missionaries and religious bodies such as the Methodists, the CMS, the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the Ansar-Ud-Deen, the Ahmadiyyahs, the Zumratul Islamiyyahs, the Nawair-Ud-Deen and others, through their educational institutions played a pivotal role in instilling religious tolerance amongst their pupils/students and the generality of their members. Some other societies and organizations such as the Eckankar, the Rosicrucian Order, the Freemasonry, and the ROF to mention but a few, also contributed their quota to sustaining high level of tolerance amongst the different religion and beliefs.

My experience during secondary school days at Ansar-Ud-Deen Grammar School, Randle Avenue, Suru-Lere, Lagos (a Muslim school) in the late 70s and early 80s is still fresh in my memory. The school could be likened to a training ground where religious and ethnic tolerance was not relegated to the cause of our academic pursuit. Despite the fact that the student population was made up of people of different religion and ethnic backgrounds; we co-existed peacefully, harmoniously and happily like children from the same parents (though, we were not also totally immuned from the natural traits of youthful exuberance). Day in day out, we were never tired or bored of praying according to the Islamic doctrine during the morning devotions. Though, the Christians also have dedicated days for “Fellowships”; there was never a time when we experienced religious friction throughout my stay in that school.

The atmosphere was always devoid of any form of discrimination; and, it was only during Jummah prayers on Fridays and the dedicated days for our Bible fellowships that you are able to distinguish the Muslims from the Christians amongst us. It is, therefore, not surprising to me that the solid foundation of religious tolerance that was laid for us since then has been very crucial in my unblemished and unbiased relationship with people of other faiths and beliefs to date.

The situation was not different during my sojourn in Jos, Plateau state where the Muslims and the Christians lived together happily and peacefully in the hostels and the surrounding environments. I was always thrilled and extremely proud of the state and her people whenever I walked through Adebayo Street in the Terminus area of the city to behold a church and a mosque sharing the same fence. These two places of worship (as I was rightly informed) had co-existed for several decades without any form of conflict or disagreement. The excellent care and wonderful treatments that the then Deputy Governor of the state, His Excellency, Alhaji Halilu Bala Usman (a core Muslim) and other staff of the office accorded us (my humble self and two other Christian Corps Members) throughout our service (NYSC) year will remain indelible in my heart.

To be continued tomorrow, Oise-Oghaede is a political & public policy analyst. He wrote from Suirulere, Lagos and can be reached at raymondoise@yahoo.com.