by Oluwafunmilayo Oyatogun
The narrow, dirt streets in southern cities like Aba and Port Harcourt are lined with zinc and wood structures with motorcycles parked in front of them and worshipers dancing to praise songs in traditional languages with their white handkerchiefs. On the wide, tarred major roads, gigantic churches – beautiful by all standards and filled to the brim – add valor to the streets with the large billboards and newest cars parked in front of them. Up north, mosques are fewer, larger and even more elegantly adorned than churches but filled up nonetheless. The religious faithful gather to pray, women lined up behind men, either in these tall, gold majestic mosques or on the corners of the streets where there are no official structures. In Lagos or Abuja or any other major city where migrant tribes are as dominant as indigenous ones, the religions are not as distinct from each other; mosques sit side by side with churches. It is Nigeria, where almost the entire population identifies as either Christian or Muslim.
The most populous sub-Saharan nation embodies historical, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity as well as diversity of religious traditions including indigenous religions, new Spiritual movements and various strands of Christianity and Islam. The distribution of Christians and Muslims is stark in the predominantly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south but not as stark in the Western region, where Christians and Muslims exist in almost even numbers. The scriptures of the major holy books of each religion, the Bible and the Q’uran are plastered on the walls of homes, cars and city walls. Religion continues to shape the ways in which Nigerians interpret the complexities of their existence and surrounding realities; to the extent of religion serving as a panacea for problems of day to day living.Christianity and Islam are the predominant practices in Nigeria with 45% of Nigerians identifying as Muslim and another 45% identifying as Christian. However, both religions are thoroughly influenced by indigenous religious and cultural traditions. One clear distinction between the two main monotheistic religions in Nigeria and the African Traditional Religions (ATRs) is that the former have sent God to Heaven while the latter have their gods on Earth.
When God was sent to heaven, He was sent along with the godliness and virtue that men used to have for things around them. All of a sudden, the Earth and its fullness thereof were no longer sacred because God had been removed from them. In fact, monotheistic religions encouraged their members to not only dominate but conquer the Earth. The Earth became a mere tool for man’s anthropocentric agenda; nothing more than a base upon which man can proudly stand to exterminate everything else that existed in unison before man came along. The Earth became a less worthy being, one that deserved taming and exploitation. The Earth became a wildfire to douse, her parts became objects of war and her less mighty people became like mud to trample upon.
This is what happened with the Nigerian ‘big G’ God.
Nigerian monotheists spend more time justifying their God than they do serving Him and having God-like virtue is like having lady-like characteristics: if you have to defend it constantly with more words than character, you probably don’t have it. Bring a piece of God back down to Earth. Bring an even smaller piece back down to Nigeria. We need it. If humans are greater species because humans have souls, how about we nurture and cultivate rather than destroy and conquer?
Monotheistic religion in Nigeria is both a blessing and a curse. Yet, this sentence will probably anger many Nigerians because God is the one part of Nigerian “culture” that Nigerians have refused to accept is borrowed especially as Nigerians are very inconsistent in their definition of ‘culture’ and ‘foreign’, per convenience. Monotheistic religion is the one part of Nigerian culture that Nigerians profess the most and understand the least. Monotheistic religion is the worst vice the colonials left Nigerians with because they left a piece of their arrogance, a piece of their self-righteousness on over a 100 million sheep.
I find God in the swaying leaves, in the sturdy mountains and in the chill of the river. In the same breath that we enthrone Him on high, we must regard Him in the simple things. If we did, we would not devastate a community’s livelihood in Ogoni because our foolish wisdom discovered oil. If we did, we would not steal from the poor and give to the rich. If we did, we would not define our progress by how many churches are found on each street but by how many of our children are righteous and how many of our old men are wise. Righteousness is like wealth, those who’ve mastered its craft don’t need to speak about it; their lifestyles do without much effort. Religion can be a virtue in Nigeria but it isn’t one yet. Until then, like I have mentioned before, Nigeria is not a literary and artistic land of contradictions but a pitiful paradox.