By Obuseh Jude
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan and former president Olusegun Obasanjo in a church service. Via The Nation
The contents of this piece are bound to elicit plethora of harsh reactions, especially from some holier-than-though ones among us; the highly religious, but less spiritual, fanatical adherents of the several religious bodies in Nigeria, most especially some know-it-all arrowheads of the two major religions - Christianity and Islam – and their largely ignorant disciples. Be that as it may, I would like to remind anybody reading this piece that it is better to please God than to massage the cathedral-like egos of mere mortals, by refraining from telling the truth as I see it.
In the following lines, I examine the complicity of religion in the traditional order of politics in Nigeria, which has created and sustained an unjust system of social relations where a minute fraction of the population continually lord’s it over the larger body politic – a refined form of Apartheid that has overseen the citizens of one of the naturally richest countries in the world, living like Serfs in the land of their fathers; of how religion has abdicated from its role as an agent of social justice, and has unwittingly become an accomplice in the systemic decapitation of the people by the cruel drivers of the Nigerian state. I will not bore you with stories about the evolution of the largely adversarial relationship that has existed between the members of the Nigerian ruling class and the masses since the lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Green-White-Green in 1960 – lots of literature already exist on this subject – but will proceed to state my candid views, without fear of contradiction, on how the ongoing messy state of affairs in our worship centers has helped sustain the war of attrition being waged by the haves against the have-nots.
When Karl Max, in his magnum opus, Das Kapital, referred to religion as the “opium of the masses that serves the political end of suppressing mass revolution”, most of the extremists’ of his generation did not take kindly to this assertion. In his view - later known as historical materialism – “the history of society is a history of class struggle in which the ruling class uses religion and other traditions and institutions, as well as its economic power, to reinforce its domination over the working classes”. While some commentators at the time saw Max as a bland Satanist, others saw him as a confused idealist. But sharp as the salvos of his critics were, they were uttered from highly sentimental standpoints. They were parochial and unjust censorships of Karl’s objective view of human history that was both profoundly pessimistic and deeply optimistic; a view of the evolution of an evil political order that thrived on the exploitation of the labours and resources of the masses by a bunch of greedy political entrepreneurs.
The contemporary Nigerian political system is a mirror image of the conflict-ridden society depicted by Marx in his masterpiece - a political order that is built on mass deceit, uncensored exploitation, and the cloaked use of force by the lords of the Manor against the larger body politic. Since 1960, when the country formally achieved independent status, a class war has been raging between the ruling political elites and the largely impoverished masses - an asymmetrical affair in which the wielders of political power have had the upper hand. Nigeria is a largely stratified society that is constituted by two separate and completely unequal classes of individuals – the lords and the vassals. The lords possess absolute political and economic powers - powers they usurped by subterfuge and force. The vassals possess nothing in the material sense of the word – pitiable conditions that have been festooned on them by the obduracy of the ruling political elites. The conditions of the Vassals are very deplorable; more deplorable than those of the serfs during feudal times. They are born into their poor stations and are expected to subsist and die in these pitiable stations.
In Nigeria, the Lords decide what is to be produced, who should produce, and to whom what is produced should be distributed: they formulate and execute all public policies, which are rammed down the throats of the vassals. The vassals have no say whatsoever in the scheme of things. They are expected to swallow all the hellish prescriptions of the lords with no questions asked. It is a highly segregated and class-conscious system – a preposterous arrangement that is a throwback to pre-enlightenment times; an atavistic and asinine state of nature where dogs eat dogs; a state corresponding to William Shakespeare’s “rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended the nostrils;” a stinking, disheveled, decapitated carcass of a state.
To maintain this absolute state of inequality and check any possible challenge to this imperial establishment, several overt and covert means are deployed. From closing off the political space so that only select members of the politburo can access it; making restrictive laws to keep economic opportunities in the hands of the few powerful; deliberately weakening the institutions of the state – executive, legislature, and judiciary - from performing their input and output functions; deliberately instigating political crisis’ to create an air of insecurity, then step in to restore order, in order to justify its continued stay in power; dishing out deliberate falsehood, through its powerful propaganda machine, to mobilize the masses behind its several murderous decrees, which they call policies; to several other measures that are meant to maintain the status quo ante, the illegitimate owners of Nigeria have had a field day bludgeoning the general will to coma. Of all these strategies, the role of religious institutions, which is the focus of this piece, is the most effective.
In straight terms, the Nigerian ruling class capitalizes on the seductiveness of religion to pacify the masses and prevent them from revolting against the unjust socio-economic order in which they have been forced to subsist since the birth of this comatose project. Religion has become an elixir that the obdurate ruling elites leverage on to weaken the people’s will to rise up and fight for their rights. What many Nigerians are ignorant of is the fact that the heads of most of the organized religious bodies - the clergy, Imams, traditional priests, priestesses’ et al - in Nigeria, together constitute a very important segment of the Nigerian establishment. They are willing accomplices in this system of falsehood; black tyrants hiding behind masks of righteousness to stoke the fire of injustice. These unholy men – and women - abdicate their functions as moral agents to adopt the driving philosophy of the ruling elite: exploitation through deceit. These unrepentant whores condone anathemas of the most extreme kinds in order to keep themselves in the good books of the ogres of Aso Rock and other citadels of power - their chief benefactors. They refrain from correcting the several vicious policies that have turned most Nigerians into scarecrows, rather than risk the ire of the tin gods of Nigeria, preferring to massage the egos of these prickly pick-pockets instead.
Nigeria is said to be a praying country; a very religious country. If one takes a casual walk along any of the streets in any part of this country, you are bound to come across several churches, temples, mosques’, shrines et al; coupled with the numerous sponsored religious programmes on our TVs, radios, the internet and every other available medium. We are indeed a praying nation. In our places of worship, we are daily inundated with the need to respect the authorities and wait for God’s time; to tolerate all infringements on our rights by turning the other cheek; that God will “one day” overthrow all erring leaders and usher in that era of justice, equity and fair play we all crave for; that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword; that the prophets did not resist the authorities during their days on earth, but gave unto Caesar what belonged to Caesar, and to God what was His; and a variety of other feeble reasons given as to why we need not make trouble with the government, but must cooperate with it and live judgment to the almighty. To ensure adherence to these injunctions, the consequences of disobedience are stated.
This article was originally published on The Nigerian Observer