Will religion bethe time-bomb for Nigeria's latest transition to civilianrule?

Special to USAfricaonline.com

Did God mandate thesefolks to kill in His name?
Or, are some religions truly the opium of the masses;
and, if I may, the narcotic of the elite?

Religion has remained a core, largely divisive part of the politicsof regions and ethnicity in Nigeria. Raw appeal to the religiouspersuasion of candidates for public office are common. The Bible andthe Koran have become part of the staple of playing the divide andconquer strategy in the geopolitics of the country of almost 110million largely boisterous citizens. It has been so even long beforeNigeria's political independence of October 1, 1960.

In fact, since the British colonialist, LordLugard, led the amalgamation of the northern and southern regions ofNigeria in 1914, the Sokoto Caliphate, the Roman Catholic Church andthe Anglican church and its other variations have had ample leverageon who governs Nigeria. This reality was underscored by the power ofthe Sultan of Sokoto since 1890s until the late and infamous Gen.Sani Abacha came and plucked the previously influential IbrahimDasuki from the throne.

Even the late Alhaji/Basorun M.K.O Abiola, aYoruba from President Olusegun Obasanjo's home state in the southwestof Nigeria, Ogun, was a major architect of Nigeria's presence in thecontroversial Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). He would havepursued this, I believe, largely, to enrich his share of theMuslim/religious vote and bona fides prior to his 3 attempts atbecoming president of Nigeria. The Anglican Archbishop OlubunmiOkogie whom I had the privilege and opportunity to interview in 1988does not make any subtle comments about "the need to have Christiansto become active in improving the moral tone and direction ofNigeria." He is the nightmare of anyone who believes that if you slapa Christian he/she should turn the other cheek. In some sense, he's arevolutionary theologian who believes in protecting the daily run ofevangelism and its adherents.

Fundamentally, it is not enough to treat theissues in Kaduna and Zamfara as isolated cases. USAfricaonline.comand NigeriaCentral.comcan report that 4 other predominantly-Muslim populated states areplanning to introduce their own efforts at following the traditionalSharia laws as their co-religionist and Governor of Zamfara hasdone.

Religious conflicts, among other factors, inthe same northern region of Nigeria where thousands of Igbos andeasterners were killed in 1966-1967 contributed to the declaration ofthe defunct Republic of Biafra. According to the former Biafra leaderIkemba Odumegwu Ojukwu, during an interview I had with him withUSAfrica The Newspaper, "it was necessary in the face of thereligious and physical assault on our people to draw a line of safetywhere they can return... which we called Biafra."

Currently, as the soldiers from theKaduna-based One Mechanized Division and other state securityagencies seek to restore calm in Kaduna, a strategic town which isseen as the heartland of northern Nigerian politics, some questionsremain pertinent. Among them: How will President Obasanjo handle thefestering problems of religious pursuits and his duty to maintain lawand order? It is ironic that the same issues and questions he posed,with a subtle indication that it is not altogether impossible for thefederal government to impose a state of emergency in Lagos due to thewanton brigandage of the Odua Peoples' Congress(OPC), a militantgroup of his fellow Yorubas who have fought and confronted variousinterests including the Governor of Lagos.

Also, how will the National Assembly respond tothe theocratic interests of some Muslims who wish to be governedunder the conservative and strict Islamic Sharia law, under Nigeria'sconstitutionally-mandated secular state? What about the more moderateMuslims who prefer the status quo? Is there a proper understanding ofthe issue of separation of church/mosque and state in Nigeria? Willreligion be the time-bomb for Nigeria's latest transition to civilianrule? Did God mandate these folks to kill in His name? Or are somereligions truly the opium of the masses, and if I may the narcotic ofthe elite? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.
Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award, HABJ 1997,served on the editorial board of The Daily Times of Nigeria, andtraveled with and covered President Bill Clinton's visit to parts ofAfrica,March -April, 1998. He is the founder and publisher of TheBlack Business Journal,
BBJonline.com,USAfrica The Newspaper, NigeriaCentral.comand the first African-owned, U.S.-based professional newspaper to bepublished on the Internet, USAfricaonline.comCopyright©February 22,2000 USAfrica Digital Media Networks
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