Recent estimates put the death toll of people who died directly from the Boko Haram war at 1, 500, which was just about the same figures that the Dutch recorded for their 1953 flood disaster. The Boko Haram death estimate is by no means accurate and does not take into account deaths that have indirectly been the result of the war. No accurate records can ever be made of the death, destructions and hardships that the people of Nigeria, especially the North, suffers from the Boko Haram insurgency and other religious crises in the past. Unfortunately, the estimations of preventable deaths may continue, if the Nigerian elites, especially northern elites, do not take a decisive decision, like the Dutch in the 1950s after being struck by a violent flood, to say never again! So, what really is my story about the Dutch saying ‘never again’? Why is it important a lesson for Nigerian (northern) elites?
Iarrived in The Netherlands on the 7th of May 2014, to attend a six-week short course on Governance, Democratisation and Public Policyat the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS), which is located in the serene city of The Hague (Den Haag). The Hague is fondly called the international city of peace and justice, because it has an estimated 160 international institutions and organisations, employing more than 14,000 people who are committed to working towards a safe and just world. The city hoststhe principal judicial organs of the United Nations. The world-famous Peace Palace, built in 1913 with funds from a donation made by celebrated steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, is home to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Other important institutions based in The Hague are the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Europol, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the International Criminal Court.
I met some Nigeriansinvolved in different activities from learning and teaching in the Universities to hustling. During my stay, I always met people, who either sympathized with me or sought to satisfy their curiosity about the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. It was the time when news about kidnapping of school girls and bomb blasts was mixing with a rather ‘happy’ story that Nigeria is now crowned the biggest economy in Africa. I got many hints about life, and coming from Northern part of Nigeria, the interactions got me into some deep reflections, making me to compare aspects of The Netherlands governance and that of Nigerian.A Nigerian resident in The Hague told me in the usual Naija tone ‘this people no dey sleep’. They cannot afford to. The promise remains “It cannot happen again”.
At the Keringhuis, I met some elderly Dutch couples in the canteen. One of them smiled and politely asked me where I was from. I replied “Nigeria”. Not surprisingly he said to me “too much of religion is not good”. I immediately, agreed with him and we parted on that note. But I continued in my reasoning. The same way that too much water is to the Dutch not good, too much of religion is not good for Nigeria, the north in particular! But the Dutch have handled theirs, as I have described above with decisive decision, hard work and continued vigilance. What is Nigeria, the North doing about too much religion?
I do not need to repeat here that hundreds and thousands of people, young and old, women, men and children, visitors have been brutally murdered in various religious crises in Nigeria. From Maitatsine to Boko Haram, the North (Arewa) has suffered more than the Dutch in the 1953 Flood. I do not need to say that religion, whether Islam or Christianity, has become an agency for nightmare rather peace and salvation that each jealously professes. That has been the case and still remains the case: Too Much Religion. What have the authorities, past and present, done? They simply form commissions of enquiry and it is the last we hear of it. The only effort made by the Military regime under Buhari of circumscribing religious agencies was rebutted and it still marginally hunts his political career. What is to be done?
Like the Dutch in the 1950s, the Nigerian authorities and specifically elites in the North (emirs, politicians, business men and women, religious leaders, teachers in schools, parents and youth groups) must take a decisive decision now. It Cannot Continue (ICC). Religious bigotry and manipulation have to be tamed. Because that is too much religion.We must come together as we try to seek solutions to the Boko Haram menace in our society to take a decision, from the family level to the national level. We need legislations, collective condemnationof any elements of religious bigotry in our society and polity. Too much religion should not be condoned. We must manage religion to be beneficial to our stay here on earth and in the hereafter. After all, the best prayer in Islam is, O God, give us the good in this world, and in the hereafter, and protect us from the torment of fire.
One may ask, what does too much religion means? We must seek to answer that collectively in our localities based on our contexts. To me, it is the elevation of religion beyond limits of tolerance, above guaranteeing, or finding solutions to, our basic needs of security, food, shelter, health care and stability. Any religious leader that advocates instability should be arrested and jailed for life. Individual rights and freedoms have limits. In Africa, we have a charter of human and peoples’ rights. As people in Nigeria, religious freedom of individuals is harming our peoples’ (collective) rights. We must stand up and act now, like the Dutch in the 1950s. We must say never again.
Bappa Habibu Yaya is at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)