THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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It is to appease the sectarian sentiments of the two major religions, Islam and Christianity, that Nigeria enjoys an observer status (not membership) at the Organization of Islamic Countries, OIC and diplomatic relations with Israel and the Vatican. Yet the two religions have never failed to mutually begrudge each other these non-secular privileges. Christian and Muslim organizations now even own their broadcast media outlets and through years of sectarian pressure they have both managed also to get the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Immigration Office, from time to time, to allow outside proselytizers from their faiths to come into the country and often to use including State-owned public spaces to fish for souls. In addition to these, both Islamic and Christian religious knowledge are taught in public schools and in both private secular and religious schools beginning from nursery, primary, secondary schools up to the tertiary levels.
And so the secular claim of the Nigerian Constitution continues to be made even more and more complex by the non-secular tendencies both of the operators of the Constitution and especially of the vociferous sections, especially of the Christian and or Muslim communities who of now are in the fray trying always to probate and then reprobate on these matters. Predominantly Muslim states that admit Nigeria is a multi-religious nation, indulge only the sectarian fancies of Muslims to the exclusion of those of others. And many Christian organizations who insist that Nigeria is secular, and even publicly oppose the granting of sectarian privileges by governments to any, yet are not themselves averse to the enjoyment of those privileges. Said W.B. Usman in his ‘The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria’, ‘The two major religions… have become part of the competition for political and economic space’, and that often they do so even in contempt of the law –e.g. by the indiscriminate building of religious places of worship without regards for environmental and planning regulations, by the brazen closing of public accesses during all kinds of religious occasions and also by the deliberate constitution of public nuisance through the use of heavy speakers and amplifiers. Mutual inter-faith antagonism, he said usually ‘flows from hostility by some Nigerians to any apparent forging of a close relationship between religion and the state… (especially if it is not their own religion), and the attempt to use religious doctrines to form the basis of laws and policies of the state’.
And the question then is often asked whether the struggle between the two major religions in Nigeria manifests a quest truly for the souls of Nigerian citizens or for the soul of the Nigerian State. If the State has not been able to subordinate organized religion in order to give vent to the true textbook definition of secularism, organized religion, it appears, may have itself overwhelmed the State, to give vent to the popular counter-thesis that Nigeria, rather than being secular, is actually a multi-religious or a religiously plural, society. As the Hausas would say ‘barewa ba za ta yi gudu ba, dan ta ya yi rarrafe’ –we cannot be a nation of believers and pretend to lock God up in our individual closets. Even the bastion of capitalism and free market, America, has not been able to do that. Nor does she pretend to do that.
We saw George Washington link the ‘notion of Church and state’ to advocate a ‘common ground for religion and government’; and we saw Ronald Reagan -a proponent of ‘prayer in public schools’- oppose the omnipotence of ‘state’ over ‘man’ even as he repudiated the ‘communist’ idea that ‘man’ should ‘stand alone without God’. We see also among Americans, a settled claim to spiritual preeminence even in the manner in which they arrogate to America the hallowed nickname of ‘God’s Own Country’, -suggesting that America alone, to the exclusion others, is preeminently heaven’s only ‘child’ and in whom alone God is well pleased. And although America neither has -like the UK- an established State Church to which she is spiritually beholding, nor does she have -like Germany or Italy- political parties plumed in the feathers of religion, yet she, in addition to being ‘God’s own country’, also prides herself –like Nigeria- as a ‘Nation Under God’. Americans believe, that there is a God up there who provides for America beyond measure; and who bestows on her the preeminent overlord-ship of the rest of the ‘un-anointed’ world! Plus, in moments of national tribulations America is known also to take solace in the pathos of the spiritual refrain, ‘In God We Trust’; even as she also, in moments of national triumph, regale in the supplicate ‘God bless America’. Not the God of Capitalism; and certainly not the God of Democracy, but the very ‘Living God’ of Abraham and of Moses! All these are not the attributes of a nation unconcerned with the ‘religious’. On the contrary, they are proofs of a nation’s unquestioning surrender to the sacred realm. In fact of the many unwritten cannons supplementary to the U.S. Constitution, the un-coded code regulating who governs America includes all except non-Christian Americans.
On the other hand America’s love of the ‘mundane’, her systemic abiding passion for the ‘hedonistic’ and her romance with the ‘profane’ all combine to create for her an alternate God of sort in ‘Capitalism’ as an object of deification. America is the veritable Gog-Magog of the ‘Free Market’, preeminently the number one ‘capitalist’ nation in a globalizing, Darwinist world that believes -contrary to all spiritual dogmas- in the survival only of the fittest. It is inconceivable that with these attributes America can be anything but ‘secular’. It is strictly on account of the virtual deification of ‘capitalism’ which America is irretrievably sold to, that in spite of the many forms of her tokenistic constitutional allegiance to God as we have seen, she is still referred to as the quintessential ‘Secular’ ‘State’ which, come to think of it, Ronald Reagan ought to have directed his outburst at when he railed at “Communism’s attempt to make man stand alone without God”. And you wonder ‘between a ‘capitalist America’ and a ‘communist Russia’ which is truly the ‘enigma wrapped in enigma?’ Is it Russia which makes no pretence about standing ‘alone without God’, or is it America which makes a show of standing both with God and with Marmon? Is it Russia which neither gives to nor takes from God or Caesar, or is it America which hypocritically takes only from God and not Caesar, but gives only to Caesar and not God?
Iran is a good example of a non-secular yet non-wholly theocratic Islamic system. Although the prevailing ideology of that state is the Islamic Shariah, Iran is also run by other modern Western tenets that are the direct anti-thesis of the Islamic code. Although its government is suffused largely by clerics, yet to the extent that it is also ‘run by’ technocratic, non-clerical others, Iran still comes short of a full-blown ‘theocracy’. In reality if being ‘concerned with temporal, worldly matters’ to the exclusion of ‘religion’; or if being concerned with ‘the profane’ in disregard of ‘the sacred’ is the abiding yardstick for defining ‘secularity’, even UK then cannot be said to pass that litmus test. But again it makes sense to say that if by reason of unwillingness to completely dissonate ‘State from Church’, the UK is non-secular, it should make sense also to say that her willingness to resonate liberal inter-faith attitude towards other religions, especially when, at the peak of the debate over the alleged hegemonic motive of Islam, Britain could still establish the ‘Islamic Bank of England’, that again can be proof of a secular virtue, if not secular nature.
And which begs the question: Is any state by the way ever wholly ‘secular’ or wholly ‘non-secular?’