Reasons why we’re religious

By James Damia

Recently, the BBC carried out a survey of people’s religious beliefs. The result shows that Nigeria is the most religious nation in the world. The 10 countries polled were the US, the UK, Israel, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Russia, Mexico, Lebanon and Nigeria. The findings of the ICM poll for the BBC programme What the World Thinks of God revealed that over 90% of Nigerians said they believed in God, prayed regularly and would die for their beliefs.

I would like to believe the larger percentage of the people interviewed in Nigeria must be either Muslims or Christians, since animists make up a smaller percentage of the population. One is compelled to question why Nigerians can be so religious since none of the two major world religious (Islam and Christianity) originated from Nigeria or even Africa.

Why are Nigerians so religious?

I believe Nigerians are a people, who are religious by nature, than by choice. Deities are as numerous in Nigeria as are cultures and languages. Colonialists (whether British or Jihadists) found an in-road in religion through which they penetrated into our people and subjugated them in those days. It is not that we are a very gullible people. It is just that we are a religion-prone people.

Nigerians are also so religious because they are so incredibly and unimaginably poor. People must call upon God quite fervently and regularly and exercise their religious faith for daily sustenance in Nigeria. That is because the Nigerian system has virtually packed up and the common man cannot dare to depend on it. Hunted and haunted by the ever-present scourge of poverty, deprivation and constant want, many have to turn to their religion for hope and comfort.

Karl Marx rightly described religion as the ‘opium of the people.’ Living in Nigeria has become so hellish that the thought of paradise and the promise of getting there becomes a cherished consolation to many.

I am convinced (like one of my colleagues pointed out to me) that, if this country experiences a sudden economic boom and the fortunes of Nigerians turned around for the better, attendance at churches and mosques will experience a drastic decline, and our clerics will lose their clientele. It takes a hungry man to make a praying man in Nigeria.

I want to also submit that Nigerians are very religious because corruption is a religion in Nigeria. If we are rated as the second most corrupt country in the world and, at the same time as the most religious nation in the world, doesn’t that imply that we are a religiously corrupt people? I don’t know of any other place on the face of this earth where corruption is glorified and celebrated the way it is done in Nigeria.

Check the list of public officials indicted directly or indirectly for corruption. You will find that they are people, who have been to Mecca and Jerusalem. Some will even use part of looted public funds to build churches and mosques around the country to earn themselves vain titles of ‘Defender of Faith: Knight, Mother and Father of the Faithful,’ et cetera. Almost all public office holders at all tiers of government have chieftaincy titles. Same goes for big players in the business world.

Our pastors and imams reserve the best places in the house of God for the rich and those, who have ‘arrived.’ The rich are automatically made part of the religious council and advisers. It has even come to the point that some of the people, who are known to have corruptly enriched themselves, are now leading in worship in their respective churches and mosques.

They will arrogantly sermonise about how God has ‘blessed’ them for their faithfulness to Him, thus implying that they were more saintly than other people.

I know religion and corruption are not supposed to have a correlation, since they are believed to be on opposite sides. But there is a correlation between religion and corruption, and that is hypocrisy.

Yes, it takes hypocrites to be religiously-corrupt; and that’s what many Nigerian leaders are. And because we have this traditional belief that leaders can’t be wrong or that they can’t be challenged or corrected, people throw restraint to the winds and assume the image of demi-gods and act as they like, while they are holding public office.

The second most corrupt country in the world can at the same time be the most religious because her citizens have perfected the art of hypocrisy and li-services.

Finally, I want to state that Nigerians are the most religious people on earth because religion is a very potent political weapon. In fact, throughout the 43 years of Nigeria’s existence, the northern power block, through the instrumentality of the Sokoto Caliphate, ensured that northern Muslims ruled the country for the greater part of that period (43 years).

Religion has never been separated from politics in Nigeria. Even religious leaders are known to encourage their followers to give their votes to those, who belonged to their religious sects during times of election.

And most of the coups and counter-coups, civil war and ethnic clashes that have occurred in the country since independence were a result of a particular religious group’s attempts to get a hold of and retain power.

It is a well-known fact in Nigeria that whenever politicians are vying for a particular office, they begin by increasing their religious ferou (which all along had been at a very low ebb) and then kick-start their campaign from the churches or mosques they attend, whipping up religious and ethnic sentiments to their own advantage.

If your vote is your right, as they say, then your religion is the way to use that right correctly.

Sometimes, even getting admission into higher institutions of learning is greatly affected and influenced by your religious leaning and profession. Likewise getting a job and getting ahead in your chosen profession in life. Most of the time, it all depends on your religion.

If you are still wondering why we are the most religious people on earth, then I will sum it up for you like this: it is because without a religion, the average Nigerian is lost.

Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol.5 No.3, 2004

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