The Wean Out Of A Suck:
When I’m being asked, what is that one thing you love so much about Nigeria: It is always the "suffering and smiling" for me. We may perceive this to be negative, but trust me, this is part of our major strength, and what distinct us by far from the rest of the world. To be born and brought up in Nigeria alone is a sign of conquest, I mean, to be alive, well and healthy with all the ordeals faced is a great deal. To abuse Nigerians as a foreigner you are is inhuman, and it shows nothing but cruelty. Why not live our life first, and let see maybe you’ll survive; then, you have the might to criticize a Nigerian. No matter the hardship, you’ll still get a smile. This make us look unserious at times giving a burlesque treat to our society, because matters that requires our attention and optimum seriousness on the state of our nation are being found humorous most times. You won't have to blame Nigerians for this, thoughts on the state of the national affairs alone can result to frustration of the greatest magnitude.
Pick whatever as the nation with the highest number of happiest people in the world, and I'll tell you if we Nigerians can be this happy in our time of trials and tribulations, what do you imagine when we have the comfort we deserve?
In respect to the culture of addressing our problems, this article will be channeled towards our practices on religion over the years.
Contemporary religion practices have helped a lot in numerous ways, one that can’t be undermined is the mental support it gives to our people which keep them alive in their trial times.
The “vanity upon vanity” religion approach to the philosophy of life has done so much by saving our people from the claws of suicide, as this keep Nigerians away from distress on their day to day ordeals, and the fact that it is supported by a rhetorical question: “what's your gain when you achieve everything in life but still lose your life” is so much of a relief to Nigerians, which make us see no essence in struggling or bothering too much on anything, and also make us contented with what we have. The modern day religion beliefs is more of a supplement, and an excuse relieving the tension of being impoverished, as this makes the poor worryless about their horrible conditions.
This same thought of “nothing last forever” has drained we Africans of our potentials, and willingness to do more and better the standard of our society. It is as bad that this affects our efficiency on every level, and make us irresponsible to our own self. With no mistake, this mentality is part of what hinders development in our society today. Nevertheless, this belief has done more good by saving our people from a disastrous occurrence (as a result of frustration) with just a simple approach. But it must be noted that, it takes a “reversal of vanity” for a better Africa.
Religion as known and practiced is the harbinger and custodian of the people. To go against a particular religion is going against the belief of the people involved, which is the simplest way to incite violence. “The religious zeal of Dunama II, who sought to destroy the traditional religion of the Kanuri, brought a serious reaction which not only broke the power of Kanem, but also relegated Islam to a minor position in Kanuri politics”.
Religion is what unified the world, and also the precept that brings human beings under one rule. As captured in the GREEN CABBAGE:
“Before the foundation of a country is being properly laid, there must be a belief that harmonizes the faith of the people; and at the same time, there must be a faith that harmonizes the belief of the people”.
Therefore, religion is the avail of development, all the basics of human life (humanity, education, philosophy, and so on) can be found in the thesis of any religion. So, religion is a first aid to life.
Unfortunately in Africa, most especially Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Religious practices are seen as a major problem here, and an outstanding reason denigrating the trajectory of development in the continent as a whole. But who do we blame for this, who should be responsible for this? Is it the religion, or the people practicing the religion? One thing we must know is, the blame is being channeled to the wrong place.
In Africa, religion can be grouped into two: the “most appealing religion”: which are Christianity and Islam, and the “non appealing religion”: which is our various traditional religions regarded a vile by many of us today. What is inherent to us, a vile? Then something is wrong.
To make this more clearer, let's take it one after the other:
In Africa, our traditional religion is of no difference to the prominent foreign religions (Christianity and Islam). The traditional religion is widely condemned as profane, which is not supposed to be true, and in a way, this is said to blaspheme the religion.
The Yorùbá race who are popularly known to be fearful and respectful, sees direct communication with God disrespectful, so they created their own way of communicating with God, which has a resemblance with the way Christians and Muslims call on to God. The same way Christians see Jesus Christ an intermediary between God and man, the way Muslims sees Muhammad (s.a.w) an intermediary between Allah and man, that's the same way our traditional religion sees our deites (Ògún, Ọbàtálá, Ọ̀rúnmìlà, Sàngó, and so on) as an intermediary between God and man.
With the way the traditional religion is being blasphemed by the prominent ones (Christianity and Islam), and how tolerantly the worshippers can be (which if being tried among the most appealing religion, their will be bloodshed), justifies the genuineness of the religion.
The traditional religion has it own precept and rituals as well, which are (in a way) identical and different from the prominent ones. For example, the holy Bible says: God does not want the death of sinners, but their repentance. But in our traditional religion, Ifá made it clear that: all sinners shall taste death, no forgiveness at all.
Initially, this religion as well serves as the custodian of the people, a link that connect the people with their creator (God), but overtime, became a vile it is known to be.
In the earliest days, there was no ruler, no laws or whatsoever, all they had then was every man to his house. And whenever there is a dispute among the people, the issue is being forwarded to Ọbàtálá for settlement. With time, he got tired of it all, and told the people to choose a leader among themselves, a leader who will serve as the head of the village (known as Baálẹ̀ today), and the head of each houses come together to form the council of elders. As time goes on, the aspiration for the leadership position begin to create rifts among ranks, and this led to the usage of magical powers against ourselves. The Power that's meant for our protection, by ourselves, we turn it into our weapon. As a result of this struggle, we became used to using our local charm to dominate and oppress others to our best interest.
The shortcomings of our traditional religion are uncountable, so are the advantages. But let's discuss about the cogent ones that made majority of our people refrain from it practices :
Firstly, it was so easy for the foreign religion to come in and settle, because our traditional religion was never evolving, and the fact that it is oral and not written contributed an incalculable loss of our magical powers. The power revolves around a circle, and It was so bad that, powerful men were scared to pass down their prowess to their children, as they believed they'll make evil use of it. Since it is oral and not written, most of these powers had long been forgotten, because it was never passed down to the younger generations.
Secondly, the early practitioners made it too mysterious to comprehend. There's a do's and don't in every religion, but our traditional religion gives worrisome instructions without reasons, but say things that make us fearfull adherent to it. "Don't eat this, don't drink this, don't do this, you must not see this, do not touch this". We automatically accepted everything feeling there's a danger in disguise if we refuse (like they said). Countless restrictions that are yet to be questioned were put in place. As a result, these restrictions weaned out of our traditional religion have in a way affected our way of life today, hardly will you see us ask "why" to certain things that needs to be questioned.
Thirdly, it remained archaic and no longer serving as a suitor to the people, because of the tension it brings around. One of it is the rituals, considered too harsh for humanity:
In common with all West African peoples, we all believe in life after death. In the empire of Ọ̀yọ́ before the early nineteenth century, the eldest son of an Aláàfin was debarred from the succession by a curious custom probably designed to prevent political intrigue against an Aláàfin by an impatient heir-apparent. During the Aláàfin reign, his first born son filed the important office of Àrẹ̀mọ, but at his death, the Àrẹ̀mọ had to die too. Nor was he the only one to accompany the deceased Aláàfin on his journey to the spirit world, but all the Aláàfin's personal officials had to perish with their masters.
Also is the Soninke people of the ancient empire of Ghana. Then, when a ruler died, great care was taken to see that he lacked for nothing on his journey to the spirit world. A special Hut was constructed for the dead Ghana's body, and within it were placed comfortable rugs, his personal possessions, food and water, and his domestic servants. Then the building was sealed off and completely covered with a thick layer of earth to form a huge mound.
Lastly, the human sacrifice which is the most dreadful of it all. Here, human beings are used for sacrifice to appease the gods, or to exorcize evil spirit. It is not as though they just pick anyone they like, they have a suitable way of doing it which makes it pleasant. They make announcement first before the commencement of the ritual. They'll announce to everyone in town that they need someone to be sacrificed to the gods, and if the people do not want to be victim of this, they should be indoor for either three or seven days, depending on the time frame given. Mostly, strangers are always the victim of this, and whoever the person is, he/she will be sacrificed to the gods.
This excessive waste of life is disheartening, and not at all evolving for our people to keep up with. Now, it is the traditional religion practitioners responsibility to look for a way to amend it strict rules, and make it suitable for our people.
Christianity and Islam are the two dominant religions in Africa. Since their existence in Nigeria, these two religions rescued citizens of the nation from victimization, fear, oppression, brutality and so on. These religions are playing a crucial role in Nigeria development today:
- Islamic religion :
Popularly known as "Ìmàle" in Yorùbáland because of it strict way of learning. This religion has the biggest population in Nigeria, and a dominant religion in Africa as well. Islamic religion came through the coastal strip of North Africa by a conquest in the early years of the eighth century. Thereafter, they installed new Arab ruling families whose courts became centres from which Islamisation spread.
The spread of Islam in West Africa was a peaceful persuasion made by Muslim merchants. Then, the religion was seen as the cult of traders, and Allah the God of merchants. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Islam had become the religion of majority of the West African people. There were also a number of more positive factors that contributed to the acceptance of Islam in West Africa. Early trans-Saharan traders told impressive stories of the Islamic civilizations in their home countries to the West African people. Their new architecture, their possession of desirable luxuries, added to the prestige of their religion. Their mode of dress was part of the major reason why the Yorùbá race adopted the religion. With their decent mode of dress, the Yorùbá people believed there's something they both share in common.
The clerics literacy in Arabic impressed non-literate, and with Islam came a new and important form of education. As indigenous education was purely oral and concerned with initiating the young into knowledge of local custom, muslim studies covered an international field of theology, politics, law, history, geography and the natural sciences. Through Islamic peaceful teachings of peace, mercy, tolerance, compassionate, and it admirable way of life, our people accepted the religion. Islam was helpful to our people by creating a bond within them, and also made them refrain from their inhuman acts. It preaching that: “all men are equal before God” made our people found solace in the religion. Also, their rituals which doesn't involve human sacrifice relieved our people, and made them pathways with our traditional religion.
What made Muslim literacy not impactful in Africa was because, Islam introduced literacy in Arabic, imposed their culture and way of life on our people, and refused to contribute to the development and documentation of our: history, philosophy, language, literature and so on. In the ancient Songhai empire, the university cities of Jenne and Timbuktu became two of the foremost centres of Islamic learning in the world, but our literature was never exposed into the writing art. This writing and learning skills in Arabic could have being used to develop our languages, but no, they were only interested in the diffusion of their religion, culture, and tradition into our system. Therefore, Islam didn't contribute to the development of Africa as a whole, the religion was just helpful to the people, and not the society.
2• Christianity religion :
Initially, the arrival of Christianity was to oust Islam dominance in Africa. Direct contact between West Africans and Europeans did not begin until fifteenth century; whereas Islam had been thriving in Africa since eighth century.
It all started with King John I of Portugal, when he sought an expansion in North Africa. He set out to destroy piecemeal the power of the Muslim states so that Portugal would not only gain control of the fabulous wealth of North African cities and of the trans-Saharan trade that underlay it, but would also serve Christianity by destroying Islam in the area. The invasion fleet was controlled by John’s fourth son, prince Henry, and in 1415, the Portuguese captured Ceuta.
Henry achievement was to be accompanied by the advance of Christianity, and he had learned that the West African people were neither subject to North African rulers nor in military alliance with them, and the West African people were heathen. Henry therefore conceived a plan to convert the West African people into Roman Catholicism by persuasion or force, even by enslavement if necessary. After they came in contact with West African people, they found out that they were inferior to their military standard, so waging a war on them will be ruthless.
Just like the Muslim clerics did not discredit existing customs in West Africa, Henry adopted the same approach to infiltrate the West African people and change their nature. From there, they started kidnapping our people and send them to Portugal to learn Portuguese and Christianity so that they could be used as interpreters and missionaries in future. It happened that one captive was a man of noble birth, and in response to his pleas, it was agreed that he will be returned to his homeland for a ransom of ten negro slaves.
This system was successful, and it worked. The Christians missionaries realised the very advantage in converting us through our languages, so the returning captives led the missionaries to their various villages, and seeing our men in the midst of a different race was a bit shocking and impressive to our people. This same system later produced Samuel Ajayi Crowther, who translated the holy Bible into Yoruba Language. This project was among the first to expose the Yoruba Language into the writing art. With time, we started to see Christianity as our own thing because it was freely improvised.
This religion helped a lot in reshaping our society and our people by introducing a full blown literacy, it's a religion that integrated the African society with it simple and efficient practices. Christianity took interest to knowing the state of our affairs and changed it for better. Just as Islam stopped so many dreadful acts in our system, Christianity was confrontational by putting an end to some prominent beliefs in our society, which are aching to our people. One of which is the: killing of twins in a part of Southern Nigeria, seeing the birth of twins a sign of misfortune back in the days.
In conclusion to this part, Christians that term Islam a violent religion in Africa should stop it now, both religions had a similar beginning in Africa, a very unjust one. I'll say both the western and Arab world saw Africa as a terrain suitable to test their might, and a struggle for dominance. Sad enough, we continue the foreign religions introducers struggles that embittered us for years. We should be thanking our star that traditional religion is not part of the struggle to dominate. Funny how the traditional religion we blaspheme is serving as the harbinger to many of our religion leaders today. Also, It must be noted that all the atrocities committed by these religions introducers were in no way related to both religions practices.
Apart from the unforgivable advent of these foreign religions in Africa which was by conquest, these religions are of great deal to the African people. With no doubt, both religions really impacted Africa. Islam has the best rituals, thus, it gave our people a devoted mind. Christianity has the best structure, it gave our people civilisation.
In Africa today, it's a sad thing to see that we adopted these foreign religions just by their names, and not by their concepts. Most things we do aren't fully or not at all in accordance with these religions precept, we've coined many of these things to meet our interests to: victimize, oppress, and dominate. Do we say we weaned the religions by their manner of conquest and not by their concepts? I think this contributed to the problem as well. Also, things we complained about our traditional religion which made us refrain from the art, are things we brought into these foreign religions (Christianity and Islam) today. So one can say our traditional religion is not even the problem in the first place, we are!
So now we'll be looking at how we've used these religions against their will with these three major factors:
Victimization : Funny how we use these religions to inflict pains not on others, but on ourselves. “In the early days of Islam in Africa, Abdullah Ibn Yacin (a Moroccan) built up the Almoravid movement that imposed its own form of Islam upon us. He converted the Sanhaja Berbers into the militant Almoravids, and invaded Kumbi. On their conquest of Kumbi in 1076, they gave the Soninke inhabitants the choice of Islam or death. Whereas, Islam had been existing in Kumbi before their invasion, so this invasion was geared towards the traditional worshippers who are yet to accept the religion”. The point is, the introducers peacefully persuaded the West African people to accept the religion, but our own brother Yacin made it a do or die affair. Why?
Oppression : In a way, religion is a tool we can easily use to command respect, gain followers, and build a strong influence in our society. To maintain all these things, holy laws are being used to place the people under control, laws that never affect the advocators:
The sharia (law) in Islam is no bad law, and it shouldn't be seen against any religion or sect, it is just the combination of old and biblical laws that we people of nowadays see as harsh or cruel simply because we see ourselves as a potential perpetrators. The major problem now is the people advocating for Shari'a (Law) but will be above it. This same Shari'a (Law) go against a Leader whose follower had to steal before he/she can feed himself or his family. But no one will talk about this, not even the Islamic clerics surviving under them. Likewise in Christianity, when a member needs help, the congregation gather to pray for the person. But when the pastor says he’s no more comfortable with his a year old car, as expected, the congregation will donate money to get him a new ride. How's this just?
Domination : One notable rob on religion is the one of Usman Dan Fodio, who treacherously strived to overlord the Hausa-City states. And it must be noted that Islam had been in existence in Hausaland long before the coming of Dan Fodio. “Muhammad Rimfa is remembered as the greatest of all Habe rulers of Kano. His long reign lasting from 1463 to 1499, marks the zenith of Islam in Kano. Although much credit for this must be attributed to his predecessor Yakubu (1452 - 1463) who followed a policy of peace, and also received Fulani Muslims from Mali, bringing books and ideas unfamiliar in Hausaland. Thus, the stage was set for the illustrious reign of Muhammad Rimfa (Rumfa). Rimfa transformed Kano to an Islamic state, and also compelled Kano leading citizens to become Muslim. The great Muslim festival of Id-al-Fitr at the end of the fast of Ramadan was first celebrated in Kano during his reign, and the custom of keeping women in purdah was introduced. Rimfa appointed “qadis” to administer justice according to Islamic law, and also set up the Islamic system of taxation”.
Back to Dan Fodio. Dan Fodio was born in Marata about 1754, he was a Toronkawa (Torodbe) Fulani. His own ancestors had migrated from Futa Toro possibly in the fifteenth century, and were a clerical clan devoted to Islamic learning, teaching, and the manufacture of Koranic amulets. Shortly after Dan Fodio’s birth, his family moved to Degel in Northern Gobir, and it was there that the young Dan Fodio grew up. Dan Fodio developed into a young man noted for his deep piety and considerable academic brilliance, and became famous as a scholar and a teacher, and many young men flocked to Degel to study under him and receive his spiritual guidance. Dan Fodio claimed that the common people did not follow truly Muslims lives, and lack knowledge of the true teachings of Islam. Therefore, he urged his disciples to return home and instruct the people of their areas in the true religious and moral life of Islam. Dan Fodio was again appalled that the law courts administered customary instead of Islamic justice. His problem here was: “murderers were imprisoned when they should have been beheaded, and thieves were fined instead of having their hands cut off”. Usman Dan Fodio teachings challenged the entire administrative system and social order of Gobir in the late eighteenth century; and settled Fulani, discontented at their exclusion from the higher levels of government, saw the religious movement as a means of establishing their political power over the Hausa peoples. Finally, when conflict between Hausa rulers and the Fulani-led Muslim reformers broke out, the non Muslims Fulani (Bororo) joined their settled kinsman in an Inter-tribal war between Fulani and the Hausa. I'll ask: why was his effort not geared towards the conversion of the Bororo people? It is now clear that Dan Fodio group was a political movement aimed at transferring political power into the hands of Fulani.
In 1795, Dan Fodio began to preach that to equip oneself with arm was a duty incumbent upon all Muslims. In 1804, Dan Fodio led his followers to Gudu and there he declared a Jihad against a ready made Muslim state, and regarded the people as pagans. This was the beginning of the famous Sokoto Jihad which created a large empire that was both Muslim and Fulani-dominated.
As You can see, Islam was used as a disguise to dominate the Hausa people. Now we know the truth, we won't forget it!
So what are we doing differently? we can say nothing has really changed over the years, we are still the same. Make it make sense please, how does it make sense to blame religion for the happenings in our country? As captured in the soul errand by sir Walter Raleigh: “Say to the church, it shows what's good, and doth no good? If church reply, then give them the lie”.
Now, we need to stop shifting responsibility, high time we take responsibility and stop the culture of holding religion responsible all the time. No religion teaches nefarious acts, but some religions leaders are teaching it. Therefore, Blame the herbalist, and not the traditional religion. Blame the pastor, and not Christianity. Blame the Imam, and not Islam. And if the worshippers, blame them, and not their religion!