By Bolanle Bolawole
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Someone said when it comes to religion, some Nigerians fight for God but when it comes to their own livelihood and fundamental human rights, they ask God to fight for them! Sarcastic but how true! You may also have come across another post that analysed the difference between knowledge economy and religion economy. The Black man’s economy is the religion economy while the White man’s economy is the knowledge economy. One of the philosophers of Negritude and former president of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, says reason is Hellenic (White or European) while emotion is African (Black). But Aime Cesaire, another of the founding fathers of Negritude, counters that emotion is as Hellenic even as reason is African. Afro music exponent, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, derides the zombie-ish way Africans accept (foreign) religions and follow-follow Archbishops, popes, Imams and Alfas suffering and smiling while those ones enjoy life to the hilt and smile their way to the bank. True, then, are the words of Karl Marx that religion is the opium of the masses! Who says religion, says oppression! Apology to the theorists of elite rule!
While today’s Christian fathers steal in the name of the Lord, their Muslim counterparts kill in the name of Allah. In “Stealing in the name of Jah”, reggae musician, Max Romeo, captured it this way: “Stealing, stealing, stealing, stealing, stealing/Stealing in the name of the Lord/My father’s house of worship/Has become a den of thieves/Stealing in the name of the Lord/They fed our mothers with sour grapes/And set our teeth on edge/Stealing in the name of the Lord/Strike the hammer of justice/And set my people free/Strike the hammer of justice/Or let my people be/They tells us of a heaven/Where milk and honey flows/Stealing in the name of the Lord/They say this place called heaven/No rich man cannot go/Stealing in the name of the Lord/Yet the reverend drives out fancy car/Buys everything tax-free/The people have to sacrifice/To give in charity/My father’s house of worship/Has become a den of thieves/Stealing in the name of the Lord”
Christian fathers not only ride in fancy limousines these days; they wear designer suits and fly over our heads in state-of-the-art helicopters and jets. They own not just one but multiple aircraft, some for local travels and others for international airspace. We are far removed from the days of Nkem Nwankwo (author of “My Mercedes Benz is bigger than yours”) when the nouveau riche competed and bragged about the class and size of their Mercedes Benz cars. Now, they do with the class and worth of their designers jets. Obscene opulence in the midst of abject poverty! If the milk of human kindness runs in the Christian fathers, how come they today approximate Joseph Folahan (JF) Odunjo’s “Agbalowomeri Baale Jontolo”? They take from the poor to add to their own riches – riches which, in the beginning, were from the sweats of the same poor. If there is God – and truly there is God – no brazen, daylight robbery will go unpunished! I get amused when, after every programme, they tell the people to go in peace; that the Holy Ghost will go with them – but they themselves are escorted home by a legion of MOPOL and other security operatives! Unlike Jesus Christ, they send the people home on empty stomach but have a table of sumptuous meal waiting for them at home! Who is fooling who, asks the Detroit R&B band called “One Way”! “Who is fooling who/Are you fooling me/Or I am fooling you?”
Last week’s “Honour killing: Where Christians, Muslims parted ways” attracted an unprecedented volume of response but before I dwell on that, did you follow the dust raised when a Sterling Bank Easter goodwill message compared the resurrection of Jesus Christ with the “rising” of Agege bread? It was a very bad joke from the bank (if it was only a joke), and was truly in bad taste; very insensitive, very offensive, to say the least. It was incendiary and inciting. A news medium reported it thus: “Sterling Bank Plc has been slammed on Twitter after its Easter message to Nigerians was considered offensive and insensitive. The message read, “Like Agege Bread, He rose,” with a photo showing bread and a “Happy Easter” caption. This was considered offensive by many who wondered if Sterling Bank was equating bread with Jesus who is the reason for the Easter season. The bank later pulled down the message from its social media pages and issued another one that said, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. We humbly celebrate His resurrection, the defeat of death and the hope of salvation.” The new message was accompanied by a flyer that contained an apology which many also found offensive and insincere. “…let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone. For our recent errors, we sincerely apologise. Forgive us in the spirit of Easter,” the bank wrote.
“A Twitter user identified as @Oyoyonwa1 said, “Seriously? Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone? And this is supposed to be some kind of apology? Who approves these things?” @dinaudoh said, “You need to overhaul your creative department as these Easter posts have been in bad taste, insensitive and rather disturbing. For a bank that claims to care about each customer, you shouldn’t disparage any religion or its symbols. DO BETTER!!!” @NwaezeMma said, “Your apology is not sincere. Try it with other religions and see! Do right!” @AdaGOkoli wrote, “If this is an apology, then, it will not rise with Nigerians.” @Moolaoye said, “Whoever told you that forgiveness is by arrogance and not by repentance! This is not a message to seek forgiveness but a message to justify! Don’t send a message that you know nothing about. #blaspehemous”
Judging by his name – Abubakar Suleiman – the Sterling Bank Managing Director could be Muslim but he is still alive. Christians did not raise a mob to kill him. They could have gone across the Seme border to hire Christian or Voodoo mercenaries who would cause mayhem and afterwards slip across the border, as some of the organisers of the killing and the actual killers of Deborah Samuel were said to have done. Suleiman could have paid for his life; his bank could have been in flames; persons of Muslim faith and businesses identified with them could also have been looted, vandalized and set on fire. And Christians and their leaders would have mobilized in defence of the mob action. These all were what played out in Sokoto with the bestial murder of Deborah. To add insult to the injury, we have heard of the legion of senior (Muslim?) lawyers filing out to defend the vile murderers. Christians and their leaders only expressed their grouse to Sterling Bank in a civilised manner; they did not take the law into their own hands. They were not vindictive. Because they were no blood-thirsty hounds, Christians and their leaders did not bay for blood. The Christian Association of Nigeria only asked Sterling Bank and its MD to apologise, and once they did, they were forgiven. That shows meekness, not weakness; it demonstrates strength of character and not fickleness of mind. The Bible says they that know their God shall wax strong and do exploits. The Christian God does not need anyone to fight His battles; rather, He says He will fight our own battles for us and we shall hold our peace.
Now, not all Muslims believe in so-called honour killing. My long-time friend and colleague, Kudu, was the first person I engaged after the abhorrent murder of Deborah. Kudu went to great lengths to convince me that what the Sokoto mob did was un-Islamic and unacceptable to many Muslims. He offloaded piles of Islamic authorities on my platform to prove his case but I was not comforted. I told him we keep hearing that it is un-Islamic; yet, it keeps happening. What I want to see is that it does not happen again, pure and simple! I most respectfully thank Alhaji Jamiu Ekungba, an elder statesman from my home town and someone everyone respects for his honesty and integrity; he has been an avid reader of my columns. A devout Muslim, his views tallies with Kudu’s: That honour killing is not Islamic; that Prophet Muhammed himself was insulted in his lifetime and never condemned any of such persons to death but taught his followers to overcome adversity with patience, perseverance, accommodation and love. Where, then, did the Muslims preaching honour killing in the name of the same Prophet Muhammed or Allah find the justification? Alhaji Ekungba said it is tradition, not religion! So whose tradition is it: the Fulani, the Hausa, the Kanuri or that of the many other ethnic nationalities in the North that profess Islam? If it is not religion but tradition, it becomes easier for the authorities to deal with. And proper education is needed to wean the hordes of the ignoramus practicing honour killing in the name of Islam to desist from doing so. If someone is giving your religion a bad name – and you truly love your religion – then, it behooves you as well to do the needful and stop such elements in their tracks.
My “egbon”, Bishop Olaoye, said the Bible passage we quoted last week had to do with “Judaism”, not Christianity. ”Please don’t merge the two. Christianity never practiced honour killing, nor is it mandated or encouraged in our Holy Bible” Thank you, sir! Another highly respected “egbon” who would like to remain anonymous said: “My major area of disagreement in your article is that passage quoted in Numbers 25. I disagree totally that this was honour killing. Did Moses do it at his own initiative? Was he fighting for God? Do you refuse any assignment given to you by God? God gave Moses that assignment and should he have refused? Why did Saul, the first king of Israel, have his crown taken away from him? Saul did not carry out God’s instructions in full…Did God not punish Jonah for not carrying out His instructions? God’s instruction is completely different from man’s initiative. What are the Sharia courts for? We should demand for a full unedited transcript of the chat on that WhatsApp platform to know the truth of what really transpired. Have the owners of churches and businesses burnt in Sokoto committed blasphemy? Did anyone try to revenge the brutal murder of Deborah?”
Even if Deborah committed blasphemy –just like the Sterling Bank MD did with his satanic Easter message –is the next thing jungle justice in a country under law? Pa EK Odeleye who worked and retired in the North described honour killing as “archaic and unacceptable in a modern setting. Look at the destruction of property in Sokoto targeted at non-Muslim merchants! Is this not a case of opportunity presenting itself for criminality? Why does a religion encourage mob action against (its) perceived enemies?”
It has been said that this is not religion at play but tradition – and I want to accept it as that. Understanding this is the first step. Performing a surgical operation to excise the vile and retrogressive tradition is next.
Bolawole is a respected columnist and former deputy editor in chief of The Punch