Should We Still Pray In Nigeria?

By Bolanle Bolawole

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Politics, religion, corruption and crime are the most lucrative business ventures, activities or endeavours in Nigeria today. Whatever order of importance or priority you may assign to them, I do not think there is any other “business” in Nigeria of today that yields higher returns on investment, if we may call it that – sadly! Anyone desirous of cutting corners to get to the “top” must take one or the other of the four routes. If you know anyone who is involved in the present-day Nigerian fad of get-rich quick syndrome, it is either they are in politics, in religion, in criminal activities or they are neck-deep in corruption. Every school leaver rushes into politics these days. It is a first-line charge, so to say, and not a vocation you go into after you are accomplished or made in other fields of endeavour. For many these days, their first job is as a politician. Politics is now a profession and not a vocation. And they are in it not to render service but, instead, to be served by the system as they latch on the opportunity to get rich quick. What service can many of them render when they do not even have the requisite competencies? Even for those who do, the lack of checks and balances and the somewhat elite consensus that politics is THE place to make quick money negates the noble ideal of politics as a vocation for public service.

Harold Lasswell posits that “Political Science, as an empirical discipline, is the study of the shaping and sharing of power” And power to do what? It is the power to determine “Who gets what, when, how” Politicians wield this awesome power – power to share resources. And because control is slack or totally lacking in this climate, they behave like a drunkard who holds both the yam and the knife. Nothing intoxicates better than power; hence Lord Acton posits that “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” Where there are no retraining factors, arbitrariness and impunity will reign supreme. That has been the case with Nigeria. No one restrains anyone. The people lack the power to restrain the sovereign which, in turn, lacks the moral authority to restrain the people. It is everyone unto himself and God for us all! Little wonder, then, that in all things, the usual refrain of those at a disadvantage is: “God dey” or, to quote the inimitable Mrs. Patience Jonathan, “There is God o!”

While campaigning in the last PDP presidential primary, Akwa Ibom State Gov. Udom Emmanuel this way painted a graphic picture of power flow in the real sense of the word: “The Niger Delta is where the “national cake” is baked; Abuja is where it is shared; and the whole country is where it is eaten”. I will add that Lagos also is one of the places where the cake is baked with its contribution to the country’s IGR. Available statistics state that only Lagos, Ogun and Kaduna states generate more IGR than the monthly allocation that comes from Abuja. Until this imbalance is redressed, this country is going nowhere. There is no part of the country that does not have agricultural and mineral resources that can make oil money pale into insignificance but the “Oil curse” will not let us tap into them. So, tell those rejoicing over the “discovery” of crude oil in the North that rather than aid their development, it will deepen and accentuate their underdevelopment – just as it has done in the Niger Delta. The best that may happen is that there will be more funds available for the ruling class to appropriate among themselves. If decades of oil exploration and trillions of dollars to boot have not translated into the development of the Niger Delta in particular and Nigeria in general, there is no way the discovery of crude oil in the North will act differently.

Monumental corruption is the major reason why the humongous amounts we hear them bandy about do not translate into development anywhere in the country. In 2021, Nigeria’s corruption Index was 24 points out of a total of 100 points. Nigeria, thus, ranked 154th in the 180 countries listed in the Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Unbridled corruption translates into poverty of the worst order; hence, Nigeria is touted as the poverty capital of the world. The statistics of the desperately poor in Nigeria is staggering; yet, the situation, rather than improving, keeps getting worse. What else do we expect when corruption is known all over the world to slow down growth, lead to inefficient investment in public projects and slow down, even discourage, foreign direct investment? Almost half of the country’s population is made up of desperately poor Nigrians as per figures released by the World Bank in March this year. Since then, the spike in the price of foodstuffs, transportation costs, declining exchange rate of the Naira and galloping unemployment rate have combined to worsen the situation.

In the midst of these has been the worsening insecurity situation which is gradually grinding the country’s economy to a halt. Farmers have virtually abandoned their farms in many locations of the country; travellers are afraid to travel as no means of transportation appears safe enough again. Air travel still appears the safest for now but the cost is prohibitive, such that only the rich and the upper middle class can afford it. Of course, fat cats in the various arms and tiers of government, whose hands are always deep in the pie, can still afford to travel by air. Trillions of Naira that should have gone into development projects has been sunk into the drain pipe that the battle against insurgency has become. Apart from the unquantifiable amount of money lost in ransom payment by victims of kidnappers, the blood-letting all over, for a country that is not at war, is horrendous. Crime has become the order of the day – and understandably so. Times are hard; governance is abject. Today we live in the Hobbesian state of nature “of the war of one against all; where life is nasty, brutish and short”

Yet, we are a prayerful and praying nation! Statistics affirm that Nigerians are the most prayerful nation in the world. A 2019 survey revealed that 95 percent of respondents said they prayed daily. Although officially a secular state with no state religion, Nigerians kill because of religion. But are we really a righteous nation? Scripture says righteousness exalts a nation, not their devotion to religion, the number of hours they pray in a day or the number of mosques and churches that dot the landscape. Ironically, some of the most honest countries in the world, where integrity rates are high, are not religious countries as we know it. Countries that do not pray as we do but still have a higher level of moral standard than us; countries that do not spend the whole time in church and mosque but are up there on all the indexes of human capital development while we wallow at the bottom of the ladder. How helpful has prayer been to us, if I may ask? Have we not been praying amiss? Are we not asking God to do for us what God expects us to be able to do for ourselves just like some other people are doing? Is it not time we looked at the other nations and stop doing the wrong thing all over again while expecting a different result?

Here in this country, religion has been perverted – that is what I think. The reason why people go for spiritual exercises these days is in search of miracles; in desperation to cut corners and get rich quick; for healing and such other worldly or physical needs and no longer for spiritual development. Few, these days, go to seek God in truth and in spirit; fewer still go for the love of God. It is not what they can do for God that drives most worshippers these days but what God can – and should – do for them. JF Kennedy’s admonition to Americans to seek not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country is thus stood on its head. How many make seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness their Number One priority these days? Many are those who catch in on the gullibility and greed of the people to fleece them. The elders are right when they opine that “Eni n wa ifa n wa ofo” Ponzi schemes of sorts! Miracles of quick money; miracles of riches without labour; and success without roots. These are the reasons many flood places of worship. Once the preacher or Imam correctly reads their motive, he fleeces them. Stealing in the name of God has become the order of the day. I think it is time we stopped praying and began to work! Or, at the very least, we must de-emphasize seeing or treating prayer as the only thing our life depends on.

How come that people not as religious as us have more honesty and integrity? How come they are more successful? How come they are up there on the indexes of development while we are down, down here? Let our pastors and Imams begin to emphasize hard work and not miracles. Stop advertising signs and wonders but hallow honesty and integrity! Begin to mobilize our people to appreciate that they must work hard; that they must be industrious; that they must have integrity. Righteousness exalts a nation! Will a pervert nation and perverse people be blessed or exalted even if they spend their whole life praying? Can we stop praying for a season and work instead? Can we stop our bulrush approach to religion?

We have been Pharisees and Sadducees enough! Most of the factories that have closed shop here have been turned into places of worship; it is time to reverse the trend. Rather than pray for jobs to drop from heaven like manna did in the wilderness, let us turn these places back to factories and provide jobs for our teeming army of unemployed youths. Stop praying for jobs; begin to take practical steps to create the jobs. That was how it was done in those countries that our people are running to for greener pastures. Stop casting and binding; stop decreeing and declaring and begin to share your stupendous riches with the poor in your congregation. Take practical steps!

Religion as we practice it in this country today has become like opium; it has been weaponized to enslave the people and dull their intellect. The vast majority have benefitted little or nothing from religion. Only a few have fed fat on the fears, superstition, misfortune and predicament of the vast majority. But that was not the purpose of religion! The development of the mind or inner man or soul in preparation for its ultimate journey when this dust shall return to dust is the spiritual task leaders were enthroned to undertake. Now that many have derailed, shall we not begin to ask them to step aside so we can take our destiny in our own hands and order our society for development just as some other nations have done, and not remain dregs and laughing stock in the comity of nations?

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