We love our imported religions. Like we love our imported shoes and wrist-watches. Those religions that were forced on us by foreigners that colonized us. We love them. During the era of the Arab slave trade, they made incursions into the northern part of Nigeria, bringing Islam, their ‘religion of peace’ along with them. That was how we became Muslims. Sometime later, the Christian Europeans also extended their ‘hand of fellowship’ of slave trade to Nigeria. That was how we became Christians. The battleground was fully prepared. Nigerians, just like hired wrestlers, or more like slave-minions, were ready to fight tooth-and-nail forever about ideologies they knew nothing about.
Before the advent of the Arabs and the Europeans, we revelled in our tribal spiritualities. These were basically polytheistic ideologies that accepted as many Gods as possible. In Yoruba land for instance, there were worshippers of Sango, Ogun, etc, and one group of worshippers didn’t feel commissioned to convert the others to their God. Even when they came across Gods of foreign tribes, they fought about land and slaves, but not about the Gods. They were ready to simply include the new God into their already existing pantheon and move on. Such was the accommodating spirit of the ancient people. That was why their initial response was to include Allah and Yahweh into their pantheons until they were told by the slave masters that they would have to drop their pantheons and adopt their own one and only true God — Allah for the Arabs and Yahweh for the Europeans.
Concerning spirituality, Africans had lived peacefully but the demands of the two monotheisms were contrary to the polytheism they practiced prior to their enslavement. While polytheism preached spiritual all-inclusiveness, monotheism preaches divisiveness. With monotheism, anybody else who doesn’t adopt the only true God is an infidel and is worthy of conversion or outright punishment.
So today, there are Islamic terrorists and we all complain. Today Boko Haram is decimating northerners to protest the rejection of their version of Islam and we’re all complaining. But one group of worshippers declare that the other group need to switch over to their own religion and we keep quiet. A group of people of various religious backgrounds gather in a place and a particular religious group considers it an opportunity to push their stuff on others and we’re cool with it. Teachers force their religions on their students and bosses push their religions on their subordinates, and we can’t see anything wrong.
The raging evangelical, the one that’s always evangelizing in the bus, that wakes up people from their sleep early in the morning, and the one that openly declares his group’s exclusiveness of salvation, is not far from a being terrorist. He’s an extremist and an extremist is just a terrorist without the bombs. An extremist is someone who won’t accommodate those who hold a religious view different from his. He also declares that those outside his group are already marked for annihilation. He has declared the annihilation verbally but won’t execute it physically. A terrorist just takes it further: he becomes the agent of the annihilation itself.
I was added to a professional Whatsapp group and as usual, people kept drenching the place with religious stuff. Instead of raising professional issues, Christian extremists felt it was the right opportunity to force their faith on everybody else. Of course, I responded (as seen in the picture below). People forget that even though the right to freedom of religious expression involves their freedom to practise any religion of their choice, it also includes the other person’s right to not be bugged by religious stuff.
The religious tension in the country has been given an indirect government backing. The last Nigerian president visited Israel, the Christian holy land, for pilgrimage so many times. The current president has also visited Saudi Arabia, the Muslim holy land, for pilgrimage too. And all these trips have been undertaken with state funds of citizens of various religious backgrounds. That’s why a Christian-Christian or a Muslim-Muslim presidential-VP ticket can’t sell in Nigeria. No group is ready to back down for the other.
We Nigerians can be very passionate about everything except the country. If we can learn to keep our religious convictions out of other people’s privacy, we would be a lot better for it.