JULY was her month of destiny, when good things usually happened to her. But this July was different. It was, for her and her family, the month of death; the month of sorrow and unspeakable agony. The month the nation will never forget, for it brought to the fore the growing spectre of religious extremism and intolerance fast growing roots in the country.
Like other aggrieved citizens and watchers of the theatre of the absurd, I have been following the sad story of Mrs. Eunice Mojisola Olawale, a deaconess in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who was savagely killed in Kubwa, an Abuja suburb, by alleged religious extremists. Her offence? Preaching the gospel of Christ, and by so doing ‘disturbing’ the neighbourhood. What happened to religious tolerance? What happened to freedom of movement and right to worship? What happened to right to dignity of the human person and right to life, as prominently enshrined in our constitution? All these questions have been raised since the pastor’s cruel murder!
As I write this column, I am almost moved to tears by the emotional narrative of the tragic incident by Sunday Vanguard. Read: “Deaconess Eunice Mojisola Elisha Olawale was hale and hearty penultimate morning when she woke up to carry out her daily evangelistic assignments. Besides, July is the month that had brought a lot of good things in her life. It was on July 1 that she celebrated her 16th marriage anniversary, and was waiting for July 24 to mark her 42nd birthday.”
She would never witness the two important events in her life. She was hacked to death. The deceased’s distraught 15 year-old daughter says, “Nobody can understand how I feel.” Truly, nobody can understand how many Nigerians feel that a hapless woman, mother and breadwinner can be killed in the streets of the nation’s capital city, just like that. How did we get here? How did we get to this bestial level? How did we, a nation of two great religions, respecting the rights and privileges of the other, get to this unacceptable level?
According to the same newspaper report, Lady Eunice seemed to have had a premonition of her death, as on the day of her tragic death, she had with her a pamphlet entitled, ‘final destination,’ which she was distributing as she enjoined her listeners to repent and accept Christ. But how could she have known that death laid in the shadows, waiting to pluck her from her family, friends and loved ones? Death in the hands of alleged religious fundamentalists couldn’t have been in her calculations.
Since the pastor’s murder, outrage has predictably filled the land. The same questions raised above are being asked, without answers. Sadly, after Pastor Olawale’s murder, there have been other killings and destructions linked to religious extremism and intolerance. In Niger State, a Catholic Church was attacked by alleged Islamic fundamentalists because they opposed Friday as a day of worship by Christians! These happenings are certainly not good for a country that is fractured along all kinds of fault lines including ethnicity, region and religion.
Nobody must be allowed to kill in the name of religion or any other guise, and go scot-free. Nobody has the right to take any life since no one can give life. The authorities have a duty to get to the root of these fast, creeping monstrous happenings and bring the perpetrators to the path of sanity, rule of law and order.
We cannot allow our country descend to the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is ‘short, nasty and brutish.’ It should never happen. As the Buhari administration grapples with the myriad of economic issues besetting the nation, including recovery of loots running into billions from public officials, who privatised our public resources, such volatile and explosive issues as religious conflagration which extremism and intolerance are capable of breeding, are unwelcome distractions that must be avoided.
Religion is the opium of the masses, says Karl Marx. In Nigeria, this opium is fast becoming widespread and intoxicating. But opium doesn’t come cheap. Who’s providing this opium? What’s fuelling the renewed aggravation? The government must get to the root of this ugly scenario, fast. This state of affairs is completely unacceptable. This nonsense just must stop, before it degenerates to something else, something worse than Marx anticipated!
We can survive anything, even economic downturn, but no nation survives ethnic and religious wars. At one of our security summits in Abuja, some four or so years ago, Professor Akin Oyebode, a n erudite lawyer and academic of repute, warned about the devastating consequences to any nation degenerating to those two evils. He said they were twin evils that had polarised many countries, as they went down. He talked about Somalia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zaire, as countries that had tasted the bitter pills of the damage tribalism and religious polarisation could do. He warned leaders to stay clear if we hoped to be a truly one, united country.
Finally, the professor was sure that if we didn’t quickly tame the monster of religious bigotry, we would find it difficult, if not impossible, talking about one nation, one destiny, one people. Nations, he submitted, might survive civil war, but no nation ever survives religious war. His message: Let religious leaders tame their tongues and call their followers to order. Let God fight His own battles. No man is strong enough to fight God’s war. It is only an illusion of grandeur to attempt to do so, he submitted. Those words still ring in my ears, as I watch unfolding events in our country.