When is a nation developed and advanced? Is Nigeria in that category? Let me proffer an answer.
A nation is said to be developed when its citizens have easy access to quality healthcare and education, advanced technology and infrastructure, sophisticated, diverse and well-balanced economic sectors, such as industrial, service and agriculture, and a relatively high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. And , of course, national ethics. Discipline helps one manage one’s time better. Discipline helps one achieve your goals. Discipline boosts one’s self-esteem. Discipline helps one master things. Discipline makes one more reliable. Discipline improves one’s ability to manage challenging emotions. When you have discipline in your life, you can make tomorrow. That’s life. Waiting for Godot is a tragicomedy in two acts by Irish writer Samuel Beckett, published in 1952 in French as En Attendant Godot and first produced in 1953. Waiting for Godot was a true innovation in drama and the Theatre of the Absurd’s first theatrical success.
It is from this perspective, we commence our discourse this week, continuing with national ethics.
There is also an ongoing debate between theorists who favour cultural/ethical relativism (the idea that the “moral rightness and wrongness of actions varies from society to society and that there are no absolute universal moral standards binding on all men at all times” – John Ladd, Ethical Relativism) and those who favour the idea that all human beings share an inherent sense of right and wrong, which can be determined objectively. Given these difficulties and controversies, any discussion of religion in the classroom or other educational settings can present special challenges.
The search for religious tolerance in the world has become particularly pressing today in promoting peaceful coexistence in a religiously plural society like Nigeria. In Nigeria, religious tolerance as a means for peace is expedient because of the near frequent occurrences of religious strife during the past three decades. Religious intolerance has oftentimes led to gruesome assailment of persons whose words, actions and/or inactions somewhat do not align with the religious beliefs of their assailants.
For instance, many Nigerians would be learning about the existence of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, for the first time. It wouldn’t be a good first impression for this 52-year-old institution of higher learning. When this college opened its doors in 1970 as Advanced Teachers’ College, many who are parents today – and many of the people all over who would be smearing the institution with all kinds of foulness – were not even born. There must have been so many other things about the college over the decades. Its alumni would look back with varied feelings. They might recall the time student unionism had thrived there. The Kegites Club might have held gyrations there; it might even have had an Ilya as part of the vibrant Northern Hemisphere of the socio-cultural club. There would be nostalgic remembrances of feats by the college and its past, but the present of the college has been enmeshed in an ugly row of religious intolerance. The college has become super-prominent because of the gruesome murder of Deborah Yakubu.
Deborah was, until Thursday, May 12, 2022, a student of the college. She was stoned to death allegedly by a mob of her fellow students for alleged blasphemy against the holy Prophet of Allah. Deborah had reportedly vehemently kicked against the posting of religious materials by other students to a WhatsApp group to which she belonged, believed to be that of students of her class. Going by a voice note said to be hers, she had reacted in annoyance to the posts and said things that her accusers considered blasphemous against Prophet Muhammad.
Another report claimed that she was killed by a mob in the college for daring to contend, in an online argument, that she managed to pass her examinations, which she was said to be writing at the time of the incident, with the help of Jesus. “She (Deborah) was having an argument with some of her school mates over their ongoing examinations and when she was asked how she managed to pass her exams, she said it was Jesus. She was asked to withdraw the statement and apologize, which she refused to do. The school security officers intervened, took her to their post, but they were overpowered by the protesting students who brought her out and killed her. After killing her, her body was burnt on the school premises.”
Yet another report of the circumstances that led to the stoning to death of Deborah held that the events that culminated in her death had been brewing since the month of Ramadan when the college was on break. It had smoldered through the period but did not die. There was online altercation in their WhatsApp group, the third report said, during which she allegedly blasphemed Prophet Muhammad. “When they sighted her at school today (Thursday, 12th May, 2022), all available Muslim male students surrounded her and started stoning her. They continued until she fell. They made sure she died and subsequently set her body ablaze.”
Barring the gaps in the reports, one outstanding thing lacking in the accounts is not about how Deborah was killed, that is an established pattern. It is also not about how others who had gone the same way as Deborah in our religiously volatile North met their end. The reports highlight, in vivid reality, the obvious mis-education of the ever-ready stoning mob found in northern Nigeria. Their religious education, in no small way, shows lack of humanity and that is one area that we would need the Ulama to step in and help the country. There is no contending the entrenched position that Islam means peace, but there are acts by some adherents of the religion, which bring this assertion to disrepute. From a distance, and going by Islam as seen practiced in the southern parts of Nigeria, the intent of any teacher of the faith that could pass for a member of the Ulama is not to teach his pupils to kill at will. A body of Muslim scholars recognized as having knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology would know that Islam recognizes civil authorities and would encourage Muslims to be law-abiding. Islam teaches the sanctity of human life. So, where does the teaching that we should descend into blinding violence and kill for the sake of Almighty Allah and his holy Prophet come from? Who is fuelling this mis-education and for what purpose?
Of course, we would be foolish and insensitive not to recognize our religious differences and defer to them as often as we should. It is sure naivety for you to toy with the sensitivity of people of the same faith or who do not share the same faith with you. The same goes for cultural and other differences. However, because of the kind of education given to millions in the North over the years, Nigerians have been made to perpetually walk on eggshells when the issue is religion. The common example is the air of tetchy volatility of religious matters that makes all who visit the North to be wary of the grounds they step on. There is a thin line between what could kill you and otherwise – the case of a child walking with death without realizing it.
At Easter, Sterling Bank did what many people considered as despicable. Easter is the height of Christian celebration; Easter, the resurrection of Christ, is the hub of the Christian religion. Sterling Bank Plc saw the need to greet Christians at Easter and the bank also felt that the best way to celebrate with Christians was to compare the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to the yeast-induced rising of ‘Agege bread’. The bank published that insensitive message on Twitter, but took it down soon after it saw the angry reaction of Nigerians. People showed how much they abhorred the message, but not by rioting or killing of anyone or burning of property. The bank did not have any of its branches across the country under any threat. Yet there were protests and reactions, so much so that the Advertisers Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) announced that it would sanction the bank. That type of protest and reaction cannot resonate with the kind of education some Islamic clerics give their followers. Education makes a lot of difference. But what type of education?
For the sake of ‘Whataboutism’, arguments have risen to the hilt in many quarters and comparisons cited of the dastardly reign of terror unleashed on the South East region by the destructive and condemnable activities of IPOB. There is no mincing word that each (tribe, religion, geo-political zone) has his own shortcomings, but the degree matters a lot to the cohesiveness, growth and development of the country. Violence is condemnable everywhere and every time.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, has condemned the killing of Deborah. Muslim media professionals have condemned the killing and described it as ‘not Islamic’. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, has also condemned the killing.
Both religious leaders have charged the state government and the security agencies to deal with the perpetrators. They are criminals who have stepped out of the bounds of Islam to give the beautiful religion a bad image.
Religious tolerance can be effectively promoted when one understands the experiences and the history of the people who abide by them. Hindu-Buddhism, Chinese religions and Abraham Monotheism all emanated from a series of events or encounters that shaped those faith systems.
Some issues were political such as the warring states in China and Taoism; others were social such as the need to stick to certain social structures as in Hinduism. In essence, different experiences led to different conceptual frameworks hence religions. It is this statement that makes religious tolerance possible.
Self-reliance, in the Constitution means that Nigerians should be able to feed themselves without looking for others to support them. That is, Nigerians should device legal means by which they can feed, clothe and shelter themselves. It also means government should direct all Nigerians to work hard towards making Nigeria a great nation, where we produce what we eat. This is in line with the various poverty-alleviation programmes where Nigerians are encouraged to have sustainable means of livelihood.
The term “self-reliance” was coined by an American transcendentalist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), in a similarly titled essay published in 1841. The essay emphasized trust in one’s present thoughts, skills, originality, belief in own capabilities and genius and living from within. Some interesting quotes from this essay include:
•“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else; is the greatest achievement”
•“The only person you are destined to be is the person you decide to be”
•“There is a time that envy is ignorance, and a time that imitation is suicide”
•“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines”.
(To be continued)