Perhaps the much publicized finding that Nigeria is “the most religious country in the world” yet the most corrupt represents the trickiest paradox I have ever come across. After all I realize for sure that all religions irrespective of their ideological differences have more or less similar core values. For instance no religion tolerates corruption let alone promotes it. It is therefore very ironic for a country considered the most religious in Islam and Christianity to be yet rated as one of the most corrupt countries. Admittedly the equation is tricky enough to solve.
Nevertheless to solve it, I reckon that those who classified Nigeria as such must have been carried away by the huge congregations of faithful attending prayers in Nigerian mosques and churches, which exceed what are presently obtained even in Mecca and Vatican respectively. As they were also clearly impressed by the average Nigerians’ attitudes of expressing their religiosity in different ways ranging from display of religious symbols and verbal reference to religion in almost everything. Typical Nigerian houses and automobiles are decorated with religious symbols and quotes.
Though many analysts while addressing such irony castigate Nigerians as inherently insincere and dishonest, I look at it in a different perspective. I argue that there is a subliminal but dynamic correlation between such odd religiosity phenomenon and bad leadership that bedevils the country. Over the decades, opportunities for dignified living have been steadily declining in Nigeria. One’s prospect of “making it” is determined by the extent of his access to national resources and/or connectivity with those who have that access. Therefore the overwhelming majority of people are left out to wallow in deprivation amid plenty. And it is obvious that in a situation like this whereby a microscopic minority flaunts wealth before the overwhelming majority of poverty-stricken people, mass revolt cannot be ruled out. However “fortunately”, the elite have always been particularly generous to some specific classes of religious, traditional and community leaders, who in turn and as expected use or misuse their influences to forestall any potential threat of revolt.
Religious clerics particularly have proven more useful for the elite in this game, because they claim to offer “spiritual and eternal salvation” to provide consolation to the downtrodden. They preach unconditional submission to the status-quo, claiming that the country’s predicament is not man-made it is rather predestined by God hence can not be changed save with “prayers”. In fact many of them claim that, the predicament is a divine retribution for the masses’sins. Many Muslims clerics particularly urge their followers to patiently “pray”, endure their misery and wait for eternal compensation from God in the Hereafter. Meanwhile, many of their Christian counterparts have forged ahead to promise their followers worldly wealth and temporal success through “miracles” at monetary costs. Both strategies have worked out “well”, as most of the masses have either effectively given up or turned into chasing those promised “miracles”. Religious clerics therefore attract devout followers more than any other public figure in Nigeria today, which explains the steady and phenomenal growth of religious congregations, which was/is mistaken for religiosity by some analysts and observers.
The ruling elite and their cronies realize the importance of this phenomenon for their vested/strategic interests, that is why they lavishly bankroll the clerics’ activities and patronize them. They have built or facilitated the building of mosques or churches everywhere in the country, as most of them also are patrons of various religious organizations in the country. Such lavish patronage has boosted the clerics’ fellowship bases among the masses, who are increasingly going hopeless and naïve hence vulnerable to such clerical manipulations.
The reality is that, this odd religiosity that does not reflect on the statecraft and social interactions between people can never be religiosity in the real sense. For instance In a country where the microscopic and mostly incompetent elite conspire to siphon the national resources and subject the masses to worldly hell with blatant impunity, how can you expect a typical civil servant -no matter how overstuffed with spirituals- to reject petty bribes or work hard for that matter?
Moreover, over the decades many programs have been introduced in Nigeria in order to reform public attitudes, but they all failed woefully. Programs like Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery (MAMSER), National Orientation Agency and lately Rebranding Nigeria among many others had all failed to make any reasonable impact in reforming public attitudes. As a matter of fact even such programs which are religiously-oriented e.g. “Shari’a” based initiatives, like Kano State Societal Reorientation Program i.e. Adadaita Sahu could not stop Kano from becoming the most notorious state in Nigeria in terms of drug abuse as recently confirmed by National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA (Weekly Trust, 12 June 2010), or having the highest divorce rates in Nigeria as confirmed by BAOBAB ; an NGO for women human rights based in Lagos (IPS 25 September 2010).
It is noteworthy that, modern variables have warranted the indispensability of the availability of an enabling socio-political and economic environment for true religiosity to survive and flourish. Such an enabling environment comes to being only when there is a credible and competent political leadership under which the rule of law and culture of reward and punishment prevail. And it is imperative upon everybody to contribute towards the establishment of such system, lest the status-quo persist endlessly.