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Sermon: Religion: A Maligned Concept

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By Babatunde Jose

Religion is an omnipresent and seamless part of daily life, taking an infinite variety of forms that are part of the distinctive quality of each community. Religion could thus not be seen as something apart and personal. It is, rather, a dimension of life that suffuses whatever people do. Religion has an effect on many people’s attitudes to everything, including such matters as savings, investment and a host of economic decisions. It influences area we had come to see as vital for successful development, like schooling, gender quality, and approaches to health care. In short, religion could be an important driver of change, even as it could be a break to progress… 

James D. Wolfensohn former President of the World Bank

Religion provides the unifying power that grounds the socio-political, economic, technological, cultural and moral dynamics of a culture. This is particularly true of Africans for whom life is an intricate web of the sacred and the secular.

Our daily lives revolves around work, play, eat, recreation, spiritual fulfillment and obeying the calls of nature. It is when one aspect of our life dominates our lives to the exclusion and detriment of others that we become slaves to that aspect of our life. As Easter celebrations ended last Monday, we are looking forward to the holy month of Ramadan next week and people are beginning to question the role of religion in our lives. They claim that we are too religious; a state of affairs that has been termed the unprogressive effect of religion and a hindrance to development.

True enough, political leaders are known to exploit the religiosity of the people in their intra-elite competitions; however, the role of religion in society goes deeper than that. In fact, this might not be the whole truth as research in the developmental sciences are increasingly beginning to recognize  the positive role religion could have in development.

Throughout its long history, the Church and Islam have been major sources of social services like schooling and medical care; inspiration for art, culture and philosophy; and influential player in politics. From the 11th to 13th centuries, medieval Europe absorbed information and ideas from Islamic civilization, which was then at its peak: Such as in astronomy, mathematics, medicine and science. The Islamic world also influenced other aspects of medieval European culture, including the arts, agriculture, music, technology, and textiles.

However, this is also true for the negative effects of religion, such as the conflicts that result in war and bloodshed, the separation of social classes, and the corruption throughout God’s kingdom, especially the unending sex scandal in the Catholic Church; or the radicalization of faith as witnessed by today’s Islamic insurgence. There is also the horrible events of the slave trade and colonization and the decimation of the cultures of non-European peoples, particularly Africa.  It is these perceived negative effects of religion that has prompted many social scientists to condemn religion as irrelevant to socio economic development. However, Despite the general hostility among social science and professionals, the empirical evidence shows religion to be a very powerful and positive part of everyday life – Patrick McNamara, professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico.

Christianity, Traditional Religion and Islam, promotes integral development that goes beyond mere economic globalization, one could posit the thesis that religion if properly harnessed, could play a very important role in sustainable development despite conflicts, (at times violent), arising from religious intolerance.

No doubt, religion particularly in this clime commands the followership of millions. In social change theory, one of the most effective medium of change is diffusion of ideas and innovations; and religious bodies are most suited for this role. How great would it be, if our churches and mosques were to channel their weekly homilies (52 sermons a year from each church, mosque and other religious gatherings) to that great effort at bringing about social change in their followers; with a view to bringing about attitudinal dispositions that are amenable to socio economic betterment of the people? There is no doubt religion, if well channeled, could be made a veritable instrument of change and development.

The paradox of growth in the face of poverty and inequality is a result of the inequity and injustice in Nigeria’s socio-politico-economic distribution, with 1% of the population, (politicians and bureaucrats) cornering the national resources to themselves while the rest of the populace wallow in abject poverty.

The role of religion for the sustainable development of Nigeria has been both positive and negative. Positively, religion stands as a reliable institution providing stepping stones to sustainable development; “from the days of the missionaries to the present, the church in Africa has focused its development strategy in two areas: education and healthcare.” And they have done remarkably well: Ditto for Islamic organizations, which have a proliferation of mission schools all over the country. They provide health and educational services through their hospitals, clinics and maternities, schools and colleges, vocational training centers, seminaries and universities. Some even, promote small scale businesses by granting loans to individuals and cooperative societies.

However, in spite of their laudable involvement in promoting progress and sustainable development, religions in Nigeria have in some ways been inhibiting sustainable development. Christianity and Islam are often antagonists, leading to religious conflicts resulting in loss of lives and destruction of properties. This has been intensified by the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, better known as Boko Haram; which, since 2009, has caused the loss of thousands of lives and valuable government and business properties. Its terrorist activities in Nigeria have crippled the economy of North-Eastern Nigeria, creating insecurity in the country, driving away investors, foreign and local, and resulting in much government spending on security instead of on infrastructures.

It should be noted, however, that as the Council on Foreign Relations in a symposium,

“Religious Conflict in Nigeria,” (2007) discovered, most religious conflicts in Nigeria also have ethnic and political nuances. Yes!!! Politicians have hijacked religion to fight their wars.

Another reason for the upsurge of religious intolerance and violence is economic. The concomitant decline of investment in the education and economic well-being of people, especially the young, makes the latter a veritable reservoir and recruiting ground for religious fanatics or lunatics.  

Religion also impedes sustainable development by tacit collaboration in corruption and mismanagement of the economy; mainly because religious leaders have failed to challenge the unjust structures that give rise to bad governance, corruption and social malaise: They have not spoken with one voice against the cycles of injustice; greed and self-aggrandizement of the political class that confiscates the state resources for personal use, thus dehumanizing ordinary Nigerians.

On the contrary, various religious groups have sought to benefit from the corruption and nepotism of the Nigerian system. As we enter another phase of religious activity with the coming Ramadan, religious leaders in Nigeria must figure out a way to honestly embrace peace and promote mutual coexistence by understanding one another’s religious beliefs. They must become the conscience of the people and speak up against the excesses of our corrupt and thieving leaders: And stop receiving the proceeds of corruption in the form of offerings, tithe and Zakat. Only then would religion become a veritable change agent.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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Four Children Who Died After Eating Suya Buried in Umuahia

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Tears flowed on Saturday as four of the seven children who died after allegedly eating Suya were buried in Umuahia, the Abia State capital.

The four victims are Kelechi Chibuzor, 12; Sunday Chibuzor, 10; Oluomachi Chibuzor, 8; and Kingsley Chibuzor, 3.

The children died on August 25.

PUNCH Metro learnt that the actual cause of the death was still being investigated.

Speaking at their funeral on Saturday, the Bishop of Goodnews Pentecostal Church, Umuahia, Ugochukwu Ogbonna, urged their parents to take heart.

While speaking on the topic, ‘The journey of this life and the call of eternity,’ Ogbonna maintained that everyone is a sojourner on earth and no one knows when he will die.

The cleric lauded the victims’ father, Ikwunze Chibuzor, and his wife, for showing the kids the way of the Lord, as he prayed God to grant their souls peaceful rest.

In his remarks, the President General of Ohuhu, Chief Obi Aguocha, urged the parents and relatives of the kids to be strong at their difficult time.

He said, “It is painful to wake up one day and lose your entire family. People lose one or two, but not four. It should not happen again.

“Children are supposed to bury their parents; but their father is giving back to God what He gave to him.”

He disclosed that the clan gave the family the sum of N4.8m “and something else for the children that would come afterwards.”

While appealing to the bereaved couple to see their fate as the beginning of a new life, he called on members of the community not to forget the family.

At the funeral, a member representing the Ikwuano/Umuahia Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, Ifeanyi Onuigbo, who was represented by Henry Eleogu, promised to stand by the family, just as he prayed God to grant them the fortitude to bear the loss.

Speaking, the bereaved father, Ikwunze, thanked all those who supported his family through financial means and words of encouragement.

He revealed that amid speculations that his kids died after eating Suya or inhaling generator fumes, autopsy results on the deaths would be out in the next two weeks.

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Police Arrest Killers of Na’Allah’s Son, Greenfield University, Bethel Baptist Students’ Abductors

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The Kaduna State Police Command on Thursday said it arrested kidnappers of students of Greenfield University and students of the Bethel Baptist High School, all in the state.

Also in the police net are kidnappers of the 37 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, in Igabi LGA of Kaduna State.

Both the Greenfield University and the Baptist Bethel High School are located in Chikun LGA of the state.

While parading suspects on Thursday at the Command’s Headquarters along Bida Road in the state capital, the Command’s spokesman, Mohammed Jalige, also announced the arrest of the suspected killers of 36-year-old Captain Abdulkareem Na’Allah, a pilot and son of Senator Bala Na’Allah.

Jalige said one Usman Mohammed from Bukuyum in Zamfara State was apprehended by operatives of the command in connection with the kidnap of the students of Greenfield University, Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, as well as Bethel Baptist High School, all in the state.

He said, “On the 29th August, 2021 at about 0900hrs, based on credible information, Operation Yaki Surveillance team with FIB STS Force Headquarter, Abuja, jointly raided a house along Ring Road, Asikolaye area of Kaduna, where one Usman Abubakar, ‘m’ 41 years old, a native of Adakpa village, Bukkuyum LGA of Zamfara State, a notorious kidnapper terrorising Chikun, Igabi and Giwa LGAs of Kaduna State, was arrested.

“He confessed to have kidnapped many people and collected several ransoms; he also has links with recent attacks on Greenfield University, Bethel Baptist Academy and School of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando, Kaduna.”

Speaking on the killers of Na’Allah’s son, the police spokesman noted that two of the three members of the gang that killed the pilot were in the custody of the command while one was at large.

He named one Bashir Mohammed, a neighbour of the slain pilot as principal suspect, while identifying another suspect as Nasir Salisu, also known as Uban Dana, adding that the third suspect, one Usman Kano, was at large.

Jalige explained that the three suspects conspired, broke into the house of Captain Abdulkarim and killed him before taking away his SUV vehicle and other valuables.

He added that the suspects sold the late pilot’s SUV vehicle in Republic of Niger at the cost of N1m.

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Benin Woman Who Had Three Children with Her Son, Deported

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There are indications that the Benin Republic woman, who allegedly had three children for her son and has been sexually involved with another, has been deported.

Fati Sime was deported along with her first son, Adamu, with whom she allegedly had three children.

However, the second son, who reportedly caught his brother in a sex act with their mother in their farm in the Kiama area of Kwara State and out of jealousy provoked a fight that blew opened the scandal, has been on the run.

Operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Kwara State Command, had arrested Fati and her son on the allegation of incest.

The arrest followed a complaint lodged by the district head of Mose community in Kaima Local Government Area.

Spokesman for Kwara State Command of the NSCDC, Babawale Afolabi, confirmed that the incestuous relationship between Fati and her son, Adamu had resulted in the birth of three children.

That is besides the 11 children she had for her husband, Adamu’s father.

Afolabi, while confirming the deportation of the incestuous duo, said: “Fati and her first son, Adamu, were deported on the directive of the Commandant after the investigation, and handed over to the Benin Republic operatives at the border.

“But during investigation, Adamu confessed that he has been having carnal knowledge of his mother for seven years.”

Meanwhile, he second son, had in a fit of jealousy provoked a fight when he discovered his mother and brother engaged in a sex romp in their farm.

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