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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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Students Protest ASUU Strike, Block Ogun, Osun Highways

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Students, on Friday, continued protests across the country over the lingering strike action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Students of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, trooped out in their numbers and blocked the Ijebu Ode/Ibadan express road.

Similarly, a mass of other students from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, went on a joint protest with counterparts in Ogun State, as organised under the banner of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Ogun Joint Campus Committee. They blocked the Abeokuta-Ibadan express road, around Camp-FUNAAB Junction.

In Osun State, students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, led by 22-year-old Abraham Omowumi, popularly called Ewatee, resumed their second-day protest on the Ife-Ibadan Expressway, blocking the popular OUI roundabout at Oduduwa University, Ipetumodu, with a lot of road users left stranded.

This was also as students were still protesting in Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital where they moved from the University of Ibadan to Agbowo, Sango, Mokola, etc.

One of the protesters, a former President of Tai Solarin University of Education, Ogun State, Soneye AbdulAzeez, said, “Vehicles going from Abeokuta to Ibadan are on standstill now. FUNAAB and Federal College of Education, Osiele, roads are on lockdown as well.

“We are resilient and making a statement, the Federal Government must listen to Nigerian Students.”

The National Public Relations Officer of the Fund Education Coalition, Joseph Aliu, who was spearheading the protest at Ago Iwoye, said, “It is saddening that after a series of talks, the Federal Government has failed to listen to the voice of reasoning.

“Since they’ve chosen to pay deaf ears to the cries of the striking lecturers, we have no other option but to take to the streets. We are here, we’re not stopping, here’s a fight to finish.”

The Students’ Union President, OOU, Akorede Afeez, in his comments, said, “It is an impediment to the societal growth and development of this nation in general that the students have been in their houses since February 14, 2022.

“The state government should rise to her responsibility to take charge of education and welfare of OOUiets. We are demanding the reopening of our classes. Education is our right, not a privilege.

“OOUiets say no to Technology fees and exorbitant school fees.”

Also, the Chairman of the Fund Education Coalition, Damilare Adenola, said, “We are protesting because we are clever enough to understand that the ongoing strike is a deliberate attempt by the government to kill public education so that politicians who own private universities can thrive, and we have concluded that for the sake of the poor masses, we are not going to fold our arms and watch public education die.

ASUU strike has entered its 88th day as the meeting between the lecturers and the government ended in deadlock on Thursday.

The Punch

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Mum As Tambuwal Meets Security Chiefs, Christian Leaders over Lynching of Student Accused of Blasphemy

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The Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, has met with Christian leaders and heads of security agencies in the state following the lynching of a student for allegedly making blasphemous comments.

The governor’s spokesman, Muhammad Bello, said in a statement that the governor cut his political engagements to return to Sokoto to meet the stakeholders.

The meeting was attended by the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Nuhu Iliya, and other officials of the association.

“Gov. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto state cut short his engagements in Abuja, the nation’s capital following the killing of Miss Deborah Samuel, a student of the College of Education, Sokoto; and returned to Sokoto where he held a closed-door meeting with heads of security agencies in the state as well as the state Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Fr. Nuhu Iliya at the Government House,” Mr Bello said.

He didn’t provide details of the discussion, however.

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Police Arrest Councillor with AK47 Rifle at Kidnappers’ Den in Kaduna

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The Police in Kaduna State has confirmed the arrest of a serving councillor, recovering AK-47 with rounds of 7.62 X 39mm live ammunition from him in the Soba Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

This is contained in a statement issued by the Command’s Public Relations Officer, Muhammad Jalige, in Kaduna.

“Operatives of Operation Puff Adder II attached to the Kaduna Police Command, acting on the instruction of CP Yekini Ayoku, on May 9, at about 0800hrs, conducted routine patrol along Galadimawa road, Giwa LGA of Kaduna State.

“The operation, which was aimed at ensuring sanity in the connecting area, succeeded in intercepting a Lifan motorcycle, ridden by the suspect.

“Upon a search, a concealed AK47 rifle loaded with six rounds of 7.62 X 39mm live ammunitions were recovered from the sack and taken into custody alongside the suspect,” he said.

Preliminary investigation, he said, revealed the identity of the suspect as a serving member in the legislative council of the Soba LGA of Kaduna State.

“The suspect equally confessed to have gotten the firearm from his accomplices and he is to deliver same to bandits around Galadimawa village for their nefarious activities,” Jalige said.

“The Commissioner of Police appreciates the diligent and thoroughness exhibited by the officers and was miffed with the involvement of a supposed stakeholder,” he said.

The CP, Jalige said, has directed that a full scale investigation be carried out to ensure all those connected with the said crime were apprehended to face justice.

NAN

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