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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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FUTA Suspends Six Students for Brutalising Mate

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The Federal University of Technology, Akure, has placed six students of the institution, who were allegedly involved in beating a female undergraduate to a pulp, on an indefinite suspension.

The sanctioned students are Olaniyi Popoola, Faith Oluwadare, Jessica Nandi, Emmanuella Ajuwon, Taiwo Emmanuel and Cecilia Alao.

The assault on their fellow student reportedly occurred at one of the students’ hostels outside the campus of the institution.

It was gathered that the students had on Saturday pounced on the victim for allegedly gossiping about one of them, while the other five decided to teach her a lesson by beating her mercilessly.

One of the students recorded the assault and posted it on the Internet.

In the video that went viral, two of the students were seeing slapping and whipping the victim, who was begging them to leave her alone.

A source said the brutal assault landed the victim in hospital, where she was treated and later discharged.

“The victim was accused of gossiping about one of the female students in the hostel. So, the accuser invited her friends, a male and four females, to deal with the gossip. That was how they started beating her,” the source said.

FUTA said in a statement on Sunday by its Deputy Director of Corporate Communications, Mr Adegbenro Adebanjo, that the six students had been suspended indefinitely, while an investigation into the incident had begun.

The university declared that it would not tolerate indiscipline or any act that contravened its rules and regulations, and vowed that the errant students would not go unpunished.

The statement read in part, “Following the ugly incident of bullying of a female student by some students and as a result of preliminary investigation, the students have been placed on an indefinite suspension with effect from Monday, November 17, 2019.

“As a consequence of their suspension, they are precluded from all academic-related activities indefinitely and barred from the university and its precincts forthwith.

“At the conclusion of the ongoing investigation, the full weight of the law of the university, as contained in the handbook and oath of matriculation, which all the students were made to sign and subscribe to, will be visited on those found culpable.”

The Punch

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Man, Grandchildren Die of Suspected Food Poisoning in Imo

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A man, Moses Oguebuka, and two grandchildren, were on Tuesday found dead in Okwudor in the Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State.

The development, our correspondent learnt, caused tension in the community as the police took over the investigation.

A community source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the man and his grandchildren ate dinner together.

He said the bodies of Moses, who was a widower, and his eight and 11-year-old grandchildren had been evacuated by the police.

The source said, “Their lifeless bodies were found in a room in the morning. It was the man’s mistress, who had come to check on him, who found the corpses. She quickly raised the alarm, which attracted the villagers.

“We don’t know what actually happened, but food poisoning is suspected. The deceased ate dinner together and were found dead the next morning.”

The state Commissioner of Police, Rabiu Ladodo, confirmed the incident and said investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths had commenced.

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Price of Cooking Gas Soars as Supply Drops

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The drop in the supply of Liquefied Petroleum Gas, popularly known as cooking gas, to Lagos has led to an increase in the retail price of the commodity, raising fears of an imminent scarcity in the state and many parts of the country.

The Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers said last Wednesday that terminal owners had increased the price of 20 metric tonnes of the LPG by 33 per cent to N4.2m within five days.

NALPGAM said efforts to extract the cause of the sudden price increase from the terminal operators had not been successful.

The Nigeria LNG Limited, which is based in Port Harcourt, uses a vessel to deliver the LPG to Lagos at least twice in a month and buyers take the commodity to different parts of the country through trucks.

The company only delivers volumes to government-owned Northern Oil Jetty terminal and Navgas terminal, a private facility.

Our correspondent gathered that over 34 off-takers involved in the distribution of the NLNG’s volumes across the country received supply from the terminals.

But investigations revealed that the vessel only delivered the LPG volumes to Lagos once in October and no supply had been received this month as of the time of filing this report.

The Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers branch of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers said on Sunday that the reduction in supply had led to about 90 per cent increment in gas price within a space of one week.

“It is likely that this ugly situation will continue if there is no urgent intervention, especially as Christmas and New Year approach. Just a week ago, in Lagos and some neighbouring states, 12.5kg LPG was sold between N2,600 and N3,000 at retail outlets. It is now sold between N4,000 and N4,500 owing to the sudden hike in the price by tank farm operators,” the LPGAR said in a statement.

Last week, the NLNG, in a letter seen by our correspondent, explained to off-takers recent delays and disruptions to the Lagos delivery schedule.

It said deliveries to Lagos had progressed uninterrupted until August when the LPG vessel, ‘Navigator Capricorn’, loaded a cargo in Bonny and then experienced a suspected piracy attack en route to deliver the cargo to Lagos.

The spokesperson for the NLNG, Sophia Horsfall, in an emailed response to questions, told our correspondent on Friday that the company delivered 12,000MT to the Navgas terminal in Apapa, Lagos on October 15, 2019.

“Before then, we delivered a total of 32,050MT (three cargoes) in the month of September to Lagos. Our next delivery for about the 10th of November will be to NOJ terminal in Lagos. We typically deliver at least two cargoes of the LPG each month to Lagos via NOJ and Navgas terminals,” she said.

The LPGAR called on the Federal Government and other stakeholders to urgently intervene in order to restore sanity.

“The situation is already forcing many users to abandon their cylinders and opt for other sources of cooking energy such as firewood and saw dusk irrespective of the attendant health risks and resultant environmental degradation that results from those alternative energy sources,” it added.

The Punch

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