After Mr. President who is a Muslim, and Mr. Vice President who is a Christian, next should be traditional religious practitioners like Ifa worshippers, who should argue to be favoured with the position of Senate President; while other imported religions like Hare Krishna should produce Hon. Speaker of the House of Representatives. Same goes for State governments. This is suggested for the purpose of ensuring religious spread, justice, and fair play in political appointments, if we must continue to entertain such mundane requests made simply for selfish reasons. But the fact remains that the ordinary Nigerian on the streets would never mind who governs, or his/her religious inclination if there is life more abundant for the masses.
Former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola once hit the nail right on the head in his year 2014 address to a conference in Lagos, themed: “Peace, Religious Harmony and Good Governance: Issues and Challenges”. While expressing his opinion on electing preferences on the basis of religion, Fashola advanced some cogent posers like: “What will the preference for governor of one faith over the other even benefit us? “Will it give one religion roads that other faiths cannot use? Will it give them schools that children from other faiths cannot attend; or will it bring water that only one faith can drink? “Will it begin to draw a very clear line between poverty and the faith? Does hunger know your faith?” The submission above sounds very logical, particularly with regard to Chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) that describes ‘The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy’’ as how ‘’to create social and economic conditions under which the citizens can lead a good life; and also establish social and economic democracy through a welfare state’’
Another part of the grund norm states expressly that: ‘’The Government of the Federation, or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria, and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States, or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.’’ Same demand is made on State governments, in order to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the constituents. The pertinent question arises: When are we going to outgrow these constitutional provisions on Federal Character, zoning etc to embrace merit that could throw the nation up through the utilization of the best hands, especially with regard to filling positions on account of religious beliefs and inclination?
In truth, it doesn’t appear as if any part of the extant constitution stipulates that appointments shall be made on the basis of religious beliefs and leanings. After Mr. President who is a Muslim, and Mr. Vice President who is a Christian, then traditional religious practitioners like Ifa worshippers should argue to be favoured with the position of Senate President; while other imported religions like Hare Krishna should produce Hon. Speaker of the House of Representatives. This is suggested for the purpose of ensuring religious spread, justice, and fair play in political appointments if we must continue to entertain such mundane requests made simply for selfish reasons. I would say we are carrying this interpretation rather too far; otherwise how does the appointment of ‘’an ordinary or mere Chief Press Secretary’’ affect religious organisations. Press Secretaries are not statutory members of the Federal or State Executive Councils, and have no votes other than the ones attached to their principals. Some of our actions are very pedestrian and are simply unwarranted. The MKO Abiola/Kingibe ticket went unchallenged because people believed in the inherent capabilities of the two eminent politicians.
REPRESENTATION: We must overlook appointments on religious basis; because we are talking about good governance and how to develop the Nigerian nation. Grandstanding and pedestrian demands and considerations will not help us! How does the appointment of Secretary to Government, the Chief of Staff, who is not even recognised by the Constitution, and a Chief Press Secretary concern any religious organisation? Are they representing religious organisations in government? Commentators and experts in Constitutional Law have argued that the extant 1999 constitution is deeply flawed, and needs to be thoroughly reviewed. This issue of religious consideration has crept into and eaten deep into the fabric of our national life. It started rearing its head mid 1980s. Before then, nobody spoke about an all Muslim cabinet in the North; and appointments into political positions in the Christian dominated South. And that gave a good opportunity to champions of religious sentiments to confront governments on account of self interests.
In the early part of the First Republic, Obafemi Awolowo was Premier, Western Region; Adeleke Adedoyin was Hon. Speaker, Western Regional Legislature; Justice Adetokunbo Ademola was Chief Justice; Jonathan Odebiyi was Leader of Government Business and Minister of Finance; while Chief Simeon Adebo was Chief Secetary/Head of the Civil Service. In the Second Republic, Bola Ige was governor, Sunday Michael Afolabi was deputy governor, Bisi Akande was Secretary to the State Government, Mokolade Gbolagunte was Hon. Speaker; while Princess Tejumade Alakija was the Head of the Civil Service. All these appointments were based on merit and were acceptable because those great Nigerians were cosmopolitan and urbane. And that was before people started agitating for appointments on the basis of religion.
SECULARITY OF THE NIGERIAN STATE: The First Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Part 11, Section (10) states most unequivocally the prohibition of state religion thus: “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” This is clearly instructive enough for a peace-loving citizen to comprehend and this forms part of the review proposed. This issue of secularity remains till today a very contentious matter, given several divergent legal opinions about the issue as pronounced by legal minds. The 1999 constitution provides for the secular status of the country and religion at the same time. While stating that “The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion; the constitution also reinforces the rights of Nigerians to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Going further, the issue of religion is a very sensitive and contentious matter, which has heightened tension several times, and has, innumerable times threatened the unity of the country.
It is to be noted that religious bigots have succeeded largely in destabilizing the society, while governments have been stretched to their limits in their patriotic intentions of keeping the nation in unity and progress. Crimes on account of religious persuasions are rampant, even as those who should call their followers to order continue to fan the embers of religious prejudices and fanaticisms. On the numerous occasions that religious extremists have lost their senses and embarked on orgies of killing and looting with hundreds of thousands of lives and inestimable valuable property lost. A constitutional lawyer, Professor Akin Oyebode in an interview in the Nigerian Tribune described the development as “barbaric, primitive and senseless”. According to him, “those who are misguided, mischievous and don’t wish Nigeria well, at the slightest opportunity, would resort to using their arrows, machetes and bows to vent their frustration on their compatriots.’’ The way out of this quagmire is what we should jointly seek, at this critical point in Nigeria’s history, and forge ways of arresting all these ugly incidents permanently.
INTERVENTIONS: It is true that differences on account of development, religion, cultures and traditions in Nigeria are long-standing problems. They date back to the first republic when the regions were requesting for independence from the colonialists. But we ought to have overcome all these problems had all Nigerians been true to their individual conscience, and placed Nigeria above all other considerations. Without any doubt, our traditional rulers and religious leaders have tried their best, almost resigning to fate. The truth is that these two eminent groups now believe that politicians may never change of listen to wise counsel. From all indications, the tenets of the various religions practiced in the country must not count, whenever cases are to be presented to governments to ask for some concessions.
Politicians, elites, and their followers, do not seem to respect the morals of the religions they practice. This situation of killings and maiming in the name of religion has created ill-will and disaffection with the potential of creating negative conducts by the citizenry. What we must guard against is the possibility of applying religious considerations into governance, politics, and economics.
RESTIVENESS & ECONOMIC DOWNTURN: Given the fact that There is no society, even the advanced countries of the world without its own measure of tribalism and regionalism, Nigeria’s similar problems of state or place of origin, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and related ills have combined to present themselves as formidable constraints to development. Fear, occasioned by mistrust, is one element that has strongly worked against development and peaceful coexistence. It is obvious that the complexities of Nigeria can only be addressed through dialogue, dialogue and dialogue without going to war. Regrettably, these feelings, both real and imagined, reasonable and not so reasonable, are still very much with us almost six decades after Nigeria’s attainment of independence. If the nation is to properly chart an enviable course of development, it must thoroughly educate its people on their rights and obligations to the state, while also ensuring the delivery of sound education to the growing ones in our institutions.
From this point of view, Nigerians must evolve positive attitudes that downplay, if not totally eliminate feelings of mistrust and deep-seated animosity,particularly those promoted on religious grounds. Additionally, the fact must be realized that it is not possible to attain economic development and social advancement in an atmosphere of conflict, tension and social rancour. Therefore, those who lead and govern must be ready to be transparent in their actions, while also demonstrating commitment and dedication to the principles of fair play and justice. Apparently, there is no magic wand for turning the situation around, beyond good governance, adherence to the rule of law, purposeful leadership, viable democratic culture, planning and visioning, as well as commitment and dedication on the part of all Nigerians, who must resolve to assist governments to achieve their anticipated objectives. Certainly, turning the situation around is a joint responsibility of governments and the governed.
GOING FORWARD: One pertinent question remains: Is there anyone elected or appointed to govern in the Executive or Legislature who was sponsored on the basis of religions or belongs to a registered religious organization? Is anybody in government there to protect and advance the cause of religious organizations? If we could remain true to the pledge and oaths we swear on appointment or being recognised at the Executive level, after appointments/elections, then we all would know that the interests of our nation comes first, and is therefore, above any religious consideration. Again, the patriotic instincts of the political office holders need to be put to test from time to time.
For instance, are members of both the legislature and the executive self-interest seekers or truly working to safeguard and promote the interests of their people? Part of the root causes are our values, norms and customs, as well the inability of governments to put in place a social security scheme that could guarantee the future of the citizenry, especially at old age. This factor makes it easy for influencers of religious problems to purchase the souls of their followers, who may not even understand why they are standing up for one religion or the other, protesting on the streets.
PEACEFUL & HARMONIOUS COEXISTENCE: Most of our problems have been caused by illiteracy and the elites in the society, who have successfully led the largely illiterate and poor population by the nose. Respect for the rule of law, due process, and the fundamental human rights of the citizenry is another issue that needs to be embraced for our nation to move along the envisaged path of progress. Political actors must be dispassionate in deciding matters that affect the well-being of the citizenry. If this nation must progress, people must cultivate progressive habits and take steps that would ensure the sustainable socio-economic and political growth of Nigeria.
I honestly do not see any reason why we must choose the path of war when there are avenues open to consultations. Certainly, there must be wranglings or contention like in every organized setting. But these must be done in accordance with the provisions of the constitution,as we march towards the creation of our enduring democratic culture. People talk about war as if they don’t know the ravaging effects of such a needless situation. We must never go to war again in Nigeria. We must continue to talk and talk and talk until we reason along the same direction of attaining the objective of creating a near perfect system. Therefore, all of us on the various divides of religious and political groupings must learn to be tolerant of ourselves and our views in finding lasting solutions to problems confronting the nation. Our leaders in the First Republic between 1953 and 1960 had no fewer than seven (7) constitutional talks in London before Nigeria was granted independence. And no blood was shed in the negotiations leading to self governance. Why then must brothers take up arms against brothers?
Lastly, there must also be political will on the part of the citizenry, who must resolve to build, by their conducts, a stable political environment that will aid the overall growth of Nigeria. Political dialogue should be one of the greatest strengths of the union while seeking to fulfill the promise of the citizenry’s commitments to democracy. People must think beyond national consensus and respect mechanisms that promote national growth.
May the good Lord bless Nigeria