Most of Nigeria’s elites and rulers do not believe in anything beyond themselves and their perceived narrow interests. This assertion may sound very strange and even contradict the widely held belief that Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Of course, our religiosity is easily noticeable from the vast congregations of Christian Churches, and large Muslim gatherings that close streets on Sundays and Fridays respectively!
Religious practices and beliefs that are getting extinct in other climes are being strengthened in Nigeria. Today, for instance, Nigeria has gained notoriety as the biggest modern graveyard of people who profess Christianity. Only in the last few months over three persons have been stoned to death and set ablaze for blasphemy! Yet, Nigerian elites of all religious persuasions appear to be without any strong defined moral compass. Everything and anything that can advance the individual is acceptable.
This is not a peculiar Nigerian affair. One thing that African elites have in common with the poor is religion and superstition. Citizens, are passive, disempowered and superstitious – all waiting for a saviour to end corruption, develop and modernize the economy the way Europe, America, and now Asian economies are, treat everybody and every group fairly and equitably. Time and time again they prove that given the chance, and opportunity, they would behave the same way as those they are complaining about. People and actions are wrong only to the extent that others, and not themselves, are beneficiaries. Paradoxically, they want such saviours to twist the public law in their favour and, unbelievably, would wish that even Gods laws, the laws of the Bible and Koran, are bent in their favor.
How do the elite manifest their superstitious beliefs? A friend once told me of how he walked several kilometres into the bush, after driving through roads for a long distance to meet a “Marabout”/” Babalawo” “Malam”, who would pray for his friend and, assist his friend with charms to help him win an upcoming election. Stories abound of politicians performing sacrifices with human body parts to help them win elections or get political appointments or even get businesses. I am told of a school mate (a PhD holder) who wanted General Sani Abacha to reappoint him as a minister during a routine cabinet reshuffle process. He was told to procure a live horse which had to be buried alive. Throughout that fateful night he struggled with his house helps to bring the horse into the grave that he had dug. He barely succeeded before dawn – but General Abacha’s marabouts may have advised differently. He was not reappointed.
Nigerian spinsters especially in the North, go to see their prospects after spraying “Kayan mata” on themselves, and stories abound of Sierra Leonian and Gambian ladies in Europe spicing up the food they make for their prospects with part of their monthly flow so that they would properly “catch” them.
For both the elites and the general public, clerics, (the Priests, Imams or Babalawo’s) have a closer relationship with God, and therefore can hear and speak to God on their behalf. This relationship enables the Priests to decide for them what they should do – sometimes, whether to contest elections or not – and even whether they should keep or start a business relationship. They depend on the Priest to help them decide who to support, who to help and sometimes whether they should travel or not. The Priest also decides and plays an important role in their love lives. They pray to seek for God’s help to marry.
For most Nigerians, nay Africans, God becomes the excuse for their failures or reason for their success. God does for them what people in other climes do for themselves. They sheepishly submit to unjust, uncaring and ruthless rulers and curiously believe that the unjust leaders who lord it over them are loving God’s anointed. The Muslims, in this respect are different from the Christians. While Muslims in Nigeria do not hesitate in bringing out the sword to defend Allah, for the most part Christians, especially the Pentecostals and Evangelicals in Nigeria, believe that they should pray for the “God of Vengeance” to fight for them. A significant number of the young people fighting for Christian communities embattled by Fulani herdsmen shouting Allahu’Kubr in Nigeria are unchurched. Rather than act, Christians prefer praying for God to change the heart of the rulers because as the scripture says, the heart of the King is in the hand of God.
The powerful ruler who violates all rules to declare himself winner of an election that did not take place would go to Church, if he is a Christian, to give testimony of how God granted him victory! Of course, you will often hear phrases like “if God did not want it to happen, he could have stopped it”. Procedures are routinely breached – and, as is often the case, it is who knows who that matters! For Nigerians, and most of Africa, God is a tool to be used by man – both rich and poor; the rulers and the ruled alike behave in the same way. The poor expect to be settled to vote, or perform their civic responsibilities, while the rich don’t bother about performing as well as running government as personal institutions, enriching themselves and family members. They have enough money to settle delegates and delegates owners or community leaders. The rich steal from the poor and the poor collect pittance to allow the rich cheat them. The poor steal from the poor, and oppress fellow poor people. As a matter of fact, therefore, the poor are not mere recipient of oppression. They are an important, very vital part of the oppression and bad governance value chain!
For instance, in many states, the huge sums of money touted as bribe to party convention delegates did not reach many delegates. I was a delegate to the PDP convention in 2019, and I did not see any dollar, not even a single one! After the 2022 convention, a delegate from Kaduna State proclaimed that he received about N18m, which he publicly shared to other people. In several states, governors and powerful leaders tagged “delegate owners”, cornered monies meant for delegates. In one North East state, the Governor divided the delegates into different groups to vote for different presidential aspirants having collected money from all the aspirants. After the convention, he shared 4,000 USD to each of the delegates! Politicians and top government officials routinely drop the name of God in announcing decisions that are blatantly morally unjustifiable.
For want if a better phrase – Politics and governance in Nigeria are amoral – and the name of God is a convenient tool to sear the conscience of those who may have started with a conscience. Both the elite and the poor in Africa have accepted to be amoral. Last year, a Nigerian Legislator on a trip to one Eastern African country was confronted by an Immigration Official at the Airport to give him some dollars. When he said that he did not have cash, the immigration official pointed to an ATM machine!
Next to the self is the clan, sect or clan. This is not peculiar to Nigeria. But its effects have been mitigated in some societies by the evolution of a rule-based system and strong institutions are. In Africa and Nigeria individual interest still supersede the clan, religion and tribe in importance. The allegiance or loyalty of people is to themselves, family, clan, sect, tribe before the Nigerian State.
Can we rightly attribute this to the fact that self-survival is the first law of nature for every individual? Perhaps yes, for the short sighted. We are socialized into understanding life and survival of self as priority. Our families come next, the clan and/or tribe before the region or country. This was what made life brutish and short. The political society evolved to create order and safety for all.
It was reasoned that the society thrives better when personal and small group interests, are subordinated to the political society (or the state). For instance, it has been argued that once the political society emerged and weapons/instruments of coercion were collectivized so that no man is a threat to the whole community. The centralized instruments of coercion were available for use against deviants. The world became more peaceful – Innovation in technology and business blossomed and the world enjoyed the longest period of peace and prosperity in human history. All these are now threatened by the weakening of state system and the rise of the individual, tribe and religion. One obvious gap in Africa’s political development is that the group is subjugated to the individual, and the larger society is at the mercy of the smaller groups. In other words, the individual in charge imposes his interest on the clan or tribe and the country or state is pulled and held down by the tribe or smaller groups. The dominant group imposes its will on all others – and takes decisions that may destroy the bigger collective interests.
In the absence of a moral code that is willingly subscribed to, or imposed on the whole state structure, every man and every group become laws unto themselves. This vicious cycle of poverty of governance has resulted in fragile, weak and failing African states – where loyalty to “national state” hardly exists in several African states. This has led to the resurgence of precolonial power struggles, and the Nigerian state, for instance, has ceded several territories to non-state actors who use religion and ethnicity to get allegiance of the public in areas where they operate. These non- state actors, including terrorist groups such as Boko Haram (with variants such as ISWAP and bandits of the North West and North Central) have developed such strength and capacity that it may just be possible for them to make a strong call on Abuja, much more than the daring attack on Kuje Prison. Violent non state actors roam freely in most of rural Nigeria State, imposing, a very rapid mass urbanization which is emptying the rural areas.
When they do enter Abuja – or attack a major Christian worship centre in Abuja – the fragile hold of the State may irreparably weaken. As Professor Jerry Herbst has argued, all through history, the punishment for states manifesting the type of fragility and weaknesses being exhibited by the Nigerian State, is extinction. In the past, such states would be overrun by stronger states. In the recent examples of Eastern Europeans states – the Soviet Union, the Balkans Yugoslavia etc. the states break into smaller units usually along historical fault lines!
Only time will tell, how Nigeria’s future history will look like.
Kwewum, Journalist and Writer, is a member of the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s National Assembly.