Nigeria’s south western region is world renowned for the highest rate of twin births. Unlike those twins, the metaphoric pair of Religion and Poverty cannot be separated.
According to a recent gallup survey of a 114 countries, It was found that religiosity was the highest in the world’s poorest Nations. This survey showed a clear link between a country’s socio-economic status and the religiosity of its residents. Religiosity as described by this survey is the proportion of residents that say religion is important in their daily lives (usually 95% of people in the poorest nations).
On reading the results of this survey, my mind interpreted it as normal. Surely the poor need God the most, so they would be the most religious, my summary of the analysis was,
BUT is it?
Why should it be normal for a strong link to exist between Religion and poverty? Could it be that the normalization of this relationship is the reason for the existence of poverty in the first place?
Several people are familiar with poverty or might have experienced poverty, but very few people understand poverty and even fewer take time to understand the root cause of poverty.
First and foremost, poverty is a reflection and manifestation of the mental and psychological state of the mind. A poor nation is the summation and reflection of the pauperized mental state of its citizens from the materially poor to the materially rich e.g. governors and leaders.
This was illustrated by the narration of an experience the distinguished Professor Ojikutu shared recently with his class. It went as follows.
He was in a meeting with about twenty of some of the most distinguished professors in Nigeria. During this meeting, one of their colleagues slumped; the immediate reaction of the other Professors was to break in to fervent prayer, while their colleague was dying on the floor. It was only he that had the wherewith all, to go out to look for help and secure the means to get this dying man to the hospital. Left to his colleagues, their prayer would have saved the dying man, and if their prayers failed then ….Another life would have been needlessly lost.
He summed up his experience in these words,
“A nation whose most brilliant minds do not THINK their way out of problems, has no future.”
After which he proceeded to show us statistics that describe the current condition of the health care system.
85% of people brought in dead to hospitals come from a church or from a spiritual healing center.
This is not to say that miracles do not happen. It’s to say that in Nigeria our country, Africa our continent, the number of people that DO NOT experience miracles from desperate poverty or sickness, makes those that do statistically insignificant. Similar to lottery winners, they are the lucky few.
96% of Nigerians say Religion is extremely important in their everyday life, yet 70% of our fellow Nigerians live in abject poverty, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality and our nation is repeatedly ranked as corrupt / fantastically corrupt regardless if the country is being run by Christians or Muslims. Meanwhile the masses are told every Friday and Sunday that their rewards are in heaven and they should be thankful for the life they’ve been given.
I believe it was this theoretical construct that led Karl Marx to say, religion was the opium of the masses, If the masses happened to stop believing their reward is in the afterlife, they might start fighting for some of that reward now.
It is worth noting that in areas with little to no social supports, some churches and mosques may provide for people’s basic needs through, welfare programs, free health diagnostic and some even going further to tackle problems such as drug abuse and unemployment. Those that do these are few and far between. Although religion can provide real assistance and a sense of security to disadvantaged individuals, that doesn’t mean it actually solves the problems associated with poverty. A government that promotes religion as a positive social influence blurs the reality of insidious social problems that are the root cause of poverty, such as a lack of access to education.
Recently, The Nigerian government announced that it will offer a concessionary exchange rate to more than 65,000 Muslim citizens intending to make the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this year, even as the country turns to borrowing to plug a budget gap. A preferred foreign-exchange rate of 197 per dollar will apply for pilgrims’ travel allowances of $750 to $1,000, this compares with an interbank rate of 319.25 per dollar and the current black market rate of N400 to a dollar.
Regardless of Christian, Muslim or Traditional needs, If taxpaying businesses are left to wade the furious tides of currency fluctuations, how does a nation prioritize subsidizing Religious activities in a period of so much scarcity? This in itself is reflective of our poverty mentality and its direct link to religion.
In a nation where, a huge population of citizens not only proclaims their religiosity, but spends several hours a day devoted to their religious beliefs. A nation where nontax paying citizens religiously pay their tithes and offerings, Yet the church and Mosque do not pay tax or even luxury taxes associated with private jets and mansion type luxury lifestyle, Our pastors exhibit the material evidence of the prosperity message they preach in the midst of sustained and consistent squalor that has existed and gotten worst in the last two decades.
Imagine a Nigeria with prophets similar to those we extol and are taught about week in week out. A Nigeria where in the face of the Ebola Outbreak our prophets and men of God were on the frontlines with the health warriors, healing victims like the great Elisha, Leading a glorious crusade across west Africa healing and stopping Ebola in its tracks. Dare I say, Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh did more to stop the Ebola epidemic from engulfing Nigeria than the many pastorpreneurs that sought to cash in on the epidemic by selling ‘anti-ebola water’ to their gullible congregation.
Imagine a Nigeria where our prophets and men of God were like Moses of Old that lead the Armies in to war against Boko-haram, invoking Gods angels to smite our enemies, holding their hands up to bring the war to a swift end, ending the regular bombing campaigns of churches and mosques that plagued Nigeria for months on end, costing us many innocent Christian and Muslims lives.
That would be a Nigeria to be proud off. That would be a Nigeria that justifies the obsessive devotion to religion in this country. For something that consumes so much of our national life, the dividends cannot be marshaled to help our reality as a nation. The devotion of citizens extolled in the Koran, the Bible and African traditional religion existed because the prophets and keepers of these religions worked actively to benefit their society as opposed to self enrichment as is prevalent today. They evoked powers that kept the nation safe and healthy. Our presidents Kneel before their pastors and are seen frequently in Mosques but these additional benefits have never been our portion.
Yet religion further stratifies our already stratified polity. As seen during the previous election, a candidate’s religion takes precedence over their acumen, integrity and even their capacity and antecedents. The typical Nigerian believes ‘Doctors treat, Jesus heals’, Yet if they seek treatment in hospitals that 90% of Nigerians cannot afford and if they are pronounced terminally ill, they start looking for money and visa to be flown abroad, to benefit from doctors whose skills have been honed and cultured through research and an enabling environment.
On their return from India, Germany or America, they give testimonies of their healing? Indirectly alluding to the notion that prayers are more effective when the person is receiving better treatment in a place where the healthcare system actually works? An estimated 300,000 people die of malaria in Nigeria every year, according to the WHO, Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; one in five Nigerian children never reach the age of 5 and our current life expectancy is 52 years old.
If statistics show that Heaven helps those who have access to proper healthcare, surely we should focus less on Heaven for our health care and more on creating a health care system that works. This means demanding more from our government, protesting with doctors when they go on strike as opposed to the apathy and inertia of the general population because we are all looking to heaven for personal security apathetic to the insecurity of the collective.
We have been indoctrinated from childhood to have a miracle mindset; anything can just happen if we believe. Pastors try to walk on water and drown, pastors bury themselves alive and die, pastors fast for 40days and die. Worse still are the congregants, lulled by the miracle mindset, they go from church to church looking for that miracle that would give them the jeep and big house.
From an early age we are indoctrinated to not ask questions, starting with inconsistencies in Bible and Koranic stories to the idea that one cannot question the man of God or think critically about what he/she says. Yet we are in shock and awe to read about women taking the man of God’s miracle sperm or watching obscene acts encouraged by imams and pastors alike carried out by a zombie like congregation. This week a lady died from internal injuries to her lungs, because a pastor put a large speaker on her , promising her that she would not feel pain, apparently the death is her fault because even though she did what she was told, she didn’t have enough ‘faith’. We are shocked that citizens can be brainwashed and so easily manipulated.
Religion individualizes our beliefs; our focus is on ourselves, our miracles. In a church full of thousands of people, one would occasionally hear “somebody here is going to get a miracle”, subconsciously this makes citizens apathetic to the plight of the collective. A governor would steal and pay his tithes to get his blessings; A suicide bomber would kill himself and many others to get his blessings. Neither of these people care about the effect of their actions on the collective, the ideology of religion as practiced today plays a part in that.
When a nation is confronted with a national disaster, it can be excused for calling on God while actively and creatively implementing relief efforts, BUT when a country is in the midst of financial hardship caused by poor decision making and planning, Our leaders and political elite urge us to pray…How does such a consciousness solve problems? The evidence and dividends of all their prayers is all around for our eyes to judge.
In the real world the people look to themselves to solve their problems.
Hence the saying
Heaven helps those who help themselves.
The nations that thousands of Nigerians perilously cross the Sahara and risk their lives on the Ocean to reach, are the handwork of men, not angels and not gods. Our political and religious leaders at every chance they get divide the masses via religious rhetoric, yet in their personal lives, they are extremely practical, choosing to fly abroad for ear treatments etc. If national leaders have no faith in the health care system what hope do the citizens have?
Former Governor Fashola wrote a widely publicized article concerning the World Economic Forum that took place in may 2014 titled “My World Economic Forum (WEF) takeaways”, His first take away read as follows.
“One thing I noticed was that there were no opening and closing prayers in Christian and Moslem ways; or were they deliberately not broadcast? I doubt that this was the case. The more likely inference is that they were not part of the programme. The reason is that this was not a Nigerian event; it was a global franchise hosting in Nigeria. Think of how many minutes we have spent on prayers at economic and business meetings that are Nigerian. Now multiply them into hours and days and calculate how much productive time we have lost. My conclusion is that prayers and religion are necessary to shape values; they do not run an economy. It is serious people who do. I hope the lesson will remain beyond WEF.”
Indoctrinated at an early age, our children and youth know more about the history of David and Prophet Mohammed than they know about themselves as Nigerians, as Africans, Their history and shared humanities. If a people do not know themselves how can they form an agenda an identity or a goal to work towards? Every country that has risen out of the ashes of colonialism went back in to themselves to craft a vision and plan based on their uniqueness and who they are. By taking in to account who they were, they could define who they want to be. We see this in the rise of India, China, Singapore and the rest of the Asian Tigers. China did not get to where it is today on the back of “Buddha” “Insha Allah” or “By the Grace of God”. They woke up, planned, and executed!
Furthermore, historically, no group of people have built a great nation / civilization and simultaneously the majority of the population and ruling elite were devoted to a God that did not look like themselves. The Europeans and Americans overcame this by mass producing a blonde hair blue eyed Jesus; there is also an Asian and Arab version of Jesus. The psychological effect of the proliferation of imagery and devotion to a God that does not look like you is subconsciously tied to our subservient status. Our constant need to look outside ourselves for solutions, to gallivant all around the world looking for loans and embarking on subsidized pilgrimage.
An interesting irony is Haiti, growing up I heard stories about Haiti and her obsession with voodoo. Apparently the natural disasters that happen to Haiti bypassing the Dominican republic was the manifestation of God’s wrath on the country for their spiritual beliefs. No one told me Haiti was the only black nation to fight of the shackles of slavery by themselves, declaring the first independent black state, defeating the most powerful armies in the world at the time (the French and American). No one told me that the revolution started after a voodoo ceremony that empowered the will of these men to mount the largest and most successful slave revolt in history and lastly no one told me it was for this reason that the practice of voodoo was banned in other colonies and demonized all over the world to prevent further insurrections. Last year, the staunchly catholic Dominican Republic was hit by natural disasters that completely by passed Haiti. Maybe natural disasters are simply that… natural disasters.
Today, the slavery dis-empowering Nigeria is enslavement to the pastor, enslavement to the caliphate, enslavement to the Quran, enslavement to word of God, enslavement to churches and the diviners; enslavement to superstitious thinking. In places without strong social safety nets or opportunities for upward mobility, people rely on religion for comfort. As ironic as it may seem, when someone is suffering people attribute a higher purpose to their suffering, explaining it as “part of God’s ultimate plan.”
As the rentier nature of the Nigeria state begins to shed (due to the depression of crude oil prices), conversations are inevitably going to emerge, focused on restructuring. It is imperative that we understand that the consciousness that created a problem can never be the same consciousness to solve the problem.
Growing up I recall vividly my parents explaining how much better Nigeria was in their day, the quality of hospitals and healthcare, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. The wonderful schools that existed and the caliber of graduates such schools produced. In my short life, I have lived through incessant fuel queues, youth being stampeded in stadiums and herded like cattle because they are in search of jobs due to high unemployment rates. I have seen our education system rot and mass failures of our students in exams. I have seen more charred and blood red corpses than I care for, all this to say I shudder at the thought that I would repeat the downward spiraling cycle by telling my children “In my day things were better”.
‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’
As Nigerians we need to elevate our collective consciousness, God is not coming to save us and by all indications rapture is coming no time soon. Imagine a Nigeria were the crowds that gather in our super churches and Mosques, praying for jobs, seeking healing and a quality of life the government is elected to provide and enable, Actually march on Abuja with one voice and demand more from OUR PUBLIC SERVANTS. Imagine how much more responsive and accountable our government would be, Imagine the effect on our politics if we were not so apathetic and stratified by inconsequential factors on our governance such as religion and tribe? That would be a Nigeria worth looking forward to, it starts in the mind, let’s think different.