Can we really fight a religious war?

Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor

Of recent, especially since the horrendous bombing of the Madalla church allegedly by Boko Haram, many commentators have made the prospect of a religious war breaking out in this country to loom larger by the day. Only the equally horrendous removal of fuel subsidy by Dr Goodluck Jonathan – arguably the most hated president Nigeria ever had – eclipsed that prospect. However, while one joined the rest of Nigerians to sound alarm, dismay and rejection of the government’s thoughtless reflex action, one was also unable to dismiss the thought of the ‘religious war’ from one’s mind. Reason: before the subsidy catastrophe befell us like a bag of damnation from the heavens, the issue of a shooting battle between Christians and Muslims in the country was conceivably a fait accompli. What with the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, angrily urging Christians to stop turning the other cheek and return fire for fire.

It is easy – and even excusable – for certain elements to express extreme outrage at such wanton killings in places of worship, or any other place for that matter. Only a person of extreme wickedness and inhumanity would bomb a church (or a mosque), killing worshippers – people who most probably have nothing to do with the killer’s grouse or kind of politics. When such murders occur, it is only fair to expect the action to draw extreme outrage even from sedate members of the society.

But when otherwise informed people warn of the country slipping into a religious war, one wonders just where the shootings would begin. Some even display their ignorance about the cultural composition of Nigeria. A ‘religious war’ must have clearly defined enemies whose locations must be recognisable and mutually exclusive. In Nigeria, no matter how outraged we are over the unacceptable actions of some of us, such enemy lines are not clearly identifiable.

The biggest error I always read in news reports by Western media on the Nigerian crisis is where they unavoidably claim that Nigeria is “roughly divided between a Christian south and a Muslim north.” This statement is painfully wrong because Nigeria is not divided along a north-south line when it comes to religious enclaves.

Start from my state, Katsina. One would say it is a mainly Muslim state. But that does not mean there are no Christians who are indigenes of Katsina state. They are Hausa like the rest of the Muslims in the state, or even more so. They are not ‘settlers’ but dyed-in-the-wool indigenes. As such nobody can say, on the day a ‘religious war’ breaks out in Nigeria, that they should start moving to the “Christian south.” Many of them may have probably never travelled out of their vicinity or beyond Zaria.

Same thing goes for many other “Muslim states” in north. Zamfara, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Kwara, Borno and Adamawa are other examples of states where there are indigenes who are as Christian as the man in the Niger Delta. And in Christian-dominated states like Plateau and Benue, there are Muslim indigenes who cannot be expelled till kingdom come.

If you move down south, what would you do with all those Yoruba Muslims? Some of them are obas or even the governors of their states – and they are not ‘settlers’! In some of the south-west states, Muslims are in the majority. So, just because somebody wants us to fight a religious war, should the Muslims in all the Yoruba states, as well as those in southern states like Edo (around Auchi) hire lorries and buses and pack to the “Muslim north”? Even among the more homogenous Igbo people in the south-east there are quite a few Muslims.

To stretch the argument further, what would you do about states in the north where Christians are in the majority – like Plateau, Taraba and Benue? Should the majority of the people in these states migrate to the south and start life anew, build new civilisations and try to blend with their brothers and sisters in faith there?

Recently, while reading the autobiography of the highly respected Prof. Adamu Baikie, I found the ‘religious war’ notion an increasingly bigger fallacy, concocted by largely southern commentators and their ignorant collaborators in the Western media. I saw how families not only in the north but also in the south are inextricably meshed together through intermarriages across tribes and religions. I saw how in a family there are followers of both faiths, all living together in peace and harmony. Later, in a discussion with a Yoruba friend, I realised that this meshing of creeds is even more rampant among the Yoruba, where some children of the same parents can follow different faiths – and without killing each other for it. The question, then, is that on the day of our religious Armageddon, should such siblings start massacring each other because of the blandishment of some religious bigot? Should a Muslim married to a Christian woman just kill her because a religious war has begun? Should a son professing Christianity send his aged Muslim mother in downtown Abeokuta to the great beyond because the pundits have said so?

Thus, it is simply foolhardy to believe that a war based on religious sentiments could be successfully prosecuted in Nigeria. The fabrics of our nation are so meshed into each other, not only through political alliances, business partnerships, marriages or workplaces but also through the faiths we individually profess. Of course, some idiots may bomb a mosque or a church thinking “it is the other people’s”, but at the end of the day they may unwittingly be murdering someone from their family, tribe or village. Instead of a religious war, therefore, people may fight based on tribal lines or in exclusive and clearly defined enclaves like the ones you find in Plateau or Kano.

What Nigerians need to fight is militancy, terrorism and bigotry. God, whom we all worship in spite of differences in creed, has a purpose for bringing us together as one nation. He knows why we have this unique diversity, the type you only find in multicultural societies like America. We should find strength in it and oppose those who want to forcefully take it away from us.

Published in my column on the back page of BLUEPRINT, today, January 16, 2012

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