Monday, 25 August 2014

Ebola disaster as respite for wildlife


 
Salisu Suleiman.  

Once, while travelling as a passenger in an inter-state taxi, a wild animal had the misfortune of running unto the highway. Without thinking, our driver swerved – not to avoid, but to kill the animal, which he did, though at the price of a shattered headlamp and dented fender.
That a driver could spontaneously elect to use his car to bludgeon an animal to death, knowing that it could result in an accident or damage to the vehicle, was not as surprising to the passengers as was his next move; he opened the engine compartment of the Peugeot 504 station wagon and somehow squeezed the dead animal inside for the rest of the journey.
He was apparently unbothered by the damage to the taxi, didn’t care about the dangers of the toxic oven he’d improvised and certainly had no apologies to the passengers, though he clearly put our lives in danger by using the vehicle as a hunting weapon. The satisfied smile on his face for the rest of the journey was that of a man looking forward to a huge feast of bush meat.
The driver’s attitude is not much different from that of many Nigerians to wildlife; meat. It doesn’t matter if it is a deer, rabbit, monkey, grass cutter, rat, antelope, snake, gazelle, elephant, rhino, bat, hippo or vulture. The sight of wildlife instantly conjures images of steamed, fried or roasted meat. It is not an accident the bush meat industry is a billion naira business in Nigeria.
In many African societies, hunters were (and still are) seen as brave and adventurous. In some cultures, a significant rite of passage to manhood was the ability of a young man to single-handedly hunt down a dangerous animal. Thousands of people hunt for a living because the bush meat industry requires daily supplies of freshly killed or captured wildlife.
That instinct to hunt and kill every wild animal has had very adverse consequences on Nigeria’s wildlife, such as the disappearance of some species which used to be plentiful. For instance, as recently as the 1960s, travelers along Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic sometimes had to give way for elephants, giraffes, antelopes and other wild animals to pass because of the rich vegetation and wildlife.
Today however, one can travel along the same stretch for many miles without seeing a blade of grass or animal. The vegetation is gone, the water vanished, and the animals, extinct. Empirical studies are scarce, but it is self-evident that several species have disappeared, primarily due to unregulated hunting.
Nigeria’s fast vanishing biodiversity due to drought, deforestation, over-grazing, soil erosion and land degradation, have all led to severe depletion of our wild life. Current estimates suggest that there are less than 100 lions left in the wild in Nigeria. The rest have been killed by hunters or driven out by loss of habitat.
Similarly, the Pygmy hippo which used to be found only in the Niger Delta is now practically extinct, thanks to hunters and environmental pollution. Our elephant population has been reduced to a few hundred and our giraffes, extinct. Indeed, Nigeria now imports animals for its zoos.
And then came Ebola.
Since the revelation that the Ebola virus is harbored by primates and other animals, hunters and bush meat sellers have seen a sharp drop in their businesses from falling patronage. It seems that the only way Nigerians will stop eating bush meat is when their lives are in danger.
The appetite of Nigerians for bush meat has fuelled demand for, and led to a systematic obliteration of our wildlife not just in Nigeria, but in neighboring countries because we also import bush meat. The array of wild animals once common  have disappeared due to commercial poaching, lack of wild life protection policies and man-made and natural causes.
As tragic as the loss of human lives from Ebola is, for wildlife, the epidemic deliberately brought into Nigeria by Liberian-American bioterrorist Patrick Sawyer has been a respite. Government has tried to discourage the hunting and consumption of wildlife for decades, to no avail, but Ebola has succeeded in a few weeks.  
While the argument that not everyone can afford to buy meat may be tenable, the fact is that bush meat is often more expensive than mutton, especially in urban areas, so the issue is more about palates than principles. 
As long as the attitude of Nigerians to wild animals is that of something to be killed, and if edible, eaten, then more species of wildlife will disappear from the country. The notion of an animal being rare and endangered is almost totally alien – as if any talk of preserving them.  
In the end though, while the Ebola tragedy may have provided a respite for our wild animals, it is almost a certainty that the moment the threat of the disease evaporates, Nigerians will return to the hunting and eating of bush meat as usual. Old habits die hard.

 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Atiku Abubakar’s Ominous Silence




Salisu Suleiman.

One costly mistake a politician can make is to underestimate the opposition. Conversely, one of the smartest acts of subtlety a politician can pull off is playing dumb, and getting opponents to underestimate and even take them for jokers.
That is why the moment politicians take others for fools or let down their guards, they expose their jugular. In such circumstances, one attack may be all that is needed to end a political career, or at least earn a crushing defeat.
President Goodluck Jonathan has benefitted from both. As the nondescript governor of Bayelsa State in 2006, few gave him any chance in the political equation; not with political juggernauts like former Rivers State governor Peter Odili and his Delta State counterpart, James Ibori dictating the script and calling the tunes.
Today, Odili is in virtual political exile; Ibori is a prisoner; Jonathan is the president.
Even after becoming president, many people still continued to underrate Jonathan. There was a movement in 2010, led by a self-appointed group of so-called Northern Elders to force Jonathan out of the 2011 presidential contest, or that failing, nominate a consensus candidate to challenge him.
In the end, the Adamu Ciroma led group selected former vice president Atiku Abubakar to challenge Jonathan for the PDP ticket and got a humiliating defeat at the party primaries.
However, the wise men of the North, confronted with a northern candidate in the ilk of Gen Muhammadu Buhari who challenged Jonathan under the now defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), quickly abandoned their professed defence of northern interests and lined up to vote for Jonathan – and got rewarded with juicy portfolios for family members.
The next time any bunch of clowns comes up with any self-styled notion in the name of the north, ask them, which north?
The lesson is that Jonathan is a much more determined power monger than Nigerians realize. Unfortunately, his strategy for capturing and retaining power has exacted a very heavy toll because his chief weapons are the exploitation of ethnic and religious differences across all states.
Jonathan and his goons have also reduced all political debate to ‘North vs. South’,‘Christian vs. Muslim’ and ‘Majority vs. Minority’. These schisms are easy to open, but very difficult to forget. Politics and voting in Nigeria is now ‘We and Them’ – in the most negative connotation.
To return to today’s topic: it is only a matter of weeks, perhaps days, before President Goodluck Jonathan declares his intention to seek reelection. His declaration might have been timed to follow the adoption of the infamous ‘new constitution’ surreptitiously smuggled into the National Conference, to pave way for a constitutional amendment that would enable him seek a new six year term as president.
On this matter, he clearly underestimated the North, which, despite age-long rivalries, spoke with one voice and collectively rejected the new constitution for which a humongous budget had been set aside to ensure its passage by states houses of assembly. The last has not been heard of the matter, though.
The failed attempt notwithstanding, Jonathan will seek a new term as president. Obviously, his most serious challengers will come from the All Progressives Congress (APC) which reasserted its vibrancy by retaining Osun state last week despite the colossal time, energy and resources the federal government devoted to the campaign.
So far, the most visible presidential aspirants on the platform of the APC are former head of state, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Kano State governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and to a lesser extent, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
The very fact that a politician that is as ambitious and resourced as Atiku is laying low may be a tactic to downplay his candidature, and then going for his opponents’ jugulars.
Make no mistake: There is hardly a politician in Nigeria that has the mass appeal of Buhari. Only he, without the funds to build and sustain structures, or even to pay all his party’s poll watching agents would manage, as he did, in 2011, to rein in about 12 million votes. Age may not be on the side of the general, but his popularity remains high.
On the other hand, the powers of Nigerian governors are legendary. Though Kwankwaso has been careful not to ruffle feathers, an electoral contest must take place soon. In the event that governors of the APC decide to support one of their own, Kwankwaso will have no option but face up to Buhari.
How the outcome of any potential clash is managed may make or break the APC’s electoral fortunes.
But it could be costly to underrate Atiku. One may agree or disagree with his perspective, but in terms of networks, resources and on-the-field experience, the former vice president is a skilful strategist.
This is why the seeming silence from Atiku Abubakar may be very ominous indeed, for his opponents.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Jonathan’s brilliant, but unintelligent cabal


 
Salisu Suleiman.

Until Olusegun Obasanjo’s failed wish to remain in office for life, by first fooling Nigerians into giving him a third term in office, collapsed, a number of figures in the administration pulled very powerful strings. Dubbed the Economic Team, it was headed by the current Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, with Nasir El-Rufai, Oby Ezekwesili and Nuhu Ribadu, playing key roles.  
Not everyone agreed with their policies and methods, but the team laid the groundwork for the relative successes of the Obasanjo administration. It managed to trim the size of the bloated civil service (though now revised), introduced the also now abandoned monetization policy to cut waste in government, sold off residential houses across Nigeria on which government was wasting inordinate amounts of money, introduced pensions, public service, energy, telecoms and other reforms, but most importantly, negotiated a way out of Nigeria’s huge foreign debts (though Jonathan has returned us to the debtors club).
If Obasanjo had picked his successor from the team, perhaps, the existentialist threats we currently face might have been averted. But so spiteful was Obasanjo with what he perceived as the team’s less than 100 percent support for third term that, at the risk of destroying what was left of his badly damaged legacy, headhunted and imposed Yar’adua. The team was so influential when Okonjo-Iweala was appointed Foreign Minister – meaning she couldn’t its head, she quit the cabinet altogether.
Whether it was real or imagined, a number of very influential individuals also emerged under late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Named the ‘Yar’adua Cabal’, they were said to control the reins of the administration – including taking some decisions in the name of a dying president. Till date, no one knows who really signed the 2010 Appropriation Act, and whose voice we heard on the BBC, purporting to be that of the late president and claiming to be improving. 
The suggested names include Yar’adua’s overbearing wife, Turai, his close friends Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi and Abba Sayyadi Ruma, Chief Security Officer, Yusuf Tilde, then FCT Minister, Adamu Aliero, ADC to the president, Colonel Mustapha Onoyvieta and son in-law, Isa Yuguda. For what it may be worth, their near total disappearance from political relevance should be a lesson for those in power today.
Listening to the likes of Asari Dokubo, Edwin Clark, Labaran Maku, Reuben Abati and his fellow travelers on the road to Destination Jonathan, it is clear that they are failing to learn the lessons of recent history – or even contemporary history – remember Ahmed Gulak? That the once rambunctious and no-holds barred Gulak could be so unceremoniously thrown into a gulag should calm those bothered by the excesses, utterances and exuberance of the basket mouths in power today. They will vanish from the radar of political relevance once their principal leaves office – as he must one day.
To return to today’s focus, who are those in power today, and who are the brains behind President Jonathan? Who are the people that think, talk and act on behalf of the president, and whose words and advice do we hear and see when Jonathan speaks and acts?
One of the first names that come to mind is President Jonathan’s Senior Special Assistant on Research and Documentation, Oronto Douglas. He is credited with advising the president on strategic political issues and has been an integral part of the president’s inner caucus for a number of years. He is smart enough to operate in the background, but the shape and character of the present administration would be different without his input.
Diezani Alison-Madueke needs no introduction. Her sway over Nigeria’s oil industry is reminiscent of Sheik Zaki Yamani, who was the Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum from 1962 to 1986, and a minister in OPEC for 25 years. Any subordinate imprudent enough to lock horns with Alison-Madueke will find their heads bashed in – and jobless -- in no time. Her influence is unmatched.
Anyone who saw Osita Chidoka fraternizing with Turai Yar’adua and issuing her a driver’s license when she was the first lady might not believe how he managed to penetrate Dame Patience. But that, exactly, is what Chidoka did. Today, as the Minister of Aviation, he is an indispensable member of Jonathan’s kitchen cabinet, or more lyrically, the Otuoke Oligarchy.
Others with varying degrees of influence, roles and visibility include Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Edwin Clark, Hassan Tukur, Anyim, Pius Anyin, Seriake Dickson, Labaran Maku, Sam Amadi, John Kennedy Opara, Godswill Akpabio, Ayo Oritsejafor, Stella Oduah, Gabriel Suswan, Reuben Abati and others. Not unlike the Abacha era, there’s competition to be part if the Otuoke Oligarchy – as Femi Fani-Kayode is finding out!  
Now, how is it possible to be brilliant but unintelligent? Most of the names above are erudite, but are so ensconced in power, patronage and privilege that they are failing to notice the gathering clouds: that insecurity, corruption, poverty and religious/ethnic politics is a dangerous mix that will erode the very basis of their power. That is how to be brilliant, but not intelligent. 

 

Monday, 4 August 2014

Boko Haram’s Damsels of Death and Education in the North



Salisu Suleiman.

Last week, several girls, some as young as 10 were dispatched, ostensibly by Boko Haram to launch suicide attacks and kill as many people as could in Kano and Katsina states. Two of the targets were telling: one bomb exploded at the Aminu Kano School of Legal Studies, while another bomber blended into a group of students at Kano State Polytechnic and blew herself up along with several students.

The resort to female suicide bombers could be an indication that Boko Haram is under pressure and is running out of available young men who have been thoroughly brainwashed to believe that indiscriminately killing people – whether Christian or Muslim – will land them at the Gates of Paradise and into the arms of Heavenly Damsels. It could also reflect a change of tactics, since it is easier for women and young girls to deflect suspicion and escape scrutiny at security posts.

At any rate, that people would be gullible enough to fall into the trap of the most blood thirsty terrorist group in the world, then dispatched to murder as many people as they can in cold blood is the worst form of illiteracy. And illiteracy in this instance does not mean literacy and numeracy skills in western instruction, but also about Islam as well: Anyone with a genuine understanding of Islam knows that the Quran values human life and forbids the shedding of innocent blood.

If members of Boko Haram, particularly the suicide bombers who volunteer or are coerced into carrying out mass murders know anything about the religion they claim to profess, they would know that unjustly killing any human being, regardless of faith, is a first-class ticket to the depths of hell. Their tragedy is, having lived deprived lives on earth, they might find that the heavenly bliss they dreamed of may be the opposite.

At a less esoteric level, the origins, growth and murderous philosophy of Boko Haram were born and borne of ignorance and illiteracy. When a region has, as does the north, nearly 11 million people out of school, what should we expect? That they will become model citizens and contribute to the development of society? More evocatively, what should we expect when 93% of the women in northern Nigeria lack something as basic as a secondary school education?

The threat of illiteracy is real and urgent. Nigeria has more out of school children than any other country in the world – including China and India which have several times our population. Nearly all of the estimated 11 million children that are out of school are in the north. The north – east, already the poorest and least educated, has had its educational institutions and systems ravaged by Boko Haram.

It is not an accident that Boko Haram has reserved its most brutal attacks on schools and students, including the systematic slaughter of 59 students in a secondary school in Buni Yadi. Even the mass slaughter was not enough; the bodies of the students were set ablaze and burnt beyond recognition.

One consequence of the calculated destruction of education in the north, especially the north east, is the widening of the already huge gap between the north and south in terms of education. As it stands, several states in the south have more private universities than ALL the states in the north combined. But that is taking it too far; Imo state alone has nearly as many JAMB candidates as some zones in the north.

Even the number of private universities and the huge disparity in the number of candidates writing JAMB does not tell the whole story: the education systems in several states in the south are so far ahead that even if Boko Haram were to end their terror campaigns today and peace returned to all parts of the north, it may take more than a decade for the region to cobble some semblance of functional education systems together.

The current gap between education in the north and the south is typified by Rivers State, where even opponents of Governor Rotimi Amaechi give him credit for the educational reforms he has implemented. They are better seen to be believed. The public schools in Rivers State are probably better equipped and managed than most private schools and the teachers better motivated.

No state in the entire north – including Kano where the current government has made some solid strides   - can compare with the progress being made in Rivers, Bayelsa, Osun, Lagos and other states in the south. Within the next decade or so, the educational gap between the north and south of Nigeria will be so wide that we might as well live in two different countries.

This is not time for lamentation, but action: until the north, as a collective, urgently confronts terrorism through education and enlightenment, we may continue to breed more ignorant and brainwashed damsels of death who will not hesitate to waste their useless lives – just to kill our few educated ones.


Monday, 21 July 2014

Impeachment Gale: Chewing Pebbles to Frighten Peanuts


 
Salisu Suleiman.

Politics has a way of bringing out the best in people. And the worst, as well. From a meek, likeable and supposedly unassuming deputy governor, governor and vice president, politics has brought Goodluck Ebele Jonathan full circle.
It is difficult to imagine how the affable presidential candidate of 2011, with all the smiles and promises of fresh air and transformation has become the hardened and hard-nosed politician who is willing, ready, perhaps even anxious, to tear down the very democratic structures that made him president, as he seeks reelection.   
Maybe one shouldn’t be too surprised; the signs were clear in the way he hunted down James Ibori on the one hand, and then granted a presidential pardon to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, on the other. His approach was also evident in the way he eased out Timi Alaibe from his ambition of being governor of Bayelsa State without a whimper and forced out Timipre Sylva to pave way for Seriake Dickson – all in one motion.  
 
Having settled matters in Bayelsa state, Jonathan’s attention then turned to the wider South South, beginning with his epic clash with Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi. A weaker and less astute politician would have been thrown out long ago, especially after his head-on collision with Dame Patience, but Amaechi is hanging on.
 
The last salvo has not been heard of this fight, and if Jonathan remains in office beyond 2015, Amaechi, despite his giant steps in Rivers State, may find himself in difficult straits, to put it mildly.

That is because Jonathan may want to affect a mild amnesia, but he never forgets any wrong, and is a master at pulling out the longest knife in every night of long knives. And as the countdown to his expected declaration for 2015 gathers momentum, the president has reached into his selection of long knives.
For daring to decamp to the opposition, Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako, despite last minute entreaties, had to go. Offences he allegedly committed long ago suddenly emerged like a long knife from the grave. For Jonathan, it is acceptable to commit impeachable offences as long as one remains in PDP.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) claims that each member of the state house of assembly was induced with $300,000 to sack Nyako. The acting governor practically confirmed the plot when he declared to the PDP leadership that he had delivered Nyako’s scalp.   
Before the dust had settled in Yola, another opposition governor, Umaru Tanko Almakura of Nasarawa was facing impeachment. Like Nyako, Almakura was a former member of the PDP who decamped and succeeded in knocking out an incumbent PDP governor. His crime was failing to return to the PDP after becoming governor.
Tragically, three people have died in anti-impeachment clashes. The APC also claims that N500 million has mobilized to facilitate the impeachment. An opening into the character of President Jonathan was revealed in the way he smiled and joked with Almakura during his official visit to Nasarawa, while fully aware of the plot to sack the governor.
Jonathan also has Edo state in his sights. Reports suggest that £300,000 has been set aside for each member of the Edo State House of Assembly to sack the comrade governor. Removing Oshiomole may not be easy, but the president would have succeeded in putting the labour leader-turned politician on the defensive, too busy fighting to survive to be an effective participant or campaigner for the opposition in 2015.  
The war for 2015 has started. The daggers are out and the pretexts, over. The real Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has emerged, and his early tactic is to browbeat everyone into submission, beginning with opposition governors. His dual approach is to induce politicians – not a difficult feat in Nigeria - or that failing, harass those who refuse to kowtow.   
But Jonathan is hardly original.
In terms of corruption, the Jonathan administration has been accused of simply lifting monies in tranches from the treasury – including the $20 billion that got the former CBN governor sacked. But that is not a record by any means since oil has been selling for over $100 per barrel for the past several years: Sani Abacha in all probability ‘lifted’ close to $5 billion when oil selling at less than $10 per barrel, with fewer barrels produced and sold.
Similarly, in terms of impunity and abuse of power, Jonathan still lags behind Olusegun Obasanjo, under whom, in the words of Dele Momodu, “several governors were impeached in hotel rooms or legislative houses at gunpoint”, though he is getting close.
The current gale of impeachment is Jonathan’s way of skewing the political calculus in his favour because he knows the level of antagonism to his 2015 ambition, even from within his party. By masterminding the removal of opposition governors, he is sending PDP governors a warning: ‘if I can shoot down brooms from a distance, I can puncture your umbrellas at pointblank range’.
In essence, Jonathan is chewing pebbles to frighten peanuts.

 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

As Jonathan’s Tsunami Devastates the Political Landscape


 
Salisu Suleiman.
A tsunami is very high, large wave in the ocean that is usually caused by an earthquake under the sea. It can cause great destruction when it reaches land because the waves create a powerful wall of water, often moving at hundreds of miles an hour. It is capable of, and usually flattens most things in its path, leaving scenes of utter devastation in its wake.
Tsunamis kill many people every year and wrecks havoc wherever it strikes. The aftermath of most tsunamis leaves landscapes and peoples in utter desolation. Even with modern science and technology, tsunamis are difficult to predict, so cannot be monitored as soon as they are formed, their speeds calculated, their trajectories plotted and their impacts measured. It gives people no time to plan.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s ambition is like a tsunami approaching land and gathering speed. The most open political secret in Nigeria today is the fact that Jonathan will seek re-election for president in 2015. The man himself may not have uttered a word, but his body language speaks volumes; the comings and goings of his wife amounts to confirmation and active engagement in the political process, while the activities of his party and associates amounts to little more than a full-fledged political campaign.
Even before reaching land, the devastation has begun. And like most tsunamis, it began relatively innocuously, though the political underpinnings were clear enough: To consolidate power game at the national level, politicians must control their home states. Realizing the need to control Bayelsa State, Jonathan masterminded the emergence of Seriake Dickson as the governor, deposing Timipre Silva whose loyalty he felt wasn’t certain.  
The coup de grace was the presidential pardon he granted Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former Bayelsa governor convicted of looting over N126 billion. Indications are that Alamieyeseigha will work to ensure that the South-South is delivered to the president, while muscling a senate seat for himself in the process. Though pockets of opposition remain in Bayelsa, the president has that state in his pocket.
The high waves of tsunamis weaken obstacles in their path in sea and on land. Evidently, Jonathan is borrowing from this leaf. It began with attempts to weaken Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who, by insisting that Jonathan honour his pledge to serve only one term became an instant enemy and a major obstacle for the Jonathan tsunami to flatten. But for his political astuteness, Amaechi would not only have been removed from office, but would probably be facing trumped-up criminal charges by now, or in exile – if he’s lucky.
And because tsunamis move wherever they wish, Jonathan’s tsunami soon turned and faced another obstacle in Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State. Suddenly, members of the state house of assembly witnessed a spate of defections and re-defections amidst tunes of impeachment. Not in the unlucky eight years of Lucky Igbinedion did the assembly utter the word ‘impeachment, but a performing governor is facing that threat for daring to fix Mr. Fix It and looking the president in the eye. 
While the Edo saga was going on, Jonathan’s tsunami landed in Nasarawa. A deputy governor who had no known public disagreement or even private quarrel with his boss suddenly felt the waves of tsunami Jonathan and promptly decamped to the president’s party. Members of the opposition also decamped to the ruling party and the state house of assembly swiftly began to sing the impeachment tune, with the melodies written by a loudmouthed minister in Abuja.
Tsunamis often come with fires. And while fires were burning in Port Harcourt, Benin and Lafia, a huge wave abruptly made a detour to Yola.  Jonathan’s tsunami had landed Adamawa.
Unfortunately for the former sailor in charge of the state, the sea of politics is deeper than the Mariana Trench, so he found himself totally out of his depths and barely hanging on to his vessel. Whether he survives the tsunami or not is out of his hands, but even if he manages to find a safe habour, the damage to his reputation is such that few would be willing to set sail with him soon.
Tsunamis lift very heavy objects and smash them against whatever crosses their paths. Jonathan’s tsunami soon touched down in Kano, where it lifted over N400 billion, only to smash N32 billion on the faces of Nigerians as a favour.
Similarly, tsunamis sometimes inexplicably leave some things untouched no matter how directly positioned they are on the path of the waves. This may explain why Jonathan’s tsunami has left Diezani Alison-Madueke on Mountain NNPC untouched, while ignoring the small matter of a missing $20 billion.
The danger, as with all natural disasters is, after laying waste to a land and its people for political gains, the damage done may take much longer to repair, if at all, than the four extra years Jonathan’s  tsunami seeks to obtain at such high cost. 

 

 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Unregulated Preachers, Unschooled Followers


 
Salisu Suleiman.

For what it may be worth, Nigerians are very spiritual people. Nigerians of all religious inclinations wear our religions on our foreheads, pray at public functions, make a show of religiosity at all occasions and seem to be in a competition to outspend one another to demonstrate religiosity. Indeed, for most of us, religion is an important part of our identities.
The matter of religion is so serious that the forms required to open accounts in some banks have sections where you must classify yourself as either ‘Christian’, ‘Muslim’, or ‘Others’, as if to say cash had a religion. Clearly, we are a bunch in search of, and in need of spiritual nourishment.
But where do we find fulfillment? How do we make up our minds about which religion to adopt? What determines religious convictions?
Like most people in the world, we have little say in what religion we practice; simply find ourselves in the religions we were born into. True, a few convert to other religions for the sake of marriage or are drawn in by the promise of money and professional success. Some are ensnared by envisaged miracles, or the prospects of meeting marriage partners. In the end, only a few people adopt, convert to, or remain in religions out of genuine conviction nourished by knowledge.
And for something as important to Nigerians as religion, that is a very dangerous thing. It is dangerous because wherever opportunity exists – and who can deny that the need for spiritual nourishment provides untold opportunities – then opportunists step in.
Flipping across television channels some time ago, I fortuitously stopped at one station where I saw a man gesticulating wildly, walking up and down a stage in frenzy and affecting a fake accent. The performance reached a crescendo when the man took off his designer jacket, threw it on the floor and screamed something at the top of his lungs, to tremendous applause from the floor. Any rock band would have been proud of the performance and resulting ovation.
Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the man was not an entertainer, (at least, not in the traditional sense) and the audience was not attending a concert.  He was a pastor, and the adoring crowds were members of his congregation. Welcome to the world of some new generation churches and pastors.
Eventually, I discovered quite a number of such programmes on television, especially on weekends. Indeed, there are a number of channels dedicated entirely to such programmes, while some churches actually own television channels where they air programmes from their congregations in Nigeria and other parts of the world. The pastors are usually good-looking, suave, and very articulate. They are also well-dressed; seem physically fit, full of confidence and confidence inspiring – from what I could see of the adoring followers.
While not questioning the sincerity of some of these pastors and the sanity of their flocks, I asked myself over and over again: Do they listen to the pastors? Are they learning anything new? Are the imbibing the time-honoured values of Christianity like humility, truthfulness, kindness, good sense of morality and other virtues?
Why do they spontaneously applaud from time to time? Is it to praise another inspired performance or to demonstrate a jolt of spiritual reinforcement? What, exactly, is going on in these climactic worship sessions?
Incidentally, nearly the same sets of circumstances exist among Nigerian Muslims. I have also observed a number of Muslim preachers receive the kind of adulation usually reserved for rock stars, famous actors and actresses as well as sportsmen and athletes. It is particularly distressing to see dreamy-eyed young men scream “Allahu Akbar!” to whatever these preachers say, without really understanding what is being said.
One explanation is that millions of youth spend their early childhood in today’s abused almajiri schools where they learn little about the core values of Islam. Mindlessly memorizing verses of the Quran without understanding their meanings, context and application does not amount to real knowledge about the key aspects of Islam, or the essential aspects of worship that is the foundation of the religion.
More often than not, instead of kindness to other human beings, understanding the need to live in peace with other human beings, justice, fairness and equity, all some of these young Muslims dream of is jihad. Unfortunately, even the meaning of the term, jihad, is badly misconstrued. Jihad is about the struggle to be righteous; it is about loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. Jihad is about exhorting one another to truth, endurance, and perseverance and about differentiating the nature of good from evil.
This level of ignorance is not restricted to young almajiris and other impressionable young minds. Many mature, life-long and seemingly intelligent Muslims also face similar predicaments because they have refused to, or are unable to read and understand the Quran and Hadith in their true spirit and therefore, often incapable to deciphering the messages of love, kindness, and mercy within.
Consequently, just like some of our Christian folks who merely go to church to be entertained by the gyrations and haranguing of smooth-talking pastors, many Muslims practice Islam on rote, without bothering to explore the spiritual essence of worship and prayer.
So in Nigeria, Muslims and Christians alike, go about all assuming to be holier than the other, when in reality, many have lost the fundamental nature of Godliness.  That is what happens when unschooled followers follow unregulated preachers.