CONSTITUTIONAL MISCONCEPTION OF SECULARISM AND IMPLICATIONS FOR POLITICS AND RELIGION IN NIGERIA

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1       Background to the Study

            In different ways, classical social thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries all thought, religion would either disappear or become progressively attenuated with the expansion of modern institutions. The evidence before us in the 21st century is pervasive and clear, that religion still exists, but changed everywhere. Religion remains surprisingly vibrant and socially relevant. This is particularly true in Nigeria, and in much of the rest of the world as well, where religion continues to be a potent factor in the emerging global order and its conflicts.

Modernist theories of secularization that predicted the decline of religion in the affairs of the world because they were carriers of “tradition”, and would enter into decline faced with the inevitable and overwhelming forces of modernization have failed in their predictions. Even some critics of secularism have come to accept that, while religious faith may appear to be floundering in the west due to “contigent events and local circumstances” such as sex abuse scandals by the clergy and the issue of gay marriage, diverse patterns of religiosity still exist today all over the world. In case of Nigeria, despite the crimes associated with religions, more religious sects and denominations are springing out with huge patronage from the masses on daily basis. Even among affluent European nations, rather than observing any consistent and steady conversion towards atheism or agnosticism or any loss of faith in God, religion is still alive and active (Greeleys, 2003).

Huntington (1996) argues that the world would be shaped largely by the strainged interraction among seven or eight major civilizations, namely; Western, Latin American, Slavic-orthodox, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu and possibly African civilization. He further argues that the most important differentiating factor in the world is religion and that the post-cold war optimism of global harmony would be shattered by dangerous and deep-rooted religious conflicts. No wonder, Berger (2005), formerly a leading advocate of secularism recanted and declared that, “the assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world, with some exceptions . . . is as furiously religious as it ever was and in some places more so than ever” (p2).

It is highly debatable if secularism, as the political separation between “church and state” is dead or alife. As it is, almost all countries separate religion from politics and all democratic nations imbibe some or most of the democratic political values inherent in secularism. Throughout this work, secularism is appreciated broadly as a constitutional device that tries to construct a political identity for a country in the context of a non-combative religious faith. This, it does by recognizing and protecting the individual’s religious affiliation and guaranteeing her or his right to freedom of religion and conscience. It also distances the state from any overbearing political influence of religion (Bruce, 2002). A religiously sensitive secular polity, according to Nchi (2013), therefore, does not need to be opposed to the individuation of religion and cultural identities in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic state like Nigeria.

            In recent decades, religion has become an important factor both in public debate and as a means of political mobilization. However, the rise of religion has not happened in and for itself.It is closely linked to wider material and ideological developments that have attacked global politics (Danjibo and Oladeji, 2012). As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, Nigeria is a pluralistic society with African Traditional Religion, Christianity and Islam as its three main religions (Onah, 2011). Nigerians are deeply religious and are acknowledged by British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC, 2004) as the most religious nation in the world. It has been argued that Nigeria has become the number one country globally in terms of the population of religious worshippers and adherents, notably, of the two major religions; Christianity and Islam (Falana, (2010)

            Nigeria is among the most religious countries in the world. According to the Pew Research Centre, Nigeria is at the top of the chart in terms of intense religiosity. Both Christianity and Islam have experienced very dramatic growth over the last 50 years. They have not just experienced quantitative growth, but they have experienced very important qualitative changes – changes in denominational affiliation, changes in theology, changes in attitude towards one another (Kukah, 2007).

According to Udobata (2012), it is still an irony that Nigeria claims to be one of the most religious nations in the world and yet she is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Her citizens are insulted all over the world. Even many nations that do not claim to be religious have warned their citizens against doing honest business with Nigerians. Transparency International still places Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations of the world. The latest Transparency International (TI) report not only listed Nigeria as among the most corrupt countries of the world, but indicates that it has the highest global percentage of citizen’s perception that corruption has worsened in the last years. Yet, Nigeria has the largest number of Christians in the Black world and sends the largest contingent of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca every year (Udobata, 2012).

Nigeria’s broad religious demography reflects the historical exposure of its Northern communities to Islam through the Trans-Saharan Trade and the success of Christian Missionary Enterprise in many of its southern parts. However, while historical alliances and shared ethnicities are closely associated with the adoption of these two world religions, religion and ethno –regional identities are cross-cutting, often reinforcing each other. Beyond the engagement with local traditions, Christianity and Islam as major religions in Nigeria have expressed a high degree of political competitiveness with each other at the least since the 1970s (Danjibo and Oladeji, 2013).

Apart from Christianity and Islam, Nigerians also belong to a range of other religious groups. The largest of these comprises followers of Traditional Religious Practice, known as African Traditional Religion (ATR), with the provision that local belief systems and practices differ widely, and that their subsumption under one term mainly reflects the fact that these practices do not (yet) hold the status of world religions (Amherd and Nolte, 2005).

Religion and politics have caused many countries to either grow or separate. In Nigeria, every government is judged by the way power is distributed. Anything contrary to attaining a religious balance status triggers a wide cry of marginalization. The struggle for power in Nigeria predated independence, but it was based on ethnic, economic and social factors. It was in the event of the 1966 coup that religious meaning and antagonism began to be associated with political activities (Anjov, 2008, 35). Some scholars argued that the Igbo as a tribe were the major target and that not all Christians in the North were affected.

Within the two major religions in Nigeria (Islam and Christianity), there has been internal divisions and sub -divisions that sometimes produce sharp contentions. Islam and Christianity are rivals to each other. Apart from being rivals to each other, they (Islam and Christianity) are suppressing the traditional religion. Religion which is supposed to be the agent of peace, unity and harmony is a sharp contrast in Nigeria and elsewhere. Nigeria has recorded series of religious crises, claiming lives and property which are a hindrance to national development. The issue of religion in Nigeria is becoming more complex with apparent hostility, friction and crises. Indeed, religion is threatening the corporate existence of the nation as well as undermining the political integrity of the country. Religious crises in Nigeria are major obstacles to peace and development in the country.

Hank (2013) asserts that, just as football is singularly the sole and most unifying factor in Nigeria, nothing is as divisive as religion – especially when it is used as a tool of politics. Nigeria politicians have used religion to divide the country, just as they have used ethnicity to fan the embers of our national dichotomy. In Nigeria, religion has become a tool of politics and not as a belief system. We are, evidently, no longer able to maintain the fundamental principles of a secular state like religious freedom and governments patronizing particular religions. The sanction and enforcement of Sharia Laws in the criminal court by some state governments have also compounded the problem.

According to Anuforo (2013), recent developments and memories of past and continuous carnage in the North of Nigeria on the innocent and for reasons beyond comprehension, are beginning to sway the position of many, who previously frowned at the thought of alternative system of co-existing. In other words, while believing and hoping on a united, progressive and secular, God fearing country, staunch Nigerian Nationalists are now open to the possibility of a different form of mutually agreed arrangement example the breakup of Nigeria to accommodate the conflicting regional, religious and tribal aspirations of ethnic groups. The Governor- General of Nigeria between 1920-1931, Sir Hugh Clifford, described Nigeria as “a collection of independent native states, separated from one another by great distances, differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers” (Nigeria Council of Debate, Lagos, 1920). The above description in my opinion seems to vividly capture the problems of today’s Nigeria, where too many innocent lives have been sacrificed because of religion.

As a result of the activities of the Boko Haram sect in the country, there are worrying trends that are beginning to raise concerns over the authority of the President, his security agenda and the unity of the country. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made a revelation at the 2012 Armed Forces Remembrance day ceremony that sent shocking waves across the country and the rest of the world. Speaking about the terror being unleashed by Boko Haram, the President said that, “sympathisers of the Islamist Boko Haram group are in his government and security agencies” (Anuforo, 2013, 12). He further lamented that:

The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought. During the civil war, we knew and we could even predict where the enemy was coming from, but the challenge we have today is more complicated … some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliament/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in judiciary … some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies (BBC, 2013).

When the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces raises such concern about security, every patriotic citizen should be alarmed too (Anuforo, 2013).

1.2         Statement of the Problem Religion has a place in the life of every nation including Nigeria. Irrespective of the faith or denomination, religion when truly practiced in its truest form and spirit, has been and remains sacred. It plays a vital role in purposeful leadership, community building, social justice, law and order, peace-making, reconciliation, forgiveness and the healing of wounds, be they political, family or personal. Religion ideally is not an arena of conflict. Unfortunately, Religion in Nigeria has given rise to conflicts between the adherents of the two main religions; Islam and Christianity.

CONSTITUTIONAL MISCONCEPTION OF SECULARISM AND IMPLICATIONS FOR POLITICS AND RELIGION IN NIGERIA