The idea of writing a column with my title today came during my visit to Maiduguri, two weeks ago. The thought was triggered by a number of related ideas. On June1st, 2014, many Nigerian newspapers used on their front pages, a picture of President Goodluck Jonathan, receiving a delegation of the head of the Islamic Tijaniyya Brotherhood, led by Khalifa Sheikh Ahmed TijaniInyass, at the Aso Villa.
One of the more mischievous interpretations of the visit came from THE NATION ON SUNDAY newspaper, which reported that the “popular Senegalese Muslim cleric…stormed” the Presidential Villa, Abuja “to hold special prayers for President Goodluck Jonathan in a spiritual offensive against Boko haram”.
According to the report, the spiritual leader led a team of about 10 Islamic clerics at the prayer session and to underline the fact that it was a well-planned session, THE NATION ON SUNDAY added that Khalifa Ahmad Inyass “had been specially invited by President Jonathan in the face of ceaseless attacks by Boko Haram insurgents”.
And just in case there are raised eyebrows that Nigeria’s president was “outsourcing spiritual fortification” to far away Senegal, spokesman for the visitors, Ahmed TijaniSanniAwalu, said previous Nigerian leaders had similarly imported the Senegalese clerics in the past: “it is a historic visit because it was done by his (the Khalifa’s) father with then President, General Yakubu Gowon and Gen. AguyiIronsi. So history is repeating itself…on his (KhalifaInyass) way going home, the President requested a courtesy visit and Shehu granted that”. So it was President Goodluck Jonathan that requested to be ring-fenced with the spiritual armour of prayer, Made-in-Senegal, to assist the war against Boko Haram.
So what our army, the security forces and trillions of naira, down the drain cannot accomplish, our very religiously savvy President Goodluck Jonathan has wisely outsourced to Senegal, for instant solution. Many birds can even be killed with one spiritual stone.
The Boko Haram insurgency might dissolve like soap bubble, and with the 2015 elections looming, a photo-op with the leader of one of the most powerful Islamic brotherhoods in West Africa, could become an iconic campaign picture. It was instructive that Goodluck Jonathan dressed to fit the occasion;not the Resource Control hat. No! He wore an Indonesian cap that would be at home in any Muslim setting in West Africa!
The second but related event was the obviously sincere expression of devoted spirituality by gesticulating women, mostly in white dresses, as presented on the front pages of many Nigerian newspapers on Thursday, 5thJune, 2014. As LEADERSHIP newspaper’s caption of the two pictures it carried said, these were “women praying fervently for the immediate release of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls”. And what was the occasion?
The paper provided the answer: “during the national prayer organized by the Ministry of Women Affairs in Abuja” (a Federal Ministry devoted to women’s affairs was organizing a “National Prayer” session!).
The religious theme was reinforced, with a picture carried on page 3 of DAILY TRUST of the same day, Thursday, June 5, 2014, which had President Goodluck Jonathan welcoming the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, who was accompanied to the Aso Villa by the Primate of the Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh. Lined side-by-side, with visits that Goodluck Jonathan has made to different Christian churches in the past one year (where he was wont to making significant pronouncements about national events!), along with Muslim clerics he hosted, imported through the good offices of Senator Ahmed SaniYerima of Zamfara state, we will be right to conclude that the “spiritual arm” of governance in Nigeria is as healthy as it probably can be!
But the business of running a democratic society is a rational affair that is not amenable to spiritual mumbo-jumbo. I am writing these lines on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. We have entered the 65thday, since the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls.
As we all now know, the Nigerian military had critical intelligence four hours before the abduction and nothing was done to avert it. Similarly, for three weeks, President Goodluck Jonathan lived in denial of the abductions, did nothing and his wife, Patience, on live television, made one of the most tragi-comical displays of first lady meddlesomeness in recent Nigerian history! It took the #BRINGBACK OURGIRLS campaign and the international response before the administration took any steps.
And the narrative that the abductions were staged as a political stunt against Goodluck Jonathan was not vacated by the administration. So to reduce the serious issue of governance responsibility to the stoking of a religious piety and mass hysteria, smacks of irresponsibility, denial and the unending penchant for exploiting religion by the nation’s ruling elite. Our country has been sucked into a mass hysteria of religiosity today, as rational expressions of the life process retreated from the nation’s social and political spaces.
Those caught up in the frenzy of religiosity as photographed from the “national prayers”, might have been genuinely sincere in their devotion. But they would have better assisted Nigeria’s progress if they were part of a national movement dedicated to an interrogation of the actions and inactions of President Goodluck Jonathan. It was good to pray, but it would have been better to demand more responsible governance and a full disclosure on the trillions spent on security and the bungling of the entire episode around the abduction of the Chibok girls.
Those who organized a national day of prayers certainly know what they were doing. They hoped to manipulate the spiritual devotion of Nigerians in a particular direction, away from a rational interrogation of the rulers of the country. It was also not a coincidence that Goodluck Jonathan invited the Khalifa of the Tijaniyya Brotherhood from Senegal.
They are part of a well-honed process of the manipulation of religion. Goodluck Jonathan can only go just that far in the game of deception. It was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who used to tell his followers to “Believe in Allah but tie your camel”.
Spirituality is very okay, you see; but rational thinking and hard work are the routes for solving the social, political and economic problems thrown up by a modern, democratizing and neo-colonial, capitalist society. Those who attempt to befuddle social phenomena with mumbo-jumbo labour in vain!