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Blame God, Nigeriana!

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan

By Leonard Karshima Shilgba, Lagos

Our Nigerian way of life is the way of plenty of rituals of religion and very little of deeds to match our religious professions. It is public conduct and confessions that are divorced from personal responsibility and rather attached to “faith”. It does not matter what the outcome of our “faith” may be. Our most convenient escape route is to “pray” or to urge people to “pray harder”. As a pastor myself, I am concerned and have made efforts to put in clear relief before my congregation and others who care to listen to me what their personal responsibility as citizens should be.

A Nigerian gets into a conversation with you about their country:

Nigeriana One: The level of corruption in this country is really alarming. What can we do about it?

Nigeriana Two: I think we need to pray more for our country rather than complain. Complaining will solve no problem. The problem we have is that we are not praying enough.

Nigeriana One: We are not praying enough? How much of praying is enough?

Nigeriana Two: Our pastor told us that prayer changes things, and that if Nigeria has remained in this sad state for this long, it is because the church is not praying but playing.

Nigeriana One: Indeed, I love the catch phrase your pastor used; but, can you tell me how the church in Japan, China, Malaysia, UAE and in those countries that have registered great levels of development has been praying so that the Nigerian church can learn?

Nigeriana Two: I can sense mockery in your voice. I did not know you are an unbeliever. How can you underrate prayer?

Nigeriana One: I am sorry if you perceive it like that. I only asked to learn how I should pray because, to me, Nigerians seem to be praying a lot. We even have “Christian ministries” that are wholly devoted to praying; you can even see this in their names. And at every occasion Nigerian government officials call for prayer and some of them cannot make a speech before praying. And they call God or Allah or Jesus Christ many times in a single sentence.

Nigeriana Two: Let me educate you. Jesus Christ says that “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” Are you fainting already?

Nigeriana One: If you talk of fainting, I must insist on getting the answer I asked for. How much praying without fainting have the Japanese, Chinese, Malaysians and the others been doing that they are much better off than Nigerians in all indices of human development?

Nigeriana Two: I cannot tell. But we must continue praying. Maybe the words we use in praying are not enough or appropriate.

Nigeriana One: My good friend, if you cannot tell me what I must do, how do you expect me to know when I have attained accomplishment? By the way, Jesus Christ says, “But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not you therefore like them; for your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask him.”Do you still think the problems of Nigeria have refused to go away because Nigerians are not “praying enough”?

Nigeriana Two: Please, I need to leave now; I have a Church meeting in few minutes. But God will help us. God is in control.

I find it annoying when Nigerians expect God to do even laundry for them. I think the country has been sedated under the influence of unproductive religion and if Nigeria has under-performed, we must blame God! God has not yet responded appropriately, and so Nigerians must pray more, and maybe louder. My experience as a writer, public speaker, organizer, activist, pastor/preacher and teacher informs me that Nigerians are not yet prepared for the kind of change that some of us have written about. Recently, I wrote somewhere about the kind of expectations we the people should have of our elected leaders. Someone responded by asking me to be “morally flexible.” On many occasions the people you think you are talking for, writing for, and fighting for, would tell you that you should be “patient”. They see no reason why you are boiling over for them. They expect you to give them money. That is the language Nigerians understand; they don’t care from where you have got the money. They only want their share. This attitude threatens to weaken our hands. Other Nigerians would respond to us with a question such as, “Are you perfect yourself?”

I was invited to give a keynote speech at the coronation of our town chief last year. During my speech delivery I lectured them on the responsibility of our elected legislators, local government chairman, state governor, traditional rulers and the citizens. I did not spare religious leaders too. I guess the people were uneasy as the speech went on. Only few minutes into the speech I heard the compere shout, “Time!” I ignored him. Later, I heard a chorus from one section of the audience, “Time factor!” Well, I concluded my speech, gave the new king a copy of the Holy Bible, announced a scholarship offer for school children in my hometown and sat down. After the applause died down two gentlemen walked up to my seat and asked, “Do you have anything you want to offer?” Clearly, they did not think I had “offered” anything important yet! I told them as calmly as possible, “I have nothing more to offer.” Actually, I had some good sum of money with me that I had intended to give; but I decided to withhold. In fact, this is well known in my community. People that are averse to education and learning are without any hope of development. What our people worship is money. Our politicians know this so well; and that is why they have political longevity in spite of lack of character and what saner people would call “bad reputation”. The Nigerian people are not ready for a better life.

Few days ago, I stopped at a service station to buy petrol. There was a man on a motorbike who was lamenting the hardship that was being worsened by the sharp increase in petrol price. I responded in the Nigerian manner, “God will help us.” He brightened up and confessed that he was initially afraid of speaking his mind because he thought I was “one of them” (politicians) since I had emerged from a big jeep. He said he was afraid of being killed. So Nigerians who would do anything to get the politicians’ money have a petrifying fear of the same politicians? We have conveniently found a way of avoiding the wrath of our political leaders who do not brook criticisms or dissent—we blame God indirectly. We say that, “God dey.” We urge ourselves to “pray more”. Maybe our God is deaf or has taken a very long vacation from Nigeria to countries that hardly “pray” to him. One big overseer of one of the largest churches in Nigeria and Africa said in an interview last year that he refrained from publicly criticizing government policies because he did not “want to be misunderstood.” Jesus Christ did not care about being misunderstood. But I have a question for this overseer: When he preaches to little sinners in his church does he worry about being “misunderstood” by them? The same overseer jars our ears year-after-year that “it is well” with Nigeria.

Surely, it is not well with Nigeria. When blood-thirsty Boko Haram militants conduct hours of operation and slaughter our children in their sleep without the intervention of the Nigerian security personnel, how could it be well with Nigeria? When billions of dollars of public money get missing and government officials only meet to “reconcile accounts” and nothing more is done in the public interest, how can it be well with Nigeria? When services like telecommunications and electricity supply remain deplorable and yet citizens are being ripped off without stern reaction by the government on behalf of citizens, how can it be well with Nigeria? When since 1999, the “largest party in Africa” has formed central government in Nigeria and yet not a single kilometer of modern railway has been built, and rather all we hear is the boast about “refurbishing” colonial-era coaches in spite of the hundreds of billions of dollars Nigeria has earned in revenue during the period, how can it be well with Nigeria? When the same old gang that has presided over Nigeria’s decay since independence is charged with organizing a national conference to heal Nigeria, how can it be well with Nigeria?   On December 31, 2011, a famous prophet in Nigeria announced to the world that the problem of Boko Haram would be “a thing of the past” from 2012! Alas, Boko Haram is waxing stronger. But Nigerians love to be deceived by their prophets and overseers. We are made to hide under “prayers”, “faith”, and would not accept our individual responsibility.

It beats my imagination that these militants come in a convoy of expensive vehicles, conduct their operations at will and then disappear like ghosts into thin air while our soldiers rely on the prayers of Nigerians to keep safe. And when you announce that on the basis of empirical evidence, Boko Haram operatives are more motivated and better equipped than the Nigerian military, you are criticized by Nigerians and their government officials and apologists that you are weakening the Nigerian army. Alright, let me encourage them—“The Nigerian army is highly motivated and better equipped than Boko Haram. In fact, I decree that they will stop Boko Haram in one day! They are only being careful so as not to kill innocent Nigerians. Don’t ask me if the number of Nigerians being killed by Boko Haram is not too high already. The Nigerian army is very professional, and when we back them up with serious prayers, Boko Haram will become history.”

Seriously, is the problem of Nigeria lack of “serious prayers”? When the nation of Israel arrived in the Promised Land they set out conquering greater and bigger nations than them. Suddenly, they suffered a setback and were defeated by a much smaller group of people. Their leader, Joshua turned to the weapon of prayer. This is the account:

Joshua ripped his clothes and fell on his face to the ground before the Chest of God, he and the leaders throwing dirt on their heads, prostrate until evening.

 Joshua said, “Oh, oh, oh . . . Master, God. Why did you insist on bringing this people across the Jordan? To make us victims of the Amorites? To wipe us out? Why didn’t we just settle down on the east side of the Jordan? Oh, Master, what can I say after this, after Israel has been run off by its enemies? When the Canaanites and all the others living here get wind of this, they’ll gang up on us and make short work of us—and then how will you keep up your reputation?”

Can you see how Joshua blamed God for the plight and reproach of his nation? He even tied God’s reputation to the well-being of his nation. I know some Nigerians say that God is a Nigerian. Some say that this is God’s country. We have got so used to being pulled off the edge of the cliff that we take our recurring deliverance for granted. But how did God respond to the leader of Israel? This is the account:

God said to Joshua, “Get up. Why are you groveling? Israel has sinned: They’ve broken the covenant I commanded them; they’ve taken forbidden plunder—stolen and then covered up the theft, squirreling it away with their own stuff. The People of Israel can no longer look their enemies in the eye—they themselves are plunder. I can’t continue with you if you don’t rid yourselves of the cursed things.

 “So get started. Purify the people. Tell them: Get ready for tomorrow by purifying yourselves. For this is what God, the God of Israel, says: There are cursed things in the camp. You won’t be able to face your enemies until you have gotten rid of these cursed things.”

Nigerians, we have groveled to “God” enough. We must change our ways. The president cannot defend corruption, excuse corruption and encourage impunity and then think that visitations to churches can shield him from the consequences. I want to warn that a deadly consequence awaits mockers of God. But we cannot continue this way and pretend continually. The conspiracy of Nigerian religious leaders, business leaders, traditional leaders and political leaders to hold Nigerians down will not survive scrutiny forever. The Nigerian people can decide when they want the charade in government, religious circles, business sector and traditional institutions to end. We must not be cheerleaders of what is injurious to our commonwealth. We must get rid of the cursed things in the camp. This requires action and not prayer. God will not get rid of these things for us; we must. It is our responsibility. The problem of Nigeria is Nigerians. Our moral temperature is very low—we call wrong right and right wrong. Stop “praying” and start purifying yourselves, for that is the greatest PRAYER. For “if you do my (God’s) will, then you are my friends indeed, and whatever you ask it shall be done for you.” The great prayer warrior is the obedient person. In our obedience we have the power to punish all disobedience.

But what is God? God is truth, and so there is no God where there are falsehood and betrayals. God is life, and so there is no God where there is killing, including the killing of a nation by our collaboration and active engagement. God is not present where leaders and the people do not value human life, where our killers are hardly found and punished. God is not where the environment is not being protected, and environment-related diseases take away human life every so often and yet those charged with environmental issues of flood control, waste evacuation and management, tree planting and urban renewal, erosion control and water supply are never held to account. God is love, and so there is no God where we disregard the welfare of the people we are strategically placed and equipped to help. So, is there God in Nigeria? Is there God in your state? Is there God in your local government and county? Is there God in your local religious assembly? Is there God in your family? Is there God in your life? Let us know that we can never see God; rather he is noticed in truth, life, and love. These bring light within our society.

Let me conclude with this Gullah proverb:

If you want to solve a problem permanently, then you must deal with the cause for “You need to take care of the root in order to heal the tree.”

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is  a Sad Nationalist (SaN)







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