OPINION: Hajj Controversy and Imperative of a Secular NigeriaArticles/Opinion, Featured Contributors/Columnists, Latest News Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
By Leo Igwe
The reactions that have trailed the decision by the Buhari government to subsidize this year’s Hajj, despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is in recession, underscores the necessity of separating church (mosque) and state. Last year, President Buhari announced the discontinuation of state sponsorship of both Muslim and Christian pilgrimages as a cost cutting measure. He made it clear that stopping state funding of pilgrimages would save some money that could be devoted to development programs.
But Buhari has refused to make good this pledge and his government has continued to subsidize pilgrimages and engage in these wasteful schemes. Now instead of seeing how state subsidization of pilgrimages, whether Christian or Muslim, is impoverishing the country and further destroying an economy that is already in doldrums, many segments of the Nigerian population particularly those who feel that their religion is favoured by this current decision of the Buhari government are tendering flimsy reasons and excuses to justify what is clearly a policy blunder, and a mark of governmental ineptitude.
From their comments and reactions Nigerians who are in support of state subsidization of Hajj have made it seem as if those who are opposed to this decision are Christians who did not protest when such subsidy was extended to them last year by the same government. In fact many Nigerians who are pro-Hajj subsidy think that those who are protesting are pro-Jonathans who could not speak out against such measures when Goodluck Jonathan was in power and who have yet to get over the pain of defeat at last year’s election. Particularly if one bears a name such as mine, there is a tendency to put the person in the box of those who never see anything good in what Buhari does. As I have sown in this piece, the peddlers of these narratives have not really taken a critical look at the proposal to subsidize pilgrimages.
Unfortunately, these misplaced and mistaken persuasions continue to re-echo in the discussions of both illiterate and semi illiterate Nigerians, as well as in the debates by so called educated and apparently enlightened persons in the country whom one thinks should know better. Many people across Nigeria are still trapped in their ethnic and religious cocoons and find it difficult to rise and reason beyond their parochial, ‘tribal’, clannish and sectarian interests, and begin to appreciate and embrace collective and common supra-ethnic and supra-religious decencies by rallying against divisive, authoritarian, oppressive, dogmatic and exploitative religious policies as in this case.
Hence, I would like to reiterate that this author is not a Christian or a Muslim and one needs not be before speaking out for or against a policy that negatively affects us all. Again, it is not all Nigerians who are Christians or Muslims who support state subsidization of religious pilgrimages. There are millions of Nigerians who are traditional religious worshippers and adherents of other faiths, religions or philosophies. In fact a proper census would actually reveal the millions of Nigerians who are non-religious – including atheists, agnostics and freethinkers.
Having said that, the issue remains: Why do some Nigerians think that the government is justified by subsidizing religious pilgrimages, in this case I mean both Christian and Muslim pilgrimages?
First of all let us look at the theological aspect of the issue. Both Christians and Muslims believe that God or Allah exists and is omnipotent. That means God or Allah is capable of doing anything. And this is why they go to pilgrimages to the holy lands, the earthly homes – to revere him/her (still not sure of the gender). Now why can’t the Christian and islamic God provide them with the means to go for pilgrimage?
Why are Muslims and Christians interested in getting worldly state financial support when they truly believe that there is an otherworldly provident God whom they worship and who provides and can provide for and satisfy all human needs particularly of those who worship it? Has the state now turned into the God or Allah whom Muslims and Christians worship? I mean why do you need the earthly dollar rates whether it is at 160 or 197 naira? What kind of believers are you, Christians and Muslims of Nigeria because for me this is the time to show your faith in the heavenly God or Allah? And you are not doing that. Instead of proving that your Jesus or Allah-God is one who provides for his people, you are putting your faith in the state subsidy. State subsidy? Not Allah subsidy? Not Christ subsidy?
Now Muslim friends, What do you need state subsidy for when Allah is there? You believe that Allah is omnipotent right? So why can’t go to him? Why can’t the almighty and benevolent Allah get Saudi Arabia to send chartered planes or air tickets to come and convey you to the holy land? Or you have forgotten that you spend precious time about five times daily talking to this Allah? Now why can’t you ask him to send you money for Hajj? I mean why are you hankering over state money? Why are you bickering over dollar rate and making it seem as if your faith and fate now lies in dollars, not in Allah?
Now my Christian friends, you believe in Jesus as the savior and as a miracle worker, am I correct? So why do you need state subsidy to travel to Jerusalem? Why can’t Jesus send you the money, after all he was the one whom you believe turned water into wine in Galilee right? Jesus fed multitudes with five loafs and two fish and later died and rose from the dead? Can’t he prove that he is still the alpha and Omega now and send you dollars for pilgrimages like manna from heaven? Or has Jesus suddenly stopped working miracles and wonders?
Why can’t Jesus send his angels to come and take you to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage, please? Or has Jesus’ mystical capacity been suddenly disabled? Has it expired? I mean, this is the time to hold you all both Christians and muslins to account, because for some time you have been peddling these narratives which you don’t put into effective use when the time comes.
You have been indoctrinating young Nigerians with all sorts of religious nonsense and getting people to believe that Allah and Jesus are really all powerful supernatural entities, when they are not. You have sanctioned, imprisoned or killed many Nigerians for their unbelief, for blaspheming, for insulting your God or Allah and now when it comes to showing the potency and existence of this your god, you have chickened to a corner asking for subsidy. Is this not a classical demonstration of lack of faith? Do you Muslims and Christians want the government to subsidize the supernatural power of your Jesus God or Allah? Or you want the government to substitute for the putative supernatural power of God or Allah?
So, theologically pilgrimage makes no sense, because after all God or Allah is supposed to be everywhere. So why travel to the holy land? Why? To go and do what? In that case, pilgrimage is just like travelling to ‘meet’ in Mecca or Jerusalem somebody who is already in Nigeria. Is that not absurd? Why embark on this patently futile venture? Why engage in such a self-ridiculing undertaking that, going by recent events, exposes you to the risk of losing your life?
Now assuming you want to embark on such superfluity, why ask for state subsidy and go about it in ways that expose your religious redundancy to public scrutiny? Even if out of cheer curiosity, you want to embark on such a mission, shouldn’t it have been more appropriate to do so as strictly a private affair and at the expense of the bearer of this religious burden, not at the state’s. In fact it is advisable not to notify the public that you need taxpayers’ money to go and throw stones at the devil in Saudi Arabia. This wise counsel is just to avoid being scrutinized and pilloried in ways that might ‘offend’ religious sensibilities that have been hard wired to fantasy and profligacy.
That leads me to the penultimate point, state sponsorship of pilgrims makes no economic sense for a poor country with distressed economy such as Nigeria. Going to pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem does not contribute to the economy of the country. In fact state funding of pilgrimages depletes the nation’s resources and to see a government that blames the prevalent economic hardship in the country to reckless spending by the former regime embark on the luxury of subsidizing pilgrimages is shocking. Worse is seeing many Nigerians laud such a scheme as a mark of sterling leadership.
First, the economies of the destination countries of these pilgrimages – Saudi Arabia and Israel – are far better than that of Nigeria and pilgrimages benefit them and their economies because these religious tours bring in foreign exchange earnings. Look without state subsidy many Nigerian religious tourists would definitely travel for pilgrimages and contribute to these economies. So giving state subsidy is making additional contributions to the economies of the destinations countries at the expense of our own distressed economy. Is that not a shame? Which reasonable government does that?
Those who govern Nigeria at this point in time should be utterly ashamed of themselves for making this country a laughing stock. Look at the situation throughout the country. There is hyperinflation, scarcity of food, lack of jobs, violent crimes, limited power supply, decaying infrastructure etc. And here we are talking about subsidizing Hajj and Christian pilgrims.
I mean, Think Nigerians Think. Wake up, People of Nigeria wake up
Why can’t Nigerians read in between the lines? Why is it that even the most educated within the Muslim community are often silent when it comes to speaking out against the injustices and exploitations in the name of Islam? Why are the Christians not speaking out against the subsidy of pilgrimages to Jerusalem at a time people are dying of hunger and preventable diseases? Why can’t Nigerians understand that state sponsorship of pilgrimages is impoverishing and under developing their economy? In 2014, there were claims by the largely Muslim elite in Northern Nigeria that Boko Haram violence had nothing to do with Islamic fanaticism but every thing to do with the economic impoverishment and marginalization of Northern Nigeria.
They put the blame mainly on the government of Jonathan and saw the election of Buhari as an opportunity to address this situation. Now instead of Buhari giving concessions to small-scale business schemes or to those studying in Nigeria or overseas he is giving subsidy to Hajj and Christian pilgrims. Is subsidizing pilgrimages a way of tackling poverty and addressing economic marginalization in Northern Nigeria?
Unfortunately people who think that this recent decision favours their religion are of the view that those protesting the decision are doing so because they are angry that the subsidy benefits Muslims. Look, pro-subsidy Nigerians, whether they are Muslims or Christians, should bear in mind that if the Nigerian economy is good, it is good for everyone whether one is a Christian, Muslims or non-religious. In fact if the economy is robust enough, Christians and Muslims can afford to travel to Jerusalem and Mecca, Muslims can do main Hajj and lesser Hajj as many times as they want without any state subsidy. That leads me to my last point.
As I noted earlier, Nigeria is a culturally diverse country and as a religiously pluralistic society, it is imperative that the state be secular, that is unbiased for or against any religion. This principle is enshrined in article 10 of the nation’s constitution, which says that no part of the Federation or state should adopt any religion as state religion. This article is enshrined to ensure the neutrality and impartiality of the Nigerian state in matters concerning religion. It prohibits official discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or unbelief. However, this is not practically the case. In Muslim majority states, Islam is the state religion and sharia is the state law. Non Muslims are treated as second class citizens. The Nigerian state cannot fulfill its role as the impartial guarantor of the rights and liberties of the citizens when state managers make policies that imply the adoption of Islam and/or Christianity as the state religion. By subsidizing the pilgrimages of Christians and Muslims, the state has invariably adopted Islam and Christianity as state religions. State managers are in breach of the constitution because they are officially discriminating against Nigerians who profess other faiths or none. In fact, by subsidizing pilgrimages and privileging christianity and Islam, the secularity of Nigeria is imperilled.
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