Why We Need A Non-Religious President By Bayo Olupohunda
Fellow Nigerians, we need a non-religious Presidency in 2015. I am recommending a Presidency where both the president and his deputy are non-adherents of any of the popular faiths as practised in our country today. I am also recommending that no member of a future cabinet should pledge allegiance to any religion. I will also strongly suggest that all future governors must denounce all forms of allegiance to religion. None of them must be a Christian, Muslim or traditionalist. Fellow Nigerians, do not get me wrong. Please, do not say, “God forbid”, nor accuse me of blasphemy. Do not also recommend me for “deliverance” or call me a child of the devil for my “infidel or unbeliever” view. To this, further, I am proposing that our future president must remove all the symbols of worship in the Presidential Villa.
The Mosque and the Chapel in the Villa must be demolished. The governors in the State Houses must also do the same. Our next president must enforce the provisions of the constitution about religion. No religion must be adopted as state religion. To this end, all government offices, starting from the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, must remove all places of worship within their vicinity. Nigerians should worship in their homes. Let them visit their churches and mosques to worship. Offices are designed for work not for religious devotion. What is presently obtained is in breach of Section 10 of the 1999 constitution which clearly prohibits federal and state governments from adopting any state religion. Section 38 further guarantees every citizen the freedom of religion. But I believe this should be a private matter.
This for me is a matter of urgent national importance. I am also extending this moratorium to all religious visits to the Villa. Any future president must stop religious courtesy calls by religious bodies and their leaders. They should leave the president and his cabinet to concentrate on state matters. They should limit their activities to their places of worship. Our recent history has shown that such visits have been self-serving. Forget the hypocritical praying-for-the-nation gimmicks at such visits. We all know that the so-called courtesy visits are political jamborees in disguise. There are reasons why I think we need a non-religious president in 2015. It will serve our present situation as a country because the two main religions have failed us as a nation. Even past and present leaders who make an open display of their faiths have failed woefully as leaders. Without doubt, ours is a deeply religious country made up of largely ungodly people if the level of corruption we see in our public and government circles as well as killings across the country are anything to go by. Now, we need to try a humanist, a president; a president whose actions are not defined or influenced by religious considerations.
A president who does not junket from one religious gathering to the other while his country suffers needless decline. Having looked critically at our socio-political history; having observed recent disturbing events in our country since independence, I have come to the conclusion that what we need to move forward as a nation is a leadership whose components have sworn to steer the ship of state without being adherents of any of the faiths. I have also seen that for our country to move forward, we need a Presidency that is not distracted by the trappings of religion; a Presidency that is focused only on matters of the state. We need a Presidency not torn apart by the hypocritical devotion to any faith to the detriment of governance.
You will all agree with me that our brand of religion rather than bring peace to us as a nation has brought division and violence. Rather than unite us, it has torn us apart. Rather than heal our wounds, the faiths have continued to inflict deep scars of hate and distrust. Religion, rather than being a blessing, has become our albatross. Yes, they say we are the most religious nation on earth. But what has religion brought us? Are we any more developed than those countries that do not overtly elevate religion matters to state policy? Fellow Nigerians, we all know that our country is a secular state. The constitution recommends that there is no state religion. But we know that there are three main religions in Nigeria today, namely, Christianity, Islam and the animists. The adherents of these religions cut across the population of this vast country. The worshippers are also as diverse as our ethnic composition. Traditionally, as an African with a long history of religious worship, Nigerians have their own religious beliefs. But through accident of history, the two foreign religions found their way into our shores. Now things are not the same again.
A look at our past will reveal how the adherents of the two main religions have constantly been in conflict. Aided by the government, their constant belligerence has caused tensions. Millions of lives have been lost to religious riots and sectarian conflicts since the 1980s. Properties have been destroyed. In the Fourth Republic, controversy arising from the implementation of the Sharia law led to several deaths. Now, another violent form of religious extremism has emerged through the Boko Haram insurgency. The insurgents’ plan to forcefully Islamise the country is the source of the ongoing terror war in the North. In the South of Nigeria, there is an aggressive brand of Christianity that emphasises crass materialism. Churches are proliferating everywhere like mushrooms, yet evil pervades the land.
We do not need this brand of religion. What worries the most is how religion and politics have become so intertwined. Politicians deliberately promote religion to score cheap political points. Religious leaders are in a rat race to gain the attention of political leaders. They pay courtesy visits. They organise prayer sessions for politicians where they get huge donations but refuse to hold them accountable. Political leaders spend public funds to sponsor religious leaders and their adherents to Holy Lands. This they do in breach of Nigeria’s secularity. But the situation has become worse.
Our political leaders make an open display of religion in disregard of Nigeria’s secular status. This offends the sensibilities of other faiths. We should in future tell other presidents to practise their religion in private. We also do not want them making policy statements in churches or vilifying some imaginary enemies. The political parties must also de-emphasise religion. The new trend in our politics where parties are defined along religious fault lines is a dangerous development. As we approach 2015, religion is already playing a divisive role. Now, we talk about a Muslim/Muslim ticket and Christian/Muslim ticket. Religion has become the parameter to determine who occupy leadership positions. It is no longer about pedigree or performance. That is how low we have sunk as a nation.
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