Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Religion and the Numbers Game

The debate about Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims population is an issue that has been around for sometime. As we all know, the 2006 census purposely avoided both ethnic and religious affiliation. According to media reports, the census exercise avoided religious affiliation because former President Obasanjo prevailed on the Christian community in Nigeria to agree to the request of Muslims for exclusion of religious clause from the census questionnaire.

But despite the non-availability of local data, various international organisations have always tried to provide ‘guesstimates’ of the Christian and Muslim population in Nigeria. For example, the US State Dept on international Religious Freedom noted in its report that, “…..the proportions of citizens, who practice Islam and citizens who practice Christianity are roughly equal...". Also, the October 2009 research report by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, noted that there are about 78 million Muslims in Nigeria (about 50 percent of Nigeria's total population).

Statistics on religious groups has always been ammunition for fanatics. As they say, ‘there is power in numbers’. It is therefore not surprising that these numbers give religious groups a sense of superiority – albeit false.

However, when these religious fanatics start their ‘numbers game’, arguing that one religious group is larger than another, I often wonder what they stand to gain from such argument. I query the logic behind arguments that does not affect everyday life of the members of these groups.

Let’s assume that government decides to publish official figures, and it indicates that Christians are more than Muslims or vice-versa, does that put food on the table of the congregation? Does that provide good quality education? Does that provide employment for the teeming unemployed youths?

It was exactly the same thought when I read the excerpts of Dr Mike Okonkwo’s interview in the Vanguard Newspaper. In the interview, Dr Mike Okonkwo, who is the presiding bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, TREM and former CAN National Vice President, was asked if he agrees with the Pew Foundation report, which states that Muslims form about 50 per cent of the nation’s population. In his reply, Dr Okonkwo was quoted as saying

“It is absolutely impossible! Any report that says anything like that is either spreading rumour or is simply dishonest. Christians are more than Muslims. If I want to immodest, I will say that Christians comprising all the denominations in the country are more than 60 per cent, and I am saying that without any fear of contradiction. I am just being economical with the statistics. It just cannot be”.

Many will agree that, it is irresponsible and politically incorrect of a respected ‘Man of God’ to make such a public statement, without any fact or figures? These rabble-rousing comments only promote religious prejudice. And by the way, what does Dr Okonkwo stand to gain from making such a statement? Who is he trying to impress? Is the ‘Church’ in competition with the Islamic faith on number of worshippers?

In fact, for Dr Okonkwo to assume that Christians represent 60 per cent of the Nigeria’s population, he probably needs to educate us on the meaning of ‘Christianity’. Is Dr Okonkwo referring to practising Christians or those whose only evidence of ‘Christianity’ is their birth certificate? It smacks of naiveté for someone to think that everyone that turns up in Church for Sunday service or Friday night vigil is a ‘Christian’. Or is he referring to ‘Church prostitutes’ who junket from one church to another looking for ’Ten steps to prosperity’.

If 60 per cent of Nigerians are truly Christians, the nation ought to be paradise on earth. If 60 per cent of Nigerians are truly Christians, we wouldn’t have ‘rogue’ Bank CEOs ordained as Church Pastors and Deacons? If 60 per cent of Nigerians are truly Christians, we wouldn’t have ordained Pastors looting the nation’s treasury? If 60 per cent of Nigerians are truly Christians, we wouldn’t have Church leaders abusing innocent children under the guise of deliverance from witchcraft.

The likes of Dr Okonkwo ought to understand the sensitivity around religious beliefs in Nigeria. In fact individual spirituality is personal and not a matter of public discourse. I’m convinced that God will be jumping up for joy in high heavens if he can find 60 per cent of Nigerians who are true Christians.

And if indeed 60 per cent of Nigerians are Christians, the question I will ask is, what has the Church done to impact positively on the lives of these people, in the face of growing poverty?


Isioma said...

Seyi thank you very much for this piece. You've touched on a topic that has recently been quite an irritant for me.
I wonder when people will give up on things that DO NOT add value and focus their creative talents on more productive things.Some people may crucify me for this statement but the truth is Religion is all man made and so is not perfect. Religion on its own will not lead anyone to heaven, only a life lived trying to add value to the next persons' will get one anywhere.
No people are more guilty of religiosity than Nigerians, most of those who proclaim Christianity are merely Christologists. If Jesus were to come to our country today and attend a Church service, he will definitely break down in tears.Like you pointed out, is it going to Church or hopping from one Church to another as the whim takes one that makes him/her a Christian? Or is it men of God who live in the lap of luxury while their congregation wallow in poverty that define Christianity? Or is it those who keep their neighbors awake at night with their prayers that define Christianity? As for the so called men of God, i would rather not talk about them. I could go on and on but let me stop here for now.
Nigerians need to look beyond Religion and channel their energies toward getting rid of this armed robbery gang in power.

Anonymous said...

Young man, you have no business criticizing a man of God. It’s a proof positive that you have not been trained at all.

Seyi said...

@Isioma..As usual, thanks for your passionate comments

@Anonymous, based on your comments, I'm currently thinking of enrolling in your 'school of home training'.

Is your definition of been 'trained' is ability to criticise worldly leaders for corruption and ineptitude, but accept, 'hook, line and sinker' anything that comes out of the mouth of 'minister of God', even if such statements are 'inflammatory and politically incorrect'?

If your answer is yes, then I'm glad that I refused to adhere to my parents' training