It has usually been over-flogged that religion is one of our problems as a country but nay, we, Nigerians are the problem of religion. It is curious that we have allowed ourselves to be bred by religion that we have failed to realise the limit when it comes to exuding our senses of entitlement. The question is: must religion be brought into everything? There are germane fundamental issues that need to be addressed; this is Nigeria, a secular society, and I hope we get there.
There is, of course, the freedom of religion but should that freedom always rub on what is permitted and what is not in another institution? We may go on and on babbling the issue of religion endlessly with some sentiments winning at the end of the day and logic being relegated to the background. It is after all, what we cherish in a country where every good thing seems like a cup of water in the desert.
The case of the International School, University of Ibadan which has been in existence for years without any obvious thread of disesteem suddenly finds itself in the quagmire of religious crisis. For whatever myriads of stories going about, I do not want to think that there is no smoke without fire but I have so far refrained from letting anyone drag me into this religious issue and others. Not only is it a slippery ground but also an engagement which makes one mourn the death of qualitative and quantitative education. Is our generation growing or has our education made little or no impact?
On the other hand, however, readers need to interrogate some questions in their minds. First, what are we without religion? Religion has been rightly described as an opium hence the need to dwell on the question of how far many believers in this part of the world have come with religion. Of course, it has helped to quiet us in the face of bad governance and politics. We are believers who pray to God always to bless us with what he had already provided. Daily, we embrace the need to submit to those under whose authority we are while the ones in authority keep praying we remain religiously myopic. Going back to the case of these school teenagers who are now out of school while their colleagues progress: how does religion grant them success? Does it not bother anyone that we keep dragging back in the vehicle of religion with nothing progressive to show for it? Many churches, less industries. If mere religiosity was the way, why are the masses so poor?
Evidently, while other nations progress, the best many parents could still do for the leaders of tomorrow has been luring them ignorantly into the quagmire of religion. The religion in which we have failed to understand love and tolerance but publicly flaunt disruptive right in the name of the same religion. What right has anyone to prioritize religion above education?
Can we survive without religion?
A friend had once said that it is religion that has helped Nigeria to holds its peace. For him, we are angered people, ready to set the next person on fire as a result of human intolerance but religion has helped to keep many on check. He puts it that the statement: for the sake of God, has been the saving grace. Still, can we neglect the other dangers which religion plot for our growth and development? Religion, has to be addressed by the leaders and followers in order to redeem the relevance of education. There are many unheard internal crises and grumbling which religion has created in schools and other institutions. ISI, Ibadan is just one of the many scapegoats in the troubled water of religion.
On the part of the Federal Government, there is a need to challenge the public promotion of religion. It starts with putting an end to sponsoring holy pilgrimages with public funds. Religion is a private affair and so should remain so. Similarly, religion needs to be outrightly kept out of the way of our educational system. It should be reiterated that religious practice is a private affair. Muslim and Christian assemblies need to be stopped in schools in order to forestall peace. There are schools that spend about an hour on the assembly grounds praying and this is after these students must have spent about the same hour observing family altar in their homes. These set of teenagers grow up being made to pray about everything and so become illusion into thinking prayer answers everything. Have these schools thought of showing them documentaries on the assembly ground? What about engaging their attention with intellectual movies? I think we have gone too far with bringing religion into the education system. Students who want to follow the way of their belief should do so after the school hour.
On the part of religious disciples, tolerance needs to imbibed while humanity should be our watchword. For a curious mind, I remember how I started assembling with the Muslim students in my secondary school. I was just there to learn, nothing more. No one had a problem with that until my Economics teacher saw me there and raised a brow. I recall another situation when I had a relationship with a young Christian man who however grew up in the North. I was returning from church in the company of my sister’s family when he called. He greeted me in the Islam way and I responded similarly. My sister’s response left me wondering if she was actually a Christian and if she actually went to school. Anyone looking for the highest level of intolerance only needs to attend some religious centres headed by some myopic clerics who dish out sermons to their members about which religious practice is the way and which is not.
Our problem is not religion but we remain the problem of religion. People practice religions across the world; it is no crime to hold on to what we believe in. However, the psychology of expectation we all tend to bring in to the detriment of national growth and development is what must be checked. While other nations progress, we are wasting our time abhorring one another in the name of religion and luring children who ought to be in their classes into the issues they are ignorant of for their age. It does not matter what the motive is but if Nigerians truly want to align with the government in promoting effective education, we cannot afford to let religion stand in the way.
Rachael Ogunmuyiwa is a campus journalist and final-year student of Department of English, University of Ibadan.