We must grow out of the environment

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BY VICTOR IZEKOR

Uba Group

Recently, the Northern Christian Youths Association of Nigeria came out in opposition to the single-faith presidential ticket of the All Progressive Congress.

The Association, among others, stated that the single faith ticket portends dangers to the unity of the secular state of Nigeria.

But the Southern Youths Christian Association differs somewhat from the position of its northern counterpart. Their differing standpoints are to me, in order, taking cognizance of the prevailing or inherent circumstances peculiar to different locations or environments – North and South.

This reminds one of the assertion or point of view of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who as the President of Nigeria during the Sharia imbroglio in a press interview said, “We are all victims of our environment.”

He explained that except in very rare circumstances, we mostly acquire the traits and norms of the environment we were born or bred.

Thus, for a child born into a Muslim-dominated environment, he or she stands to become Muslim. The same applies to a child born in a Christian-dominated environment.

However, in an environment where Christianity and Islam exist in varying degrees, a child is susceptible to be a Muslim or a Christian depending.

Notwithstanding, in a situation where the dominant religion in an environment tries to lord it over the less or lesser ones, conflict is inevitable.

More so, in an environment where the two major religions (Christianity and Islam) are apart in adherents, due caution is needed to avert obvious conflict. In any situation where there are two faiths or more, understanding, caution and wisdom are needed for peaceful co-existence.

The need to grow out of the inherent or prevailing primordial sentiments is imperative if the society must grow and move forward.

In the southern part of Nigeria, especially, in the South West, religious discrimination or bias is hardly noticed among the citizens due to age-long socialization and religious tolerance emanating from its early contact with western education and norms and as well exposure to early missionary activities.

During this time, Christians and Muslims pupils attended the same schools built by the missionaries. Though Muslims later built their own schools, but there are still today some Muslim students in Christian schools in this part of the country. This cannot be said of most parts of the North dominated by early Islamic education and norms. As a matter of fact, Kanem Borno (Borno Province) was the first to accept Islam in West Africa.

Right from the emergence of Birni to the present day, Yerwa Borno’s position had been very outstanding in the field of Qur’anic or Islamic learning.

For example, mentions were made of Shehu of Feroma of Birni, Shettima Ngalloma of Kukawa and Modu Njokkomami of Yerwa, all of whom were reputed to be so well learned that they were believed to be GENIES in their times.

There were also the houses of the famous Imams of Borno whose descendants are among the most respected today. The whole of Geidam once represented the massive structure of a University. In one part of the city the great Imams read and discussed the Qur’an, the Tafsir, while in another part of the city, scholars were engaged in scholastic debates in Fiqh, Hadith and philosophy, thus interest in scholarship learning as well as contributions to the cause of education are not new to the people of Borno and have in fact pre-dated the coming of western education.

The initial resentment against western education in this part of the country (North) centered amongst other parts that it is a “white man’s education” that is corrupt and it breeds people who steal with their pens.

I have gone this far to show that due to peculiarities of North and South emanating from respective backgrounds and inherent culture, reactions to issues especially, of national importance would in some cases differ. This is in particular reference to the subject in discourse where recently the Northern Youths Christian Association objected to the single faith presidential ticket of the APC which might not convince its Southern counterpart where there is amongst others religious tolerance.

“CBN"

“There must be justice and equity to all citizens irrespective of their religious and social inclinations. Paying lip service on issues that border on religion is postponing the evil day. Let it be stated clearly that what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander”

Unfortunately in some parts of the north today, there is still friction between the authorities and Christendom on some issues which under normal circumstance and understanding could be resolved, but elevated by bad leadership and some elite for personal gains.

For example, in most of the public schools in the northern states dominated by Muslim, there is the allegation that Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) is not taught as a subject and only Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) that is taught.

In Borno as a case study, the Christian Association of Nigeria, Borno State chapter on an occasion took the state government to court on this account.

However, for the sake of peace, the case was withdrawn on the agreement of both parties that the issue would be amicably resolved. Up to date, there has been no respite as nothing has changed.

For the purpose of fairness, it is on record that during the tenure of Governor Mohammed Goni’s administration CRK and IRK were taught in public schools, but CRK evaporated from public schools at the end of his tenure as a subject, the reason why the state government was dragged to court by the state chapter of CAN.

Similarly on coming to power as the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima made efforts to minimize the communication gap and suspicion between the state CAN and the government through various efforts.

While giving substantial seats to Christians to perform the holy pilgrimage to Israel throughout his tenure, his administration rebuilt a sizeable number of churches destroyed by the insurgents and pledged to make consultations with relevant authorities on the issue of teaching of CRK in public schools. However, at the end of his administration, the status quo remained as nothing positive happened.

However, it must be pointed out here that in all Federal Government Schools and Colleges throughout the country, IRK and CRK are taught.

Just as Christian students in Borno State are allowed to enter CRK as a subject in the WAEC and NECO examinations, they have to study this privately on their own.

Another grudge the Christians in the northern states have against the authorities is the allegation of the refusal to allocate land for the building of churches.

For example, according to Bishop Mohammed Naga, the Chairman of Borno state chapter of CAN, the last Certificate of Occupancy issued to the state CAN by the state government was in 1979. As a result, Christians are forced to buy land, be it private or commercial, to build churches which resulted in most cases in collision with the land authorities who questioned the reason for building churches on land not meant for such. There were also allegations rightly or wrongly of discrimination against Christians in the northern sector of the country on employment and promotion.

From the above, one could deduce the objection of the Christian Youths Association on the single-faith presidential ticket of the APC as its position might be based mostly on unresolved religious issues between the authorities and the Christian community in this part of the country. The same issues have no place in the Southern setting.

However, if the society especially, the northern part of the county is to move forward without any religious bias or sentiments there is a need to go back to the drawing board and holistically put the square peg in the square hole. There must be justice and equity to all citizens irrespective of their religious and social inclinations.

Paying lip service on issues that border on religion is postponing the evil day. Let it be stated clearly that what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. Hardly any nation fights a religious war and still survives. Besides, primordial sentiments like religion and ethnicity are adversaries to development.

It is sad and indeed very unfortunate, that while advanced nations and developing ones are advancing technologically, Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa and the biggest nation of the black race is engrossed in primordial issues of religion, ethnicity and others – no thanks to the elite and bad leadership who have elevated these for self-centeredness and aggrandizement to the detriment of the nation’s socio-economic development and true political emancipation.

Yes, I agree with President Olusegun Obasanjo, that “We are all victims of our Environment,” but we must strive to grow out of the environment.

It is not out of place to commend the untiring efforts of some prominent Muslim scholars, sheiks, and others in Borno and elsewhere, who have made and are making efforts to narrow the communication gap and misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims in the quest for national unity and cohesion.

Victor Izekor, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes at victorizekor@gmail.com

CAVEAT: Views and opinions expressed here are those of the writers and are not in any way those of The Point Newspaper – Editor