By Sani Nahuche
Ethnicity and religion are perhaps characteristic of an individual’s culture. For instance, it is not rare to find a tribe or people that largely belong to one religion. For instance, most Filipinos are Christians, predominantly Roman Catholics and most people from Saudi Arabia will most likely be Muslims.
However, while too a large extent these stereotypes may be true, the danger lies in generalising them across a wide range of people – or to believe that every Filipino is a Catholic and every Saudi Arabian is a Muslim – would not only be shortsighted but would be entirely far-fetched.
In Nigeria, Religion can be thought to be very stratified across the various ethnic groups. It is often thought or sometimes wrongly assumed that every northerner is a Muslim or every southerner is a Christian. Apart from tribalism, which is already drawing a huge and undesirable boundary amongst Nigerians, religion is another factor that is sadly posing as a divisive tool.
For most parts, Amongst the three major ethnic tribes in Nigeria, only the Yoruba’s feature a fair mix of Muslims and Christians, where most Igbos are Christians and a good number of Hausas tend to be Muslim. But as stated earlier, using any one metric to judge an entire ethnic group would be credulous and primitive.
You would presume that if not anything, religion like sports is meant to unify people. But then again, we all know that it is not the gun that kills, but the man behind the trigger. It would appear today that we have seemingly or have been willfully coerced into seeing religion as a tool to divide us and once again pit us against each other.
Words like, he is a Christian, she is a Muslim, or he’s from the northern part of Nigerian and so must be somehow loyal and associated to the conquest of Islam are common metrics that Nigerians judge each political candidate and sometimes even one another by. Perhaps, we have become highly sentimental about the God or Allah we worship, even if most religions preach love and tolerance.
Like tribalism and ignorance, ethnicity and religion are tools that have been readily taken advantage of by the elites to once again, conquer and divide the masses. Those who take pleasure in plundering the commonwealth of the country are well aware that once Nigerians ignore petty sentiments and divisions that we have regrettably held onto for so long, the spotlight would beam on the affairs of the government. Thus, their nefarious activities would be exposed, and they would be seen as the larcenists and wolves in sheep clothing that a good majority of them really are.
Therefore, how best to mask corruption and loot unabated if not by hiding under the cloak or ethnicity and religion. Corrupt and sinister politicians have continued to hide under the guise of being a Muslim or Christian when they are being hunted down for their many sins by a member of the opposite ethnic group or religion. The troubling part of it all is that the citizens also buy into this buffoonery and take sides, but as we all know, there is no honour amongst thieves, and they would go to any lengths to cover their tracks, even if it means exploiting religion for their own selfish gains.
The time has indeed come for the populace to wake up from their now very long slumber and recognise that first, we are all Humans, then Nigerians before a member of any Religion or ethnic group. We also must also draw a visible but thin line between religion and ethnicity and must not allow insular sentiments guide and dictate our view of other people, ethnicity or religion.
There is still a big question mark over why we still practice the “Quota System” – a system where positions are considered not strictly on merit or qualification but based on geographical area and ethnicity. This unfortunate system has contributed to the rot across our government and civil service agencies alike. Once competency and skills are overlooked, there is bound to be lethargy, corruption and all sorts of other vices will rear their ugly head to thwart any real growth or progress – something Nigeria hasn’t experienced in a long time.
Collectively as a people we must rid ourselves of any form of prejudice that may arise due to the next man’s religion or tribe. No ethnic group should be wrongfully marked for any particular crime or vice, neither should people gain cheap sympathy or perpetuate evil under the pretence of religion. We must realise that several and distinct individuals form ethnic groups and once anybody is found to have broken the law, they must face the consequence as a Nigerian, not as a Christian or Muslim or a member of any tribe, clan or religion.
According to our constitution, we are all Nigerians and enjoy equal rights and privileges and be it a position in office or a corruption scandal or trial; we must learn to evaluate people based on their qualities and judge them based on their crimes and never based on their religion or ethnicity. The moment we communally grow above the ethnic and religious divide, we will become one step closer to awakening from our long overdue slumber as a people and most importantly, as a Nation.