“What’s God got to do with it? Everything, my brother. Everything!”
“What’s God got to do with it? Absolutely nothing, my guy. This is business!”
When the Western press says that Nigeria has a Muslim North, and a Christian South, we vehemently protest it, letting them know that the lines are not that clean-drawn between the North and the South; and that we indeed have huge populations in the North that are definitely Christian and lots of Muslims in the Southern part as well. I even volunteer the info that my own Dad, who lived all his life in the supposedly (only) “Christian South” was himself a Muslim for most of his youth. What we do not contest though, is that Nigerians love to be either one or the other. It is the rule that we belong to either of the two faiths. God lives in Nigeria, you know. It is a very rare Nigerian indeed that does not have God in his conversations on a daily basis.
Our cars carry the bumper stickers, and our homes have the necessary paraphernalia. Our politicians talk about God at every opportunity. We are not the sort of people that believe our God should be kept at home. By my side, by my side…I have a very big God o.. He’s always by my side… We know the song, don’t we?
And yet the presence, and at the same time, the unbelievable absence of God in the life of the Nigerian is one of the most impossible dichotomies you could ever encounter anywhere in the world. I explain.
You are introduced to the Nigerian God as soon as you are born, no matter what faith your parents profess. You have not been properly named until a Pastor or Imam officiates at the Christening.
Let us say that your Nigerian parents profess Christianity, especially of the more insistent pente-rascal type (like me and my “it-is-not-my-portion” brethren), they start planning what name(s) to give you long before you are born. Why not? They believe that “Goodness-and-Mercy Adegbite” is so much more effective than just an ordinary “Soji Adegbite”.
On the day of the christening, your Dad’s Uncle comes around. Yes, that one that is an Ag. Director at the Ministry of Rigmaroles. He comes bearing gifts. He comes in yet another brand new Toyota Avensis. The Lord has been good. In the midst of all the celebrations, and the joy, your dad takes him aside, and they finalise plans on how to make sure that the project that the government is about to advertise for in the newspapers eventually comes to your Dad. Of course, the usual stunts will be pulled. Full-page newspaper advertisements, tenders, bill of quantity, opening of bids, all the works. Everything will be done correctly. Due process must be followed, you know. Not only does your great-uncle know that your upwardly mobile dad will try his (least) best, even though his proposal is not the best, your dad will make sure that all the stakeholders are adequately taken care of. The guy is not a ju-man. He knows the right thing to do.
This being one of many such arran-gee contracts, life will be comfortable for you and your siblings. Are goodness and mercy not already following you from birth?
All around you as you grow up, nobody believes too much in hard work, or the dignity of labour, or any such “arrant nonsense”. God has done it is the phrase you grow up with. God has done it, when your Dad’s Uncle, from his public service salary buys a couple of houses in Dubai. (Yea, right!).
God has done it when your other cousin gets the money to “sort” (or in layman terms –bribe) his lecturers who now unleash him into the society with a Second Class Upper degree, an unemployable graduate from one of our run-down ivory towers. But God has done it o, your uncle (again!) was able to get him that job at XYZ bank. He’s now building his “cabal”, that elusive funds-deposit target given to our bankers in the notorious industry that begs the likes of Jimoh Ibrahim to take a 35billion Naira loan he did not ask for, but asks small scale entrepreneurs to go and bring their great grandfather’s mother’s birth certificate before they can get a much needed expansion loan. And for thousands of female marketing staff, money for hand, back for somewhere else has been the order of the day for some years now. And when promotion comes, by hook and by crook, (mostly by crook), it is still God has done it that we say.
What is amazing about this Nigerian God that keeps doing it is that it seems he does not lead these Nigerians to do other things like lead lives of integrity and just simple honesty. Or teach them to not lie on oath, or steal public funds.
It appears that He does not really need us to do anything, except to pray when we should work, and pay when we should not.
And don’t we pay our way out of everything?
I have had my driver’s license arranged before, as you have, as well. True, I did a driving test in 1993 when I got the very first one, but subsequently, all I needed to do was send my passport photograph with a few thousands of naira through Uduak, my mechanic. And in a few days, I get a new one. In spite of what the law says in Nigeria. The system encourages you to shine your eye!
Pastor Sam (Adeyemi, of Daystar Christian Center), one of the few that keeps preaching national rebirth through honourable living, told a rather sad story a few years ago. A young Nigerian boy came out of his exam hall, and he started screaming to his mum that had come to pick him up after the O’levels, “Mummy, Mummy, that man has swindled us o! He sold us the wrong leaked exams!” or words to that effect. He was not aware that buying the exam papers from anyone was crime enough. He was only appalled that they had been sold the wrong one.
Unfortunately, that line of thinking is pervasive today. The younger generation has been told (through our behaviours and) recently by our president that “Most of these cases they call corruption are just people stealing!” as if they were not one and the same. As if each was not an offense that is worth being thrown in prison for. Oh, he actually said that on his campaign trail.
We mostly do not see a link between our lack of integrity on a national scale, and the gradual destruction of our society.
It is convenient that the Nigerian God makes an appearance when we think about the things we need but He somehow retreats to Israel or to Mecca when there are things He needs, like truth, and integrity, and looking after the vulnerable, and ensuring justice. If you ask Him, He would rather that we lived right than shout right.
What we also miss is that the real God has made some laws universal, such that even if we shout “God forbid!”, but we steal our country blind, someone will die on the roads we don’t maintain. Some mother will die during childbirth because we are religious only in our speech, and hardly in our character, leaving our hospitals as mere “consulting clinics”.
We are definitely going to reap what we sow, in trailer loads.
It is not a curse o, but the good book says “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”. It is not a curse o, but when we have bribe-able immigration men, and a leaking treasury, should terrorists attempt to come through our borders, nothing will stop them in their tracks. “The Gods are not to blame!” is what Ola Rotimi said, many years ago. It seems it is us that is doing us.
And this dishonesty is not peculiar to any section of the country. I have been sold fake items to in Onitsha, and been extorted from by Lagos’ LASTMA. I have faced extremely dishonest policemen in Abuja, and my driver’s license was “bought” in Port Harcourt.
Incidentally, the God they don’t call in Japan ensures that their trains run on time, while ours take 22 hours between Lagos and Ilorin, a journey of less than 300km.
The man in the mirror has to CHANGE o, my brother, my sister. The man in the mirror needs to know that we cannot continue this way. That he cannot call God’s name when it is time to ask for votes but forget altogether when it’s time to declare his assets. The man in the mirror needs know that there is a strong link between hunger in the land, and poverty in character of everyone who manages our funds. Truth be told, the thief came from our midst. They are us. We are them. We are Goodluck. We are Tinubu. We are OBJ. We are IBB. The Ganis, the Olikoyes, and the Tai Solarins are few and very far between.
The man in the mirror needs to tell himself the home truth, that when he’s asked what God’s got to do with it, he should say (in words and in deed), “Everything!”.
Chukwudi Adepoju is @adechuks on twitter