By Bisi Lawrence
We are at the mercy of the politicians who rule us as masters rule slaves. They do not have any consideration for our needs and desires. They do not care to honour even their word to us. They care less still for the pride of the nation, or her progress. They hold us in utter contempt. But should they not hold us in some kind of esteem, no matter how little—some respect, some regard at least? After all, we put them there, didn’t we? It was our votes that helped to elect them into the Houses of Assembly, the House of Representatives, or the Senate.
We were even responsible for the occupant of Aso Rock himself being there. We are important. We should enjoy a modicum of honour as citizens, at least. I mean, we are worthy, or are we? Or why are we not respected by people whom we boast of choosing to represent us, and who should return to us the dividend of the investment we made in them by choosing them?
But let us examine our relationship with them more closely—did we really choose them ourselves in a “free and fair” manner? Think back on the conduct of elections even in the recent past. As if “free and fair” would not suffice, we appended the additional merit of “transparent” in our categorization of them. How far did that take us? We went through a spate of elections in which Chief Executives elected in no less than four states were disqualified in the law courts. Of course, we cannot then absolutely claim that we really “voted” the final victor into office by ourselves.
Even then, both the winners and the losers would be hard put to claim that their dealings with us, the electorate, were strictly kosher. And neither were ours totally above board with them either; for we were ready to sell our votes during the election time, and so many of us did. That is definitely not a respectable action, and definitely not one that would have elevated us in the esteem of other people, even those on behalf, and for the benefit, of whom we clearly cheated.
We might have even committed those inappropriate actions at the behest of the so-called “godfathers” who would have furnished the grimy rewards we may have received for selling ourselves so cheap, having played a dicy game with our destiny. That in itself would have also put us a step backward from the line of uprightness. It would have made several of us to fade into the crowd of thugs and hired ruffians who snatch ballot boxes, and disrupt law and order in polling booths—hoodlums that do not in any way qualify for any regard.
All the same, a number of so-called voters go further to settle for their own “dividends of democracy” by retaining the role of perennial thugs and bring the members of the National Assembly, or House of Assembly, or even the State Governor after the choice has been made, as their principals.
So here we find ourselves—we who claim not to have been part of the free-for-all looting. We wail that no more than six nations in the whole world produce petroleum products more than our country, yet we cannot establish the facilities to refine them but have to ship them out and then bring them back at exorbitant costs; we cannot generate an adequate supply of electricity for our own use, and yet other countries depend on what we are able to grant them for their sufficiency;
we cannot produce our own food in a sufficient quantity and must buy from other lands whereas we are generously blessed with fertile soil; we are unable to provide proper educational development for our children within our own country but we are constrained to scatter them into good quality schools around the world.
And so we cry out in protest against our sorry lot. We who have never taken—(or given?) a bribe in our lives. We come out to demonstrate against the rejection of our woeful estate. We go out on strike—for a short while—and then crawl back into our shell like a frightened snail, because no one else but those very legislators at all levels to whom we sold votes, are now the only people who could help us. But no one is listening.
They cannot hear us. Their ears are stuffed with the swift, sweet, ingress of the lucre proceeding from the jam pot our stolen votes had handed them. They will not hear us because they can now really have no regard for ballot thieves; vote purloiners, disreputable elements (which we really are) that foul the stream from which we would have been refreshed. Why should the man or woman who knows you to be a despicable rascal respect you? No one is listening to you, my friend. No one is listening to me, either.
We may accuse the politicians of all sorts of inadequacies and insufficiencies headed by our usual hobby-horse, corruption. But we cannot really “come to equity” as we are with our hands soiled. There is no crime for which we could accuse them of which we have not first been guilty ourselves. Devoid of a firm moral ground on which to stand, we lack the will to confront the evil that still surrounds and confounds us daily.
There is nothing very much wrong with the land. We, the people are our own problem. We, the people must solve it for ourselves. We have only one power—the power of the people, the power of the vote. Almost overwhelmed with the profusion of political confusion spilling over all manner of discussion and even ordinary conversation these days, religion offered itself these past weeks as a relief in the choice of boring subjects of “officially” stolen loot, in an interaction among friends….or even enemies.
The incident which had somewhat brought the issue to the fore, as they say, was the edict published by His Highness, the late Atuwatse II, the Olu of Warri, proscribing his title of Ogiame, reputed to be more than 500 years old, and the Warri national anthem. The Olu’s reason abutted on his aversion to fetishism with which he alleged both the title and anthem were connected. As a Born Again Christian, he did not wish to have any part of them.
Those who disagreed with His Highness were quick to point out that he had embraced Christianity to that intensity for many years before now. They are miffed about the timing, apart from the connotation. Not one Itsekiri man of note had come out to support him. Not even the well-known President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who is of Itsekiri stock, had said a word one way or the other. But one hardly need surmise on what side of the road he would firmly plant his feet in the matter.
It was probably not to confound the confusion of the Olu that he had kept mute about the issue. However, faced with the massive protest, the traditional ruler was said to have recanted. This came at a time when people in Oyo are celebrating the second Oranyan festival. It is in honour of one of the most illustrious names in Yoruba history, reputed to be the first Alaafin (King) of Oyo. His exploits were legendary, both as a warrior and administrator.
Though he was not actually deified, the invocation of his spirit may be repudiated by some people as being too close to fetishism. Not so in Oyo and its environs. Many of those who are involved profess to be Christians, but they hold fervently to what they consider to be purely a matter of “tradition”. In fact, one of the chief celebrants is a “prince of the blood”. His name like that of Pastor Oritsejafor, is also Ayo, and he is also a high cleric but of the Methodist Church of Nigeria— Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu.
A conflict of conscience and faith is rampant in the lives of many Christians who have been steeped in the traditional beliefs and mores of their birth by circumstances over which they had no power of choice. They are then faced with repudiation or dumb acquiescence. But could they, in a manner of speaking, roll to both sides of the bed?
The God whom we Christians serve makes no bones about being a jealous God. He only must be served, and He alone, without any other. “I am the Lord,” He says, “that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images…” (Isaiah 42:8.) The Ogiame had all of my sympathy. May he find eternal welcome in one of those “mansions” prepared for the faithful, in the house of his Lord and Saviour’s Father.
Specifically, Christianity and its dogmas—rather than religion in a generic mould—took over the conversation at a recent gathering of some of my old friends recently. The focus was on the Second Commandment of God given to the children of Israel through Moses which have solidified to the Christian pillars of faith.
The Second, in particular, came to be dwelt upon among the others: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shall not bow thyself to them nor serve them; for I thy God am a jealous God….(Exodus 20:4)” .I have always felt that nothing could be less equivocal. But growing up in a full-boarding Christian school, and being a ward at different times to two priests who later became bishops each in his own time, I had oftentimes had to wonder as to the exact interpretation of this law. That is because it was held in open contempt by so many people around me by those I had every reason to defer to, even as it still is today.
Christianity has accommodated many iconoclasts down the years. The presence of carved images in the house of worship was a matter of great disputation between the year 726, when the veneration of images was allowed in the church, and 843 when it was finally restored in 843. The papacy had never welcomed the revocation of the adoration.
It should be noted that Moses still further expatiated on this injunction to the Israelites when he warned saying, “Therefore take good heed to yourselves. Since you saw no form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.” But it has fallen on deaf ears, especially in the Roman Catholic Church where the practice is celebrated. The believers in the word of God, “as it is written”, proclaim fearlessly that the veneration of images is akin to idol worship. They assert that the injunction does not limit the abstinence to the making of the craven image, but extends to an avoidance of its adoration. The implication, of course, is that an idol would thereby be made of it.
But those who embrace, or accommodate, the presence of sculptures and carvings of images in connection with religious worship within the Christian fold contend that it is not idol worship. But then, pray, what is an idol? The Oxford Advanced Dictionary says it is “an image of deity as an object of worship”.
In any case, whether one misinterprets a graven image as an idol or not, what God says is that one should not make it for oneself—that is for a specific purpose—in the likeness of anything in heaven or on earth. That excludes God himself. In other words, he commands that no one should make an image of him. Nobody can worship in a sanctuary defiled by images, or in any space that accommodates a graven image, and claim to be member of a Bible-believing church.