By Morenike Taire
When pundits refer to religion as the opium of the masses, they suffer from a severe lack of profundity. To refer to religion in such sweet terms is to remain shallow and inadequate students of History.
This is not to mention the fact that religion in a country such as Nigeria has served less as analgesic for the pains inflicted daily on the citizenry in rural and urban areas alike, than as effective policing on behalf of the leadership.
So while it has been recognised as a paradox that the physical growth of churches and mosques in the very furthest corners of the country appears to be in correspondence with the growth of corruption; it has barely been imagined, the state of affairs the country might have been in had it not been for the general belief of the average Nigerian in a higher being which not only provides prosperity but would deal severely with all those that refuse to do as he says.
Comedians have suggested only half jokingly that Nigeria’s leaders would be far better behaved if their swearing-in to office is conducted not upon the Bible or Koran but on Sopanna, Aiyelala or Amadioha, as the latter are regarded with much more fear and seriousness.
With the launch of the world’s largest church auditorium in Abuja by the Dunamis church last week, the national religious debate has begun again and as usual, we are shouting one another down rather than actually having a conversation.
In the first place, tagging the building as the largest church auditorium in the world is probably a severe overstatement. Nigerians love to be the most flamboyant, even if not the best. Postulations are mainly based on the poverty of the vast majority in the country. Figures are bandied, mostly based on past and present Bretton Woods projections.
The proprietors of churches ought to be building roads, hospitals, schools, street lights, drainage and other infrastructure in the neighbourhood as far as their critics are concerned, as the proof that they are followers of Jesus Christ, who never built a church pew as far as we know, even though history has him as a fine carpenter.
The showy, boastful leaders of these churches are criticized for building schools that many of their members cannot afford to attend, while not providing scholarships for the poor in spite of the fact that many of them were themselves beneficiaries of missionary education efforts.
Dr Paul Enenche, the Senior Pastor of Dunamis International Christian Center, boasted that the newly launched multi-billion Naira church auditorium was built by his ministry debt-free, without liabilities of any sort to anyone or any bank living or dead. Rather than a house built to the glory of God as is claimed, the entire project sounds more like a literal theatre of the absurd, a monument to Mammon.
It is assumed that the funds deployed in the building of the theatre came directly from the church members, who are clearly elated over the development. In actual fact, too many assumptions are made where the religious confusion in our country today is concerned. Pseudo-intellectual arguments about whether or not church general overseers ought to be building infrastructure or educating people miss the mark
and merely create false divides in a body inverterately united in vanity and corruption. At best, they make for good entertainment. The deeper issues are more frightening than whether or not poor nations ought to be spending billions on worship centres or dividing the billions to build hundreds of worship centres for the same number of adherents. One of the deeper issues is that far from being the voice of conscience to the people, the Nigerian religious enterprise is daily growing in its role as enabler in their corruption.
The amount of impunity enabled and created by this enterprise has little to do with whether or not the general overseers are rocking private jets while many of their followers are ‘faking it till they make it’. The levels of noise pollution enabled by the churches and mosques ought to drive any right thinking government crazy.
Add the additional pollution from their generators and the Nigerian religious enterprise becomes the number one offender where environmental pollution is concerned.
The enterprise and those who man it have become above the law, putting up their monstrosities where they like, when they like; without recourse to the laws and common decency. It ought to worry Nigerians of decency and goodwill that this enterprise is growing in influence, with uniformed men, judges and persons in government past and present joining their ranks. When there is a total breakdown of law and order in this country, our religious enterprise will be responsible.
We ought to be very worried indeed, because the very reason for the existence of this enterprise is to obtain power. Let us not be deceived- as misaligned as the religious enterprise is with the societal values in general, it is highly organized within itself.
If they have not begun to field or back candidates to acquire political power, they will soon. They certainly have the resources and the political following. If this does not sound alarming, it means the enterprise has succeeded at its mission of being insidious.
As a phenomenon, religious terrorism is growing across the world, and it is not limited to Boko Haram and such like, which began as a religious enterprise. Today it is powerful, it is wealthy and it is anything but Islamic.
Vice President Osinbajo, a professed man of Faith, oversees the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS. His job will be much easier if he begins with our religious enterprises, which often double as money laundering machinery.
Any of the presidential candidates which promises to tax every religious enterprise masquerading as churches as much as 50%, has my vote.