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Over the years, the line between the state and religion has been getting thinner and thinner. I will strive to stay away from being judgemental. But some home truths need to be shared. Our constitution does not prescribe any official religion as a state religion. In fact, we say we are a secular state, even though the constitution provides for the freedom of religious affiliation. In this part of the world, there is such a huge emphasis on religion. It is such an over-awed phenomenon so much that it is treated with some kind of sacredness. And that is why no government has ever got the courage to impose any form of tax on the plethora of churches, mosques, temples etc that dot just everywhere in most towns and cities in the country. To say Nigerians are very religious will be a clear understatement. We dote at religious centres, stream in thousands to miracle grounds, flock around wherever there is some acclaimed mystic powers. We love them. That explains why religion is one of the fastest growing “informal industries” in the country. Some streets in major towns have as many as five or more churches, supported by a number of mosques, all bombarding the heavens for the “peace and prosperity” of the nation and the worshippers.
The irony is that the more churches and mosques we have, the more sophisticated our sins and crimes get. There is no corresponding growth in the holiness index of the people. With the coming of more worship centres, the moral prisms of society have been collapsing, leaving many to wonder what the religions are actually teaching. Sometimes, I am tempted to take it all as social activity, which is not really targeted at the spiritual regeneration of the people. But despite this poor impact of religion on society’s order, the state i.e government, has continued to invest heavily in the pursuit of vain(?) religious obligations.
Two years ago, I was in Israel on a self-sponsored pilgrimage. Yes, self-sponsored! I saw many delegations from various states in Nigeria. Some as many as 300, just as some states had even more pilgrims--- all sponsored by their various state governments. There were also Federal Government delegations in multiples of thousands—all at government’s expense. This is an annual load the governments carry. It is even doubly heavy for states with a good admixture of Muslims and Christians. They have to cough out huge sums every year to sponsor pilgrims to either Saudi Arabia, Mecca, Jerusalem or Rome. In fact, there is a whole ministry, sometimes parastatals, devoted to the business of organizing pilgrimage for the citizens. Yet, we claim we are a secular nation! In fact, there have been many cases where monumental fraud are committed by those appointed to oversee the welfare of those seeking holiness in foreign lands. Let us not even talk about the dark atrocities many of these pilgrims commit even in such acclaimed “Holy Lands”.
My worries were thus halved when I read of one of the South West governors who ruled out the official sponsorship of pilgrims in the state because, according to him, the financial state is in a :”dismal condition” Yet, that same governor, about a week ago, the reports said, flew to the lesser Hajj in a chartered jet at the cost of N26 million! And that is aside all other expenses like accommodation, feeding, shopping and all the unmentionable extras. And multiply that by the number of the wieldy number of people on the Governor’s entourage. It is government money he used in pursuit of personal faith. Secular State, my foot! Yet, some of these kind of people are those who would scratch their head to be able to pay for economy seat on the plane, before they got their privileged political offices. Now they have graduated from flying first class to chartering private jets, all in the pursuit of banal, if not vain, religious ceremonies.
The rumour has also been strong in town about the very large delegation that accompanied Vice President Namadi Sambo to the same lesser Hajj, all at Federal Government’s expense. Official sources said 19 people followed the VP, but unofficial sources say 40 people did, It’s not only an abhorrent act, it is a betrayal of trust. This is a government that, last January, during the fuel price riots, promised that henceforth, it will travel light, to cut down on the huge travel expenses of government. That promise, it seems, was just to calm frayed nerves, as both the President and his deputy have since been travelling even heavier than they were doing before the riots.
The rest of the world laughs at us, when we lumber a whole community to follow one man to somewhere in the name of “government delegation”, all because of the estacode that comes with such trips. Richer and more developed countries go with trim delegations, but not Nigeria. Yet we are damn poorer and patently disabled in global sociometrics. Where is the wisdom of those who rule us?
Perhaps, it will be a little consoling if as a result of these huge” investments” in religious affairs, that Nigeria is getting better, healthier and more prosperous, we would not bother much. But despite these high-arched religious engagements, we remain one of the most corrupt countries, and thus very poor, despite the enormous resources we are endowed with by a merciful God. The other side of the argument will be to posit that but for the prayers and swathe of religiousness, Nigeria would have indeed, degraded a lot further, or even dissolved. Duex avertat!
But all said, I guess those in government must summon the courage to separate government from religion. Individuals can engage in religious activities at their own expense and time, not government’s.
Nigeria’s expected growth margins is not going to be achieved from the quantum of religion on the streets, but by our industry, enterprise, and above all, honesty.
Lest We Forget…
It is perhaps necessary to display, on the memory burner, some of the atrocities committed against the rest of us, by certain people who had the privilege of occupying public office, courtesy of our votes, in some cases. Often times, events develop here in Nigeria at dizzying speed such that even the media is hardly able to keep pace with them. In this short expose, I seek to draw attention to some of the rankling cases of fraud we have had in recent times; hoping that by it, those concerned will re-open those books of offence and bring the accused to judgment and justice.
Governors’ Class of 99 ---- Aside a few of the state governors between 1999 and 2007 who actually had no case to answer, almost all others have had one allegation of fraud or the other hanging down their necks like an Indian Talisman. I remember the case against former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu and his mother, Mama Excellency, Mrs Eunice Kalu who were accused of raping the Abia State treasury. The latter fled the country, while the son was nabbed and arraigned. He soon got bail, and since then, the case has been in a permanent state of floundering. What is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) doing about it? Has the case been dropped or forgotten?
I also remember the case against former Governor of Enugu State, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani who probably had the lengthiest accusation including owning 72 houses on one street in Enugu city. He skipped trial, went to the senate and now out of the senate. So when will he return to the dock? Mr Larmode, over to you.
What about Senator Saminu Turaki, former Jigawa State governor, the youngest of them all at the time, who blew N10 billion in one day, just to support the Third term plot, aside the many other financial infractions. He was crying like a baby when he was first arraigned. The tears have since dried up and he has returned to being a power broker. Has he been forgiven of his sins?
There are others like Rev Jolly Nyame, who governed Taraba State for about ten years and hardly could know the difference between the public till and his private pocket. His trial has been prolonged but has led nowhere. He still preaches on pulpits and administers Holy Communion, because EFCC seems to be on holidays on these matters. Can somebody add up all the monies involved in these scams and you will understand why Nigeria is not making progress as a nation.
Have we also forgotten about Dimeji Bankole, the former Speaker of the House of Reps and the load of accusations against him? He was accused of committing N894 million fraud through contract inflation, in a 16-count charge filed against him by the EFCC. More than one year after, the case, as they say, has neither head nor tail. One is tempted to think that the prosecutorial weakness f the EFCC is a deliberate act of sabotage, as it is hardly ever able to establish a case against suspects, even it seems the cases of infractions are so very glaring.
I remember the case against Ndudi Elumelu, a member of the House of Reps who ran into storm after probing the IPP projects, and landed the accusation of having collected heavy bribe to compromise the report. The young man is still gallivanting in the public space unbowed, uncowed.
By the way, where are the guys who raped the Police Pension Funds scheme? Former Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Atiku Abubakar Kigo, was said to have conspired with five other civil servants and diverted N32.8 billion from the Nigeria Police Pension Funds. After the publicized seizure of their houses and ill-gotten wealth, did the matter die? Didn’t the EFCC boast that they have enough evidence to nail the guys? I no longer hear of the prosecution process. What is happening to these “blood money” experts?
So what has happened to the case involving Hon Herman Hembe, a member of the House of Reps, accused of demanding bribe of about N40 million from the DG of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Arunma Oteh? A prima facie case had been established against him. He had asked for the sum from an organization his committee was supposed to be conducting public hearing on.
If we forget all others, not Farouk Lawan’s case. He admittedly asked for “money not bribe” to the tune of $620,000 from Femi Otedola, the Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas. The case is travelling down the way of the cooler. When is he due for arraignment? ICPC, over to you.
NUPENG/NLC: Patriots or Plunderers?
Thank Goodness that the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) have graciously seen reason to shelve their planned strike. We must commend their reasonability and saving the nation another round of stress and torture.
Did you say we should commend them? Commend?
Yes, commend! Do you know what economic disaster the strike would have caused the nation?
Are you saying we should commend these saboteurs? People who are conspiring with the rougish crew called marketers to rob the nation blind? Do you know what you are saying?
You make inflammatory comments. Do you know how patriotic these marketers are? How they take loans to help import petroleum products at great risk, and then government would not pay them as and when due? Is that fair?
You are talking gibberish. What silly patriotism are you talking about? People are doing their own business and you call it patriotism? Are these not the same marketers who have been severally indicted by various panels? Marketers who make dubious and bogus claims and have been claiming illegal subsidy funds? They now own fleets of Private Jets (PJ). Many of them, ten years ago, could hardly eat enough. Now they have swam into a parvenu. Are those the people you say should be commended? In any case, what is the business of NUPENG in this matter?
Don’t you know some of them are staff of the marketers? If they are not paid because marketers’ claims remain unpaid, how can NUPENG members survive?
You mean you do not know that it is the marketers that are inducing the NUPENG and even NLC to embark on the strike as a way of arm twisting government to pay unverified claims? If you don’t know this, then you don’t know nothing. Trust me!
But are you saying those who spend their money to import products should not be paid?
Such expenditure has to be verified and confirmed, before payment is made. And don’t dramatise it. 25 oil firms have been indicted because their claims are exaggerated, bogus, fictitious, etc. Already, there is discrepancy over N422 billion claim. Many of the marketers just skinned the country in the name of importing petroleum products. And we are saying such rougish nonsense has to stop. And that all who support such arbitrariness and pillaging of the economy , whether they are NUPOENG, NLC or even TUC, are enemies of the state. They are plunderers and saboteurs of our commonwealth, QED!