Government should work towards creating jobs to allow the people benefit from their resource wealth

The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor E.A. Adeboye recently performed what is increasingly becoming a routine event: he laid the foundation stone of an 8500- capacity worship centre in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Speaking at the event, Governor Udom Emmanuel asked individuals and corporate bodies to join his government in building the centre that would serve as “an avenue for God to bless the people of the state.”

Even though the project, which is expected to cost the state billions of Naira, drew criticism from a section of the public, Emmanuel was only following a growing trend where many governors are using religion to prop up their public standing. In 2015, Governor Rochas Okorocha built a glimmering “Basilica” dubbed the “Magnificent Imo State House Chapel” at a huge public expense. Same year, Governor Nyesom Wike who proclaimed Rivers as a “Christian State where God lives among his children,” built a Christian Ecumenical Centre also at a prohibitive cost to taxpayers. A similar centre was launched in nearby Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa in 2017, constructed at public expense by the state government.

However, the construction of places where members of the public could worship is not restricted to the southern parts of the country. Indeed, in many states in the north, there is an abundance of such worship places, constructed by various state governments so that Muslims could have comfortable ablutions and prayer rooms. Some governors indeed cite the building of mosques in their states as one of their remarkable achievements while in office. Early last year, Badaru Abubakar, Jigawa State governor approved the sum of N137 million for the construction of 90 daily prayer mosques. The Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, also approved N566 million for the completion of 189 Juma’at and daily prayer mosques as well as Islamiyya schools.

Aside from building mosques, the Bauchi State government said it has been spending some millions of naira annually to organise Quranic recitation competitions. These and others are all faithful followers of Senator Sani Yerima, former governor of Zamfara who built several mosques and indeed used religion as a potent political weapon in a state now weighed down by criminality and general banditry.

What is particularly worrying is that despite their lean economic resources, many states are increasingly spending huge sums of money building worship centres despite the fact that there is hardly any major street in Nigeria today without churches and mosques, where people can worship and gather for related activities. Even at that, the pertinent questions remain: How much influence do these worship centres actually have on their adherents? Judging by the rate of corruption and criminality in the country in spite of our religiousity, why are states increasingly sucked into the religious vortex? Why should states be competing with each other in building worship centres? Is it to win the souls of the poor? Or is it to manipulate and indeed exploit the ignorance of the people during elections?

Despite its oil wealth, Akwa Ibom, like many states in the country, is struggling to pay the salaries of civil servants and provide decent health and educational infrastructure to meet the needs of the people. So, why should states that cannot fulfil basic obligations think that their people will demonstrate godly virtues because they have abundant places to pray? How far can religion regulate the behaviour of someone who is hungry?

The most obvious response to a country mired in economic difficulties is not to build more places of worship for the people. It is to engage the people in productive activities. We hope the governors will understand that and begin to act more responsibly.