Zwahu Yanwaidi E.
Sometime around October-November last year the Nigerian public space was awash with pictures of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the holy land, Israel, on pilgrimage. It was a “presidential pilgrimage” of sorts, the first of its kind from a Nigerian leader of Christian extraction, led by the president himself. At least we had been used to seeing leaders in Nigeria who were Muslim go on pilgrimages with robust entourage in the past, but not the Christians; but that is beside the point. GEJ was pictured in the Holy Land earnestly praying, along with many others, for Nigeria.
We got to know that even the now relieved Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, also rather miraculously found her way overnight, in the heat of her armored vehicle scandal that would later prove her waterloo, to the Holy Land to join the president in prayers. Some videos that found their way to the social media showed the men of God that were privileged to join the president on the pilgrimage doing everything possible to outdo each other in praying and prophesying for the country and the president.
It was indeed an interesting sight. But I found it laughable and rather disgusting.
I believe in God alright. I always have. Infact never in my life have I, warts and all, been surer of my belief in God than now. Sometimes I even sit back and chide myself “hey boy, you’re becoming too conservative in this your faith, lighten up a bit”. I also pray. But my contempt for this kind of prayer we see around in Nigeria and especially amongst our political leaders arises from what I have come to refer to as a mere show of religiosity. I was sharing with a friend about that spectacle of prayer in the Holy Land and he joked rather sadly that he had tried to imagine the leaders of other great countries of the world, like the US, UK, Germany and the rest, in prayers for their countries in such outlandish manner but has helplessly failed. To my friend, the image our president cut was one of wishing away the country’s problems in the hope that God would come down to earth to solve them for His beloved Nigeria, instead of rolling up his sleeves and getting to work like those other presidents.
After all did St Dominic not say laborare est orare, to work is to pray? No one has captured the scenario in Nigeria better than Bishop Kukah when he said that Nigerians have outsourced their responsibilities to God. Hence you see someone who has a headache that requires some good rest or, at worse, two tablets of paracetamol refusing to do the needful and rather banging the same head on the wall in prayer to God for healing, thereby, demeaning the same God, to whom belong that good sleep and the knowledge that gave birth to medicine. So, there lies my disgust, especially with our political leaders that troop to Mecca and Jerusalem with huge entourages on state resources, claiming that they are praying for Nigeria.
But events in the North-east of the country last week, into the weekend, have again shaken me seriously. People in their hundreds have been slaughtered and are still being slaughtered as we watch, almost helplessly. The Jama’atul Ahlus Sunna lida’wati wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, have continually targeted civilians, helpless civilians. Has the death of innocents become pleasure now? If so, pleasure to whom? Man or God? Or is it a god? One cannot help but to wonder what is driving this ghastly slaughter, but whatever it is, it defies normal human understanding and reasoning. I think Nigerians must pray and pray indeed, because only God can save us as the solution to this plight of our nation lies in God’s ability to break men’s hearts of stone and give them those of flesh to be able to understand and to see Him in the other human being.
Perhaps, after all, we need to really pray like the president has tried to demonstrate but, deep down in my heart, I do not believe that it is that kind of prayer that he and other politicians have exemplified: the kind of prayers that strike one as mere show as they are lacking in concrete backing with action. While we pray, we must engage in concrete action like playing our civic roles actively and conscientiously, challenging evil from whatever direction it emanates and treating other human beings with respect and charity in defiance to those who slaughter them, whether with swords and guns or with the pen.