Why ethnicity and religion remain a big deal in Nigeria, By ADEWALE

Issues of ethnicity and religion have remained big matters that continue to shape the turn of events in the country. It is the effect of this two-headed dragon of ethnicity and religion as an impediment to progress in Nigeria that this review seeks to analyse, within the context of the 272-page book titled, “The effect of religion on the political process”; authored by Femi Ajayi, a 2009-publication of iUniverse Incorporated, United States of America.
The book generally attempts to explain the influence of religion on the political process of Nigeria by taking a cursory look at major developments between years 1975 and 1990. Professor Ajayi is a Professor of Policy, Conflict Resolution and Management in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration as well as current Dean, Veronica Adeleke School of Social Sciences, Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State.
According to the Don, the search for national unity and development has been a major concern for many African countries including Nigeria, but the reverse seems to be the case as religion and ethnicity continue to rear their ugly heads in the political process by causing chaos, friction and stagnation, just like what we are experiencing in Benue, Adamawa and other parts of the country. The book’s theoretical and conceptual framework was hinged on the premise of discussing the political process in a pluralistic and heterogeneous country like ours.
The author noted that ethnicity had been used as a theoretical concept by many contemporary political analysts to mean ‘tribalism’ because tribalism has the semblance of backwardness, savagery and it also conveys a false impression of the existence of a political unity under an organised leadership. He added that ethnicity can be referred to as a “subjective recognition and acknowledgement of a set of interconnected social markets such as language, religion, historical experience, or shared institutions that are intertwined with common cultural foundation” (page 16).
He observed that religion, on the other hand, had been defined by many scholars and researchers. It is generally seen as the relationship that exists between man and the Supreme Being even though, Marxism believes that religion is the ‘opium of the people’, some kind of experience that induces a flight to fantasy in human kind’s seemingly endless quest for God or some superior entity (page 14). Ajayi, an Adjunct Professor, Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, cited other scholars by providing rich insights that religion and politics are two dimensions of human experience.
According to Ajayi, “the 1989 Nigerian Constitution, which was based on the 1979 Constitution, spelt out the place of religion in the political process. Various sections of the 1989 Nigerian constitution are full of grand pronouncements about national unity, national interests” (page 134), but despite these constitutional provisions, religion, just as ethnicity, has been blamed for the disunity plaguing Nigeria as a nation. He gave some of the major examples of how the Nigerian state had allegedly interfered and shown bias on religious matters include the institution of lopsided government legislation, skewed annual legal year ceremony, lopsided federal government’s appointments; sponsorship of religious pilgrimages; and declaration of public holidays, among others.
He averred that ethnicity and religion have become a big set-back to the progress of Nigeria in the following ways: Firstly, ethnicity and religion breed discontent among the people. It makes the people to be loyal to their ethnic and religious affiliations as against nationalism and patriotism. Secondly, ethnicity and religious have been a source of mistrust among the citizens. Thirdly, ethnicity and religious have brought about fanaticism, killing of many people and destruction of colossal amount of properties. Furthermore, with the way ethnic and religious matters are handled and interwoven, he recommended that the Nigerian state should remain secular. Lastly, it had shown that Nigerian government is biased and disposed to aligning with one religion over the others, saying this is unfair, and unconstitutional.
On a promising note, the following recommendations were made in the book: Government should ensure that the constitution is upheld by avoiding the promotion of certain religion and ethnicity over the others; mutual trust between the leaders and the led should be built in the overall interest of the nation; Nigerians should resist the undue influence by external forces that tend to impose certain religious preference over domestic considerations; the Nigerian armed forces should be well professionalised such that they would strictly face their basic and core mandates of protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.
Professor Ajayi, who is also a former Executive Director, Office of Secretary of State, Professional Licensing Board Division, Examinations Development and Testing Unit, State of Georgia, Atlanta, USA, called for constant public enlightenment that should be carried out to enable the people to understand the roles they are expected to play in promoting tolerance, harmony and peaceful coexistence; that a national language should be well-developed, among others. However, discussing issues is not usually the problem, but the main challenge had been the poor or non-implementation of such findings, praying that we would truly get it right, one day!

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