By Leo Igwe
We must be unrelenting in making this demand and in asking this question: Why do religions need money, our money for their trips to their holy lands? Why do persons with fervent faith in a benevolent, provident, paradise- kingdom- owning deities demand money, worldly money to fund their programs?
It is mind boggling, to say the least. That the contradictions in this desperate quest for what belongs to Caesar by godly persons have largely been ignored beats my imagination. This demand for the earthly to facilitate this pious heavenly engagement highlights not only divine wretchedness but also reveals curious creedal and theological limitations, which deserve a closer scrutiny by the free thinking public.
At a time that the world is grappling with religious extremism and many countries are trying to unravel the root and reach of jihadist networks that have continued to terrorize the globe, it has become more pertinent to inquire: Why do religions need funding from the state? Why do religionists need the government, not their God to pick up the bills, finance their activities- the construction places of worship, feeding during the month of Ramadan and the sponsorship of pilgrimages to their holy places?
This issue of state funding of pilgrimages has generated intense debate in places such as Nigeria. It has divided the religious public because of its discriminatory formulars. State funding of religious pilgrimages has largely be seen as an exercise in religious favouritism. Theocrats masquerading as democrats have been complicit in this enterprise. In an apparent quest for sociopolitical capital, the governor of Katsina state, Alhaji Aminu Masari has announced that his administration spends one billion annually to subsidize Hajj pilgrimage. Others states in both north and south spend billions annually to promote this ‘chrislamic’ religious exercise.
The constitution of Nigeria is ambiguous on how the state relates to religion. Expectedly state actors and their religious allies are exploiting this ambiguity as if there is a constitutional provision that explicitly mandates state sponsorship of religious activities. Now let us take a closer look at what the constitution says.
Section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution prohibits state religion. It states that no part of the Federation or state should adopt any religion as state religion. By implication, the state should not sponsor religious events. It is unconstitutional for the state to finance religious activities including pilgrimages. On that basis, some argue that Nigeria is a secular state. Is Nigeria really a secular state?
Of course this is one way to interpret it. Others have interpreted it differently to serve their religious interest. They claim that this provision means that the state does not exclusively endorse any religion. That Nigeria is a multi-religious state.
The curious thing here is that the same constitution recognizes the application of sharia law on family and domestic issues such as marriage and inheritance. This ambiguity, born out of lack of agreement and unanimity among the country’s main religious followers, Christians and Muslims, on the role of religion in the state has continued to haunt Nigeria.
This lack of clarity on the status of religion within the constitution has been exploited by theocrats to mix and merge religion and state in their policies and program. For instance, it was used to justify the adoption of sharia law in 1999 by Muslim majority states. These muslim majority states have refused to domesticate the child rights act because they claim it conflicts with provisions in the sharia law that condone child marriage.
So, the separation of religion and state as envisaged in section 10 of the Nigerian constitution has not actually materialized. Both state and ‘federal’ governments have been in breach of this provision. The idea of a secular Nigeria is mainly a paper tiger and has no real practical import. But we must not forget that the inclusion of that secular clause in the statute book was a compromise brokered to resolve a constitutional crisis by those bent on cobbling together the entity called Nigeria. Put in another way it was an exercise in ideal politick. But has that exercise reflected positively on the country?
Well while section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution might have served the interest of Nigerian ideal politicians, from all indications, the real political situation has been entirely different. In practice, Islam and Christianity are the state religions. Some parts of the Federation, the Muslim majority states, have Islam, not Christianity as their state religion. Other parts of the South have only christianity or both Islam and Christianity as state religions. Thus the intended constitutional wall never stood or was not allowed to stand.
At a time that the Nigerian economy is in recession and the government claims to be curbing mismanagement of state resources, it has become urgent to invoke and use this constitutional window and other secular provisions to contest state funding of pilgrimages. Going on pilgrimages is – and should be an individual, not a state business. It has become imperative to demand the separation of church (mosque) money and state money in principle and in practice in Nigeria.
It surely makes an economic sense.
Zambian Eye (Zambia)