Religion and Politics from Europe to Africa and back

Yesterday England and indeed Europe were enraged by the brutal killing in broad daylight of a young British soldier, Lee Rigby near the barracks in Woolwich, East London. What made his brutal massacre more reviling was the fact that it was done by two men in broad daylight using machetes similar to the Rwandan genocide. Drummer Lee Rigby has a 2 year old son named Jack.

Drummer Lee Rigby
Drummer Lee Rigby

Earlier today the identity of one of the men has been revealed to be a "28 year old Londoner of Nigerian descent" Mr Michael Adebolajo who's name was revealed by the UK Ministry of Defence. For the record I have been reminded by several worried Nigerians that the suspect has NEVER been to Nigeria. Ever.

I have always believed that no matter how distant or different we seem, former President Bill Clinton's words at the US Democratic National Convention ring true, "we are in this together". I mean as security forces try to establish the motive of the two terrorists because their actions can be rightly classified by nothing else, what are the chances that the effect of wars in Afghanistan or Iraq or even the recent declaration of a state of emergency in Nigeria could show up in South East London?

Let me be clear and for the avoidance of doubt I sincerely believe that violent extremism wherever it may be found must be stamped out. Along with increasing inequality and exarcebating poverty I consider terrorism the major challenge of our time. Even though the Woolwich terrorists were said to have quoted an "eye for an eye" and i wonder if that is in the Quoran, they should look for Tony Blair or George W Bush and not take out soldiers off duty. Why dont they board a plane to Afghanistan and sort out any differences man to man?

However I risk being side tracked.

Mr Segun Adeniyi the ever brilliant former spokesman of Nigeria's late president in an article for ThisDay seems to further my point that we are in this together. Becareful what you sow because one day you may reap it. My interest is particularly piqued by the fact that catholic parishoners in Ahiara Diocese are insisting on a Catholic Bishop from, wait for it, there own locality! Although the title of his essay is Chinua Achebe speaks for my blog i have renamed it, "religion and politics...".

Perhaps my dad saw my stubborn and strong willed tendencies when i was little so he quickly shoved me in to the military which has reformed me. But in the debate Mr Adeniyi talks about? I would concur with Dr ABC Orjiako, "such appointments are beyond questioning". As an officer and a gentleman i believe that some decisions are beyond questioning or else the very fabric of the military disintegrates. Yet this is also true for society as well. Due to much established issues with religious diktak  most Christians now trump their "relationship with Christ" over "organised religion".

Regardless, I have always and will remain an avid church goer. I believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. First because it was the way i was taught but now because of the revelations I have caught from my own experiences. Indeed I recall my first time attending a Bible study at the Eternity Church Guildford (which i used to attend before moving to Hillsong London when i came to London). A a sincere fellow Bible study student asked a question that seemed to catch the then pastor napping.

She said, "how on earth can we believe that Jonah was swallowed by the fish". While the Pastor was trying to respond it occurred to me why some countries are developed and others are not. She was British and born British and therefore was not afraid to question the "myths and norms" of her society or the Scriptures or anything. This is important for research, innovation and development. Think Ford questioning horse drawn carriages or the Wright brothers questioning the impossibility of flight. For me though, I was fresh from Nigeria then and i almost fell of my seat. When i composed myself I quickly overcame my shyness and praised her candour explaining that I had heard that story all my life and never for once thought to question if the Fish ate Jonah or it was the other way round. Then i discussed a specie of fish that was discovered by scientists only that week that could extend its mouth muscles enough to swallow an average sized human without chewing on him. Perhaps God just made me see that news article knowing I would attend the Bible study?

Frankly I do not know. What i do know is that I share Segun Adeniyi's observation that allowing societal "values to be displaced and replaced would have far reaching consequences. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.". That is the lesson from Chinua Achebe's things fall apart so that even though we celebrate him as he is laid to earth today?

Chinua Achebe Still Speaks

Olusegun-Adeniyi-bkpg-new.jpg - Olusegun-Adeniyi-bkpg-new.jpg
By Olusegun Adeniyi

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”-- Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Early last month, a close friend of mine of more than two decades lost his younger sister to cancer. On Friday, April 26th, the deceased was buried at her husband’s village of Isinweke in Imo, after which we retired to my friend’s country home in Mbutu, Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area of the same state to spend the weekend. The next day, Saturday in the afternoon, some prominent people, including Dr. A.B.C. Orjiako and a traditional ruler from the area, visited and stayed for lunch. In the course of the meal there was a serious argument in Igbo, interspersed with English. The topic of discussion: opposition to the appointment of Father Peter Okpaeleke as the Catholic Bishop of Ahiara Diocese of Mbaise.
My friend, by the way, is an Anglican so he was not directly involved in the conversation but from the tenor of the engagement, it would seem that the issue transcended denominational differences among the Mbaise people. As far as the traditional ruler was concerned, Bishop Okpaeleke should consider himself a persona non grata in Mbaise, while the only way for peace to reign was for the Pope to rescind the decision by appointing one of the several priests from the area as the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese. On his part, Dr Orjiako was vehement in his stance that such appointments are beyond questioning even though his position was put down to the fact that he hails from Anambra State like Okpaleke. In fact, the allegation was that the appointment was part of the “Anambranisation” of the Catholic Church in the South East; of which Francis Cardinal Arinze was fingered as the man pulling the strings from the Vatican.
It is indeed instructive that the controversy which started on December 7 last year when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI appointed Okpaeleke to replace the late Bishop Victor Chikwe will just not go away. When all efforts by the Catholic Church now under Pope Francis to convince the Diocese to accept Okpaeleke failed, and apparently unwilling to bend to the demand to appoint an Mbaise man to the office, the Catholic Church on Tuesday performed the consecration of Okpaleke as the Bishop of Ahiara not in Mbaise but rather at the Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary, Owerri, the Imo State capital. The challenge now is how the new Bishop will access his Diocese without violence.
As I reflected on this issue yesterday, I considered it most fitting that such controversy would reach a climax on the day the remains of literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, arrived Nigeria on the last lap of his earthly journey. Because this was a central thesis in his first, and globally celebrated novel, Things Fall Apart which explored how the advent of Christianity aided the decline and eventual disintegration of the traditional Igbo society.
I need to state at this point that the essence of this piece is not about the late 19th century Igbo society as captured in Achebe’s novel. Of particular interest to me is the fact that the late literary icon could have been speaking to the condition of any of the pre-colonial communities and peoples within the continent in Things Fall Apart. With an uncommon power of imagination, especially given the age he wrote the book, Achebe was able to use his own immediate environment and culture to lay bare the contradictions foisted on us by those who brought us “civilisation”, using their religious beliefs which nonetheless did not stop them from exploiting our differences to conquer us. It is then little wonder that we are in perpetual conflict as a result of the faiths that are different from those professed by our forefathers.
It may also be necessary here to reaffirm my spiritual conviction as a Christian who believes in the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ and even when I am not a Catholic, I hope the Church will realize that force cannot resolve the crisis in the Mbaise diocese. Whatever anybody may feel, the appointment of a “non-indigene” Bishop has become a serious emotional issue for a great majority of Mbaise Catholic members that will require great wisdom to resolve and I hope the leadership of the Church will work in that direction. Fortunately, from the intervention by Mr Peter Claver Oparah, himself a Catholic member who hails from Mbaise, there are several moderating voices who still believe there can be an amicable resolution of the crisis. But the lesson from it is that no matter the pretensions about religion being all about spirituality, there is a political side to which its management (or manipulation as the case may be) could pose a serious hindrance to peace and development in any society.
However, what is clear from the crisis is that in the absence of the myths and customs that held most of our societies together in the past, we are now very vulnerable to all manner of divisive tendencies as Achebe made clear in Things Fall Apart. He was able to show clearly that in Africa we had customs and traditions which were founded on the virtues of egalitarianism, equity and justice. These mores were useful both for rewards and for sanctions and they were very effective, especially in dealing with deviant behaviours.
Incidentally, in using Things Fall Apart to dissect the ethical challenge confronting our nation today in his most recent piece titled, “Which gods must be appeased?”, Professor Okey Ndibe x-rayed Okonkwo’s Umuofia community against the background of what was before, during and after the colonial conquest. From Ndibe’s profound thesis which I recommend for any student of Nigerian politics, it is easy for us to understand the nexus between leadership failure and the structural defects that plague our nation today, based essentially on the foundation erected by our colonial masters. But that is also the enduring message in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
While using the central character Okonkwo to bring home the tragedies and the conflicts that often arise when tradition clashes with change, Achebe was able to demonstrate also that when you supplant the culture of a people in the process, what you end up with is a caricature of a system that cannot endure. The British understood (the past tense is deliberate) that religion inspires in people a unity of purpose and a common belief in what is divine and right conduct. And they used that to build the social fabrics of our society after subjugating the ancient gods and their values to our society.
Here again, a reaffirmation: I believe in the Christian faith I profess which was brought by the colonialists but I question the altruism of those messengers, in the light of our heritage and experience. Because, whether we want to admit it or not, religion also helped to serve their political and economic ends. While it is not my intention to go into any esoteric discussion on faith for which I am not even competent, it is an indisputable fact that there is hardly any major crisis in our country today whose root cannot be traced to our two major religions. Rather than serve as instruments of peace and development, religion is now deployed to rationalize, even justify, some of the perversions we see in our society-- from corruption to violent blood-letting. The moral: as much as religion contributes to the good of a society, it can also be a destabilizing factor, especially when adherents take laws into their own hands in the name of God.
Given the foregoing , it is not too difficult to understand why the story in Things Fall Apart resonates. The point is that like most other of Achebe’s works, it has turned out to be prophetic in so many ways. What Achebe did in the narrative was to place it on record that before the advent of the Europeans, we had our cultures, our history, our religions. And that the manner in which we allowed those values to be displaced and replaced would have far reaching consequences. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
In flowing prose laced with wisdom of the ancients, Achebe wove together a remarkable drama of existence and accomplished for us, with a simple story, what many history books about the continent have not been able to do. He brought home in vivid images the stark reality of a people deprived, but who are made to believe that their deprivation was an enhancement of their being. He revealed the contradictions inherent in a religious and political tradition that pretends that evil is good simply because it serves the purposes of the stronger man. And it is essentially because Achebe spoke such wisdom that his name will remain immortal through the ages. While his body will be laid to rest today in his native Ogidi town in Anambra State, the essential Albert Chinualumogu Achebe lives on…in our present and even future experiences. To my friend, Dr. Ike Achebe and other members of the family, I pray God’s fortitude for a time like this.

Gamaliel Onosode @ 80

Sometime in 2002 or thereabout, the Gateway Bank (now defunct), as part of its corporate social responsibility decided to intervene in our tertiary education by promoting an inter-university essay competition. Towards this end, the bank set up a five-member governing board comprising Mr Gamaliel Onosode, Prince Julius Adeluyi-Adelusi, Senator (Mrs) Eme Ekaette, Alhaji Abadulrahman Abubakar and this reporter.
With the organization of the entire process left to the governing board by the Managing Director, Mr S. O. Olatunji, the five of us held several meetings at the headquarters of the bank in Lagos and that afforded me an opportunity to work closely with Mr. Onosode who chaired the board. He was always the first to arrive at meetings which he conducted with uncommon attention to details. He was also very meticulous in dealing with the issues and being old enough to be my father, even while we were on the same committee, he took it upon himself to teach me lessons in discipline whenever I came late to meetings. My interactions with him made me to understand that in life, some little things do make significant difference.
Mr. Onosode has shown in words and deeds over several decades not only that integrity matters but also that it pays as it has done for him in the manner in which corporate organizations compete with each other to have him on their boards. It is therefore no surprise that even at 80, he is still very much active and relevant in the public arena. Without any doubt, Mr. Onosode deserves all the accolades that have been coming his way as I join millions of Nigerians in wishing him a happy birthday and many more years of service to our country


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