By Azuka Onwuka
The biggest country in Africa that the United Kingdom colonized is Nigeria. The biggest country that the United Kingdom colonized in Asia is India (which then comprised the present Pakistan and Bangladesh).
When the UK came into Nigeria and India, like all other countries they colonized, they brought along their technology, religion (Christianity), and culture: names, dressing, food, language, etc. Try as hard as the British did, India rejected the British religion, names, dressing, food, and even language, but they did not reject the British technology. Today, 80.5 per cent of Indians are Hindus; 13.4 per cent Muslims; 2.3 per cent Christians; 1.9 per cent Sikhs; 0.8 per cent Buddhists, etc. Hindi is the official language of the government of India, but English is used extensively in business and administration and has the status of a “subsidiary official language.” It is rare to find an Indian with an English name or dressed in suit.
On the other hand, Nigeria embraced, to a large extent, the British religion, British culture – names, dressing, foods, and language – but rejected the British technology. The difference between the Nigerian and the Indian experiences is that while India is proud of its heritage, Nigeria takes little pride in its heritage, a situation that has affected the nationalism of Nigerians and our development as a nation.
Before the advent of Christianity, the Arabs had brought Islam into Nigeria through the North. Islam also wiped away much of the culture of Northern Nigeria. Today, the North has only Sharia Courts but no Customary Courts. So from the North to the South of Nigeria, the Western World and the Eastern World have shaped our lives to be like theirs and we have lost much or all of our identity.
Long after the British and Arabs left Nigeria, Nigeria has waxed strong in religion to the extent that Nigerians now set up religious branches of their home-grown churches in Europe, the Americas, Asia and other African countries. Just like the Whites brought the gospel to us, Nigerians now take the gospel back to the Whites. In Islam, we are also very vibrant to the extent that if there is a blasphemous comment against Islam in Denmark or the US, even if there is no violent reaction in Saudi Arabia – the Islamic headquarters of the world – there will be loss of lives and destruction of property in Nigeria. If the United Arab Emirates, a country with 75 per cent Muslims, is erecting the tallest building in the world and encouraging the world to come and invest in its country by providing a friendly environment, Boko Haram ensures that the economy of the North (and by extension that of Nigeria) is crippled with bombs and bullets unless every Nigerian converts to Boko Haram’s brand of Islam. We are indeed a very religious people.
Meanwhile, while we are building the biggest churches and mosques, the Indians, South Africans, Chinese, Europeans and Americans have taken over our key markets: telecoms, satellite TV, multinationals, banking, oil and gas, automobile, aviation, shopping malls, hospitality, etc.
Ironically, despite our exploits in religion, we are a people with little godliness, a people without scruples. It is rare to do business with a Nigerian pastor, deacon, knight, elder, Brother, Sister, imam, mullah, mallam, alhaji or alhaja without the person laying landmines of bribes and deception on your path. We call it PR, facilitation fee, processing fee, transport money, financial engineering, deal, or whatever. But if it does not change hands, nothing gets done. And when it is amassed, we say it is “God’s blessings.” Some people assume that sleaze is a problem of public functionaries, but the private sector seems to be worse than the public sector these days.
One would have assumed that the more churches and mosques that spring up in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, the higher the morals in our society. But it is not so. The situation is that the more religious we get, the baser we become. Our land never knew the type of bloodshed experienced from religious extremists, political desperadoes, ritual killers, armed robbers, kidnappers, internet scammers, university cultists, and lynch mobs. Life has become so cheap and brutish that everyday seems to be a bonanza.
We import the petroleum that we have in abundance, rice and beans that our land can produce in abundance, and even toothpicks that primary school children can produce with little or no effort. Yet we drive the best of cars and live in the best of edifices, visit the best places in the world for holidays and use the most expensive electronic and telecoms gadgets. It is now a sign of poverty for a Nigerian to ride a saloon car. Four-wheel drive is it!
Even government officials, who were known to use only Peugeot cars as official cars as a sign of modesty, have upgraded to Toyota Prado, without any iota of shame, in a country where about 70 per cent live below poverty. Private jets have become as common as cars. A nation that imports toothpicks and pins flaunts wealth and wallows in ostentation at a time its children are trooping to Ghana, South Africa and the UK for university education and its sick people are running to India for treatment.
India produces automobile and exports it to the world. India’s medical care is second to none, with even Americans and Europeans travelling to the country for medical treatment. India has joined the nuclear powers. India has launched a successful mission to the moon. Yet bicycles and tricycles are common sights in India. But in Nigeria, only the wretched of the earth ride bicycles.
I have intentionally chosen to compare Nigeria with India rather than China, South Korea, Brazil, Malaysia, or Singapore, because of the similarities between India and Nigeria. But these countries were not as promising as Nigeria at the time of our independence.
Some would say that our undoing is our size: the 2012 United Nations estimate puts Nigeria’s population at 166,000 million, while India has a population of 1.2 billion. Some would blame it on the multiplicity of ethnic groups: we have 250 ethnic groups; India has more than two thousand ethnic groups. Some would hang it on the diversity in religion: we have two major religions – Christianity and Islam; but India has many. Some would say it is because we are young as an independent nation: we have 52 years of independence; India has 65 years, while apartheid ended in South Africa only in 1994.
I am a Christian, and nothing can change me from Christianity. But I think that our country is daily sinking into religiosity to the detriment of godliness. Our land is sick and needs healing. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” is still a saying that is germane to our current situation. We need more godliness than religion; more work and less of hope; and more action and less of words.
Let everyone tidy up his or her corner first and demand fervently that our leaders tidy their areas of governance. Our nation is degenerating at a fast pace and we need to save it now.