By Kayode Ketefe
It was with utmost pleasure that I welcomed the news that the traditional worshipers in Nigeria had protested against their exclusion by the Federal Government from the forthcoming national conference.
It was reported that a former Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Wande Abimbola and the National Coordinator of Oodua Peoples’ Congress, Otunba Gani Adams, were among the notable voices that made strident call on the Federal Government to promptly rectify this anomalous exclusion.
Furthermore, the President of International Council for Ifa (African) Religion and Dean, School of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Federal University of Technology, Akure, Prof. Idowu Odeyemi, was said to have addressed a press conference to sensitise the government to the unconstitutionality of excluding such a large chunk of religious stakeholders.
Odeyemi, who claimed to have obtained the consent of Abimbola and over 200,000 practitioners of ATR in Nigeria, called on government to promptly allocate at least three slots to the practitioners of African religion.
But why the omission in the first place? It was obviously an emanation of our discriminatory mentality against the traditional religion. To say such discrimination is not only unfair but also baseless is to state the obvious.
It was the traditional religion that spawned the Yoruba concept of “Omoluabi” which is one of the strongest behavioural social ethics in the world. To call somebody “Omoluabi” in Yoruba land in those days was the pinnacle of positive ethical ascription; it means the person was an embodiment of moral perfection.
On the contrary, people swear today with the both the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran and still tell lies glibly without batting an eyelid. Anybody who is well-acquainted with proceedings in our courts of law would attest to the fact that many witnesses have been caught lying on such oaths!
Moreover, most of the politicians who are stealing our money without compunction are mostly adherents of the two modern and enlightened faiths of Christianity and Islam, yet they feel unrestrained in defying the moral injunctions of their religions.
Conversely, when the traditional faiths held sway in Yoruba land, for instance, sellers would leave their merchandise on the roads and signify the price and unit for sale with coded language conveyed by pieces of stick or even cowries (which was a legal tender then) Prospective buyers, who were the adherents of Ogun, Sango, Oya, Obatala, etc, would be so conscientious and God-fearing that they would appropriate the correct quantity of goods for the indicated price, and dutifully placed the money by the bulk of the goods.
Entire stocks of goods had been known to be sold in absentia like this by the sellers who would only return to start counting the mound of money!
That is a virtue of commercial honesty exhibited by the so-called people of primitive religions.
To me, my enemy is not the worshipper who anoints his sigidi with palm oil in the corner of his room and directs his benedictions to Olodumare through the agency of Obatala.
My enemy is not the woman who consults Ifa oracle for divine guidance before starting any new project, rather my enemy is the Pastor who is entrusted with public office who mismanages it for self aggrandisement; my enemy is the Imam who loots the public treasury dry!
I myself am not a traditional religionist but a Christian, though a skeptical one who queries every doctrine that I am uncomfortable with. May be my pastor would excommunicate me this time around for daring to speak up in favour of these “heathen” traditionalists.
Why should a son of light be the advocate of “people of darkness?” But the principle of fairness, equity and fair play embedded in the more sophisticated and popular religions also imply that those belonging to other faiths should be treated fairly.
The 1999 Constitution states that Nigeria shall not adopt any religion as state’s religion. Furthermore, the constitution forbids all kinds of discrimination on the basis of religion et al.
The interpretation of these is to the effect that all religions including the traditional one should be treated fairly, impartially, equitably and respectably. It is therefore very difficult to justify our government’s persistent failure or conspiratorial refusal to recognise the traditional religion.
In the instant case, six “Muslim” leaders and six “Christian” leaders, (each representing each of the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria), were invited to the conference without a single slot given to nor even the vaguest mention made of the adherents of the traditional faith.
Whether we like it or not, the traditional religionists are also stakeholders in the Nigerian project and their views also matter if we are really contemplating a genuine national conference that would give birth to a people’s constitution. Nigeria belongs to all of us.
Happily, this anomaly can still be corrected, but what is more important is for us to officially imbibe the permanent policy of all-inclusiveness in our treatment of religious stakeholders.
We cannot call ourselves truly civilised if we are intolerant of the views of others different from us in their religious, political, or ideological convictions.
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