RELIGION IS NOT A CIVIC KNOWLEDGE: THE FATIGUE OF CHRISTIANITY IN NIGERIA
ince my adult life I have always thought that the question of the form and content of teaching the two main religions, Christianity and Islam in Nigerian schools was long settled before the amalgamation in 1914 and especially, at independence in 1960. However, recent events have proved me wrong.
The newly published Education Curriculum by the Federal Government has grossly tampered with the ideals of Nigeria’s founding Fathers regarding the distinctness of the two religions, Christianity and Islam, the separate and equal treatment each one of them is supposed to receive in school curriculum.
In spite of all denials and counter denials, it is has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the new curriculum removed the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) in schools as a subject on its own right. It has also been proved that Nigerian government have not told the nation the whole truth about the new school curriculum; that is, on the accusations that the government have removed CRK as a distinct subject and merged it with Civic Education while Islamic and Arabic Studies are left intact as distinct subjects.
Following the new school curriculum, the Civic Education will be taught to students under a new subject title, “Religion and National Values.” In other words, there is no more in Nigerian school curriculum a subject title called ‘Christian Religious Studies.’
Secondly, and of particular significance for our argument, is the fact that the new school curriculum, in a different section created a space for the teaching of Arabic Islamic Studies paired with French as compulsory subjects, without making a corresponding availability of similar subjects for Christian students. What this means is that in the absence of corresponding subject, Christian students will have no alternative than to attend Arabic Islamic Studies class lesson. Moreover, since there are very few French teachers available in our secondary schools, it follows that Arabic Islamic subject is now tactically made compulsory in schools even for Christian students.
Furthermore, since only Muslim teachers are competent to handle the subject Arabic Islamic Studies, it follows that in no distant time, secondary schools in the whole of Nigeria will be flooded with Arab Muslim teachers.
As the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle, rightly noted, if a Christian student voluntarily goes to study Islamic Religious Knowledge, there is nothing bad in that some of us had done that before for better understanding or curiosity. However, where the student is tactically, forced into studying a religion other than his/her because the alternative subject does not have teacher to handle it or because the school curriculum discriminates against his/her religion, it is a great problem tending towards Islamizing the country.
Recently, in Kwara State, which has started to implement the discriminatory school curriculum, a Christian student in a secondary school had her body lacerated with cane by the Arabic teacher because the pupil refused to do Arabic Studies where a French teacher was not available and Christian Religious Knowledge, Hebrew or Greek were not part of the school curriculum.
Another example of dangerous consequences of the new school curriculum was the incident that happened in Delta State at the last Junior WAEC Exams. There was no CRK question paper in the last Junior WAEC in Delta State. The Federal Government, it was reported, did not permit it.
In the last Junior WAEC exams in Delta State, CRK appears only as questions in one of subjects and not as “Christian Religious Knowledge” exam paper. In other words, what the Nigerian government is doing is that it want to make CRK part of Civic education so that when you talk they will say no, CRK is not removed. Gradually, it will disappear even from the Civic education. In fact, the government is already implementing that in many states of the federation.
In some states, Christian students are told that if anyone wants to study law or any of such courses in the University, the person MUST choose Islamic and Arabic studies as subjects in secondary schools; that CRK would no longer be studied.
This is the reason why it is very necessary that Christian leaders and churches should insist and demand that CRK is returned pure and untainted as a distinct subject as it was in the old school curriculum. Just as they left Islamic and Arabic Studies, CRK should be left intact with qualified teachers employed to handle it.
Moreover, if they are teaching Islamic and Arabic history, cultures and tradition, Christian history, cultures and tradition should also be taught in schools. No one should think that Christianity doesn’t have all these. The danger is that if they remove CRK from school curriculum in primary and secondary schools, very soon CRK as a course of study will disappear in our universities. If that happens, of course, their next target will be to outlaw the existence of seminaries and similar academic institutions where Christian leaders and pastors are trained in Nigeria.
In spite of all the denials of government officials and their defenders, Nigeria is dangerously, moving towards total Islamization. This is a fact nobody should underestimate. It is a very dangerous development. But as was the case of old Sudan, it is going to be an effort in futility in Nigeria. In fact, if the Federal Government decides to go ahead with the implementation of the new school curriculum, the experience of the old Sudan will be a child’s play in Nigeria. Nobody should take Nigerian Christians for granted. We are Africans! Our culture is not Arabic.
Curiously, the authors of the new school curriculum did not even consider it expedient and necessary to include the teaching of African Traditional Religion (ATR) and culture as the primal religion and cultural background of our forebears. Since all of us claim to be Africans, whether a Christian and Muslim, how come it that the new Education Curriculum has no place for the teaching of African cultural values as a common denominator of all Africans. Rather, what one sees is a deliberate attempt to wound the religious sensibility of Africans who have embraced Christianity as their religion.
In other words, it could have been pardonable had it been that the new school curriculum was an attempt to situate and found our school educational matrix on African culture and values. From all intent and purpose, however, the new school curriculum aims at the recolonization of indigenous Africans of Nigeria into Arabic culture and Islam. One begins to wonder whether the authors of the new school curriculum were really of African origin or are they Arabs! Whose interest were they working for, Nigerian Africans or Arabs?
Moreover, looking at the way Christian Religious Studies has been suppressed and relegated to the background and grouped only as a Civic Education, one can only conclude that the authors of the new curriculum by that singular act want to tell us that Christianity is not a religion but a mere social or civic phenomenon. This is the crux of the matter.
Religion is NOT a Civic Education
In the book of Proverbs, it is said, “The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). Taking up the same topic, the author of Ecclesiasticus says, “The basis of wisdom is the fear of God” (Ecclesiasticus 1:14).
This means that religious knowledge and civic or national values as a science do not belong together. Religion as defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is, “belief in the existence of God, who created the universe and gave human beings a spiritual nature which continues to exist after death of the body.” It is “a particular system of faith and worship based on such belief: the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religions or practice of one’s religion.”
In other words, religion is about God and our worship of Him as our Creator and source of life both here and hereafter. Religion is about man’s relationship with the Creator. Religion belongs to spiritual order not social or civic. It is therefore, supernatural.
In other words, it is in the study of religious knowledge that the mystery of God and our worship of Him as Creator and Savior truly becomes clear to the adherents of the particular religion. Through the study of religious knowledge, the adherents of the particular religion become more aware and conscious of man’s divine origin and destiny. As a creature of God, man is created in the image and likeness of God.
The study of religious knowledge, therefore, helps one to find his ultimate vocation in God. This is the function of religious studies, which is totally different from that of civics, social or national values. Religious studies and Civic education are not the same subjects. They don’t belong together as discipline or subject.
Civics and social education are the state’s effort to educate its young citizens on the ideals of the society’s national values for the welfare of the state, and according to the whims and caprices of those at the corridors of power and the political class. It has nothing to do about God and things of God, which the study of religious knowledge covers.
Therefore, it is very necessary that as a nation-state, we avoid the mistake of mixing-up state affairs with religion in our school curriculum. Civics or social studies as national values are not supernatural reality but rather sociological and ideological perception of leaders of a particular state. The study of Religious Knowledge, on the other hand, refers to that aspect of reality, which is not subject to the conditions of creation or state, but is nevertheless necessary both to it and in view of it, while remaining beyond any sort of determination by creation or state.
Therefore, it is fundamentally wrong to view religion as a ‘Civic education or National values.’ Civic education or National values take their bearing from the social ideals of a particular nation-state or country, fruit of human ideologies – humans’ yearning for political or economic manipulations and aspirations.
The study of religious knowledge on the other hand, is about the existence of God in our lives and our worship of Him as our Creator and Source of life both here and hereafter. Religious knowledge as a science, studies religion as the soul of our being and existence and as the spiritual ferment of the world.
The basis of religion is not on natural or human ideologies, philosophy, civic or socio-national values. The basis of religion is on God and things of God. Although religion impinges on natural order and life of human beings on earth, the created reality, yet it does not take its bearing from there. Religion is of transcendental order, not civic.
In other words, by putting religion under ‘Civic education’, Nigerian government have superimposed national and social values over and above people’s belief in the existence of One-True God and worship of Him as our Creator and redeemer. They have replaced God with state and social values. This is the most dangerous aspect of the new curriculum, more dangerous than what used to be obtainable under communist regime.
Secondly, the new school curriculum aims at religious persecution of Christians in Nigeria. For example, in another section other than ‘Civic Education’, the curriculum went ahead to introduce Islamic Arabic Studies paired with French and made one of the two compulsory for the student. Perhaps, the authors of the new school curriculum by pairing Arabic Islamic Studies with French and not similar subject in CRK, simply wanted to deceive not only Nigerians, but also French people. They want to curry French sympathy and favor for the hidden agenda of total Islamization of Nigeria, which, no doubt is all the new school curriculum intends to promote.
The question is: if the authors of this new school curriculum want to tell us that they mean well for the entire nation, how come it that they paired Islamic Arabic Studies with French, instead of with Judeo-Christian Tradition, Christian history, Hebrew, Greek or Latin?
How is it that the authors of the new curriculum were quick to recognize the importance of Arabic studies and history for Muslim students, but fail to recognize the importance of similar courses in CRK for Christian students?
The Fatigue of Christianity in Nigeria Today
Rightly, the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have accused the authors of the controversial new school curriculum of having removed CRK from schools. It accuses the Nigerian government of promoting the study of Islamic and Arabic Studies while suppressing Christian Religious Knowledge.
CAN leadership also noted that the new school curriculum, in the so-called Civic Education, made caricature of Christianity, with the satanic topic: ‘Is Jesus the Son of God’? Other perceived dangers packaged in the new curriculum of education, according to the CAN leadership, is its discriminatory nature against Christian students in public schools.
For the CAN leadership, very disheartening, however, is the merging of CRK and IRC under Civic Education, which ridicules the importance of the two subjects, each on its own right as a distinct subject – their focus on teaching the fear of God, love for others and so on at a time like this in the life of our fragile nation.
In other words, the new school curriculum not only discriminates against the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge in Nigerian schools, but has tactically reduced it into a Civic issue. For the authors of the new school curriculum, Christianity, in the new dispensation, could be anything but religion. Only Islam is accorded its rightful place as a religion in the new school curriculum.
This is the bone, of contention! It is what I have called the fatigue of Christianity in Nigeria today.
The question remains, how did we degenerate to this level, knowing that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation-state, with sharp equal religious divide between Christians and Muslims, in population and geographical locations!
Nigeria is not the only country immersed in multi-religious and multi-ethnic reality. While most of the modern states that have similar problem, have resolved democratically theirs, Nigeria is still wallowing in wilderness of the medieval era.
With the new school curriculum, the Federal Government of Nigeria, instead of taking a leaf and learning from the way modern states, civilized countries with similar multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition such as ours, have resolved their problem, have once more failed the nation woefully.
Like the virus of ethnocentrism, everyone knows that religion is a very sensitive and explosive issue. In a country such as Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are equally and evenly distributed – the Christian South and Muslim North, mutual intra-religious suspicion and conflicts cannot, however, be ruled out.
Any modern nation-state with diversity of ethnic and religious citizens and interests will not be entirely without conflict. Conflicts indicate there are tensions in the society and they may be due to historical experiences of injustices, discrimination and misunderstanding. The nation-state itself should be able to intervene in such problematic situations, resolve conflicts and restore justice.
What is important is not to try to avoid conflicts, but to solve them in creative ways without allowing the eruption of violence. This effort has its background in the creation of trust and relationships among the parties involved. However, this can only come about through the effort of a determined selfless, inclusive leadership and government that is neutral to all the parties involved.
For this to happen, also, the nation-state needs to develop a creative constitution of true federalism as well as common laws and legal systems that are neutral to all ethnic and religions, operative in the country. Any act of favoritism of the state (constitution, legal system, laws, by-laws, etc.) to one ethnic or to a particular religion in a pluralistic society such as Nigeria, destroys the foundation of the nation-state itself.
We all know that there are manifestations of religious and ethnic culture, which we cannot condemn: belief in the existence of One-True God who is the Creator and Father of us all and worship of Him, religious teaching on peace and love of one another irrespective of our differences.
The state is obliged to protect people’s fundamental rights to freedom of religion and worship. The state must not muddle or infringe in the people’s rights and freedom of religion and worship. The rights of individuals and groups to belief and worship of God according to their religious persuasion and freedom of conscience are untouchable by any person, state or institution for that matter.
It is for all these reasons, religious freedom and worship are protected by international and national laws and conventions. No individual or state has any right to infringe on people’s freedom of religion and worship.
Similarly, the good qualities of ethnic manifestations are no less important, for example, peculiar habits of dress, food, language, music, etc. Many of these manifestations are positive and desirable and confer richness on our national culture.
However, as Chinua Achebe said in his celebrated small book, “The Trouble with Nigeria” (1983):
“But to prevent a citizen from living or working anywhere in his/her country, or from participating in the religious, social, political, economic life of the community in which he/she chooses to live is another matter altogether. Our constitution disallows it even though, like its makers, it manages to say and unsay on certain crucial issues.”
Prejudice against ‘outsider’ or ‘strangers’ is an attitude one finds everywhere. But no modern state can lend its support to such prejudice without undermining its own progress and civilization.
Moreover, it is a measure of self-delusion that we talk about “keeping Nigeria one is a task that must be kept”, yet the Nigerian state and all its institutions, practice, endorse and condone such habits as ethnic and religious discrimination, prejudice and bigotry in all facets of our public life and school education. Although Nigeria is still a young nation, yet one could have expected its ruling elites to imbibe a culture of religious and ethnic tolerance in its actions and inaction. That is, to show by example, that they mean to build a truly united nation-state that is home to all, irrespective of our ethnic and religious differences.
The state’s favoritism of a particular ethnic and religious group and discriminating against the other (ethnic and religious group), is a temptation Nigeria as a nation-state has not been able to overcome and address creatively and resolve. This original sin of Nigerian state calls for an urgent attention today more than ever.
In discussing further these issues in “The Trouble with Nigeria”, Achebe has the whole Nigeria as his audience. Achebe’s “The Trouble with Nigeria”, discussed the failure of leadership at the highest political echelon of the country as the trouble with Nigeria.
Achebe condemned corrupt leaders who promote mediocrity instead of hard work and excellence, and said that they are indeed, the trouble with Nigeria. Achebe in the book spoke against tribalism, lopsidedness and nepotism in Nigeria’s governance culture as the trouble with the country.
On ‘corruption’ as is being presently dramatized, Achebe made it abundantly clear that it is totally false to suggest that Nigerians are different fundamentally from any other people in the world:
“Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live makes corruption easy and profitable; they will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient” (“The Trouble with Nigeria” (1983, p. 38).
In other words, Nigeria’s problem is the system’s problem. One recalls that for these and other reasons, Achebe refused Nigeria’s national honors for two consecutive times, 2004 and 2011.
If Achebe is to be alive today, I am sure he would feel justified, as a prophet of our time, by his actions and words, and especially, by those things he said in “The Trouble with Nigeria” in 1983. Is Achebe to be alive today, there is no doubt that he would have, in his usual characteristic and boldness, reminded once more, those at the corridors of power and our political class, that they are the trouble with Nigeria, not the young people who are doing peaceful and non-violent demonstration in the streets for a better society. Is Achebe to be alive today, he would have told those in the corridors of power and political class that they are the trouble with Nigeria, NOT religion!
Religion and its twin-sister ethnicity have remained the greatest challenge to Nigerian leadership and in the emergence of Nigeria as a truly modern democratic, multi-religious and multi-cultural pluralistic society. Instead of managing them well to foster peaceful co-existence among different ethnic and religious groups in the country, the political class and those at the corridors of power have turned them into almost ‘weapons of mass-destruction’ in Nigeria, for their self-serving interest and political domination.
Religion, in particular, has become the political weapon of modern-day medieval dreamers of religious conquest in Nigeria.
There is no doubt that the new school curriculum is part of a ‘hegemonic secretive religious’ agenda to hijack the country for whatever motive. It is a weapon fashioned by a clannish and self-serving Nigeria’s political class and their region to force all of us into Islamic religion and culture through the satanic religious agenda packaged as a new ‘Education Curriculum.’
In my earlier write-up under the title, “Religion is NOT the Problem with Nigeria”, I stated vehemently, that the problem with Nigeria as a nation state is not religion: the problem with Nigeria is the system and its operators. The problem with Nigeria is: “the Islamic agenda being pursued by the North and Fulani herdsmen terrorism and not agitation for Biafra that put the death nail on Nigeria.”
For a good number of knowledgeable citizens, the Islamic agenda of the North is the bane of Nigerian state. In spite of all the denials, it is the spirit behind the controversial new Education Curriculum. This is why many right-thinking individuals, are beginning to view the new school curriculum as divisive document, one that will set the nation on fire.
The Nigerian government and political class must do everything in their power to revert to the former school curriculum where CRK and IRK were taught as distinct subjects in schools. The Nigerian government and political class should stop playing the role of enabler of religious conflicts and violence in the country.
The government and political class in Nigeria must avoid prompting-up such policies like the new school curriculum that are capable of igniting religious tension and conflicts in the country, in which nobody will be a winner! A stitch in time saves nine!
Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic priest. He lives in Rome, where he is professor of missiology (mission theology) in the Pontifical University.