Religion, Politics and the Growing Poverty Subculture, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
…can religious sensibilities clarify our thinking about poverty when Muslim and Christian clerics have taken control of the minds and pockets of Nigerians? No! Nigerians are fighting the fires of disease, insecurity, hunger and early death due to widespread and escalating poverty, propelled by the lack of vision and greed.
Religion in Nigeria and indeed the African continent has united those who want political power and a life of luxury. It has been appropriated as a tool for accumulating wealth, fame and politically balancing fear. By preaching the gospel to the Christians and radicalism to the Muslims, the pastorpreneurs and mullahs have hoodwinked people into believing, instead of knowing and wanting what is unknown, instead of what is known. According to the World Bank, Nigeria has one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, averaging 7.4 percent and poverty rate at 33.1 percent. In addition, Nigeria ranks high as a favourite destination for religious tourism in the world. These statistics are dubious distinctions. They are no good.
Oscar Lewis, in his landmark study on the poverty subculture, wrote that, “People with a culture of poverty have very little sense of history. They are a marginal people who know only their own troubles, their own local conditions, their own neighbourhood, their own way of life.” While not absolving the poor of certain attitudes that promote generational poverty, the Nigerian enterprise grooms poverty for a harder bite on its citizens because it fails at every turn to provide the structures for decent existence as human beings. Furthermore, the political elite seeks to obliterate the people’s sense of history and civic responsibility. More than ever before and for the reasons mentioned aboved, the cycle of poverty in Nigeria continues to widen. A third of the population is mirred in extreme poverty, sustained by a conjunction of political and religious circumstances that is totally orchestrated. An orchestration defined by the bilateral cooperation between clerics, who device new marketing strategies to indoctrinate and fleece their congregants, and politicians, who steal primitively from the treasury, while imposing burdens of systemic poverty by socialising Nigerians into behaviours and attitudes that perpetuate their inability to escape poverty.
Given the wicked and oppressive socio-economic polity, one is forced to interrogate the political dividend that is derived from bad policies in education and skills acquisition that keeps the poor from working and escaping poverty by a set of barriers outside themselves. In like manner, can religious sensibilities clarify our thinking about poverty when Muslim and Christian clerics have taken control of the minds and pockets of Nigerians? No! Nigerians are fighting the fires of disease, insecurity, hunger and early death due to widespread and escalating poverty, propelled by the lack of vision and greed. In the North, most have succumbed to fatalism where the promise of paradise is embraced with resignation, along with the rejection of the frustrations and hardship of life here on earth; while the South is overtaken by rabid prosperity pentecostalism, where people surrender their reason, their pockets and souls to pastorpreneurs via special anointing and night vigils.
…instead of allowing policies to be determined by our religious sensibilities, thus polarising the country. We can create equal access and opportunity by creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, and bridging the inequality gap through production and effective taxation to redistribute wealth.
One may argue that government policy and religious matters in a secular state are not the same. That is a valid argument, but do not they exist in isolation? Both domains coexist and are interwoven. For example, religion can be a force for good when there is concern for economic need, equality and respect for the agency and autonomy of the poor in policies geared towards growth, development and poverty reduction. Instead of exploiting religion for political reasons, policy positions can and should be informed and enriched by our religious sensibilities, instead of allowing policies to be determined by our religious sensibilities, thus polarising the country. We can create equal access and opportunity by creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, and bridging the inequality gap through production and effective taxation to redistribute wealth.
Do the poor know their position in the scheme of things? How I wish they understands the power of their vote because the poor vote proportionally more than the rich, with higher voter turnouts in rural areas than in cities. The marginalised poor across Nigeria voted for Buhari’s message of change because they have higher expectations of the state than the rest of the population. Two years into the administration, they have sunk deeper into want and hardship. Their faith in the democratic process from their expectations of fair opportunities and elimination of barriers to social mobility seem misplaced. The politicians keep catering to themselves, as illustrated by the budget they passed recently. There wasn’t any sense of urgency in their resource allocation to themselves, relative to the astounding youth bulge and poverty rate. Those we have elected to lead us, have no idea that poverty reduction is not just an economic imperative but a political necessity.
Dear reader, when next you go to church or your mosque to fast and pray to God to touch the heart of your governor so he can pay your salary, know that your governor is happy that you are robotic thinkers waiting for command and control. Officially, religion is now a tool for political and economic dominance. When you buy annointing oil, holy water, wrist bands and handkerchiefs for God’s protection, ask yourself why does your pastor have security guards, close circuit cameras and an electric fence at his home. Why is he protected by human beings and technology and he sells God’s protection to you? Why are the children of your elected representatives in good schools abroad, while you can’t get decent education? Think about it!
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