Nigeria: Religious interference in Education and a flimsy future

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In recent years, a closer look at the Nigerian tertiary institutions reveals a worrisome skew from the epicentrum of scholarly life. Religious groups (both Christian and Islamic) have mostly filled the emblematic and substantial spaces vacated by civil intellectual, scholarly and erudite organizations. The ideology: ‘Students-as-quaestors-after-knowledge’ has been replaced by ‘Students-as-religious-disciples.’

Along with the degradation of infrastructure is the obvious decline of spaces once occupied by intellectually pulsating and politically incisive student bodies. Every nook and cranny on the campuses across the country is now a battle-field for inter-religious struggle between Christianity and Islam. What now fill up the academic notice boards on campuses are flyer messages announcing: Only Jesus can save; accept Islam and be saved; this campus is for Christ; die not except as a Muslim; and Islam, the only way to Paradise.

Academic experts say a moderate exhibition of everything is what is required within an educational institution, but in Nigeria today, academia is infected with the fiddle-faddles of a religion transported from eastern and western cultures and which has become the ‘opium of the masses’ and one can only wonder where that leads the Nigerian students who should be striving for mental emancipation rather than further promoting a religionization of the academic environs in Nigeria. Religious cultures transported

According to written records, the countrywide flourish of charismatic religious vehemence on campuses began in the late ’70s, when the Pentecostal revolution swept into modern Nigeria. According to Ebenezer Obadere’s report on the rise of Nigeria’s students zealots, the evolving interdenominational student groups of the 1970’s were sociable, if not exactly inviting, and for the most part were regarded as merely another aspect of a lively campus culture. But since the early ’80s, so-called born-again students and faithful Muslim students have sought to cultivate a specific identity as worshippers, one which contradicts the notion that they are first and foremost, students exercising their right to research ideas, test hypothesis and build theories for the improvement of society and human lives.

This trend of religious gusto has misplaced the priorities of the essence of education among Nigerian academia. Prior to the Pentecostal revolution in Nigerian universities, University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsuka and Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, among other universities in the country had instituted intercontinental reputations as resounding scholarly environs, credible and worthy of inspiring societal growth.

Influencing factor?

Economically, the majority of 130 million Nigerians impoverished by unemployment, unresponsive and repressive governments, lack of basic social infrastructure and amenities, marginalization and rising inflation, have clung to the church as the last refuge, while basically throwing their energies behind the precepts of tithes and offerings for manner to fall from heaven. Religion’s promise of prosperity has greatly influenced the mental psychology of the masses. The quest for a divine intervention in the dire situation of most Nigerians has also led to the increasing influence of an array of spiritual advisers who have become part and parcel of official structures of power across the country, creating a select theocratic class with direct phone lines to the corridors of state power.

While the poor and oppressed run after them (pastors and imams) seeking deliverance from the spirits of poverty and deprivation, the rich and powerful go after these pastors for spiritual protection from alleged enemies who, they are convinced, are lurking around with the aim of pulling them down. These spiritual leaders, meanwhile, often use the quoted biblical injunction that “givers never lack” as their priestly recompense and keep the givers hoping for heaven’s manner. According to critics, the fact that most pastors don’t ask the donors how they make the money they give, sums up the lucrative nature of the pastorial business. In a 2005 report by the BBC, the Pentecostal faith in Nigeria is described as a veritable goldmine, judging by the opulence of most of its pastors. “It is made even more attractive because incomes of churches are tax-exempt. Nearly all the churches are the private property of their pastors or founders and their immediate families,” the report indicated.

These often wealthy, elegant and usually bling pastors, who like to be called Men of God, organize crusades in camps and university campuses promising a host of miracles including passing examinations with flying colours among other miracles. Some university students have resorted to the promise of these miracles, instead of yearning for excellence in terms of knowledge to help address the country’s major scientific pitfalls, the age old economic quagmire due to gross mismanagement and, most of all, the growing fissure between the Islamic north and Christian south. Instead of using their assembly as a united student body to find ways of bridging the religious gap and bringing all Nigerians together, university students are learning to put to use the principles of separatism, while the future of Nigeria hangs on the edge.

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