By Damola Awoyokun

We should pay closer attention to the debate between Fr Hassan Kukah and Dr Ebenezer Obadare. It represents much more than even the participants seems to realise. While Kukah sees Obadare’s complaints as mere “contribution to knowledge and in which case, there would really have been no need to do a rejoinder,” it is no exaggeration to say, the debate is the soul of the nation struggling to free itself from grip of sinister darkness that masquerades as light of truth. There is no instrument more cogent, more effective in enslaving Nigerians than religion and God-talk. Today, when armed robbers want to rob a bank, they call prayer meeting. When Yar Adua’s minders wanted to sell the ruse of his sickness in Saudi Arabia, they asked us to pray hard for him in order to distract us from the fact that they had kidnapped the instruments of presidency so that no one else could claim power. And for two months daily prayers flowed from National Assembly to every church and mosque. And we that dared to criticise the sick man as another Mugabe hanging onto power at all cost were made to feel heartless.

When Obasanjo sacked mercilessly the village of Odi, he went to Holy Ghost Night in Lagos, seized the microphone and started preaching and singing which prompted many to confirm that he is indeed a man of God. When Idris Kuta report indicted Senate President Chuba Okadigbo and some other senators, in the spirit godliness, the Senators hugged and forgave themselves ‘as Jesus Christ requests’ and N650million fraud buried. When Adedibu, the alaafin of amala politics was asked why he set fiery thugs on Oyo house of assembly and unseated Gov Ladoja, he answered, God is almighty. When pressed further, he said God’s ways are incomprehensible to man.

Why do our politicians think we will tolerate their stupidities no matter what? Because they know we are very religious. Religion is an arena of victims. It is the place where God’s will is seen to direct everything hence taking responsibility for one’s actions and its consequent moral anxieties are conveniently placed in abeyance. It is a place where for social change to occur, people are told prayer is the key not collective action. All these to the politician show Nigerians don’t want to be feared.

Fr Kukah occupies a curious position. He is a man of God and of intellect. In 2005 while I was still in Farafina, he was voted one of the top ten public intellectuals along with Rueben Abati, Odia Ofeimun and the former Segun Adeniyi by the online magazine. In him dwells the irreconcilable tension between detailed realism of logical reasoning and abstractions of divine beliefs.

In his piece The Patience of Jonathan(The Guardian, May 13), Kukah gives a superstitious overview of the president’s political career. He sees something sufficiently miraculous that justifies beatification in Jonathan’s rise from deputy governor to president of the federal republic in just a dozen years. Ebenezer Obadare in The Impatience of Fr Kukah(The Guardian, May 31)  brings the man of God back to earth insisting: “Jonathan is the beneficiary of a swindle imposed upon the generality of Nigerians by former President Obasanjo and the inner caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party.” But to Kukah, this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in his sight. If someone is searching for why as one of the most corrupt nation on the planet, we are also the most religious, that account of Kukah is where to begin.

Besides incorrectly accusing Obadare of foisting on him questions he never asked, Kukah’s reply, Still on the Patience of Jonathan(The Guardian, June 2)  is even more baffling. He says: ‘what God has done through Dr. Jonathan is indicative of how strange and incomprehensible God’s ways are, how gratuitous and extraordinary His love and choices are.’ But Obadare chooses not be distracted. In his next reply Between Faith and Reason(The Guardian, June 7), he sustains his critique of the superstitious branch of Kukah: How can we as Kukah says: ‘“marvel at how a generous God could take a man with no famous address, no pedigree, no godfathers, no money, in a convoluted environment like ours where money and connections have tended to define access to power, and place him in the highest pinnacle of power at no cost.” This account of President Jonathan is exactly what I challenged in my original rejoinder.’ Obadare says.

When Abacha graciously expired on his bed, the Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement that God has answered their daily prayers for Nigeria in distress. My question then was: is God then endorsing prostitution as a valid instrument of regime change? But such is the ridiculous depths that God-talk leads to when held under reason’s scrutiny. Kukah said he had not argued Jonathan was going to be a good president but he will never be able to answer Obadare’s main charge: how and why is President Jonathan’s ‘rise’ an act of God? Is this not a nod towards the anachronistic and discredited divine rights of kings? A public intellectual’s imperative is not only to always analyse, clarify and make it difficult for people to believe lies and concoctions, but to also embody and defend a higher standard of mental life and refuse to be an accomplice to mystifications. Rather, Kukah says he wrote his ‘reflections as a priest and a believer in the power of God.’

But what exactly is the subtext of Kukah’s rush to beatify the emergence of President Jonathan? It is again another national malaise. We see leadership as a call to a life of privilege and authority more than a position of service and responsibility. Many of the leadership trainings in every church or office all around the country have nothing to do with people’s love for service or responsibility or the desire to see things get better. It is about the prestige of the office, the respect, the adulation, the indulgences and wealth associated with the office of a leader. That is why Kukah rushed indecently to beatify Jonathan and even hinting that he should run for another four years despite the fact that for twelve years from being a deputy governor to a president there is little to show that Jonathan has set himself apart as a dedicated lover of service and responsibilities. It comes as no surprise that the President recently awarded himself the highest title in the land. While Kukah did the divine beatification, the council of state did the earthly one. And the man’s achievement? Zero.

The more we are entangled in God-talk, the more we proscribe real thought and intelligent action; the more we strengthen the religious industry and their naira-based theology. Over 100 millions prayers are offered for Nigeria every day. Billions of naira are donated as tithes every month. Imagine 100 million people marching on Abuja. Imagine putting all the time, wealth, and energies we put in the churches into a social action for just a month, imagine what will happen to Nigeria. See what happened when the women movements stood up to Deji of Akure? When Belinsky, the father of Russian criticism first read Hegel, he became convinced that “what is, is what ought to be,” he turned a supporter of Russian autocracy. But when it was shown to him that Hegel’s thought contains the contrary tendency, that dialectically the “is” evolves into a different form, he became a pragmatic revolutionary. Like the soul of the nation, Kukah should do a Belinsky and solve his unacknowledged dilemma. It is not now when our politicians all over the country think we are more stupid that he, a strong voice of civil society, should allow the inquisitive energies of his intelligence to go to sleep.

Damola Awoyokun is a writer and essayist.