Richard Adeyinka Emmanuel
Inaugural Lectures are a significant occasion in a university calendar. It is the joy of every university professor to one day present an inaugural lecture to his/her university community. It is usually a moment of pride and immense joy.
As some Christians are up in arms over the choice of Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu as APC’s presidential candidate and Senator Kashim Shettima as running mate, I went in search of some old and not so old Inaugural Lecturers on religion, especially Christianity. Those Inaugural Lecture are classic in definition.
To set the record straight, I am a Christian. In fact, I was born in a C.A.C Church during “Isoji”. So I am not here to rubbish any religion, especially Christianity, to which my household belongs. However, I am of the opinion that if we are to have a country of our dream, the religious background of those who are leading us or intend to lead us should not matter.
To grow the economy and tackle insecurity will not depend on how many chapters of the Bible and the Quran the leaders can read. Considering Constitutional provisions, what can a Christian Vice President do to stop a President who wants to Islamise or Christianise Nigeria?
Let us return to the thinking of our scholars in religious studies.
I will start from the heading. A part of it is not mine. Quoting Professor J. K. Ayantayo, Professor Bolaji Idowu announced the “Obituary of God” with his 1976’s Inaugural Lecture at the University of Ibadan. His studies of many years may have revealed to him that the then Christians have “killed” God through their conducts. He simply called the attention of the world to it on February 1976.
Professor Bolaji Idowu himself was elected President of the Methodist Church. He was not just a scholar, he was a scholar theologian who contributed immensely to both academic field of Religious Studies and Methodist Church in Nigeria and around the world.
As a Christian leader, he researched extensively into African Traditional Religion so he could have a grasp of “other” religion which is the religion of his forebears in Yorubaland. In one of his studies, the Distinguished Professor declared, “African Traditional Religions are complete, self-sufficient and adequate for the Africans.” He was brave enough to say it even if it will contradict his Christian belief.
But that was when religious leaders combined scholarship with God’s calling. Bishop Mathew Hasan Kukah epitomises this in today’s Nigeria. Bolaji Idowu’s era preceded CAN. They practised a different Christianity. They are different from 10% Christian leaders who cause troubles and instigate conflicts in Nigeria especially.
Distinguished Professor Bolaji Idowu was not alone.
As we have him from Methodist Church so also we have Professor Dapo Asaju, the Bishop Theologian of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and the former Vice Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University. Professor Idowu did not witness much of the craze among Christians in today’s Nigeria. He died in 1993. But Professor Dapo Asaju saw it. He still sees it. When he delivered the 18th 2005 Inaugural Lecture of LASU, he titled it “RE-ENTHRONING THEOLOGY AS QUEEN OF SCIENCES: GLOBAL MISSIOLOGICAL CHALLENGES OF AFRICAN BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS.
He wondered the kind of Christians we have today and their leaders. He argued:
“The paradigm-shift from mission-Christianity to Pentecostalism may have its advantages, such as reawakening of Christian self-empowerment personally and economically, but it must not be carried too far to produce a fake Christianity devoid of the cross, a life of power-demonstration to the utter detriment of character-building.
Christianity today, especially in the Nigerian context, operates like a supermarket where buyers enter into the Pentecostal mall, and carefully observe the competing wares on display and pick a number of items of their choice.”
He continued, “Christian shopper in the mall could patronize various churches: He goes to the Catholic Church to fulfill traditional liturgical worship, to the Anglican Church for his wedding, to the Deeper Life Bible Church for a dose of holiness teaching, to Apostolic Faith for classical church music, to Winners Chapel for prosperity, to Christ Embassy for healing, to Cherubim and Seraphim Church for prophecy, to Celestial Church for ritual cleansing, to Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries for prayer and deliverance from real and imaginary enemies and is at the Redeemed Church’s Holy Ghost Night for teaching, words of knowledge and miracles, etc.
This prevailing culture tends towards denominational syncretism.”
I will call it Asewo Christianity, creating and fighting imaginary enemies without evidence everywhere including the political arena.
This led Professor Samuel Oyinloye Abogunrin to title his Inaugural Lecture of 1998 “In search of original Jesus”. I will interpret it to mean that perhaps, the old Jesus may have been “killed” by the later day Christian leaders. Professor Deji Ayegbonyin also delivered his own along this line.
Their general conduct, the conflict they fuel and the current brand of Christianity led Professor Jacob Ayantayo to title his own Inaugural Lecture “RESCUING GOD FROM HIS ABDUCTORS” in 2018. For him, God has been abducted. He mentioned the names of the abductors as follow:
1. Religious functionaries and religious followers
2. Western researchers
3. Contemporary academics
4. Religious fundamentalists/radicalists
With Professor Ayantayo’s kind permission, I will like to include those who are heating up the Nigeria’s political space with their noise of Muslim-Muslim ticket, regardless of their religious leaning, as part of God’s abductors.
With particular reference to religious functionaries, Professor Ayantayo said:
“Religious leaders comprising principal and subsidiary religious functionaries such as priests, priestesses, Reverends, Imams, Sheikhs, Amirs, Pastors, Prophets and many other sectarian leaders with their priesthood titles as well as their followers across the three major religions in Nigeria (Traditional Religion, Christianity, and Islam) abduct God through a process known as a truth claim, which is a proposition or statement that a particular person or belief system holds to be true.”
He calls the factor responsible for this abduction as “Religious Ignorance.” He argued further that in today’s Christianity, “having abducted God and restricted believers in that God from looking elsewhere, the religious leaders engage in some activities that look like ransom taking. This is what we label as commercialisation of religion.”
Let me add by saying that not only have the religious leaders abducted God, they have hijacked people’s senses and sensibility in Nigeria through fear factors. Professor Ayantayo concluded by echoing the Mind of God through Rumi’s (1898: 125) essay:
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabr, nor Muslim
I am not of the East, nor of the West, not of the land, nor of the sea
I am not of Nature’s mint, nor of the circling heavens
I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire
I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin
I am not of the Kingdom of Iraq, nor of the country of Khorasan
I am not of this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise nor of Hell
I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and nor of Rizwan
My place is Placeless, my trace is Traceless
It is neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved
I have put duality away
I have seen that the two worlds are one
One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call
I will conclude by quoting Buoda Majek (my American returnee egbon): Whether a man goes to Arctic, Antarctic, Atlantic or Pacific, the most important thing is to swim. In other word, whether it is Muslim-Muslim candidates or Christian-Christian candidates or Babalawo-Babalawo candidates, the most important thing is to build a Nigeria that works for all.
Adeyinka, a Policy and Research Analyst, writes from Lagos
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