A right step in the right direction, the Conference on “Religious Harmony in Nigeria: Towards the 2019 General Elections” was held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, between October 11 and 14, 2018. Convened by the President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, through their Interfaith Initiative for Peace (IIP), one thought occupied my mind as political and religious leaders took turns to address the conference, a mixed gathering of Muslim and Christian youth and leaders.

That thought, based on the emphasis placed on religion and expectations from religious leaders in the polity, was inspired in a sense by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi it was who identified “seven blunders” of the modern world, which he earlier referred to as “seven social sins” in an article he published in his “Young India” weekly newspaper of October 22, 1925.

According to Gandhi, in a thoughtful classification that has often been found apt in explaining the chronic contradictions that characterise our world today, these blunders are: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle. Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, added the eighth later, which he called “rights without responsibilities”.

Inspired by the dynamics of events in Nigeria as a microcosm of Africa and the world, I had reasons to add two more to the list, “democracy without decorum, courts without justice” in an article so captioned in the back page column of Newswatch newspaper on Friday, August 2, 2013 where reference was made to the blunders. The argument is that democracy is shorn of decorum as it is filled with hubris while the courts, the last hope of the common man, are fast becoming where justice is absent due to corruption.

On the occasion of the closing ceremony on Saturday, October 13, 2018, as President Muhammadu Buhari, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and other past Heads of State and current political, judicial and religious leaders passionately spoke after one another, it struck me that if Gandhi were to be alive, he would add that a major blunder of the modern world is “religion without righteousness.”

Come to think of it, we live in a highly religious world. Based on a study by the Pew Research Centre in 2015, as revealed by the Secretary-General of NSCIA and Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, in his 2016 Annual Lecture of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), “Utilising Religion for National Integration and Development” held on Thursday February 18, 2016 at Kwara State University, Kwara State, our world is religiously diverse.

According to the study, as cited Prof. Oloyede, we live in a world of 2.1 billion Christians (31% of the world’s population), 1.8 billion Muslims (24%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%). Besides, more than 400 million people (6%) practise various folk or traditional religions, including African Traditional Religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. An estimated 58 million (less than 1% of the global population) are said to belong to such religions as Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenkrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism.

Yet, despite our apparent religiosity, there is no righteousness in the world as the strong continue to oppress, repress and destroy the weak as we see in several places like Palestine, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen and other theatres of conflict. Virtually every other place is not immune from man’s inhumanity to man perpetrated by those who claim affiliation with religion.

In Nigeria, where everyone is almost either a Muslim or a Christian, people are victims of religious manipulation by unrighteous religious leaders and unscrupulous politicians. Though the fundamental essence of religion is to be righteous while embracing such values as truth, honesty, love, compassion, kindness, modesty, decency, selflessness, chastity, justice, discipline, patience, morality, sincerity, among others, those who proclaim religion perpetrate the most heinous and atrocious crimes against God and fellow human beings.

From Plateau to Borno and Kaduna States and beyond, unrighteous people have profiled others and killed them, abused their remains and dumped their vehicles in mining ponds or just waylaid and murdered them in cold blood. All these happen because leaders and followers are bereft of righteousness. But we cannot afford to worship the god of hate and worship at the altar of retaliation because love is the solution to the problems of the world, as Arnold Toynbee said.

In essence, my thought on this subject matter remains that it is not sufficient that we are a religious country, as we often like to say, it is highly imperative that Nigerians learn to be righteous. Religiosity without righteousness is ultimately meaningless and counter-productive. As Naraginti Reddy once told us, “if there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”

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