By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Regulating Preaching in Nigeria
I am a strong advocate of regulating preaching in Nigeria. This is a responsibility which successive governments since independence have failed to take seriously. At the best instances, laws at state level were made but hardly was there any time when any serious attempt was made to enforce them. Some ulama and priests were thus left for over five decades to preach the gospel of hate and disunity mainly in pursuit of fame, money and power with adverse consequences to the peace and stability of the country. The fruits of that laxity are indisputably here for all to see, feel and regret over.
So the decision arrived at during the Senate retreat at Uyo last week that the National Assembly will pass a law to ensure that men of religion operate within the ambit of the law without abusing the rights of other citizens or their dignity is a good start. The law itself will not be enough though. The real battle will start when attempt is made to enforce it. Then, Nigerians must come out in support of the government. Unless we do so, we will live to witness more insurgencies and unrest in future.
Some of our learned men of religion have failed to honour the covenant of God. They have failed to call people to Him “with wisdom and kind words.” Their reckless diction has therefore repelled thousands and attracted none. They have not preached the love for humanity, the sanctity of life, or the inviolability of human dignity. Unable to win over new converts, they turn to their followers and gain popularity among them by inciting them against others of the same or of different religion. The followers, in turn, easily buy in to their manipulation, given their low level of exposure, unemployment, poverty and shallowness.
It is shameful to see how such preachers paint the bad portrait of God as if, subhanallah, He were a monster that lives on blood; that rewards the murder of the beings He created; that He is a sadist that enjoys to see mankind in perpetual condition of hate, distrust and suffering, with women widowed and children orphaned; that those preaching the gospel of hate or murder the innocent in His name have a place in His Kingdom, His Paradise. This is a blatant misrepresentation of every attribute of God. Such preachers are lost and more lost are the sheep who follow them or take their words seriously. Such preachers are few in the society, though the most vocal, admittedly. Humanity today does not need them.
Mankind needs only those who understand that Paradise is reserved for the kind, who understand that the entire mankind is from Adam, who guide people to ease instead of suffering, who recognize and observe the sanctity of human blood, labour and property, who honour the dignity of others, who respect their neighbours and fulfil their obligations towards them regardless of whether the neighbours belong to their religion or not, so long as they share the same space and time of community, state or nation. These are the men of religion we need today.
The effort of government to sanitize the religion sector must not start with a legislation and end with the conviction of some preachers. First, government needs to re-examine its policies on broadcasting in the formal sector as a whole. It is saddening to see how radio and television stations – including government broadcasting corporations – are used as platforms for religious propaganda in the name of sourcing revenue. Very few, if any, stations edit what preachers say, clearly insensitive to the effect it will have on public peace and order.
To worsen matters, the allegiance of many civil servants working in such stations for the ulama and priests, and for their sects and churches, is stronger than their commitment to the peace of the motherland they will leave behind for their children to inherit. In most states of Northern Nigeria, for example, all the broadcasting stations are government-owned. So if governments will give the necessary directives to check this imprudence, it will go a long way to curb the menace on our airwaves in this part of the country where the problem is endemic. The Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation should rise to its responsibility on this matter. After two or three unpatriotic MDs of such stations are dismissed, the rest will sit up and discharge their responsibilities professionally.
Beyond the radio and television are many modern means of communication. In places of worship, the use of public address systems in broadcasting has caused a lot of havoc to our public peace. Preachers are not contented with addressing their audience in the premises of their place of worship. No. The whole world must listen to them, willy-nilly. This violates our privacy especially when it takes place during odd hours. These practices have been widely condemned by renowned scholars of the past. An easy reference here is Fiqhus Sunnah of Sayid Sabiq and Al-Madkhal of Ibnul Hajj. I have not yet heard any scholar that has come forward to justify these violations.
I wonder why people sleeping in the early hours of the morning should be disturbed with a preaching recorded in a different place and circumstance from where it is played now. Whether you belong to its faith or not, you are compelled to listen to a voice of a person that is clearly half-educated, uncouth, and knows nothing about the dynamics of modern society. This is too dangerous to be left unchecked in any society. Religion, as I have argued repeatedly in the past, is turned into a nuisance by such practices.
Our markets have also become venues for broadcasting all sorts of sermons. Traders using motorcycles, cars, and wheelbarrows broadcast religious materials from public address systems to attract customers. Subhanallah! It is not uncommon to hear the preacher on the tape commenting on one religious crisis or another, of which he has little knowledge about and whose fire has long died out. This re-inflames the heart and infects it with hate and distrust.
To further compound matters for any regulator, preaching now has gone digital. I have many times heard disgusting preaching played by labourers on construction sites on their handsets. I have received many hate sms texts on my phone. I have also read many hate comments in religious websites, in addition to the preponderant hate speech against northerners that has become the hallmark of some popular websites and discussion groups. As at 2010, the government had not the requisite forensic digital laboratory to monitor the activities of various Nigerian websites. I do not know if it is in place now.
And nobody should think that he is serving his religion by turning it into a nuisance, not even by making its teachings ordinary and ubiquitous. The Holy Prophet, as reported in a hadith, spoke on religion to his companions only sparingly in order to prevent them from getting bored with it. The more you hear something, the less valuable it becomes. Nigerians were more attentive when they hear the Word of God sixty years ago precisely because preaching and religious materials then were less ubiquitous. Their hearts used to tremble when the punishment of a sin is mentioned. They knew little, but practiced much. Their faith per capita was great. The depth of their faith was reflected in the prudent lifestyle of the nation.
Not anymore. With religious texts and preaching becoming as common as air and with the commercialization of religion, our devotion depreciated as our per capita knowledge of the scriptures appreciated. God has become too familiar to command any restraint in us. His words are no longer sacred. We make them the ring tones for our cellular phones and the alibi for our atrocities against our fellow countrymen. We become a nation of religion without faith. We know much, but practice little. We represent the contradiction of being the most religious, but one of the most corrupt nations on the planet.
There is the need for government to reinvent its strategies on our internal security. For example, it must devise means of checking the indoctrination that has been going on for decades in our secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. Students invite preachers of all kinds without the knowledge of the school authorities. Instead of these centres of learning to foster unity among our diverse people, they have become brothels where our children are infected with the virus of hate and intolerance.
One wonders how our security agencies became nonchalant over such gross violations of our laws and subversion of our internal security. Government needs to be proactive on these matters rather than leave things to degenerate into crisis of regrettable proportions. There is the need for security agents to become vigilant in our places of worship, broadcasting stations – public or private, markets, schools and institutions of higher learning, the Internet, etc. Once someone is caught spreading material that contravenes the law or spreading hate speech, he should be arrested and prosecuted in the appropriate court of law. If it is a group, its leadership must be made to face the full wrath of the law.
The law must thus be drafted to cover a number of subjects and a wide range of circumstances. It should also empower individual citizens who are victims of such violations with the locus standi to charge their violators before a court of competent jurisdiction, where the law enforcement agents fail. To prove their case will not be difficult with the preponderance of voice recording devices today.
Let me assure government that the majority of Nigerians will be happy to see such a law passed and enforced. I may not also be wrong if I say that nothing will happen if government sends to jail any preacher that contravenes such a law, regardless of his position among his followers. Neither would heavens fall on us, nor would hell be let loose. We the silent majority have been suffering abuses in the hands of few of individuals that have hijacked religion and use it for their selfish purposes.
As I was writing this article came to me the shocking news that some preachers now even charge "performance fees" before they preach at, say, any wedding ceremony. La haula wala quwwata illa billah! Such preachers are daily on the move in their effort to harvest the maximum income from their customer-followers. Their currency is an inflammatory empty rhetoric that appeals to sentiments of youths. Wallahi, this is a bid’ah – bad innovation – hitherto unnknown in this part of the world. Such commercial preachers are few now, but their number is on the rise. The nation must be saved from their evil. It is they who need salvation, not us.
Finally, I am not unaware of the weakness in government that made previous attempts at regulating preaching fail. I think government can cash on the fact that the circumstance now is different. We have now seen enough darkness: the unrests, the murders, the bombs, the extra-judicial killings, the curfews, and so on. Let there be light, please. We will rise to support government in any measure it takes to ensure that the country does not continue on the path to anarchy. That is if its officials do not continue to be too preoccupied with their mania for looting our treasury. That has always been the anaesthesia that prevents them from making any sacrifice for our common good.
7 July 2012