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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Discourse 347: Regulating Preaching in Nigeria

Discourse 347
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


Anonymous said...

I concuR with your submission sir. But you know in the north especially among muslims. We have different sects attacking one another. The problem is in the regulation. Let there be a regulatory body that can be fair to all. Let there be no partiality just becausr certain sect we don't like it. I know that's where the problem arises, that's in using the yardstick of what's abusive language and what's noT. A person may tenaciously hold his view that he's only preaching the gospel while in the real sene of it he's insulting others. I see that's where we will have problem. But in general, I support regulating preaching and penalizing any preacher found using inciting and inflammatory statements

Anonymous said...

Masha Allah. In this write, the difference between knowledge and intellect is made clear; Tilde is but an intellectual. Allah Ya kara sani da basira

yamuneram said...

Undoubtedly, this is a great piece, Dr. Religion is commercialised in Nigeria. Quite honestly, it is a real irony and huge contradiction that we are the most religious people in the world yet the most corrupt. Quite frankly this does not tally with the norm of our two most dominant religions and human civility.
Well, I pray this renewed vigour in regulating our preachings will yield the desired result in achieving peace and progress in Nigeria.
So thanks Dr. Tilde and may God keep you in peace and good health. May He bless and grant you more wisdom in the Pen.

Nigerian Economics said...

Dr. Tilde, this amounts to addressing the symptoms and in a very bad way rather than the real disease.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. Tilde for yet another clinical and well presented piece. I strongly believe if the ever increasing commercial schorlars can be adequately checked we would not have any fear of future insurgencies. It is my opinion that this trying time that we are in today (bombings & killings) is courtesy of lakadaisical attitude on the part of the govt that fail to censor preachers, leaving it open to all dig & harry to spread whatever message he has to the very teaming serious but yet unexposed and semi illitrate audience.
Aliyu Maigado.

Muazu said...

This is the best write up I have come across in 2012. It addresses a fundamental problem of our decaying society and system. Regulating preaching is a precondition for genuine reconciliation and stability in future. Buhari-Idiagbon attempted to use draconian approach to sanitize the institution of religion following the Maitatsine riots of 1980s before they were toppled. May we have another set of courageous leaders who would do same.

Anonymous said...

may god reward you abundantly for this write up amin,

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece. The move to band hate preaching in Nigeria is long overdue. Certainly, enforcing this law will require all of us to support the govt. Musa Azi 2021

Anonymous said...

Assalamu Alaikum
JazakalLahu Khairan for expressing your opinion fearlessly. I concur with must of your points, Provided the regulation will be enforced justly, apolitically, with out showing any partiality against any religion or group. but the Problem lies with the Nigerian Government, they've never been sincere to any course, our politicians are not patriotic enough to make sure that justice is done in the regulation, It is My conviction that some religious groups will suffer marginalization, just because they don't belong to the CHOSEN RELIGION or SECT, instead of gaining security by the regulation, we may end up getting the Opposite.
Due to the lack of strong and vibrant Oppositions, Religious Groups have many atimes help to checkmate Government excesses against the citizens ( though sometimes selfish or with out wisdom). The council of Ulama in Jos is a good example, and Kano State government in the past wait for the Friday Sermon to see how Ulama will react b4 implementing any Controversial issue.
Governors many atimes act out of fear of criticisms from religious Groups. If the Politicians are now given the advantage of controlling what is to be said UNCHECKED (which will be the case, cos there will never be a law restricting them), what do you expect to become of our Country?!
How is the regulation going to operate, is it the Government that will in the name of security dictate what is to be preached? ( believe me, this is what is going to happen) then religion will be put at the mercy of our Governors; Preachers ( though some operate in this way) will be compelled to say what is palatable to them or get their preaching license Cancelled. this will amount to stripping Nigerians from the only right they enjoy, i.e the right to religion and freedom of speech.
If it is a board that will be formed to regulate the preaching, who will constitute its members, what will be the yard stick by which preaching is measured?
Even if people are stopped from inflammatory preaching in the open, who is there when they preach in their Mosques churches or even schools, I will not forget an instance when a Teacher,and A CRK Teacher for that matter, came to our Class, after Sept. 7, 2001 crisis in Jos, telling her Students, that the Muslims have been preparing for this war for a long time,and they even hired people from other places with the intention of wiping out Christians from the plateau,and that the killing of the Christian is scheduled to start on Thursday's night, but for the intervention of Jesus Christ, the hired soldiers were killed by the tiv in benue b4 reaching plateau, that is why the war did not Start Until after Jumu'at Prayer, which is false.
Though I concur to the Idea we need to be cautious about it.

Anonymous said...

Study the write up more critically pls. The only other more radical solution available to Govt is to ban religion altogether, which of of course is impossible in contemporary Nigeria. Dr Tilde has given the most appropriate and practical solution to the real problem, this is far more encompassing than just addressing symptoms

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde said...

Regarding the details ofmthe law and its enforcement, concern has been expressed above on its possible use to curb freedom of expression or use it to target unsupportive religious sects.

I think the cause of worry doesn't arise much here because even in our current statutes books, the law is clear about what constitute a crime or a tort regarding publications and speech. There are also laws regarding public nuisance and regulations about media, especially broadcasting.

The problem, as I said in the tail end of the article is largely about the reluctance of government or say its negligence in enforcing existing provisions. The new law will also not make a difference unless it is implemented.

Finally, I have not published three comments. The first called the name of a certain sect and apportioned the entire blame on them. I don't publish such comments. If we need to speak about a particular sect, we will write a specific article on it and open our observations to commentary. A general article however doesn't need to call names or reduce itself to a particular group.

Another was calling on God to judge me, as if God is waiting for someone to tell him to do so. What people forget is that religion is our common property. We all have rights to express our objections when some people try to misuse it to our collective detriment.

The third said said I am a confused person. I am not. I am for rule of law, social justice and peaceful coexistence in this country. Throughout the last 13 yrs, I have been critical on anything that will subvert these values in our society. This article is one of them.

Our religious preachers that are not happy with what I wrote here should fear God and look inwards. They will find that I have not lied anywhere in the article, though I might have sounded harsh. (I will try to moderate some of the sentences but the message remain the same.) Religion and the society need to be saved from some of our learned preachers. It is left to them to take corrections accordingly.

I assure my readers that this has nothing to do with a particular religion or sect. In both religions we have people using hate speech and calling for disorder. I have critically written on the ungaurded utterances of the CAN chairman for example. Some Muslim ulama are also gulity of some of these wrongs. Should we continue to keep quiet and allow things to deteriorate? My conscience tells me no. If we can criticise the government on corruption or rigging elections, we must also have the courage to criticise ourselves.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What a nice piece. But, Dr. The reality, is that, those charlatan preachers are sponsored by the government that will legislate such regulation. Hausa people call them 'MALAMAN GWAMNATI'. Almost, if not all, politicians, traditional leaders and business moguls, secure the service of such preachers. So, Dr. The government, can only legitimize regulation, on those, that preach against their diabolic actions and inactions.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good observations.

Ibrahim Musa, Kaduna said...

I think its wrong for the government to regulate what it says does not concern it. Our government is secular, therefore it has no business moderating our religion. What should be done is if anybody or group try to violate the right of other citizens, then they should be apprehended and prosecuted according to the law. And in the Arabian countries where preaching is sanctioned, are they better off? Extremists ideologies were nurtured there!
From Ibrahim Musa, Kaduna

Anonymous said...

The article hit the nail on the head but the author has forgotten one vital factor. Most of our political leaders are dependant on these same preachers for mobilization of support. Did the author not mention in one of his previous articles how Gov. Sheriff of Borno used some of the Boko Haram elements to ascend to power? Have we not been witnessing how President Jonathan always runs to these firebrand churches whenever he feels his government is threatened?

Anonymous said...

I'm very much happy with your article write up Dr Tilde. Please keep on revealing the truth, despite it's bitterness. We may not be glad if government shun this Article. By Ibrahim H Ibrahim Tilde

Anonymous said...

I must say you have hit the nail on the head with this article. I thought in those days preachers used to undergo basic tests to be allowed to preach in our communities, what happened thereafter? I also have been emphasising that our grandparents had not much knowledge of the Quran, yet they abided by the teachings of the Quran and Hadith almost to the letter, as a result of that preaching you mentioned from 50 to 60 years ago. Nowadays, everyone is a preacher, teacher and practice more rigourous religion without accompanying faith. Simple Islamic etiquette has been thrown out of the window for an openly showy religious practice. I also agree with the comment that we may end up creating bigger problems in trying to regulate preaching-though desirable in the current circumstance. These preachers will invoke all kinds of ayas/ verses on the government in order to frustrate the effort. May Allah help us see the light and do the needy to salvage ourselves from damnation

Ahmad Saidu Kangire said...

Alhamdulillah,Dr.has been omnious again.Locall,the so called preachers in our towns,markets and villages are ingonant of whaever they say,some are facing abject self enforced poverty and think preaching is the only way out;at the end of whatever they spluttered out comes the commercials in a form of sales of innoucious items for consumption,charms,talismans,maily sold to unsuspecting public contrary to the dictates of his preaching and any form of health care provision,thus inflicting various forms of illhealth to humanity;an act which is unforgiveable by God,because God loves His creations more than any thing else.To tell the truth is best.

Anonymous said...

I beg to disagree, Dr. You may recall that even military governments with ther draconian approach did not succeed in regulating preaching. We are said to be in a constitutional democracy. How can the law regulating preaching pass constitutional test?