Ofili’s Book Reading – a discussion on Religion, Education and Politics in the Nigerian Context.

The book Hos intelligence Kills.
The book How intelligence Kills.

Ofili Okechukwu, is by far on of the most interesting personalities I have ever come across in a long time. A graduate of the University of Houston, Texas; an engineer for a multi-national company; a writer; a speaker; an artist and above all a Nigerian – who actually does love Nigeria.

Ofili is one of the few successful writers that write the same way they speak; i.e. he uses sentences like “that ice-cream was the shit” and “fuck that, I gat to do what I gat to do”. This kind of writing is very common within the informal social sphere of the web, but the way Ofili contorts his tenses, using a seemingly quotidian style, especially when addressing critical issues makes him a delight to read.

Ofili recently wrote a book titled How Intelligence Kill: Our dangerous addiction to respect, religion, intelligence and lots more. I have critiqued the book here, so I would not repeat that here. What I would do here is to discuss the book reading event Ofili organised on the 27th of December 2014.

It was definitely a stressful and mundane day, the vibes of Christmas had begun to fizzle out, and I was looking for the next distraction – a cheap one, by the way – having spent all my money two days before.  I was begun scrolling down my Instagram home page when I came across a post by wowoboyz: a comedy group Ofili’s younger brother belongs to, of which I am a fan off. The post was of a book reading event on Ofili’s book that was going down on that day. Immediately I checked for the price, and discovered that it was free – yeah, I was that broke. Having nothing to do and considering the fact that I would love to meet the author physically, I decided to attend. My car’s fuel tank was empty, but by the grace of God, I found an old, tattered looking 500 Naira in my pocket; immediately I knew I was destined to attend, so I bought 5 litres of gas and headed to Terra Kulture: an African cultural center – the venue of Ofili’s book reading.

The book contains chapters on Religion, Education, and Politics in the Nigerian context.

The Religious session

Some of the religiously teamed chapters from Ofili’s book include suffering and smiling: the religious addiction begins, A Nation is not great because it prays but rather… and Our dangerous addiction to religion. He also gave anti-religious quotes to reinforce his arguments in these chapters.

An example would include: “Before we begin I need you to understand one thing: I have no religion. I have a God, I have faith in that God but I have no religion. Religion is a cancer eating away at faith, slowly replacing healthy cells of brotherly love and affection with polluted cells of politics and materialism. Religion is ruining faith. The faithless can mock the faithful only because of their religion and its hypocrisy.” – Olademiji Ojo.

Ofili read from one of these chapters, and the consensus – one that I have always heard people say, and rightfully elaborated in his supporting quote – was Nigerians are so engrossed in religion that they cannot think rationally and critically. That is, they devoid their religion from their God. In essence you do not need to be Christian to worship the Christian God Yahweh. The attendees who were called on to speak did not disappoint me when asked how they thought religion was impairing the growth of Nigeria and individual Nigerians.

A lady said she was not sure she believes God exists because when you open the bible you get that the world is a little bit over 6000 years old, but today we are hearing that fossils of millions of years old are being discovered. She did not forget to add that she got most of her information from the internet, and use the quintessential defence for religious people who criticize or denigrate religion, “I am a Christian ooo” she said.

The issue of a pastor asking his congregation to eat grass and drink kerosene that was in the news some months ago was brought up. One man said because people like short-cuts, and if a pastor tells them to eat grass you and you would be rich tomorrow. In that case what do they have to lose by eating the harmless grass and wait to see if the riches would eventually come?

Another man said that Nigerians generally like the easy way out, so if someone is thinking for them (like their pastors), and giving them instructions on how to lead their lives, they would follow; so if things eventually do not go as according to plan they can blame the pastor, indemnifying themselves from the responsibility of their actions.

And another lady gave the most quintessential defence of moderate believers in debates like this. “God has always been there, whether it was 6000 years ago or 6 million years ago, he created everything, the dinosaurs, and he destroyed them; it is just us (men) who develop religion around this God, and use it as a tool for destruction. God is not to blame for the inadequacies of man, especially the Nigerian man”.

I also spoke during this session. I said people like to cherry pick when it comes to religion. They like to distant their God from their religion. An average Christian would tell you Christianity is a way of life and not a religion. But I ask this individual, is a way of life not culture, and is religion not ingrained in cultural idiosyncrasies? Religion encompasses a number of rituals believers within a belief system use to venerate a Supreme Being, Thing or Concept. The moment you take away this transcendental thing, concept or being the religion collapses on itself. This is why when someone stops believing in God – Yahweh – he immediately losses his religion, and cannot perform the required rituals of the belief system; or when a Hindu who worships Shiva, converts and starts worshipping Yahweh, he can no longer practice the rituals of Hinduism, if not he would be in line of the charge of Heresy. This denial that many of the faithful create for them themselves is potentially dangerous.

Then I said that those who accuse people for using religion as a standard to lead their lives, as being a bad thing are very much mistaken, because most belief systems of the world encompass all the ramifications of an individual’s life. Religion is a huge part of the lives of many individuals in a society. These people do and do not do things according to the tenets of their faith. If within a society there are many adherents to different systems, like Nigeria, religion whether it likes it or not becomes political machinery, for all citizens of that society to live in peace.

A Muslim who does not eat pork as his belief system states, stands against the importation or rearing of pigs, but a Christian who does eat pork and want to rear pigs insists on their importation, and they both live within the same polity; or a Muslim who is against usury borrows money from a Jew who want his money back and his interest. What do you think the solution would be? It would be a political one for peace to reign within that polity. In this case disregarding religion would be very dangerous.

The problem with Nigeria with respect to religion causing a snag in it developmental process is it lack of tolerance. Once believers of a belief system can be convinced that they do not have kill ‘infidels’, but instead live with them side by side as equals, and make political decisions based on state interests, then it would be possible for Nigeria to move forward. This is something the United States made sure they checked with the First Amendment.

I then concluded that people have the right to do whatever they want to do; they could eat grass or drink dragonfire like Aerion Brightflame, the son of Maekar (I) Targaryen or blow themselves up inside their houses with them alone – as a fulfilment of a religious tenet. They could do all these as long as they do not attack someone else’s live and property without that person’s consent. The Political State and religious tolerance should rule above all things, no matter how sacred they are, if indeed the individuals want to move themselves and their state forward – and truly progress. If not intolerance and a disdain for the political state would lead to war, destruction and eventually pestilence – tell me, how possible is development then.

The Education session/my analysis of a comment

Then Ofili read a chapter on his book that had to do with education and institutionalized intelligence. This I refused to say anything about. But the comments made by other individuals where indeed very interesting. Someone blamed the baby boomers for the present mediocrity in this generation of Nigerians.

Some of the comments were very interesting, but there was one that interested me more. The lady said Nigeria is evolving there is no need to jump the gun or search for shortcuts. Her words were “You have to think, before you can think out of the box”. Nigerians first have to learn how to think before they can think out of the box. At the end of this it was agreed that the educational system should test more for imagination, instead of memorization – that is the educational testing system should be looked into. Her presentation was beautiful, but for a comment she made: ”everything is evolving, it is time for Nigeria to have corrupt leaders now, soon we would wipe them out…”.

She might not have meant this statement the way I picked on it. But I need to ask, how are we going to wipe them out? Is it by killing them, and burning up government buildings? This is a problem in the world, especially in Africa and South America. In Nigeria we got tired of corrupt leaders in the late 1960s – that led to the murder of high ranking public officers including the prime minster, culminating in a reign of terror that led to almost 2 million deaths; we got tired again in the late 1980s that led to the usurping of a democratically elected government, and brought about a season of tyranny and darkness that ended at the turn of the new millennium. In recent months this happened in Burkina Faso, where the people got tired of their corrupt leader and toppled his government in a bloody civilian coup.

This tiredness is as a result of our passivity to political matters and then the astronomical jump to all out aggressiveness, leading to a vacuum of power that eventually leads to the rise of a demagogue and tyrant, just like in Burkina Faso, the army head as taken over the government. This has been the case of Nigeria in the past. Is this what she means? I ask the beautiful lady again.

Solution to the Nigerian problem

Finally towards the end of the event, the host Joy Isi Bewaji, asked for the opinions on how to fix the problems of Nigeria. I asked to speak. We were given 2 minutes each to state to speak.

Abolish NYSC one speaker said, – and by the way the mandatory National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) came up as a separate session – if this is done, he said there are millions of  Nigerian abroad who would come back to Nigeria to help in her developmental process. Here is a critique of NYSC, by a friend of mine; I believe is worth reading to truly understand this speaker’s dilemma to a mandatory service scheme that was supposed to help foster cultural integration and tolerance within the country.

Another speaker spoke about a rehabilitation of the educational system. Because a child would spend most of her time in school and many values she would pick would be from school. A very simple example is the constant bribing – popularly known as ‘sorting’ – of university lectures for grades. This bribing sometimes involves sexual (very common on the female students) or monetary payments. When students are already made corrupt and see that it is almost impossible to forge ahead without doing some ‘sorting’ of sorts, they just cannot see themselves being honest when they get into the labour market, governmental institutions or become public officials.

When we say corruption in Nigeria is institutionalized many people do not understand exactly what we mean. A personal experience of mine should suffice to help explain better. I some time ago lost an important document and to get a new one the company that gave that document to me, said I needed to get an affidavits. So I went to the Court house, met an official who told me the price was 1500 Naira, I gave the money to him and in 30 minutes he brought back my affidavits and receipt. I was about to leave when I saw that the receipt I got stated I made a payment of 500 Naira.

I went back in called the official, and when he saw my face seething with confusion and anger he told me to calm down, I was beyond livid. I saw a direct superior of his, who then told me to see the man in charge of such things in the court house. He had a fancy titled of ‘Secretary’ and probably was a lawyer. I did go to his office, he apologized to me and said to the official that scammed me “why did you collect so much money from him, you could have collected 800 Naira instead of the 1500 you collected”; I really could not believe my ears. I left this man’s office with the scamming official, who told me on our way out that it was his Oga (the secretary, whose office we were just exiting) who told him to be collecting a 200% extra on payments made to the court house for affidavits, and 100% of the money collected belongs to him, while the rest of the subordinates enjoy the other 100%.

Another individual said Nigerians should learn to take initiative and do what they can to change their immediate environment. This is the quintessential solution everyone gives when asked to proffer solutions for the betterment of Nigeria. They would tell you to stop criticizing the government and do something to fix your current predicament. If the road leading to your house has thousands of potholes, they would tell you to fix it and not wait for the government to come fix the road, or criticize them when they do not do it. Apart from the fact that taking initiative to better your immediate environment is a good thing, the part about not criticizing the government for its short comings is bullshit, because it is exactly the kind of political passivity the degenerates into political violence I was talking about.

I also spoke in this session. My opinion was simple. For Nigeria to be the great polity it was ordained to be, for it to be respected the world over and not be a ridicule to the world as it has been in recent years, we need to understand Human Nature.

Machiavelli describes men as fickle, ungrateful, liars and deceivers. In a world where we understand Human nature, we would understand and appreciate the reason behind the existence of a state. The state exists to protect life and property within a given polity. And where this becomes impossible – that is protecting the life and property of its citizens – the state becomes a failed state. Once a stronger man is not able to come into my house, beat me up and take my wife, children and all my price belongings with impunity; once I cannot go to bribe the police to beat up a business partner that has scammed me; and once I cannot embezzle funds that belong to other people with impunity then we have a functioning state. A functioning state would set up systems within its sovereignty to make sure force and fraud between its citizens and external forces are practically impossible.  If Nigerians can understand the fact that a man steals not because of poverty but because of greed, which is a natural impulse of man – because what is the logic behind a rich man stealing – and can set up systems within their state to make this and vices like this impossible then it can indeed be the giant of Africa in truth.

In all attending the event was indeed a memorable one and at the end of the event Ofili signed my tattered copy of How intelligence kills.

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