Religion and national institutions: Where do we draw the line?

Last week an incident at a NYSC orientation camp in Ebonyi State has once again brought to the fore a dangerous trend gradually rearing its head across the land.

It is religion!

As far back as the creation of man, the eight letter word had been a contentious issue inflaming passions for and against in almost equal measure.

The very first sin ever committed as noted in the Holy Bible was Adam and Eve, which we are all aware of.

In later years, many wars were ignited by religion while students of history will remember the terrible atrocities committed during the Spanish Inquisition with those deemed heretics often put to death in the most horrific and gruesome manner.

Many were tied to stakes and burnt alive as so-called believers tried very hard to use such infamously brutal methods to whip non conformists into line.

Ironically there is nowhere in the Bible that such barbaric acts are proscribed to be meted out to so-called heretics.

Then in 1517 the church and Christendom was further splintered when one, German priest called Martin Luther released his Ninety-five Theses, which queried many of the preconceived teachings.

Of course, this rattled the established order which tried everything possible to ensure that the status quo was maintained.

Unfortunately the more brutal their efforts the more protestants their actions seemed to bring forth so much so that more than 500 years after Luther’s “audacity”, the religious world has largely come to accept the existence of these other branches of the faith including Islam.

However, like I pointed out earlier, over time all the different religious groups have largely learnt to tolerate each other and live together.

Although occasionally bloody incidents do flare up between them, often mainly caused by deep-rooted mistrust which have still not been totally eradicated despite the passage of time.

Ironically, such issues of mistrust still looms large in Nigeria and sadly, we as a people have allowed it to fester, rather than gradually fade due to the actions we have been taking.

For those old enough to remember how the nation was in the 60s and 70s, religion was never a big issue amongst us.

Muslims had Christian friends and vice versa. The Muslims will fully take part in Christmas celebrations while Christians would eagerly be waiting for Salah so that they can go and gorge on meat and other delicacies.

Religion was not also a big issue in schools with both religions mingling freely in whichever school they wanted to attend, because having a sound education was the paramount reason for the parents putting their child in that particular school.

For instance I attended Corona School, Apapa and cannot recall religion ever being an issue amongst us students or staff.

My secondary school was Mayflower, Ikenne and with Tai Solarin religion was secondary to his primary aim of making us good students.

While he did not outrightly ban religion, he made it abundantly clear that should either ever clash there would only be one winner – Mayflower!

Parents were well aware of this his disposition towards religion and yet Christian parents and their Muslim counterparts willingly brought their children to Ikenne because what was upper most in their minds was giving their kids a sound education.

Boys and girls wore shorts because, as Dr. Solarin pointed out, he did not want the girls struggling to cover themselves when it came to doing farming and other work in school.

But sadly this is no longer the case, with religious intolerance on the rise and also not helped by the fact that children can now go through school right from nursery to university without crossing religious paths – i.e. a Christian can go all through education attending only Christian schools while a Muslim student can also do the same!

So how do we as a people meet rub minds and get to understand each other’s religion better if like apartheid, we are segregated.

The intolerance is heightening by the day.

I often wonder what the ‘Abami Eda ‘ Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would have made of the present day Nigeria.

In many of his popular songs he ‘yapped’ both Christians and Muslim leaders (often calling them by their titles) without it causing any brouhaha. He would go up North yap Muslim leaders and come to his ‘Shrine’ down south in Lagos and yap everybody without any religious bigots taking offence.

I’m not too sure in the present clime, he would have been able to get away with it.

Unfortunately, while the divide between the religions is expanding even within the same religious faiths, extremism is also rearing its ugly head as was the case at the NYSC camp in Macgregor College, Afikpo in Imo State where two female Youth Corps members were sent away after refusing to wear the ascribed camp attire.

While we all know that the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, we are also aware that there are equally certain institutions that have their own dress codes and as such should be immune to religious considerations.

And one of such is the NYSC.

Those that conceptualised the scheme some 46 years ago, realised that due to the nature of the activities the participants would be undergoing shorts would best suited for this.

Anyone that has passed through the scheme must agree that this is true as the females will not have issues climbing over obstacles and ropes using one hand while the other is trying to ensure that their undergarments are not exposed to the whole world to see.

I still remember camp days with our ladies participating almost on equal footing with the guys. In fact, if truth must be told, a lot of them even did better than we the supposedly stronger sex – the men.

I’m sure that a majority of women have no issues with wearing trousers since it is in fact only for a short while and besides it ensures that they can be proper ‘corpers’.

Although one’s personal religious conviction shouldn’t be brushed aside, when one considers the bigger picture one has to beg the question – where do we draw the line?

Will those who join the military now also insist on wearing skirts in carrying out combat functions?

Recently I felt very proud seeing the Nigeria Airforce wing two female pilots they looked so lovely in their uniforms as they made history of breaking a male dominated field.

After all it has often been the clarion cry by the women folk that “what a man can do a woman can do better!

Now that they have the chance to show it, they are now allowing religion stop their march to equality!

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