Lalong and the politicisation of religion in Nigeria


Religion and politics are inter-related, chained together to provide us with a peaceful society. Religion mobilises religious sensibilities of people in order to get their support to capture power, while politics uses intrigue, diplomacy and attempts to win public opinion either democratically, or by military fiat, if the society is autocratic.

Karl Marx, one of the greatest philosophers that ever lived, said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness”. It is against this background that religion, instead of being a unifying factor, is becoming a business of weak minded who use it to acquire wealth and power as well as influence government’s decisions.

The sad reality is that, this narrative has deepened hatred and done damage to our collective agreement of the 1914 amalgamated Southern and Northern Protectorates called Nigeria. The emergence of religious associations have caused those in government sleepless nights through their consistent press conferences against government’s decisions even when such policies for the overall interest of the masses. We must look beyond religious and tribal identities to build a solid foundation and for one, indivisible Nigeria where everyone will cut according to his needs and eat according to his want. 

Politicians have cashed in on this to cause the country sleepless nights. Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna state dominated newspaper headlines when he nominated Hadiza Sabuwa Balaraba as his running mate in 2019. We may disagree with him in some areas but must acknowledge the fact that his choice of words regarding politics and religion in Nigeria are healing. He said government house is not a place of worship but rather where decisions of government are taken in the overall interest of the people of Kaduna state. 

However, Islam as a religion encourages active participation in politics and respect for constituted authority. Christianity also emphasises the need for the people to respect constituted authority. Politics is addressed directly or indirectly in several parts of the Bible. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 say that all should follow the authority of government, as government is instituted by God. Titus 3 discourages arguments regarding the law.

The heated arguments by our brethren in Plateau state concerning the efforts of Governor Simon Lalong to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Jaiz Bank, an interest free Islamic bank, is worisome. Jos Main Market, the largest indoor market in West Africa, was razed over 20 years ago and Governor Lalong’s attempt to reconstruct the market is facing resistance from the citizens, citing politics and religion as reasons. No doubt, Lalong inherited a state that has been in the frontline of conflicts of ethnic and religious dimensions, which he reduced to the barest minimum. His ability to bring back Plateau to its glorious days earned him national and international reputation as a symbol of peace.

Although secularism exists in many parts of world, which seems connected to economic development, but religion continues to be an important political phenomenon for multiple reasons. Rebuilding the Jos Main Market will, among other things, restore the lost glory of the state by reconnecting it to other states of the federation and the neighbouring countries economically. 

Jaiz Bank is not an Islamic organisation but a financial institution licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Interestingly, the laudable policy was initiated under the President Olusegun Obasanjo government and the then governor of the apex bank now Governor of Anambra state Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo. Religion should not be a subject of interest or priority when formulating economic policies. The guiding principles should be whether or not it is good for Nigeria. Obasanjo and Soludo are Christians from the South but were guided by wisdom and economic experts that Jaiz Bank will indeed add value to the Nigerian economy. This is how economies prosper.

In 10 years, the bank raised its balance sheet from N12 billion at inception to N300 billion currently. It is a quoted public company owned by over 26,000 shareholders spread across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. It has grown its branches from three to 45. It began with corporate offers but diversified into the micro, small and medium enterprises space and now has provided insurance to cover individuals. It is a non-discriminatory financial institution, which customers are from diverse backgrounds. The only difference between Jaiz Bank and conventional banks is that in conventional banks, you can be given cheques to withdraw money. In Jaiz, you have to show what the money will be spent on. If you have a business idea, they can finance it.

Non-interest banking is a growing global phenomenon practiced in nearly 80 countries: United Kingdom, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, China, Singapore, South Africa, Kenya, etc. It is open to all, irrespective of race or religion, based on the ethical principles of fairness, transparency and objectivity. Even for loans, they take commercial and financial risks and share them with the customers. The bank has delivered more than 3000 houses with their partners in Nigeria, chanelled N75 billion into agriculture and has distributed over N60 billion to SMEs and created facilities for 20,000 individuals across all the tribes and religions. 

Governor Lalong is now at the centre of the heat and at the same time under the mercy of the Nigerian media, obviously for always standing differently especially at the national level. On Monday, August 15, 2022, a Plateau state high court adjourned the continuation of hearing in a suit filed by member representing Jos East/Jos federal constituency, Dachung Bagos, challenging the governor’s planned signing of an agreement with Jaiz Bank to rebuild the Jos Main Market. Jaiz Bank became operationai during the President Goodluck Jonathan government and the 14th Emir of Kano as the then CBN governor Ibrahim Sanusi.

Politicians should stop playing religious and ethnic cards unless they are envioud of  Governor Lalong’s national calling and acceptance. Just like late Solomon Lar who made the residence of late Abubakar Rimi of Kano his second home, Lalong seems to be his replica with his recent appointment as Director General of Tinubu/Kashim Presidential Campaign Council and the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum. His recent decision to sign the MoU with Jaiz Bank has absolutely no religious colouration or personal benifits. As Nigeria heads towards the 2023 general elections, Lalong will be among those whose names will be written in gold for standing for peace and unity of Nigeria. Like Obasanjo, Lalong’s passion and commitment towards building a prosperous nation is glaring, hence politicisation of religion can only cause us tears not progress. Nigeria first and our actions are important to sustain a united Nigeria.

Danaudi, National President of Arewa Youths Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi via [email protected].

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