The Gap Between Pope Francis And Nigerians, By Tunji Ajibade
POLITICS DIGEST – The head of the Catholic Church worldwide, Pope Francis, recently lamented what he described as the “culture of insults” on social media. He equally condemned “exclusivist ideas’, which contrasted with the mission of his faith to foster harmony. These words from the Pope always urge everyone, who shares his faith’s mission, to be committed to the core tenets and conduct themselves accordingly. But in Nigeria, the conduct and comments of some people make one to wonder if they think there are tenets. I had thought of doing a piece on this issue when the Pope made his latest comments.
At about the time he spoke, some faith-based organisations in Nigeria took to the streets in what they called ‘prayer walk’ to pray for an end to the nation’s security challenges. This was what some media platforms reported. Other media platforms, given to promoting divisiveness and sensationalism, tagged it “protest march” against the killing of members of a particular faith. Meanwhile, some of those who participated in the street marches were actually seen praying as they moved across the streets. This is different from others in some faith-based organisations who have been on the streets making claims, which are no more than a defence of their ethnic group, as against other ethnic groups, in the farmer-herdsmen crisis fueled largely by scarce resources.
I reckon that the “prayer walk” on behalf of all the people affected by security challenges is something the Pope might consider. While the Pope empathises with the victims of extremism across the globe, some people with a mission like his own in Nigeria pursue exclusivist ideas. I wonder which wins more audiences: the pope’s empathy for all mankind or the narrower narrative of some that only members of their religion are victims.
The fact that a degeneration of the universal mission of faith has happened in Nigeria, to the extent that some religious leaders speak out only when members of their ethnic groups are victims of insecurity, gives cause for concern. The Pope’s observation about insult calls attention to how many Nigerians that either engage in it or not. Those who are active on the social media know the answer.
I took note of the difference between the prayer walk and the street marches that others undertook. When some marches took place in the past, I pointed it out on this page that people who should be speaking peace and harmony were fully in combative modes, condemning relevant stakeholders who could help promote peace. Words spoken in such street marches are filled with hate, anger, rather than words that one would expect from anyone who shares the same mission with the pope. If any Nigerian feels comfortable with such messages, I’m not. Many introspective Nigerians are not because some have called me to say that I point out what they have in mind, taking their time in the process to pray for me. I believe that when a person is part of a mission, but what he’s pursuing, as well as the manner in which he pursues it, is contrary to the fundamental tenets of the mission, he’s wrong, no doubt.
For the challenges of the moment, the provocation of the moment or the sufferings can’t be more powerful than the overall tenet stipulated by the mission he is part of. I pointed this out lately on this page and someone wrote to me saying the leaders of his faith had the right to insult and be disrespectful to others when they were provoked. Someone heard this comment and laughed, asking whether such an assertion was written in the holy book the writer carried around with him. That’s the level of degeneration that has been made to happen to religion by many who claim to have religion.
With his latest call, it is obvious that the Pope is determined to continue to let the overall tenet of his mission guide him in words and action, no matter the situation. Regularly he sent messages out to the entire world saying people should love and not hate. He sends words of comfort to people who don’t belong to his mission, but who are hurting anywhere in the world. When people who don’t belong to his mission suffer in any country, he prays for them. Since I was a child, these were the kinds of words that I had always heard in the news that all Popes sent out. As such, I grew up knowing this is the way religious leaders speak. They don’t allow the challenges around them to derail them from following the tenets of their mission.
In Nigeria, many who have the same mission as the Pope have become bitter, vindictive and combative, and they are found mostly in orthodox establishments that one expects to know better. They say irreverent things to people they should respect. It is because of their quarrelsome disposition that calmer heads, especially in pentecostal establishments, wisely keep quiet. More alarming is the fact that the current security challenges in Nigeria, which make all manner of people to suffer, isn’t seen as an opportunity to reach out and show love. Instead, they are self-absorbed and have descended into fighting for only members of their ethnic groups, while demonising those who are not.
In his latest message, the pope added, “The more we use social media, the less social we are becoming.” True. Has anyone noticed that majority of those who insult and curse freely on Nigeria’s social media space have names and they make arguments that leave one in no doubt about the faith they belong to? So the Pope’s words are accurately targeted. He warns about the temptation to cling to “our little group, to the things and people we like.” He said, “Nowadays it is fashionable to hurl adjectives and, sadly, even insults” in what is tantamount to “a culture of insults.” He recommended response “to malice with goodness, to shouting with silence, to gossip with prayer.” He further noted that “No one ought to remain closed in self-absorption.” I understand this to mean no one with the same mission as the Pope is sent to engage in activism for only their ethnic group as some in Nigeria are doing at the moment. The pope is saying what many people in Nigeria hate to hear from some of us and for which we’ve been sent unprintable words.
On October 12, 2018, I noted on this page that some, despite their faith which asks them to reach out to others, have completely withdrawn unto themselves. Even people like Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, who has always urged people of his faith to remember the core tenets of their mission, are regarded as enemies. I have heard other leaders who make the same call being disparaged by members of their faith, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha. They are cast as enemies because they don’t fall in line with the “self-absorption” of some. The matter deteriorates by the day as the umbrella for faith organisations in Nigeria has even employed a professional debater as spokesperson. At the slightest nudge from journalists, this debater picks up petty arguments and engages shockingly quarrelsome narratives on the pages of newspapers, something the Pope wouldn’t permit. Is this the core mission of the body he speaks for? Those who wouldn’t take note of what the Pope has said wouldn’t. But this won’t stop some of us from joining him to make the calls that are necessary in this challenging period.