In a widely publicized article, Jibrin Ibrahim outlined nine statements on religion in Nigeria. In the theses, he provided insights into the dynamics of religious manifestations including the facets of religious activities in the country. While these postulations encapsulated cogent points on Nigerian religiosity, a misrepresentation cut across the entire piece-a misconception of irreligiosity. This piece is an attempt to clarify this misperception and adequately situate the link between religiosity and irreligiosity in the Nigerian religious arena. In the essay, the author highlighted the paradox of high religiosity and irreligiosity, the accessibility of the religious space and the role of material accumulation in religious formations, the growth of popular religion, the crisis in religious education and the link between religious pluralism and political conflicts. Ibrahim also noted the collapse of values, the spread of violence and how religious organizations have turned into social service providers following state abdication of social responsibilities.
However, misrepresentation of irreligiosity was evident especially in theses one, two and nine where the author tried to explain some unwholesome developments in the religious arena.
The author used two different notions of religion in arguing for a high level of religiosity and irreligiosity in Nigeria. In making a case for a fervent expression of religious faith, Ibrahim explained religiosity in terms of “multiplication of religious authorities, texts, discourses and identities” and “the visible growth in the intensity of belief and in the expansion of time, resources and efforts devoted to religious activities and practice”.
And in arguing for a high level of irreligiosity, the author advanced different definition, that is “adherence to the beliefs and core values…such as love, compassion, honesty, moral uprightness and peace”. He suggested that the weakening of people’s tenacious hold on these values was a demonstration of irreligiosity. Is it? Ibrahim cherry-picked definitions to make his argument for high-level religiosity and irreligiosity. With different understandings of religiosity, the author created and justified a paradoxical sense of religion in Nigeria. That is by the way.
The main issue is that the author’s understanding of irreligiosity is deeply flawed and not in tandem with contemporary discourses on religion and irreligion. Ibrahim immoralized irreligiosity designating such manifestations as deviations, and markers of deficiencies in values and norms. He attributed a high level of irreligiosity to ‘theft of public and private property’, to “massive immorality, debauchery, sex outside wedlock, homosexuality”, and “drug and alcohol abuse, rape and other forms of anti-religious behavior”. Thus for Ibrahim, irreligiosity entails activities of thieves, rapists, drug dealers. Irreligiosity is a form of criminal, anti-social behaviour.
In his article, the author elevated a misperception that religious enthusiasts employ that locates morality strictly within the framework of religiosity. Thus anything that deviates from religion violates morality. This is not the case. In academic literature, irreligiosity stands for something different-activities and endeavours in respect of rejection or lack of religious belief. Irreligiosity embraces investment in unbelief; devotions to religious doubt, disbelief, and indifference. Put differently irreligiosity designates what atheists, agnostics and all who self describe as non-religious are willing to do to express the unbelief. Irreligiosity describes efforts associated with the unchurched, the unmosqued, those who have no religious affiliation or the nones. While christians and muslims mainly populate the religious arena, there are Nigerians who claim to hold no religious beliefs; there are persons who are not religious and who take various actions to demonstrate their nonreligiosity. Incidentally, this understanding is missing in the article. because the author misrepresented the notion of irreligiosity. This tenth thesis on religion deserves a place in the piece and in any discourse on religion in Nigeria.
Leo Igwe is a human rights activist and the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement. He was the Western and Southern African representative to IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.