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On Religious Tolerance 

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A rather interesting clip made the rounds in the social media during the Yuletide of 2019. What made it interesting and, I would add, instructive and outstanding is that it involved Sheiks of Abu Dhabi, Catholic Priests of Dubai, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Budhists, Shi’ites  and so many everyday people from all sides of the religious divide and from all walks of life; they gathered and celebrated ‘The Year of Tolerance’ at St. Mary’s Church in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Whether it was a furtherance of the “fly, buy at Dubai, you’re never wanna say goodbye” marketing pep of Dubai commercialism or not, it sure was a welcome sight that soothed every heart that craves peace in humanity.
A Cardinal and a Sheik met in a symbolic handshake, warm embrace and the courteous peck on both cheeks. Holding hands as they led other Clerics and Clergies, they stepped up the short staircase of the podium where they lit a big candle on a lectern bedecked with beautiful flowers. Behind them, stood the silhouette of a man saluting in military fashion and a background flex that blazoned  A SALUTE TO TOLERANT UAE. The Clergies took turns addressing the large motley crowd. On another podium, a six-man band with guitars, keyboard and drums hinting at rock genre or something contemporary did their thing. Endless rows of seats occupied by Arab princes clad in their immaculate white apparel with black head gears that accentuated the contrast in colour, Budhists, Christians and numerous dignitaries reflecting cultural diversity consistently caught the lenses of so many cameras, still and video. In the very end, it was a celebration of the brotherhood of man underneath God’s Light, akin to what John Lennon imagined and Rare Earth sang about.
For me, the event is reminiscent of life in Alinso Okeanu of my birth and childhood. Sitting on the eastern bank of Orashi River, which was a major aquatic highway in the Niger Delta of Nigeria before macadamized roads and mammy wagons debuted as means of movement of goods and personnel, Alinso Okeanu, which is in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, Rivers State, was a trading post for UAC, the veritable organizational foot soldier of British capitalism and imperialism. Alinso Okeanu was, therefore, a cosmopolis with European quarters, UAC staff quarters and ethnic  quarters (ogbes) for the peoples of Aboh, Ijaw, Kalabari, Hausa, Mbieri (Igbo) and Yoruba in the years before Nigerian Independence in 1960.
There were two churches and one mosque in Alinso Okeanu. As children, we went to the mosque  with our Hausa friends on Fridays and they joined us to the church on Sundays. Also, the Hausas joined us in celebrating Christmas and Easter and we joined them in celebrating Sallah, which we referred to as “Hausa Christmas.” In Alinso Okeanu, every name had a face and child upbringing was a collective responsibility that every adult lived up to; and this responsibility was dutifuly performed religiously, completely devoid of the current ethno-religious bigotry that has sufficiently threatened the corporate existence of Nigeria as an entity and turned planet Earth into a theater of eternal conflict and war. For all intents and purposes, humanity is regressing to the Hobbesian state of nature, which was “nasty, brutish and short.” What went wrong between the 1950s and now? It is nothing other than the inordinate quest for materialism utilizing the instrumentality of power politics on the side of the leaders and the ignorance, docility and general inability of the masses to realize that the dividing line is neither religious nor ethnic, it is economic.
The symbolism of the SALUTE  event at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Dubai, is to drive home the point that tolerance and respect for each other’s beliefs are key to harmonious coexistence and the sustainable development of man’s  only known abode; and this is said with special regard to the responsibility inherent in the essence of sustainable development. Rather unfortunately, more and more countries have acquired sufficient annihilative capacity to blow the planet into smithereens just by the virtually effortless push of a tiny, little, seemingly inconsequential button from a great distance. Departing from the days of Cold War, man has regressed to a pervasive perpetual state of mutual suspicion. Not long ago, the world was on edge over the executive excesses bordering on recklessness and irresponsibility of two men (the “rocket man” and the “motor mouth”) who were at each other’s throat over international powerplay. Without tolerance, our planet, which is infinitesimal in cosmic comparison, is doomed and so are we, naturally.
UAE is where the culture of a conservative religion and modernity coexist in near perfect harmony; it is a modern variant of Alinso Okeanu where the multiplicity of Nigerian cultures melted into a beautiful mosaic that was highly harmonious and related closely from a courteous distance with European culture. Humanity has no choice than: Transcend our differences Tear down these manmade fences And live in brotherhood  For the good of our community And humanity.
To do otherwise is to precipitate a cataclysmic end to the human race as we know it. After all, institutional religion, which is an instrument for searching for the face of God, is man-made. A study of the Scriptures of Abrahamic religions with special reference to Christianity and Islam shows their common root in the blood of Abraham and the firm belief in monotheism. Noteworthy is the fact that the Noble Koran has one chapter on Maryam (Mary, mother of Jesus) and Islam has a very high place of honour for Jesus whose preaching was universal and who never ever arrogated exclusive sonhood of God to himself; he never did.
Here in Nigeria, the political class has keyed into the mass idiocy and capitalized on it to feather their personal nests to the detriment of the nation’s economy and harmonious coexistence akin to what was in Alinso Okeanu of this narrative. Carlos Santana sang that “the whole world is one big family.” Yes, humanity is one big family: “we share the same biology, regardless of our geology” so sang Sting. The tragedy is that illiteracy, poverty and the lack of social security system in Nigeria have led to a situation where the masses are led to perceive every topic in the public domain from the prism of ethinicity and religion, thereby creating a most effective field for politicians to have their way.
I have repeatedly said in every forum that touches on the topic of man’s search for his source and destination that “the greatest hoaxes in humanity are imbedded in the creedal concretes and mortars of the obelisks, towers and domes of institutional religion.” For humanity to snap out of the psychological and spiritual stranglehold of the softly spoken spells from the altars requires reinventing the spirit of Alinso Okeanu and the SALUTE project is a move in the appropriate direction; it is the necessary new beginning.
Dr Osai is a lecturer in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

 

Jason Osai

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Opinion

A Rehumanising Process

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To talk about a Rehumanising process, there must have been a Dehumanising process in the past, which demands repairing some harms done in the past, maybe unwittingly. For those who may wonder what dehumanization process means or ask how it came about, there is one convenient example. Long ago, there was a popular film or movie titled Roots, having to do with slave trade. A key actor, Kunta Kinte, was being forced against his will, to take and accept a new name: Toby. It took severe agonies and tortures for Kunta Kinte to take on the name Toby; but something gave in – personal dignity, identity, volition.
Slave culture, from its local and primitive variation, to the Trans-Atlantic one, entailed unspeakable dehumanization. Its abolition, which was necessitated largely by agonies of the conscience and other pressures, was a process of rehumanisation. Even with the combination of commercialism and proselytism, colonialism added to the process of denying communities their rights and dignity. It is noteworthy that activities of the colonizing powers resulted in global wars (1918 – 1945) and responsible for colossal dehumanization of humanity.
Struggles for political independence by African nations that were colonized brought some peculiar brand of dehumanization, whereby brute force, cunning, subterfuge and shenanigans employed for political freedom, remained as heritage. These added little or no values to individual dignity and identity, but even made situations worse. The processes of partitioning, colonizing, amalgamation and depriving various communities of their rights and dignity also brought about the culture of arbitrariness and impunity. “Warrant chiefs” and tax collectors were foisted on people.
Walter Rodney’s analysis of how Europe under-developed Africa merely scratched at the surface of the issues of dehumanization and distorted development. Historically, here were three traditional scourges of the black man, namely “racism, Arab-Muslim expansionism and white imperialist economic exploitation”. The black race became the recipients of all forms of indignities, abuses and prejudices, under the guise of religious proselytism. Evangelising groups sought to take control of the mind and thinking of “Primitive” people without any consideration of their existing culture and belief system of those they sought to convert.
The so-called political independence attained by colonized communities between 1950-1960 came about largely because of awesome pressures on the parts of the colonial powers. Just as slave trade was abolished because of pressures rather than conviction, so also was hollow independence granted to colonies because of experiences of the World Wars. Like the American war of Independence, black soldiers proved that they were just as humans as the white man. Remove the intimidations of guns and political power, braggadocio can turn to meekness.
Wole Soyinka’s view that the “route to the mind is not the path of bullet, nor the path of the blade, but the invisible, yet palpable paths of discourse” portrays what a Rehumanising process should entail. But what do we find? – the use of bullet, blade and bullying, as the route to the mind. Not discourse!
With a hollow and cleverly packaged political independence, came another localised round of dehumanization, with the arrogance of power and politics of greed and exclusion as instruments for the purpose. Someone described the independence that Nigeria had as medicine whose effect became more dangerous than the ailment. There was no proper diagnosis to ascertain the real needs and ills that needed to be addressed. So, it became a question of not how Europe under-developed Africa, but how Nigeria devalued, shortchanged and dehumanized its citizens. There was a local version of colonialism, employing the instrumentality of religion, ethnicity, treachery and greed to stay in power.
Thus another form of dehumanization entailed the administration of same drug for every symptom or complaint, ignoring the imperative of personal volition and local situation. The need for manpower balancing by means of quota politics brought about enthronement of mediocrity and the ejection of merit in public life. The result of this form of dehumanization and devaluation include frustration on the part of those short-changed and also the fact that nothing works effectively in the country. Thus we have taps that would not hold water, security system that cannot guarantee security and lorry-loads of academic certificates with many of them fake and forged.
Human dignity is closely related to human or personal volition, such that its deprivation is a robbery of the sum-total of what an individual means or stands for. Whenever that centrality of human person is undermined or destroyed, then there is a crime against humanity. This is exactly what many people who hold political and other shades of power seek to do through various ways of denial of people’s volition as an inalienable right. On the part of some individuals there is the tendency towards indolence, moral, mental and physical, resulting in seeking to escape from the rigours of duties and personal responsibilities.
Child up-bringing demands that parents should not make themselves tyrants or become so loose that a child becomes a door-mat or zombie. Similarly those who lead others, or claim to be born to lead, should set such personal examples and become such role models that would inspire others. Law-enforcement agents and coercive institutions should not become sadists and terrorists that set little value on human dignity and freedom. Even those who breach the law should be treated with some level of civility and dignity, and corrected rather than dehumanized. People bring out the best in them if treated as humans. They become wolves if dehumanized!
Rehumanising process demands that people use their hands in ennobling and productive labour and their heads in independent thinking, true to their volition. It is sad if religion joins in the dehumanizing process by turning adherents into lethal automatons and hypocritical dolls. Law and justice must be fair and firm!
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Change Element In Man 

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When I was a secondary school student, I found it hard to believe my geography teacher whenever she thought that the earth rotates. It was indeed difficult to believe her, because a rotating object carries everything in circular motion with it and they will be seen rotating. So, how could my geography teacher have convinced me that the earth rotates, when my house, or my village does not move an inch.
I was only a young boy. So I reasoned like that. Now I am an adult, I have grown the mind of the adult and old enough now to realise that my teacher talked about change. Nothing is permanent but change. Change is the other name for the rotation of the earth. Change is constant. But the earth is not. What constituted value to normal men in those days have dropped along the way. Change determines values.
Values are transient. At best, the most resilient of values i.e. clothing, shelter, manners and other cultural elements are subject to abrasion by the ruffling wave of change. That is why for instance, man talks about good old days. And funny enough if contemporaries of ‘good old days’ will be sincere, they will confess that even in those days thousands and one souls complained and talked about their own ‘good old days.’
Unfortunately, change, at first is the least accepted by men. When we say, for example, that the prices of goods have changed, it presages what experience has revealed to hardship. But natural change, the real change, is positive. This is a gradual process with a precipitation as certain as the rising of the sun from the east. And hence, the nothingness of man is shown when he is forced to adjust to change. Not the other way round.
Our degree of response and adjustment to change determines the difference in our mentality and style of living. For instance, in food, the rich man feeds on sumptuous dishes in sharp contrast to his malnourished poor neighbour. The so-called rich man knows when to make a change in his level or grade of priorities based on the result of his previous pursuit. For his readiness to exploit change, he had demonstrated loyalty to the dictations of all-powerful nature. In reward he reaps the bounties of fortune at the time nature the supreme architect of change, has willed.
Unlike the rich man, the poor man blindly pursues one trend of life and priority. He is so inflexible that he fails to glance over the shoulder of his memory to evaluate what gains he has made from his pursuit. Has there been a change for better from his regular kind of priorities? The poor man does not ask such question. So, the experience of exploiting change constantly escapes him.
We must change with the changing time and values. The consequence of our tendency to be comfortable in mis-chief-making has proved negative in our dreams to parallel the exploits of others. If you go round our villages today, many people still emotionally cling to ancient fetish beliefs. This forever informs inter-familial hatred and inter-communal animosity. They account for the spread of witchcraft and invocation of demonic forces among brothers and sisters.
Too bad. They tend to succeed in cutting down promising lives in their primes, depriving the respective villages of the positive roles they would have played in their quest for a prominent place in the society.
Man has to change his mentality of hostility towards a brother whom he considers better off. He needs to know that the degree of response of his brother to the commands of change and that the volume of sacrifice he makes to exploit change underpins his success. Take, for example, two sons of a brave hunter. The hunter is known for abundant meat supply. One of the two young men is well known for feigning illness to avoid school any time his father kills an animal for consumption.
The other indulges in the consumption not as immodestly as the first boy. The boy who will not compromise his lessons at school, grows up enlightened enough to take a brighter look at life, to the chagrin and envy of the first boy who likes meat consumption at the expense of education. Is he justified to hate, or envy his brother who obeys change? Never!
Some people claim to have been denied education because their forebears were myopic. Agreed. But how come they also think it is evil and foolish to train their children, no matter how brilliant such offsprings are?
Let us make a change. I am praying for the day when the diabolical will wither or scram from the land or be summarily marginalised by a positive breed of men who will fight at the various levels to make life worth living.
Hopefully, they will prove more enlightened and progressive-minded. They will lead, not rule the land. Surely, this new set of men will shore up the all-elusive development of man and his land.

 

By: Arnold Alalibo

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Opinion

Tribute To Bernard Graham-Douglas

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Tuesday, August 16, 1977 was one of those days in the United States of America (USA) that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when news of Elvis Presley‘s death broke; the bit about his funeral being billed for two days later was part of the norms of American society. Given the superstar social status of Elvis, it was obvious that Memphis, Tennessee will be a circus in the next two days and more.
With pockets full of dollars (God bless Diete-Spiff forever), Emmanuel “Iyo” Dokubo and I took off early the next morning in his aerodynamic Chevrolet Camaro from Murray, Kentucky to Memphis on the eastern banks of the Great Mississippi River; we needed to arrive early in the city of Stax Studios and Isaac Hayes prelude to the funeral procession the next day. Elvis was one of those who influenced us as young lads into venturing into music, albeit briefly. So, in our mind, it would be a great personal tragedy if we did not partake in bidding the King of Pop Bye Bye from this dimension of planet earth.
Expectedly, on August 18, 1977, the funeral was attended by music legends: Chet Atkins; Ann-Margret  with her husband, Roger Smith; James Brown; Charlie Hodges; George Hamilton; Ginger Alden; Linda Thompson; and Sammy Davis Jr.  Other mourners ranged from pre-teens to middle-aged and older men and women. The crowd outside the Graceland Gates was estimated at one hundred thousand despite the sweltering heat. A virtually endless motorcade of fourteen white Cadillacs along with the hearse bearing the King’s remains lined the streets from Graceland to Forrest Hill Cemetery where he was laid to rest.
The next morning, Iyo and I took the privilege of the outing to have Dream Breakfast at Lorraine Motel and walk past the historic Room 306 on the corridor where the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr was fatally shot at 6.01pm on Thursday, April 4, 1968. In wide-eyed youthful exuberance, we went to Singing Trees Avenue to meet Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MGs but only met his estranged wife who politely directed us to Ardent Studios. From there, we went to the renowned McLemure Avenue, where the MGs did their mimicry of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. We also visited the eastern banks of the magnificent Mississippi River, which is the second longest river in the US; it draws its headwaters from Lake Itasca in Minnesota, flows 2,320 miles south, connects Ohio River and Missouri River and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
At the end of the escapade, we decided to swing into Nashville, Tennessee to watch Dolly Parton perform at Grand Ole Opry and on to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to hang out briefly with Eben Dokubo (Iyo’s younger brother), Bernard Graham-Douglas and his wife, Caroline, and other Rivers fellows at Middle Tennessee University. Can my generation ever stop praying for Alfred Diete-Spiff?
It was a rousing welcome at Murfreesboro. We reminisced over our days in Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Radio Nigeria, Port Harcourt and relived the day Stella Amachree and I chanced in on Governor Diete-Spiff on the street beside Government House, Port Harcourt which has now been incorporated into Government House. How Spiff recognized Stella and I by our programmes and casually said “we should establish Rivers State Radio,” how everyone in NBC, Port Harcourt that day jubilated at the news and how that casual statement morphed into public policy and many of us were the first set of beneficiaries by way of scholarship; incidentally, I was the numero uno. Mike Oku and Pat Ketebu went to Aberdeen, Scotland while many of us came to America to study Broadcasting/RadioTV, preparatory for the establishment of what is now known as Radio Rivers.
Radio Nigeria, Port Harcourt was home away from home where every artiste rushed to daily even if s/he did not have a programme. The level of camaraderie was palpable and incomparable and it was singlehandedly inspired by the producer, Seniboye Itiye. Ernest Ogbanga and the management team were a safe distance away from us and it was convenient for us to keep it that way and work with Itiye. A pipe-smoking and guitar-strumming consummate motivator of persons, Itiye remains the best boss I have had throughout my life. The bubbly Family of Talkers “sired” by Itiye was made up of the gentle and soft-spoken Mike Oku, the witty Bob Bikefe, Ifiemi Ombu, the beautiful and brainy Stella Amachree, the energetic and highly creative Cornelia Omoniabipi, Chituru Wachuku, Peter Brown and Pat Ketebu, my colleagues from The Blackstones Band, Florence Olali – a strict lady who got married to a medical doctor in Germany and happily left, Boma Erekosima who turned out a great comedian, Steve Bubagba, Matthew Mieyesiegha, Emmanuel Dokubo and Tony Alabraba who joined me at Murray State University, Monima Kelly Briggs, Sunny Meshach-Hart, Chima Oko who joined much later and, of course, Bernard Opubo Graham-Douglas.
Bernard was a Duty Continuity Announcer (DCA); he had the structure, carriage and voice of an ace broadcaster and carried himself with the dignity that befits his physique and attributes. While most of us carried on like foot-loose-and-fancy-free members of the entertainment industry, Bernard displayed a persona that exuded confidence and culture bordering on conservatism. As DCA, he demanded that things should be done the way they were meant to and promptly too. Being part of the generation that Diete-Spiff psyched up and sent overseas to acquire the desired knowledge and come home to develop the state, Bernard did just that. He wasted no time in coming home after his education; he returned with the resolve to give back to the system that was kind and very generous to his generation; a generation that takes pride in its Rivers heritage.
Sadly for Bernard’s generation, the Rivers State they travelled from was robbed of its patriotic essence by years of governance by soldiers of fortune and, most painfully, the psychology of the average Riversman had departed from the firm foundation of patriotism laid by Diete-Spiff. “I, me, mine” had become the ethos and mantra of the society, which Harold Dappa-Biriye, Obi Wali, C.D. Orike, Wenike Tienabeso, Nabo Graham-Douglas, Souza-Okpofabri, Lawrence Ekpebu, Boma G.E. Charles and other well-meaning Riversmen assiduously built from the debris of a bitter civil war that devastated the land and traumatized the people.
Bernard’s generation of Rivers graduates is a product of that team of patriots whose unalloyed patriotism reflected on the beneficiaries of their public policies. Bernard epitomized the essence of a generation that was given a veritable opportunity to build its sense of self-worth through privileged education and travel resulting in so much self-confidence, contentment and the consequent commitment to give back to the system. Sadly, that generation was either politically retired prematurely or sidelined in the scheme of things thereby creating disconnect that is still haunting the state.
Bernard determinedly stood firmly against systemic foibles during a meritorious career in which he rose to the positions of General Manager, Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (RSNC) and Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation (RSBC) and Honourable Commissioner, Rivers State Ministry of Information and Culture.
As preparations are underway to commit the remains of Bernard Opubo Graham-Douglas to mother earth, it is my sincere hope and fervent prayer that his case will be revisited by the current administration of the state and let justice be done; that way, those still in service will be encouraged knowing that they are working for a system that takes care of those that serve it meritoriously.
Adieu Bernard, Rest in the Bosom of the Lord.
Dr. Osai is an Associate Professor in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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