Obafemi Awolowo started it, Ibrahim Babangida formalized it and Olusegun Obasanjo institutionalized it. In 1958, Obafemi Awolowo, a “Christian” instituted the first Pilgrims Welfare Board in May 1958 to facilitate pilgrimages by Muslims to Mecca. When did private religious pilgrimages become the responsibility of the state?

Ibrahim Babangida pulled Nigeria into the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) in 1986.

Olusegun Obasanjo created Sharia States in Nigeria starting with Zamfara State in 2000.

Mixture of religion and politics is always toxic. It is atavistic, cumbersome, and impedes innovation and development. Every human activity in a theocracy is seen through the religious prism of the particular religion and particular sect of that religion. In Nigeria, belonging to the Shia branch of Islam may mean death as the Sunnis are in the driver’s seat.

Awolowo introduced the Pilgrims Welfare Board to garner Muslim votes in a heavily Muslim state. Awolowo is well schooled in the British tradition of divide and rule. His lifelong obsession to become Prime Minister of Nigeria made Awolowo pander to the minorities in the East and North while ignoring the minorities in the Western Region. The votes of those Western minorities in the West do not amount to anything compared to the Yoruba vote.

Babangida got elected President through a military election (coup). One of his first foreign policy initiative was to declare Nigeria, a Muslim state, by joining the OIC. Was this the main thrust of his coup or was he trying to appease his Hausa-Fulani masters? To equilibrate religions, one would have expected him to also pull Nigeria into the OPC (Organization of Pagan Cooperation) and OCC (Organization of Christian Cooperation). If those organizations are non-existent, as an internationalist, he could have founded them.

Obasanjo, pandering to the Muslim vote ignored the introduction of Sharia Law in Zamfara State. Obasanjo is a nominal Christian. His presidential library built with public money, passed off as private donations, houses a church, a mosque, and ? a place for traditional religions. His political machinations got him a second term in office but his heavily-financed third term bid was rebuffed by Nigerians.

The effects of the elevation of Islam to a State Religion, starting with Awolowo in 1958 has so emboldened Muslims that the Nigerian Constitution is an Islamic document. Islam is mentioned 28 times and Muslim 10 times in the constitution whereas there is no mention of church, Christ or Christian. In the same 1999 constitution, Sharia is mentioned 73 times, and Grand Khadi 54 times. There is also no mention of Traditional African Religion or Buddhism. Are we in a secular or Muslim state?

Some Christian governors such as Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State has gone the whole hog by sponsoring Muslim pilgrims with State funds to Mecca. Despite his religious pandering, Muslim Fulani herdsmen are still harassing and homiciding Ebonyi State farmers.

Muslims have become so emboldened that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja in June 2017 approved the purchase of Abuja Metro Plaza for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). The purchase prize which may be in the billions of Naira was not disclosed in the publication.
The Baha’is, Christians, Okija and Sango worshippers are expectantly hoping, that the FEC would purchase plazas for their Pilgrimage Commissions. I expect a rash of lawsuits if the other religions are left hanging in the cold. The whole NAHCON apparatus is run with government finances. The official approving the purchase is a Christian pastor and Coordinating President. The incapacitated President Muhammadu Buhari refused to recognize Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President in his letter to the Nigerian Senate before he flew to London for treatment. A Christian Coordinating President giving his imprimatur to the purchase is an ingenuous Muslim ploy.

Some Recommendations:
1. Religion and pilgrimages are private decisions that should be removed from government business.
2. The new Nigerian Constitution should be devoid of religious bias and every religion should be treated equally.
3. Some would argue that the constitution mentions customary courts. Our customs, mores, and laws were existent before the Arabic, Eastern, and Western Religions invaded Africa.
4. Or divide Nigeria into 5 religious and non-religious countries – Christian, Muslim, Atheists, Traditional Religion, and Others.
5. If the Nigerian Government is emasculated and cannot act in the interest of the public good, then every religion should get a Pilgrimage Commission. This would boost employment, assuage religious tempers, and engender unity.

Comments always welcome.

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