Nigeria: Is our Religious Morality failing us?

Nigeria: Is our Religious Morality failing us?

Why be moral? This is an age-old philosophical question that has varying answers by school of thought. But for Nigerians, the answer is unequivocal — God.

A Pew Research Global Attitudes report shows that 91% of Nigerians think that belief in God is essential to be moral. That’s only 8% lower than our good friends the Ghanaians, with 98%, asserting that you must be a theist to have any form of moral bearing.

Morality in itself is very difficult to standardize. It has a broad spectrum of interpretation varying by culture, tradition, religion and even by individuals. In psychology, some argue that morality (the intuitive sense of good and evil) is an intrinsic quality of a rationale human being.

Some three months ago, I was seated in a Business class and watched as my professor explained away how countries with lower GDP per capita (poor countries) have a higher percentage of moral theists, and the stats held up. There exists a negative statistical correlation between wealth and a belief in God as a moral bearing. The fit line below shows a steady decrease in the percentage of those who think belief in God is necessary for morality as GDP per capita increases by country. The outliers to this trend being China and the US.

Now, correlation doesn’t always mean causation and it is the statistical nuances and implications I seek to explore.

What is morality to Nigerians? Again bearing in mind that the moral compass of Nigerians is religion, we look no further. The religious landscape of Nigeria is broadly Muslim or Christian, with other religious minorities. The CIA Fact Book on Nigeria reports Nigeria is 50% Muslim, 40% Christian and 10% others (religious and atheist). These faiths have differing theological views when it comes to certain moral issues, but they strongly overlap in certain areas. This is indicated by common responses to questions pertaining to moral issues as seen in the graphic below. Nigerians, when asked questions on a moral issue like pre-marital sex, gambling, extramarital affair, were asked to respond whether they were morally acceptable or morally unacceptable. Have a look:

*Only reported for responses to “morally unacceptable” other responses include “morally acceptable” and “not a moral issue”. Data: Pew Global Research Project 2013

First of all, why more than half of Nigerians deem contraceptives to be morally unacceptable is just hard to understand. Why it is even a moral issue is another question to explore later. I am Nigerian and I understand the tendencies we Nigerians have to pride ourselves in the high moral standards we have set for ourselves. But setting a standard is one thing, and meeting it is a whole different story. We have to really look into this self-gratifying “moral principles” we conceitedly lay claim to. At the end of the day, deeming fornication, adultery, homosexuality or abortion morally unacceptable, has no bearing whatsoever on the common interests of Nigerians that matters most.

A myopic interpretation of moral values can be blinding. Drinking alcohol is morally unacceptable but corruption is not. Gambling is morally unacceptable, but apparently public officers who loot government funds are more than acceptable, judging by the hero’s welcome and reverence they receive in their local constituencies. Pre-marital sex is not morally unacceptable, but literally selling our votes to the highest bidder at polling stations is more than welcome. Nepotism, tribalism and religious chauvinisms and bigotry are certainly more tolerable than that vile homosexual, whose sexual activities is wrecking the economy of Nigeria!

Nothing epitomizes Nigeria’s religious sentiments when it comes to religious beliefs influencing government legislature than the anti-gay law passed in 2014 and signed by then President Goodluck Jonathan criminalizing homosexuality in Nigeria, with jail term up to 10 years. It probably was the cheapest political points Jonathan could have ever won. The law was met with widespread bi-partisan acceptance and commendation by Nigerians across two belligerent parties, the PDP and the then ACN. This was the same administration where corruption was at its peak in our nascent democracy. This was the same administration where cabinet members were like oligarchs, bullying the ordinary man, recklessly spending public funds at will, buying properties abroad, flying private jets and buying bullet proof cars costing ₦250 million; yet still could walk free and even contest for governorship! Sure the Bible and Quran condemns homosexuality, but how is it so easy to condemn and criminalize it but give a pass on government theft, embezzlement, greed, misappropriation of public funds and political oppression?

It’s no surprise that the poorest countries are more religious. I don’t necessarily believe that faith is a direct hindrance to the economic growth of any country; the US and China are controlling evidences of this. The US has always been a deeply religious nation, nearly all US presidents since George Washington have been practicing Christians, and some of their greatest advances economically like in the industrial age, was driven by staunch Christians of the likes of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. But they were never myopic in their interpretation of morality for the common good of the country. It was that rational intuitive nature to recognize what is a common good for a country and what is a vice that forged public legislations.

I am a fervent Christian, and strongly believe and practice the tenets of my faith. I am no advocate for societal wantonness or immorality, neither am I amoral. I also believe that my faith has a role to play in reforming individual moral beliefs for the better. But when it comes to national interests, moral issues like fornication, alcoholism, adultery and all other personal moral opinions must be put in perspective to those that are of greater consequence to the collective people of the Nation. Currently I stay in Canada, a country very much at the lowest point in that curve earlier shown and I can attest that here, there has not been a break down of law and order due to lack of moral theists. Sure there are things I see day-to-day that I personally consider morally wrong, but ultimately moral issues like integrity, transparency, honesty, accountability, responsibility, and even customer service (which I consider to be a moral issue) is not just sustaining this county, but thriving it.

Our high standards of religious morality just papers over the cracks on a broader consequential failure of the values really affects us collectively. Criminalizing homosexuality wouldn’t grow the GDP, any more than arresting a prostitute will grow a tree in your backyard. Advanced economies have driven their growth on astute economic policies, consolidated by ethical standards that are molded by the common good of the people and just plain common sense.

Nigerians, why be moral?

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  1. I’ve always said we are blindly religious in Nigeria and it is clearly leading us into a hole. This piece was well articulated. Well done Emeka

  2. I must commend your efforts in your concise and explicit research to come up with this beautiful write up but then again would it be fair to blame only the religious institutions for the decay in our moral tenets mind you, both religions which are majorly practiced in Nigeria are alien to her citizens so even if they have been accustomed to us over certain decades I feel they can have little or less impact in driving our morality because our default state of understanding and actions are deeply African rooted.I feel different cultures of the world hold on to their cultural customs and traditions more than their religion and that’s why you’d hear people say religion was made for man and not man for religion..meaning they can filter/alter what ever they deem as beneficial to themselves from their religion and discard the other principle which they feel judges them from the same religion they created as this was clearly observed during the trans Atlantic slave trade. We should look more into updating or upgrading our approach in our educational(formal and informal) institutions as this I feel would drive more morally conscious citizens in our society….. #don’t forget so many churches are business oriented these days so forget about morality and for Islam there are a lot of radical beliefs that they feel should still be practiced. In all our religious morality has failed us and we need something new to correct our wrong direction.

  3. The fact that religious individuals make their subjective, mostly unrefined religious tenets a moral standard for people in their environment is infuriating and darn right offensive … and as the charts verify, a religious moral standard offers negative economical effects to any Country “burdened” by it.

  4. Emeka, solid piece yet again.
    Religion is that “righteous” blindfold that Nigerians adorn with pride. Government plays on this fact to manipulate and distract us from what’s really important. We need to wake up

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