Years ago, I was a junior secondary school pupil of Government College, Ibadan. Early morning on assembly ground, I would watch as Miss Jimoh or Mrs. Oyerinde, stand eyes closed in prayer, cane in hand, while concluding each prayer sentence with “in the name of Jesus!” Young as I was during those years, there was something unsettling about their prayers.
You see, GCI had a rule, or so I had learned from old boys, that the school was secular in the sense that on assembly grounds prayers favoring Christianity or Islam may not be made, but God can be used because of its neutrality to both religions. But these teachers, wittingly or not, broke the rule, and it was okay. Many years later this praying style lends me a view to the Nigerian Christian mind.
Lately, I have been thinking of my Nigerian Christian friends and their privilege (which most are unaware of its existence) in the academic institutions and workplace. Many of our Nigerian Christian friends never had issues stemming from their conscience conflicting with the system, so when a fellow Nigerian compatriot who is a Muslim say he or she has a conflict with the system, they’re fast to think that the person is just being unnecessarily stubborn and being a cry-baby. Those Muslims are extremist anyways.
But what the Nigerian Christian friend forget is the fact that even though both Muslims and Christians are full citizens of the country, the system of the country had been designed primarily with the needs and accommodation of one person in mind – the Nigerian Christian. Not the Muslim.
The British Imperialists who colonized us were Christians so every aspect of life touched by them was designed to naturally favor their way of living which has Christianity at its center. This is not to say that there was a cynical attempt to make the systems exclusively favor one religion over the other, because such an assertion would be ludicrous. They were just doing what came naturally to them, and had Muslims colonized Nigeria, the same would have been true as well. So returning to the point, Sundays were no school days, Christmas and New Year celebrations fell wholly in holiday seasons, and there was nothing prohibiting the use of crucifix in schools.
You will remember that most of the public schools were once missionary schools. In Ibadan, we have Saint Annes Girls School, Saint Teresa, Baptist High School, Methodist High School, and many more. This again buttresses the point that everything is in favor of the Nigerian Christian student. He never has to worry about his Sunday church service conflicting with WAEC schedule as we have seen in recent years for Muslim students, when the examination commission in a cavalier way set an exam time to conflict with the time for Jumua service.
Nigeria has been independent for a while now (some 57 years) and I do think the recent public debates on the violations of Nigerian citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of religious expression should call the Nigerian Christian student to a somber reflection of his or her own privilege. The Nigerian Christian should understand that she is called freely to the bar without any buts or ifs because of the privilege that comes with being Christian in Nigeria. She should therefore rise and hold the hand of the Nigerian Muslim woman and demand that she too must be called to the bar with no ifs and buts.
She should understand that putting a scarf on one’s head as required by one’s faith should have no bearings on once admission to nursing school at all. He should know that, just like shaving the beard clean is of no consequence to one’s office job, keeping it should equally be inconsequential.
In short, the Nigerian Christian must look into the privilege his religion affords him in this country of ours, and make sure that other Nigerians be afforded similar rights and privileges. No one should have to choose between identifying as a Christian, and being a journalist. I think you and I will agree on this.