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A Dangerous Awakening

Iheanyi M. Enwerem


Obaro Ikime

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It is true that the majority of the southern political elites were converts to, and beneficiaries from, Christianity. However, given their anti-colonial nationalistic sentiments, they were generally lukewarm to Christianity on account of its connection with colonialism. Even when the southern politicians expressed interest in religion, they generally did so more for their political survival than for the interests of the faith or out of an unequivocal commitment to their faith. This equivocation about one's faith is not the case with most of the political elite from the North. For them, as Shehu Shagari was reported to have revealed years later, one is ‘finished’ if, in politics, one appears to be anti-Islamic. . . .
Iheanyi M. Enwerem, A Dangerous Awakening, pp. 49-50

1This book is a study of religion and politics, using the origins, aims, structure and operation of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) as points of reference. The study is situated in the larger Nigerian religio-political context. In the first two chapters, the author provides the background in which he situates his analysis of the origins and workings of CAN. In the process, not only does he emphasize the central place of religion in the lives of the Nigerian peoples, he also shows how the colonial period of our history prepared the way for the emergence of a struggle for primacy in national politics between Islam and Christianity — two religions which came into Nigeria from outside. As many before him have done, Enwerem draws attention to a fundamental difference between our indigenous religions on the one hand, and Islam and Christianity on the other. While our indigenous religions are accommodating, Islam and Christianity are exclusivist. This characteristic of Islam and Christianity lies at the centre of the competition, struggle and tension between these two faiths in Nigeria. In my view, the passage quoted above (with which I am in complete agreement) is an excellent summation of the attitudes of the adherents of the two faiths to religion and politics.

2The nature, eruption, strength and weaknesses of CAN can hardly be understood outside the reality of the manner in which the southern Christian elites look at politics vis-a-vis their faith. Indeed, as the author himself has striven to show, it is the activities of CAN that have awakened Christians to the need to take their faith much more seriously and to begin to seek committed Christians who can be supported for political office. That, indeed, is one of CAN's most outstanding achievements.

3Although not necessarily new, the author has provided for us a most refreshing summary of the role of Ahmadu Bello, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, in conditioning the Muslims of the former Northern Nigeria to aspire not only to political control of the central government, but also to Islamize all Nigeria. Equally refreshing is the author's analysis of the attitude of the Muslim North to Yakubu Gowon, a Christian non Hausa-Fulani who held power at the centre from 1966-1975. This analysis shows how the Muslim North in allowing a Christian to rule at the centre, nevertheless used Gowon to adumbrate policies favourable to their interests, including Nigeria's observer status in the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). The Gowon years were, for the Islamic North, years of preparation for effective take over of the reins of federal power by Muslims. The coming of Murtala Muhammed was the beginning of renewed Muslim control of federal power. His unexpected assassination brought in a non-Muslim head of state, during whose tenure CAN was born. CAN was born precisely because by 1976, what appeared like a grand design by the Islamic North to take over Nigeria's central authority, was already apparent. The birth of CAN has, thus far, checked certain aspects of that grand design. The existence of CAN, as this work shows, has forced the federal authority, determined by the Muslim North, to reckon with Christian sensitivity to its policies. But, Enwerem insists, this has been done at the expense of heightening religious intolerance. Growing religious intolerance is the price Nigeria has had to pay as unorganized Christianity, through CAN, stands up to organized Islam! It is, no doubt, this growing intolerance that informs the choice of the title of the book. It is a book that every literate Nigerian should read.

4The actual study of CAN is done in chapters three to five. The research that has produced these chapters is thorough and Enwerem handles his subject with consumate skill. I have no desire to dwell on these chapters in this foreword beyond commending them to the reader.

5The concluding chapters of the work, chapters six and seven, are compulsory reading for all Christians and all interested in future relations between Christians and Muslims. Not all readers will agree with Enwerem's adverse comments about CAN's attitude to women and its ambivalence when it comes to taking a stand as to whether it is a political organization. Even so, the issues he raises are important national issues. It is interesting that Enwerem castigates CAN for not giving women a more definite role within the organization, but says nothing about how Islam treats women. Perhaps the unwritten advice is that if CAN were more positive in its attitude to women, this very fact could redound to its advantage politically. Be that as it may, Enwerem here highlights a recurring national problem — the place and role of women in our nation, given their sheer numerical strength and their irreplaceable role in sustaining the home. I believe that even the Christian churches have to work out more meaningful roles for women without losing sight of the differences divinely implanted between man and woman.

6One point made by Enwerem which I feel obliged to highlight is what he sees as the need to draw together progressive elements from all religions in the country and get them to work together for the positive development of the nation. On the face of it, there is every reason to promote what Enwerem tags ‘emancipatory religiosity’. The question which arises is whether CAN, as CAN, is the kind of body that should sponsor such an aspiration. I think not. A body set up to protect the rights of Christians can hardly be expected to generate that kind of cooperation. Yet some degree of agreement to live and let live is necessary if Nigeria is to march ahead as a united nation. Muslims will no doubt want to see Nigeria become a caliphate, just as Christians pray that Nigeria should become a Christian nation. Both groups can justifiably hold on to their aspirations. The truth is that for now Nigeria is, in a sense, a hotch-potch of religions.

7I have read this book to my great benefit. I honestly commend it to Nigeria's reading public as an extremely valuable addition to the growing number of works that deal with religion and politics in Nigeria. In an age in which even many who lay claim to great learning seem to have great difficulty writing effectively, Enwerem is to be congratulated on his mastery of detail, analysis and presentation. It is sheer joy to read this book which reminds one of Matthew Hassan Kukah's Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria, another book of this genre. I believe that Enwerem's book will be a success in terms of circulation and when CAN is 25, he will be able to re-visit it and see how today's reality has affected its structure, operation and role.

8Ibadan, 1994


© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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