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Death of workplace religion: The Polaris Bank mis-example

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By Festus Adedayo

A letter was found in 2006 in the room of a Nigerian drug leader after his apprehension in Thailand. The note had read: “Almighty God in Heaven, I have the right to be rich. I have the right to be a millionaire and no country has the right to pass laws that interfere with my reaching my goal of being rich. Any laws that are designed to keep me from this goal are illegitimate”.

Stephen Elis, the late British historian and author of an expose on the history of Nigerian corruption roulette, ‘This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian organized crime’, used the above story to illustrate the chivalrous romance between religion and crime in Nigeria.

On September 17, 2022, three lead discussants of the topic, ‘Issues in Nigeria from a Christian perspective’, literally blew the roof off the Anglican Church of the Messiah located in Bodija, Ibadan, the Oyo state capital. They were Jacob Kehinde Ayantayo, a professor of Religious Ethics, Religion and Society, Religion, Peace and Conflict Studies, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan; an outspoken architect, Sunkanmi Onadeko and myself. Mrs Modupe Olubanjo brilliantly compered the symposium. If the church expected a cavalier treatment of the humongous crises in Christendom’s interface with society, it got much more than it bargained for. In unpretentious analyses of how Christianity was richly implicated in the current phenomenal tragedy of the Nigerian socio-political crises, the three of us drilled down into how charlatans masquerading as religionists have contributed immensely to the problems that bedevil us as a people. We brought out the log hidden in the eyes of the laity, clergy and barons of Christianity.

Last week, Polaris Bank, one of Nigeria’s commercial banks, provoked a hoopla which brought to the front burner some of the issues that engaged the Bodija troika. Apparently bothered by the persistent absence of its Muslim staff on Fridays, under the pretext of going for the religious ritual of Jum’at prayer, one of the bank’s supervising staff, Damilola Adebara, issued an internal memo banning such magisterial, self-granted absence from work and threatened sanctions on whoever flouted the ban.

No sooner had this memo surfaced, aware that when it comes to the issue of religion, Nigerians lose their sense of reasoning, than some of the mischievous staff escalated it on social media. Thereafter, bigotry, naivety, ancient but inexplicable grovelling before religion, and the traditional indolent culture of the average Nigerian worker, gained traction.

Ostensibly bothered by the commercial losses staring it in the face, rather than an institutional resolution of this patently nonsensical spiritual preferencing over human existence, Polaris Bank management demonstrated the reversibility of immense proportion and disowned Adebara.

There are two theologies that have contributed to the social menace of crime and indolence in Nigeria today. The first is the menace provoked by the theology of abundance and the second is the theology of “God will supply my needs”. The first is given credence by the unexplained and inexplicable avalanche of wealth that cannot be logically explained which flood Nigeria today. It is explained by that letter written by the arrested Nigerian drug baron earlier quoted above.

The second theology of God-will-supply-my-needs-according-to-his-riches-in glory, or the I-will-have-mercy-on-whom-I-will syndrome – an obvious literal reading of the holy writ – is responsible for the high rate of indolence in Nigerian Christendom. It is why there is a phenomenal increase in the rate of Nigerians who privilege miraculous, illogical and inexplicable rag-to-riches more than believing in the supremacy of the work of their hands.

In both instances, this new wave of theologies gained ascendancy in the late 1970s in the western part of Nigeria through the incursion of Pentecostal churches. Incidentally, that was about the time when the economy of Nigeria began to suffer its fall and the excitement of the petro-dollars wave began to give way. The Shehu Shagari austerity measure policy of the early 1980s, the profligacy of the Ibrahim Babangida era and the government’s legitimising of corruption as government policy pushed Nigeria to the cusp of economic crises, gradually stultifying the hopes of the people.

As the economy began to kiss the canvas, vultures called Pentecostal churches increased in number. Parodying the poet, David Diop, it was in those days when civilisation kicked us in the face and when holy water slapped our cringing brows. These Pentecostal vultures preyed on the hopelessness of our people, with their blood-soaked talons. The teachings of “Ise ni ogun ise” — work is the antidote to poverty– a famous poem written by J.F. Odunjo were easily swapped with the religious phenomenon of God-will-supply-my-needs-according-to-his-riches-in-glory and I-will-have-mercy-on-whom-I-will, which are counterpoise of the former. Nigerians began to rely on God rather than the products of the works of their hands and before we knew it, we arrived at this frightening intersection which my friend, Ebenezer Obadare, calls the Pentecostal Republic. In this republic, we are lawful captives and our human reasons are imprisoned, making us robots in the hands of religious vultures.

At that Anglican Church conference, Ayantayo’s singe was the most audacious. In his intervention on the church and the Nigerian problems, Ayantayo located the current disposition of the church in its role centuries ago when it had the power to tax people and its laws must be obeyed. “Those who held contrary ideas were considered heretics and could be subject to various forms of punishment, including execution. The church in the Middle Ages was to be feared and obeyed, and its influence spread into every area of society,” he said. This approximated the church-setting agenda for society, a custodian of societal values. The religious leaders of old also preached and lived Christ-like lives, with materialism totally out of fashion. Indeed, the apostles of old, as exemplified by the death of Brother Ananias and Sister Saphira, were socialists and shared their wealth in common. Some of the early churches in Africa also copied such asceticism which is mirrored in the phrase, “he is as poor as the church rat”.

Onadeko addressed the destruction that Nigerian politics has wrecked on Nigerian life and how the church has been helpless in intervening on behalf of its people.

Because the relationship that exists between politics and morality was one of the sub-themes of the symposium, I began my intervention by putting a lie to the phrase that has been mendaciously promoted among politicians over time that politics and morality are as separable as walnut pod seeds. I took my sermon from the bible of political science as propounded by A. Appadurai in his famous ‘The Substance of Politics’. Appadurai had said that ethics, being a branch of study that investigates laws of morality and formulates rules of conduct, is occupied by the rightness and wrongness of man’s conduct and the ideals he should work towards. Lord Acton continued on this path by stating that the greatest question for politics is to discover not what government prescribes but what it ought to prescribe. Thus, between Appadorai and Acton, there is a connection between ethics and politics. On every political issue, just like we did over the APC’s Muslim-Muslim presidential candidature, we must raise the question of ethics and morality because if political action is morally wrong, it can never be politically right.

Politicians in government and religious charlatans have pauperised the thinking faculty of the Nigerian people so much that they hardly can think straight. It does not matter the level of education they have or their exposure. Because existential threats to life are more predominant here in Africa, vultures easily use religious preachments of succour as manacles to enchain the people. It was exactly what that jobless graduate of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Ogbomoso, Oyo state, did about a couple of months ago. Ostensibly neglected by the government, society and even the church he attended for years, immediately the alumni of his ex-school donated N500,000 as seed money for him to embark on a vocation, the first thing he remembered was to pay 10% of the amount to his church as a tithe. This was a church that ostensibly didn’t remember him in his years of travails. But because he had literally been imprisoned to reason this way, he had become captive to the church tithe payment orthodoxy.

While both Islam and Christianity have enslaved their adherents to think of religion at the expense of existence, Christianity is the major culprit in disciplining a beehive of adherents whose thinking is configured to think that God will bless them in spite of their joblessness. Women are the worst hit by this bullet of rag-to-riches craving. They besiege churches in their hundreds early in the morning for answers to existential challenges of bad health, joblessness, and craving for the good life that a welfarist state should have provided. Churches then capitalise on the failure of the state to give answers to those existential problems. To reify this thought, you find Christian leaders investing billions of naira in building mega auditoria with poor people’s offerings and tithes. They buy private jets, build helipads to their homes and flaunt their nauseating riches as Africa’s richest pastors. This is wealth got at the expense of impoverished congregants. Pastorpreneurship and Evangeconomics, the order in the church today, in the words of Ayantayo, is where the word of God or God’s name has become a business of making money, earning a living and extortion as well as squeezing out material goods from unsuspecting adherents at bible/Quran-point.

The Polaris bank memo to its staff by Adebara is the way to go in any sensible society. Only that there is a dosage of hypocrisy in it. While that same management wouldn’t see anything wrong in gathering staff to speak in tongues at congregational early morning prayer in the office, it sees everything wrong in observance of the Jum’at prayer. Some Muslimpreneurs justify allowing staff to go pray during office hours, citing US & Europe where they claim employees have the right to pray at work. They claim that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Equality Act 2010 in the UK justify this.

The danger in this kind of forced indulgence is that employers may now be wary of recruiting persons who would be leaving work for prayer at peak periods. I have threatened to sack an employee who escaped from office to pray in church. It is a sheer deification of indolence. Religious programmes during work hours kill personal and public economies by stealth. The holy writ which counsels working and then praying didn’t privilege the latter over the former. If bank staff leave their offices in the thick of work to pray in a mosque or church, who makes up for that lapse? The alternative is for such banks or employers to ask Christian/Muslim workers to stand in for the period the particular religion’s staff are off for Jum’at/Christian prayers but such staff must make up for the time they waste by leaving work for prayers.

Of course, religion barons who profit from this slavish disposition of religion like Ishaq Akintola are quick to seize on this to canvass their wonky and illogical mindset. Akintola’s Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has been notorious in this regard, using religion as a divisive weapon to hoodwink Nigerians. Like Bob Marley said, all that Akintola seems to want the people to do, in the name of religion, is to “keep on fussing and fighting”. He did this immediately after the Polaris Bank issue came up by asking the bank to apologize to Muslims or risk a boycott of its bank which the bank tremulously obeyed.

Couching his threat in his usual divisive mantra, MURIC said it condemned the “strong-arm tactic aimed at Christianising the bank’s policies and de-Islamising Muslim staff of Polaris Bank”. What nonsense! MURIC should pray to Allah to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed Muslims who would gladly swap positions with the ones who are asked to observe the simple courtesy of not denying customers’ attention during office hours. We are not in an Islamic or Christian republic. If the Nigerian constitution states that the country is secular, it holds that Nigeria neither holds a belief nor disbelief in religion. It is not the other way round.

Ayantayo’s submission is my way forward for this country that needs a religious mind reset. First, the proliferation of churches and mosques today is a sign of national indiscipline and apocalypse. Prosperity and materialism gospelling have overwhelmed the economic capacity of the church and the theology of contentment has been replaced with the theology of lust, avarice and godlessness in the name of prosperity. Hard work performed within the boundary of righteousness is the only thing that produces wealth as, according to the holy writ, the blessing of God added no sorrow. Spending stupendously alarming time in churches for religious programmes rather than in productive ventures kills our economy. Adebara is a hero for upsetting religious orthodoxy.

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