By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Capture the sacred-thoughts and write it in a journal.- Lailah Gifty Akita
Appreciate the sacred life you have, it is a gift from God.- Lailah Gifty Akita.
Nigeria is no doubt the one place that is home to one out of every three black Africans globally. So, it is safe to say that Nigeria with multidimensional and multifaceted ethnic groups will ipso facto represent a dominant percentage of the overall cultural and traditional practices and tendencies of all of black people wherever they are found in the World. However, amongst these diversities in religious, cultural and traditional composition, there is a single dominant trait that holds us all together and this is the belief system that life in general is sacred and therefore can’t be destroyed since we can’t create life.
Perhaps, a Theologian and a very illustrious Nigerian Catholic Priest by name Oliver Onwubiko, Ph.D, best captured the essence and nature of life in some of his African philosophical writings scattered all over many books and published essays.
Reverend Doctor Oliver Onwubiko is reputed to have affirmed that the African world per se is a world of animate, inanimate and spiritual beings. For traditional Africans, this is nature and they perceive it as encapsulating all needs human beings depend on such as; food, clothes, shelter, medicine, tools, etc. It is just like an immense womb, says Edward Kanyike (2018), warm and pulsating with life and reality. In respect to this, the African sees not only human life as sacred but all sources of life. Incidentally Oliver Onwubiko was my teacher at the Major Catholic Religious Seminary in Nekede Imo State where he taught African Traditional Religion.
Before proceeding, let me say that the mainstay of this reflection is to establish the similarity between how Americans are fast losing their Christian religious faith which is an integral aspect of their weltanschauung and also how the heightened levels of killings of humans in contemporary Nigeria means that both of the USA and Nigeria are witnessing identical decline of cultural heritages.
I will later give an extensive citation of a news report by yahoonews.com on the unfortunate decline of Christian values in the USA to demonstrate that it is not so different from the apocalyptic levels of cultural decline in all of modern day Nigeria. The author and Theologian Oli era Onwubiko gave perceptive evidence of why the decline in Nigeria is happening and I think the reasons adduced by this Scholar are the same for the USA in today’s World.
As aforementioned, Reverend Dr. Oliver Onwubiko in his African Thought, Religion and Culture (1991) noted that trees and animals believed to facilitate reincarnation are also sacred. Another of the African scholars mentioned in this line of conceptualisation of the African cultural value system as encapsulating the sacredness of life is Dr. Obiechina.
As reported in his study of West African novels, Obiechina (1975) recorded that “Mystical association with nature is well illustrated by the large number of trees sacred to minor gods and spirits. Almost all the novels set in traditional villages mention sacred or mystically charged trees”. In relation to this, De Graeve affirmed also that sap-filled trees in India and Africa are theophanies of divine motherhood. Women who wished to be fertile and spirits of the dead who want to be reborn seek such trees. In many African myths, spirits are presented also as talking animals which drives home the reason they are held as sacred. In Malawi, for instance, the small reddish spider called Mulungu which appears after the rain is associated with divinity. Intertwined as it is with the sacred, all sources of life then share also the ambivalence of the sacred. This mutual association crystallizes why the African cosmos is a composition of animate, inanimate and spiritual beings as earlier stated.
We are compelled to affirm just like some philosophers have established that the concept of the sanctity of life therefore brings to light the inviolability of life. It denotes that God alone is the giver and author of life and human beings are only the custodians.
A media reporter asserted that the above perspective and concept of the sanctity of life is fittingly captured in the Fifth commandment which reads: “You shall not kill” (cf. Ex. 21:13). Its positive enjoinment entails preservation of life. Before the advent of Christianity, the traditional Africans had this concept engraved in their hearts and culture. The African avoids violence and any act that threatens human life and existence, like; war, murder, abortion, suicide, amongst others, so wrote a media reporter.
The reporter said historically, in Africa, especially under ancient African jurisprudence, there were cases in which people were killed but those people who were killed were those whose continued existence was a threat to others and to the peace of the community. Hence the Igbo aphorism oka mma na otu onye nwuru karia ohaneze (it is better for one man to die than for all the community to perish) is applicable here.
When all formal media taken to attain peace fail, war was seen as a last resort. War was when murder was committed officially or in self-defense but in African culture, the murderer goes through a ritual of washing away the blood of the slain man off his hands and he is not expected to eat until the ritual is over, so captured in a column published recently.
African philosophers recorded that abortion was a taboo as well as murder and suicide. They were moral absolutes and the perpetrators were not left without punishment. If a person conscientiously killed another, the person faces death as well. But if a kinsman is inadvertently killed by a member of the community, the person was exiled for a long period of time. This is traceable to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart when Okonkwo was exiled for inadvertently killing a kinsman. The one who commits suicide was not buried as a punitive measure because his or her body was believed to be abominable to mother earth.
An East African Philosopher known as Dr. Mbiti in his African Religions and Philosophy (1970) remarkably noted that the blood of virginity is the symbol that life has been preserved. He noted that it depicts the spring of life has not been flowing wastefully and that both the girl and her relatives have preserved the sanctity of human reproduction. This sanctity of human reproduction derives its sacredness from the sanctity of life in the African concept.
The sanctity associated with life affirms Dr. Oliver Onwubiko (1991) goes to explain the rigidity with which the Africans treat and regard sexual intercourse and the sex organs.
The media narrator then stated that it is quite unfortunate that in our African milieu hitherto, we experience acts contrary to the sacredness of life and human dignity in forms of abortion, suicide, jungle justice, murder, genocide, homosexuality, lesbianism. It is true that the African culture was one that encountered European culture through colonialism alongside Christianity through evangelization which caused a transformation of the African religion and culture.
The encounter the reporter said was truly a gain and a loss. A gain in the sense that certain socio-cultural and religious tenets that eliminated life were brought to a stop through enlightenment and the Word of God, like; the killing of twins, beheading of virgins for funeral rites of kings, sacrificing human beings to gods.
While gaining, the African culture was gradually losing some of its cultural values to the influences of humanism, secularism, materialism. For instance, in 1997, South Africa legalized abortion and in 2006, she legalized same sex marriage.
The writer said giving such acts a legal status is like a gradual obliteration and humiliation of African humanity. This is the opinion of that writer and not mine.
But I agree that the successive acceleration of science and technology, on the other hand, has taken over ecology and endangered it by neglecting the African taboos and bans against the destruction of nature.
The Africans know that far from destroying nature, they ought to protect and preserve it due to the indissoluble harmony that exists in their cosmology. Those taboos and bans considered as pre-scientific as Edward Kanyike avers (2018), should be seen as the tenets of a science that we seem to have lost.
Finally, Africans hold life in high esteem and this regard for life is summarized in some Igbo expressions like: Nduka (Life is supreme), Ndubuisi (Life is paramount), Ndukaaku (Life is better than riches), etc. It subordinates matters to life and practically sees all forms of materialism, humanism, immorality, etc, which ultimately leads to the destruction of life as alien and destructive of the African culture and concept of the sanctity of life.
Dominic James Aboi writes that: “Most of Sub-Saharan Africa at a point was not only physically conquered, but militarily subdued, its people were psychologically broken and made to feel less than them by the colonial masters through cultural differentiation and political imperialism…”( see the book titled “The National Youth Service Corps and National integration.”)
That decline in respect to how Africans and Nigerians perceived human life as SACRED has become increasingly worrisome in the last couple of years and especially since Muhammadu Buhari became President in 2015. The following are stories of how soldiers were beheaded in parts of Nigeria. The first is on the military couple Linus and his bride who were allegedly beheaded somewhere in Imo State.
A family member had narrated the circumstances surrounding the killing of Gloria Matthew and Linus Audu, an army couple who were reportedly beheaded in Imo state.
The media had earlier reported that Gloria and Audu were said to be on their way to “fulfill the traditional rites for their wedding” when they were attacked.
Speaking to the BBC disinformation unit, the family member said the duo were attacked by four armed persons at an area not far from Banana junction in Orlu, Imo state.
“It happened around 3pm. They were traveling to Nkwerre from Lagos,” BBC quoted the family source as saying.
The wedding was said to have been fixed for May 2 at Nkwerre LGA of Imo state.
“Audu is from southern Kaduna but he lives in Makurdi. Gloria is based in Sokoto. They arrived in Lagos from Kaduna on the 26th of April to pick up Gloria’s mum so that they can travel together for the traditional marriage rites,” the source said.
The source wasn’t, however, sure if the attack happened on April 30 or May 1, but added that the photograph of Gloria’s corpse was posted on her WhatsApp status on May 1.
They killed Linus’ relatives that day. The leader of the armed men ordered them (gunmen) to shoot. They killed them (the couple) in front of Gloria’s 10-year-old daughter and her mum,” the source said.
The army had also confirmed the killing of the couple, adding that efforts are on to apprehend the perpetrators.
The failed President of Nigeria, Major General Muhammadu Buhari(rtd) had, in a statement issued on May 4, last year described the beheading of the soldiers as “barbaric”.
Describing the incident as “unacceptable”, Buhari added that security agencies have been directed to “do their utmost in apprehending the perpetrators of these barbaric acts and bring them to justice.”
President Muhammadu Buhari has so far failed to bring mass killers to justice and one year down the line, those who beheaded the military couple have not been arrested, prosecuted or punished in accordance with the law.
They killed Linus’ relatives that day. The leader of the armed men ordered them (gunmen) to shoot. They killed them (the couple) in front of Gloria’s 10-year-old daughter and her mum,” the source said.
The army had also confirmed the killing of the couple, adding that efforts are on to apprehend the perpetrators. Last year’s December a female Lieutenant who has just graduated was abducted in Imo State.
Recall that Lieutenant PP Johnson, a female military officer, was abducted by unidentified gunmen on December 26, 2022, while visiting her grandmother, in Aku-Okigwe in Imo State.
The video of her abduction and torture went viral with a background voice warning all Igbos in the Nigerian Army to resign or face abduction soon.
However, after a few hours, it was reported that the abducted female officer was rescued by the Nigeria Police Force but that was a false alarm and till today January 23rd 2023, the young female Army officer’s whereabouts is unknown.
But, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, a Director of the Army Public Relations, in a statement, said no rescue has been made yet, as search operations are already in progress.
“The attention of the Nigerian Army (NA) has been drawn to some publications circulating on social media insinuating the rescue of Lieutenant PP Johnson, a female officer who was abducted on Monday 26 December 2022 while visiting her grandmother in Aku-Okigwe in Imo state, shortly after completion of her Cadet training and subsequent commissioning as a Lieutenant into the Nigerian Army.”
In Anambra State last year June newspaper reported that barely a month after a member of the House of Assembly Okechukwu Okoye was beheaded by gunmen, another former member of the state assembly Nelson Achukwu was found beheaded after his family had paid N15 million ransom to the gunmen.
Similarly, that same thing just happened twenty four hours ago in Arondizuogu Imo State. The abducted Sole Administrator of the Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, Chris Ohizu, has been beheaded.The council boss was butchered on Sunday after his abductors allegedly received N6 million as ransom. Video of his beheading surfaced online on Sunday, where his killers insisted that there would be no election in the country.
A source from the LGA, who did not want to be named, disclosed that the killers of the sole administrator published videos of the beheading with the phone of their victim on his WhatsApp status.The source said, “The sole administrator has been beheaded. We saw videos of how he was being beheaded on Sunday. His killers posted it with his phone on his own WhatsApp status. That was how people got to know that he was beheaded.
“The videos were horrible. He was tied and half naked before he was beheaded. That was a painful way to die. They butchered him after collecting N6 million ransom.” When contacted, the spokesperson for the police in the state, Henry Okoye, confirmed the incident and simply said “investigation is ongoing.”
The slain sole administrator was kidnapped on Friday alongside two others after burning his country home at Imoko community in the Arondizuogu area of the LGA. He was shot before he was taken away.
Regarding the decline in the USA, crucially, an online report titled “Losing their religion: why US churches are on the decline”, captured all of how Christian value system is in sharp decline today in the USA.
Churches are closing at rapid numbers in the US, researchers say, as congregations dwindle across the country and a younger generation of Americans abandon Christianity altogether – even as faith continues to dominate American politics.
As the US adjusts to an increasingly non-religious population, thousands of churches are closing each year in the country – a figure that experts believe may have accelerated since the Covid-19 pandemic.
The situation means some hard decisions for pastors, who have to decide when a dwindling congregation is no longer sustainable. But it has also created a boom market for those wanting to buy churches, with former houses of worship now finding new life.
About 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, the last year data is available, with about 3,000 new churches opening, according to Lifeway Research. It was the first time the number of churches in the US hadn’t grown since the evangelical firm started studying the topic. With the pandemic speeding up a broader trend of Americans turning away from Christianity, researchers say the closures will only have accelerated.
“The closures, even for a temporary period of time, impacted a lot of churches. People breaking that habit of attending church means a lot of churches had to work hard to get people back to attending again,” said Scott McConnell, executive director at Lifeway Research.
“In the last three years, all signs are pointing to a continued pace of closures probably similar to 2019 or possibly higher, as there’s been a really rapid rise in American individuals who say they’re not religious.”
Protestant pastors reported that typical church attendance is only 85% of pre-pandemic levels, McConnell said, while research by the Survey Center on American Life and the University of Chicago found that in spring 2022 67% of Americans reported attending church at least once a year, compared with 75% before the pandemic.
But while Covid-19 may have accelerated the decline, there is a broader, long-running trend of people moving away from religion. In 2017 Lifeway surveyed young adults aged between 18 and 22 who had attended church regularly, for at least a year during high school. The firm found that seven out of 10 had stopped attending church regularly.
Some of the reasons were “logistical”, McConnell said, as people moved away for college or started jobs which made it difficult to attend church.
“But some of the other answers are not so much logistics. One of the top answers was church members seem to be judgmental or hypocritical,” McConnell said.
“And so the younger generation just doesn’t feel like they’re being accepted in a church environment or some of their choices aren’t being accepted by those at church.”
About a quarter of the young adults who dropped out of church said they disagreed with their church’s stance on political and social issues, McConnell said.
A study by Pew Research found that the number of Americans who identified as Christian was 64% in 2020, with 30% of the US population being classed as “religiously unaffiliated”. About 6% of Americans identified with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
“Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of US adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’,” Pew wrote.
“This accelerating trend is reshaping the US religious landscape.”
In 1972 92% of Americans said they were Christian, Pew reported, but by 2070 that number will drop to below 50% – and the number of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans – or ‘nones’ will probably outnumber those adhering to Christianity.
Stephen Bullivant, author of Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America and professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, said in the Christian world it had been a generational change.
While grandparents might have been regular churchgoers, their children would say they believe in God, but not go to church regularly. By the time millennials came round, they had little experience or relationship with churchgoing or religion.
In the Catholic church, in particular, the sexual abuse scandal may have driven away people who had only a tenuous connection to the faith.
“The other thing is the pandemic,” Bullivant said.
“A lot of people who were weakly attached, to suddenly have months of not going, they’re then thinking: ‘Well we don’t really need to go,’ or ‘We’ve found something else to do,’ or thinking: ‘It was hard enough dragging the kids along then, we really ought to start going again … next week.’”
Bullivant said most other countries saw a move away from religion earlier than the US, but the US had particular circumstances that slowed things down.
“Canada, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, the nones rise much earlier, the wake of the 1960s the baby boom generation, this kind of big, growing separation of kind of traditional Christian moral morality,” Bullivant said.
“What happens in America that I think dampens down the rise of the nones is the cold war. Because in America, unlike in Britain, there’s a very explicit kind of ‘Christian America’ versus godless communism framing, and to be non-religious is to be un-American.
“I think that dampens it down until you get the millennial generation for whom the cold war is just a vague memory from their early childhood.”
When people leave, congregations dwindle. And when that gets to a critical point, churches close. That has led to a flood of churches available for sale, and a range of opportunities for the once holy buildings.
Brian Dolehide, managing director of AD Advisors, a real estate company that specializes in church sales, said the last 10 years had seen a spike in sales. Frequently churches become housing or care homes, while some of the churches are bought by other churches wanting to expand.
But selling a church isn’t like selling a house or a business. Frequently the sellers want a buyer who plans to use the church for a good cause: Dolehide said he had recently sold a church in El Paso which is now used as housing for recent immigrants, and a convent in Pittsburgh which will be used as affordable housing.
“The faith-based transaction is so different in so many ways from the for-profit transaction. We’re not looking to profit from our transactions, we’re looking for the best use that reflects the last 50 years or 100 years use if possible.”
The closures aren’t spread evenly through the country.
In Texas, John Muzyka said there were fewer churches for sale than at any point in the last 15 years. He believes that is partly down to Texas’s response to the pandemic, where the governor allowed churches to open in May 2020, even when the number of new Covid cases was extremely high.
“I would say if a church stayed closed for more than a year, it was really hard to get those people to come back. When you were closed for three months, you were able to get over it,” Muzyka said.
That aside, closures are often due to a failure of churches to adapt.
“A church will go through a life cycle. At some point, maybe the congregation ages out, maybe they stop reaching young families.
“If the church ages and doesn’t reach young people, or the demographics change and they don’t figure out how to reach the new demographic, that church ends up closing.
“Yes, there’s financial pressures that will close a church, but oftentimes, it’s more that they didn’t figure out how to change when the community changed, or they didn’t have enough young people to continue the congregation for the next generation.”(https://news.yahoo.com/losing _religion _why-us-churches.”
One last thing is to say that whereas the American decline is ethical but that of Nigeria is apocalyptic meaning the semblance of the end of government or the end of civilisation and a return to anarchism and primitive tendencies which must be confronted. The way to do this is to use the February general election to elect only credible Nigerians who have enough in their tanks to restructure Nigeria along the line of adherence to the rule of law and respect to the fundamental freedoms and rights enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria and a plethora of international human rights and humanitarian laws, treaties, conventions, agreements signed on to by Nigeria. We must arrest our Nigeria decline.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.