Dear Dr Dawkins,
I grew up in Nigeria in the 1970s and it was fairly secular. People went to church and mosque but the atmosphere was of the C of E variety. We celebrated christmas and eid and people married those of other religions. No one cared really. Then from the late 1980s christian fundamentalists from USA started to take an interest in Nigeria. Billy Graham visited and we heard the term ‘born again’ for the first time. Saudis and Iranians started to fund sunni & shia mosques respectively. Suddenly the mood turned ugly. Neighbours who invited us to eid parties would avoid our gaze as we dressed differently. Many christians would ask if you were saved and would curse and scream at muslims as they felt they were headed for hell. In some cases these confrontations were between in-laws and cousins.
Anyway, as this religious fervour took off, our leaders became more brutal and corrupt. But whereas in the 1970s people would demonstrate because the price of school milk had gone up, now people would only shrug and say a leader’s term of office was god ordained and those who complained or criticised were disobedient to god. People gradually became uneducated. Good doctors and other professionals left for Europe and America. I left for England along with many of my friends and classmates. Schools are now decayed. Now the fire brigade say that there are too many fatalities from fires, because people won’t ring the emergency services if the victims of a fire were of another religion or denomination.
The street that I grew up in (a short street of about half a mile long), now has over 5 churches. In the evenings you can’t hear yourself think for the cacophony. Last time I visited home I wondered how I would have done my homework in the evenings if the atmosphere was like this when I was a child. Pastors on megaphones call out asking people to come in and be saved. And of course everyone who calls in should donate tithes (ie, 10% of their earnings), as the bible according to these people promises that their income would be multiplied by 10. A sort of religious ponzi scheme.
A few months ago, an accounts clerk at one of the hotels in Lagos gave N7 million (approx £700,000) in tithes one Sunday in his church. The pastor took the money and asked no questions. When the clerk was asked to justify his theft in court, first he said it was god’s will as god demanded tithes and failure to do this was robbing god. Then he said the devil made him steal the money and that god was his witness. The judge pointed out he could see neither the devil nor god as defence witnesses in court, and quite rightly jailed the fool.
Nigeria is now such a horrible place – armed robbers commit the most horrendous crimes and thank god for guiding them through their operations, pastors and imams sponsor kidnapping of children for ransom and later thank god for swelling their income. A corrupt politician whose wife is wanted in America for money laundering is running for office in the 2011 elections and people say they would support him as his candidacy is god ordained. He happens to be christian and running against a fairly honest muslim candidate who doesn’t have as much money to splash around during campaign rallies. But potential voters are no longer interested in the issues.
A pastor bought a jet for about $4.5 million (US dollars) and his rural and very poor followers said it’s because he’s been blessed by god and they can’t see he’s just used their hard earned tithes. In the north of the country, muslims killed some primary school children in January this year and cut out their tongues because they felt they were professing a false religion. The killers later admitted in court that they were blood relatives of most of the victims.
Nigeria is such a mess at the moment because of religion. And people just say it’s how god wants it. Such a belief system can’t be valid, can it?
My brothers & I have decided we can’t be part of this madness anymore. But everyone around is so deluded, it’s difficult to open their eyes.
Anyway, thanks for reading about my home country’s tragic tale.