Our ancestors placed a lot of trust in the gods for most of their strategic decisions. That was in an era with limited scientifically proven facts about the world around them. Their reliance on divine authority also made them downplay their capacity to investigate, thoroughly understand and conquer the world in which they lived. In my own Ibo ethnic group, my ancestors accepted to commit varieties of infanticides to please the gods. They obediently kill twins sired by them as well as infants that came out from their mother’s womb with their legs first instead of their head. They also murdered infants that started teething from the upper jaw to demonstrate the depths of their loyalty. These are, but a short, tragic litany of inconceivable atrocities that our forefathers perpetrated because they mortgaged reason and relied on supposed divine guidance for their decisions. Again, the ease of access to diviners, who could hear from the all-knowing and powerful gods, apparently did not support the need for rigorous questioning of many of the events occurring around them.
For instance, there was no need finding out why someone among thousands could be wealthy while others remained poor. It was lazily convenient for them to conclude that such prosperity could only be of divine origin. In effect, they refuse to investigate and learn from those unique skills, competencies and opportunities that have facilitated the socio-economic differences. Correspondingly, goats and fowls are decimated in large numbers to appease the gods of fertility and the ones that heal sick people. Being the real children of our forefathers, we retain those genetic traits. We continue to depend on the gods to perform for us, those things that the same gods would instead want us to do for ourselves. And that partly explains why we have not performed comparatively better than our ancestors regardless of the conquest of the world by the superiority of science and innovation.
Virtually all the nations of the world across history believed and still, to a great extent, have faith in God. What appears to be different is the extent of resignation to divine authorities and not trusting our physical and cerebral capabilities to support our problem resolution. The consequences are evident in the feats accomplished in different geographies over time. Consider, for instance, the sophisticated architectural designs and buildings in Greece, China and the Mediterranean before the Bible period and compare it with what perhaps was the equivalent in Africa. Regardless of the differences in challenges, the robustness of innovation and the big picture mindsets behind them speaks volumes of their relative competencies, skills and direction of thinking. Consider the sophistication of weapons that existed in Europe in the 17th century that enabled them to ransack and conquer Africa easily and consequently turned many of them to slaves. The explanation is simple. Other races applied more of their ‘head’ and time to understand and conquer the challenges they faced. It might have been different in Africa entrusted their ‘head’ and time to their gods.
There is absolutely no doubt that belief in God is beneficial in building a society of conscience and helps in strengthening its value systems. It is also equally evident that although God can do all things, He has endowed us with the capacity to do many things by ourselves. For example, if God has inspired the manufacture of a known medicinal cure for an ailment, it might constitute an abuse of divine privileges to invoke him again to heal those inflicted but can access the drugs. Similarly, all the prayers, candles and incenses of the Vatican City cannot save it from the conflagration of nuclear armaments if it does not work out solid plans to defend its territory. That is why, despite the strong religious leanings of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, they have never abandoned the defence of their countries in the hands of God alone. Instead, they make enormous investments in re-skilling their soldiers and sinking billions of additional annual dollar investments in developing and acquiring the most destructive weapons of war. In summary, therefore, in the modern world, it is the profundity of the leaning of firms, individuals and countries to science and innovation that determine the quality of the attendant success that they may enjoy. Sadly, resignation to the divine in those areas that we can humanly conquer weakens the productive force of logic and facts which are the underlying power to innovate.
In Nigeria, religion and faith are as prioritised (if not more elevated) as science, innovation and engineering. We have well-established Commissions, and ministerial departments that oversee government’s fully funded pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia and Israel. For several decades, the Nigerian government ferries thousands of Nigerians annually to go and ‘pray’ in either Mecca or other holy sites in the state of Israel and Palestine. Regardless of the occasional slides of the country into fiscal distress, steady naira allocations and disbursements for this encounter with the divine was always guaranteed. The preference for these pilgrimages as well as the budgetary demands for them exceed the requirements for strengthening the quality of science and engineering education. It was more important to various governments than enhancing entrepreneurship and innovation. Yet, Israel, the original location of these ‘holy sites’ gulping billions of dollars to visit rarely pays spiritual attention to them. They are more interested in keeping them in good enough condition to continue generating good income for its citizens providing the supporting hospitality services and the government. The same Israel that houses the divine is one of the world-leading countries in science, innovation and entrepreneurship. Their economic and military strength as a country is known to depend much more on their investments in science and modernisation than in the visitation of the holy sites that are in their country. The same applies to Saudi Arabia.
What lessons have we learned in the many decades of these voyages? Of course, not much, otherwise there wouldn’t have been the recent call for spiritual warfare on Boko Haram insurgency by the leadership of our armed forces. But the army is not alone in this. We have heard of the uncanny mystical activities at Aso Rock, the seat of the presidency in Abuja. For instance, the current President spent a reasonable amount of money and time to clean the seat of government spiritually. Several former heads of state and Presidents did the same. Governors in various states equally invest large amounts of money in invoking divine powers in their various offices. But they have always failed to convince those supernatural powers to imbue them with the ability to articulate, design and implement appropriate sets of policies for the good of the society that they govern. Unarguably, the supernatural powers will be better off playing such a role rather than being subjected to chasing demons away from the offices of Presidents and state governors.
In a country such as ours is where the degree of government influence on how people live their lives is high, it may be unreasonable to expect a deviation. And therefore, the high demand for divine intervention in the lives of the citizens has resulted in the shutting down of factories and the subsequent conversion of commercial warehouses to centres of worship. So, while the number of factories providing jobs declined, the number of churches, mosques and other religious centres that are interceding to God mushroomed. Consequently, unemployment levels increased in response to the abandonment of the application of our God-endowed entrepreneurial ability for changing our socio-economic circumstances in preference for higher levels of faith and communion with God. Unemployment is known to persist when entrepreneurship either does not exist sufficiently or mainstreamed deficiently. It is a well-known fact. While it is possible to have the benefits of prayer in the search for employment, what will more likely secure one is the level of preparation for the job?
The demand for the prayer-option to success and improved socio-economic living equally lead to the emergence of myriads of hustling merchants of prayer. With high levels of demand for it, suppliers of such services increased. And it is easy to become one as all that one needs to do is to find a group of people that would trust him or her as a prayer warrior. And as such we have several imams as there are pastors and prophets. Those who hitherto, practised divination in the African traditional religion easily converted to Pastors and Imams too. Prompt payment of tithes and generous contributions of offerings were some of the supposed fast pathways to prosperity. However, with the recession and intensification of economic difficulties, it became more evident that prayers that are not backed by smart efforts will unlikely yield fruitful results.
On a final note, both as individuals and a country, there is no doubt that we need prayers. But perhaps it appears that we need prayers to support our preparation for meeting with the divine rather than in surviving here and living well on Earth. The richest men in Nigeria are not necessarily men and who apply themselves to a lot of prayers. Likewise, some of the wealthiest countries on earth neither practice Christianity nor Islam and have a minimal inclination to religion. Success and robust socio-economic well-being require different standards of preparation. While, religion is considered the opium of the poor, entrepreneurship and science are the food of the rich. Those who prosper extraordinarily are those who can identify the opportunities which others do not see and take advantage of them with speed. They are the people who painstakingly navigate in the dark to unveil hidden treasures. That is the spirit that Nigerians should have. It is a mindset change for prosperity that is driven more by entrepreneurship and innovation rather than some religious wishes and hope. Therefore, we should face facts, be more pragmatic and work hard and smart and secondarily support same with faith.