Nigerian Government, Official Prayers and Public Functions By Leo Igwe
A critical look at the recent adoption by the Federal Executive Council of the second stanza of the National Anthem as the official prayer at public functions raises so many issues. This second stanza actually reads:
“Oh God of creation.
“Direct our noble course.
“Guide our leaders right.
“Help our youths the truth to know.
“In love and honesty to grow and living just and true.
“Great lofty heights attain.
“To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.”
This stanza is problematic not only as a stanza in the national anthem and also as the official prayer at public functions.
This stanza, according to the National Orientation Agency would help engender ‘the spirit of cohesion and unity in the country’. Personally, I cannot really understand how this prayer verse would help Nigerians achieve such a lofty ideal. As the second stanza of the national anthem, has it helped us achieve that?
Even without this official prayer, Nigerians are among the most prayerful in the world. Still unity and peaceful co-existence have remained elusive? Surely Nigerians are very ‘religious’ and needs peace, unity and harmony. But are these going to be realized by merely saying and repeating this prayer? Is that how other nations that live in peace achieved cohesion and unity?
I must admit that this is really a clear departure from the past when clerics from the two major religions-Christianity and Islam- are called upon to say prayers at public functions. And since this official prayer does not make any particular religious references to Christ or Mohammed, many might think it is in order. Still, it has not resolved many political and constitutional matters arising.
Agreed, this is the second verse of our national anthem which is recited at some public functions. Certainly that does not diminish its negative implications on our polity.
First of all the expression “Oh God of Creation’ is actually controversial because both ideas of a god and creation are myths. And these ‘powerful myths’ are capable of undermining popular understanding of science particularly the science of the ‘Origin of Species’.
Some might say it is metaphorical and that they 'god of creation' can be equated to nature. But subsequent lines do not really state so. Instead they call on an active personal and intervening god to direct our noble cause. Invoking the mythical God of Creation at a public function is giving political endorsement to this misconception. Imagine what would be the reactions if the lines are changed to read, “Oh Forces of Evolution and Natural Selection. Direct our Noble Cause”,…particularly from the religious quarters.
We just cannot not pretend that these lines are religiously neutral, they are not.
Asking the God of Creation, to direct our noble cause, to guide our leaders right and help our youths to know the truth has serious implications in terms of responsibility. First of all, people could easily attribute situations where these demands are not met to God not hearing their prayers. When that is not actually the case. It comfortably shifts the responsibility to God, not to us or to our leaders or our youths. It absolves us, and our leaders of any responsibility. And that should not be the case. When it comes to the problems, mismanagement and misdirection of our nation, we should hold ourselves and our leaders responsible and accountable, not the God of Creation. “No deity will save (help, guide or direct) us,” says Humanist Manisfesto 11, “We must save (help, guide and direct) ourselves”
Our leaders should marshal their best knowledge, talent and wisdom in directing and guiding the nation, and be ready to accept responsibility for their decisions and directions. They should not be passive, awaiting God’s guidance and directions but rather should take action- bold and decisive action based on what they consider to be the best interest of the nation, of course in line with the constitution.
The government should not make Nigerians to understand that we need ‘God’ to know the truth and do what is noble and right. Or that we cannot achieve unity and harmony without supplication to the God of creation. Instead the government should make Nigerians seek the truth and strive to achieve justice and peace on their own, without the help of any god or deity.
Some may argue that this official prayer is in order not only because it is part of the national anthem but also because the preamble of the national constitution says that Nigeria is ‘a nation under God’. It states, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Having firmly and solemnly resolve, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God,…” Agreed this is what the constitution says but the constitution does not tell us ‘which God’ we are under. It does not mandate us to officially pray to this God at public functions for direction and guidance. Does it?
Instead section 38 of the Constitution recognizes the right to freedom of religion of all Nigerians. It states, ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.’
So official prayers violate the rights of many Nigerians including those who believe in god but who do not pray to it, and those Nigerians who do not believe in god and who do not pray, and also millions of Nigerians who believe in god, who pray but who regard praying as a private not an official exercise. There are also Nigerian who do not believe in the efficacy of this particular official prayer even though it is part of the national anthem. Saying official prayers at public functions actually discriminates against many Nigerians.
The government should ensure that the public functions are religiously neutral in furtherance of equal rights of all Nigerians. Nigerians should not be compelled by the government to pray to God for direction and guidance at public events. After all, section 10 of the national constitution provides for the secularity of the Nigerian state. And the government should uphold this by ensuring that there is no official prayer at public functions.
All secular oriented Nigerians should oppose this creeping theocratization of the Nigerian state before it is too late.