They also requested that, for the 9th National Assembly, either the Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives should be a Christian. They reasoned that since the President is a Muslim and the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria also professes the Islamic faith, the country needs a Christian in the legislative arm of government to give everyone a sense of fairness and belonging. CAN’s brazenness in making such demands is, perhaps, informed by a similar assault recently against reason by the advocacy group, Muslim Rights Concern. MURIC had asked Buhari to appoint Muslim ministers from five of the states in the South-West when he puts the cabinet together. The group claimed that it was the only way to redress the imbalance of having only one Muslim governor in the geopolitical zone. Now, when confronted with this kind of an impasse, there is a tendency to resort to the predictable response that the overriding determinant in making these appointments should be merit and not religion. We should move past that level already since the logic is too basic to penetrate the minds of those who need it. Those of us who have a liberal mindset towards religious identity politics need to take those who advocate religion as qualification seriously. We should treat their demands with the same gravity as politicians do. Just last year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while responding to charges of nepotism in Buhari’s government, claimed that Christians outnumber Muslims in Federal Government appointments. He pointed out that although the cabinet had 18 Christians and 18 Muslims, the former still upend the latter since both the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Head of Service are Christians. The preciseness of Osinbajo’s response shows that they do not toy with the optics of religious politics. It is a reality of our political situation that religion has become an idea of merit and we should deal with it on those terms. As a society, we have long arrived at a point where our politics have been reduced to the worship of the twin Baal of geopolitics and religious partisanship. In the last election, the tribes of the electoral candidates and their religion featured more in our discourses than their leadership capability. There is almost a consensus that all the candidates are equally meritocratic — or incompetent — and so nobody wastes time weighing their administrative abilities. They only need to get into office and things will sort themselves out somehow. Following CAN’s suggestion that Buhari should observe “ethnic and religious” balance in future appointments, I suggest that slots should be reserved for atheists as well. They too deserve representation. I know that such a suggestion immediately puts us in a messy terrain. Who is a “Christian” or “Muslim” in Nigerian politics anyway? The Nigerian political class is mostly composed of moral nihilists, or at best, agnostics. The others mix their putative religion with patronising Babalawos in their shrines at night. During the day, they all claim a Muslim or Christian religious identity because they have no choice. All political appointments are distributed between both sides; there is nothing ever set aside for those who fall outside the religious boxes. I acknowledge that there are many religious movements outside the Christian/Muslim dichotomy and they also deserve to be represented in government. However, we have to be mindful of the fact that too many faiths will stall appointments. In 2015, it took six months to select 18 Christians and 18 Muslims. We do not need that kind of slow motion this time. Besides, the Babalawos are already represented through proxies — the politicians who go to shrines to optimise their access to supernatural power by mixing and matching the Abrahamic God with Africanist beliefs. Atheists are the only ones who have been consciously left out of the party and there are many good reasons they deserve a seat at the table. One, atheists do not have a smokescreen that enables them to falsely propagate virtues they do not have. If an atheist in a political office turns out to be as corrupt as their religious counterparts, it is easier to take them down. We will not have to blow their religious decoy to reveal their hypocrisy. They are not superstitious. So they are not going to blame a money-eating snake; nor are they going to attribute their susceptibility to temptation to Satan. They will admit they did it because they too want to enjoy the good life. Simple. Two, since they will not be going to church or mosque for any reason, they are not likely to loot public funds as much as those who wear their religion with their agbada robes. They do not have any religious leader to “settle,” and nobody is going to ask them to donate a building to their church or mosque. Think of how much money Nigeria will save if the corruption pipeline that runs from public offices to religious houses were cut off. Three, if an atheist rigs an election, he will keep the illegitimate victory to himself, at least. He will not go to church to share a “God did it” testimony. Nigerian politicians attribute their victory at the polls to God, even when they rob the collective wealth to fund those elections. By going to church or mosque to register their gratitude, they are legitimising a lie and manipulating people. Atheists will not do that. Four, atheists will approach their work with far more clear-headedness since they do not believe that any God is guiding their affairs. They will not ape a minister whose chief requirement before appointments is “fear of God.” Also, because they know they do not have a godfather, there is the marginal possibility they would be better behaved in government. Five, there are not enough atheists in the world at present to form a religious movement. For the most part, they walk alone. The upside is that there will not be organisations like either CAN or MURIC to canvass for anything on their behalf. Six, and this is important – atheists will be invaluable to the government because they typically question received knowledge. They do not attribute human phenomenon to some supernatural force. They are quite rational. It is no coincidence that some of the most developed countries in the world today are full of atheists, while the ones that are religious by default are, by all indices, mostly backward. There is a correlation between giving room for probing questions and socio-economic development. I could go on and on, but you should be convinced by now that atheists deserve cabinet positions because their atheism is enough merit to qualify them for the job. If Christians and Muslims can advance such logic, then we should extend it to atheists as well. It is only fair. By the way, I believe that Nigeria probably has more non-believers than believers. However, because most social goodies are divided based on religion, many people indulge in the rituals of worship to a God they do not care for. It is time to open the religious closet and free our politicians from their hypocrisy. There are multiple benefits to be derived from such openness. Nobody will be disqualified for a position they might actually qualify for on account of not being either Christian or Muslim. Even much better, nobody has to pretend they believe in God so they can be appointed to such positions. And the best part of it? People like Prof. Akintola and the leadership of CAN will go find another job.]]>
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