Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 248-254
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Religion and African Identity: A Reflection on
Nigerian Situation
Chizaram Onyek were Oliver Uc he 1, Paul Ikechukwu Ogugua2
1Department of Religion and Human Relations, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
2Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
Received January 10th, 2013; revised February 13th, 2013; a ccepted February 22nd, 2013
The thrust of this paper is to take a reflection on Nigerian situation of religion and African identity. This
systematic and functional position has become necessary in view of rich and deep insight into social func-
tions of religion in building African cultural identity in a globalized world. This exploratory survey makes
use of literary, sociological and historical methods and analyzed through culture centred approach. The
result shows that religion has rich social functions and if fully tapped will build a cohesive society and
progressive African identity based on African cultural values. This will be achieved through collaborative
effort of all sundry.
Keywords: Religion; Identity; African Identity; Reflection; Nigerian Situation
The task of nation building is of great magnitude, only a few
realize. The questionable guest of the contemporary Nigerian
for concreteness, relevance and excellence-progress in this area
of concern, makes him highly skeptical and to look with
askance on thing which to him at face value seem unrelated to
his practical needs and struggles. People with this kind of men-
tality see nation-building as consisting in infrastructural devel-
opment, technological development, accumulation of sophisti-
cated weapons to guarantee security, development of the educa-
tional sector, institution of buoyant economy, possession of all
the good things of life etc. on account of this, they question
boldly, the relevance of religion irrespective of the great works
done by early Christian missionaries. Ogugua opines that relig-
ion as a reckonable force creates a mode of collective identity
and at times, unity. He adds, religion today seems to be a
source of diffusing of identity or else why the politicization of
religion? Is it not a way of being heard amidst the trumpeted
noise that go with globalization.
It is one’s identify that assists in locating one properly that is
necessarily and even sufficiently in the world and we argue that
religion does it for a people or any group and in sense African
traditional religion does it for the traditional African.
Iheoma (1983: p. 13) presenting the position of Justice Lemu
writes “one can be morally good without professing any relig-
ion. But he stressed that religion is able to improve on whatever
level of moral goodness one may possess”. Chief Melford
Okilo the then Governor of River State stated that “morality is
an indispensible ingredient of life”. He continued, it is like tea
without sugar. Whereas some people drink tea without sugar,
the survival of the society does not allow education without
morality, religion which for many scholars ground morality is
the core of an individual’s or a nation’s life. We Nigerians in
our anthem say:
O God of all creation Grant this our one request. Where no
man is oppressed. And so with peace and plenty Nigeria may be
In this anthem, Nigerians pray God to help them in estab-
lishing a kingdom of love, where justice and peace will thrive.
Justice is the ligament and oil that holds and lubricates the
segments of the society respectively without justice-giving
everyone his due, there cannot be peace. The Vatican Council II
says that “peace results from that harmony built into human
society, its divine founder, and actualized by men as they thirst
after ever greater justice”. Peace is an initiative of justice.
Ezeanya (1979: p. 13) interprets the word plenty in the anthem
to mean “plenty of those things that man needs to live a decent
livelihood in accordance with human dignity and God’s design
for man”.
Man is made up of body, mind and the soul, likewise the so-
ciety, adequate development warrants taking proper care of
these aspects of man. It concerns itself with more than just tak-
ing temporal care of the individuals, rather it involves cultiva-
tion of the man so that the state enjoys true goodness. Aristotle
according to Ernest Barker (1961: p. 118) holds that “the end of
the state is not mere life; it is rather a good quality of life-any
polis which is truly so called, and is not merely one in name
must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness. Other-
wise, a political association sinks into mere alliance, which
only differs in space (i.e. the contiguity of its members) from
other forms one alliance where the members live at a distance
from one another”.
For any project for building the state to make its mark, it
must concern itself with tripartite constitution of man, for the
state cannot be unless the individuals making up the state are
built. The values which are essential for this arduous task of
nation building can only be found in the heart of men, building
these hearts become a “sine qua non”. The scripture says out of
the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
The first principle of natural moral law states that good
should be done and evil avoided. Man must strive toward the
good, this move is towards the source of good too. To this
source of goodness, man is dependent. It is here that religion
comes in. It is from religion that man learns that he has obliga-
tion to himself, to others, to the society and even to God, who is
the creator of all. Religion is a kind of thread that ties everyone
to the supreme reality.
We liken a nation to a building. Religion is the foundation.
The infrastructures, economy and education are the pillars and
the superstructures are the roof. The foundation is very impor-
tant likewise the pillars. If religion is bracketed in the life of
man, you can have an egoist, an animal with unquenchable
desire to satisfy self interest and at best a humanist who may
obey laws for pure intellectual satisfaction and if others do not
obey same laws, he will likely drop them and join the band
Religion is a value. It equips man with the principles and
means for transforming himself. It gives man hope and makes
life meaningful for him. It equally offers him the principles,
guidelines and the zeal to transform the society. Religion, no
doubt has a vital role to play in the building of a nation. Relig-
ion is one, yet there are many kinds; could differentiation of
religion, various religions not be man’s attempt to put order in
the world especially with regard to natural religion like African
traditional religion, inventions of the mind? One may ask, can
religion tell us absolute truth about life?
Religion, What Is It?
Since the study of religion interests people with different
orientations and interests, it is perceive d, c o n ce i ve d a n d de f i ne d
differently. Some tend to hold that it is whatever anyone be-
lieves vehemently in. It can be science, sports, money etc. But
is religion just simply belief? Does it begin and end with belief?
It does not. We may say it is the search for meaning and pur-
pose in life. Little wonder, Olusegun Oladipo (1995: p. 83)
described it as a belief and an attitude. It is a belief that God
created everything and everything is dependent on him. Uche
(2009a) classifies the belief in God as the structure of African
traditional religion. It is an attitude, because it is devotional and
expresses our dependence on him as the ultimate reality in
terms of whom human existence can be explained. The question
is, is religion only a belief and an attitude. It does seem it is
equally an activity, and as an activity it is distinguishable from
other kinds of human activities like playing, working, dancing
Religion expresses a kind of relationship between God and
man. As a belief, it is otherworldly, it stretches to the realm of
the spiritual but as an attitude it is “this-worldly”. Alston
pointed out some characteristics of religion such as belief in
supernatural being, distinction between scared and profane,
ritual acts focused on sacred objects, a moral view more or less
organization of life based on the world view, code, characteris-
tics religious feelings prayer, world-view a social group bound
together by the above. He did not point out one, the first which
has to do with the supernatural.
Etymologically, religion is derived from three Latin words
“religare”—to bind, “relegate”—to unite, or to link and “religi”
—relationship. It is an experience that unites man with God.
According to Bouguet, A.C. (1941: p. 16), it is “a fixed rela-
tionship between the human self and some non-human entity,
the scared, the supernatural, the self-existent, the absolute or
simply, God”. Schleiermacher (1963: p. 12) qualified the kind
of dependence on God thus, “religion is a feeling of absolute
dependence on God”. But is it feeling? Religion is an activity.
Widery holds that “religion is a form of experience with spe-
cific attitudes, with distinctive emotional states, leading to par-
ticular kinds of conduct”. This kind of conducts will relate to
God and man. Egudu sees religious experience as involving
attitudes and emotional states. It does seem that these will then
aid in shaping the human conduct talked about. Uche (2011)
sees religion as contributing to sustainable development in Ni-
Martino James sees religion as a belief in an ever living God,
that is in a Divine mind and will ruling the universe and hold-
ing moral relations with mankind. It becomes pertinent for one
to over look the social or human aspect of religion in the bid to
define it.
Ogugua wrote elsewhere “To understand religion properly,
we have to bear many things in mind. The realities that are
involved in religion are the greatest such as God human person
(attribute not excluded) and the world. On account of the mag-
nanimity of the realities involved in religion one agreed upon
definition is very difficult”. Elsewhere, he wrote religion is a
complex phenomenon having dialectical relationship of the
mind to reality… in this process; it opens a new dimension in
human existence.
Dupre says it is never an aprior definable reality. Arinze
(1970: p. 8) pointed out some elements involved in religion
dogma, worship and moral. For Wilson, these elements are
belief, authority, morality and rituals/worship.
It is pertinent here to point out that religion and morality are
not same. Morality does not need religion, but religion needs
morality in order to be genuine and acceptable. Omeregbe
(1993: p. 2) holds that “in relation to morality, religion is sim-
ply a perspective—one of several perspectives—from which
morality can be viewed”. Religion is not an aspect of man’s
existence. It is rather the core of man’s being; for in it all sig-
nificant questions of ultimate dimensions are addressed and
ultimate answers offered.
The Nigerian Situation
We have expressed that religion has “this” and “other”—
world aspect. The question is how has this nation been able to
marry these as we have implicitly posited that religion need to
be moralized if it must be seen and accepted as being genuine,
significant and meaningful.
Nigerians like other Africans are religiously religious. Nige-
rians are keenly religious. Has the resurgence of religious fer-
vor among them paid off in awakening a life of morality and
rectitude? The fact remains that every Nigerian subscribes to
one religion or the other. There are a lot of religious sects in
Nigeria. The multiplicity of religious groups in Nigeria boggles
the mind and smacks the imagination of every right thinking
Nigerian in every religious sect formed, before long will have
adherents most especially if the founders or the leaders have a
charming, kind of charismatic character with the ability to per-
form one or two miracles irrespective of the sources of their
The increase in the number of religious sects most especially
in the Christian fold has not been matched with moral upright-
ness among the people. The level of moral degeneracy in our
society is bewildering. Akinpelu (1983: p. 45) holds… “the
summary of it all is that in almost every direction you turn,
even in the church and in the Mosque, the moral standards of
the average Nigerian are very low indeed”. Adegbite (1971)
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 249
had pointed this out earlier, he said our society is corrupt to the
core and that is an open secret even to the outside world who
knew as much better than we know ourselves.
This is the present state of our public morality. The fact is
that our moral atmosphere is stinking. There is immorality and
corruption in high and low places, even in the churches. Uche
(2007) avers the preservation of African cultural values in
stemming the immoral disposition of man. Our conditions are
unsettling. Iheoma (1995: p. 23) x-rayed the Leprous situation
of the nation thus. The roots of Nigeria’s imbroglio are to be
founded in the fact that the nation is in the fund of throes of the
moral crises. The ominous features of the moral climate of our
country are ubiquitous and conspicuous even to a casual ob-
server, rampant fraud, endemic corruption in high and low
places, bribery and stealing and robbery with violence, scan-
dalous nepotism, political patronage and obuse of power, ex-
cessive mate rialism which is fast becoming the dominant value
of the Nigerian society. Materialism has not only imprisoned
our imagination, it is a god that many Nigerians worship at it’s
altar and have vowed to increase their devotion to it. Adding his
voice to this, Ezeani (1986: pp. 17-18) wrote Nigeria is “a
country skinned of love CARTIAS CHRISTIANA, but clothed
with hatred and rancor… autoism personalism, familism, bro-
therism, sisterism, girl-friendism… embezelentism, misman-
agementism, money-transportationism…”
In this country, the opinion of the poor counts less if it does
count at all. Elections to different positions of leadership are
rigged and public “elected” officers handpicked. It rhymed with
the observation of Ahao, in Times International in all societies,
the opinion of the poor counts very little while his vote is not so
essential for it lacks economic base.
Our problems are multi quam plural, in every field of life;
even a child notices that things have fallen apart. We are danc-
ing to the tune of destruction Nwokolo (1984: p. 25) supports
our assertion thus “corruption in Nigeria is today the greatest
impediments to national development… New techniques for its
advancement are being perfected daily and many believe that it
has now reached ‘Guinness’ book of records dimensions”. We
have an odium of dishonesty, corruption and immorality that
Nigerians do not walk along the streets of nations without fac-
ing one sort of humiliation or the other. To be a Nigerian, is to
be corrupt, dishonest, immoral and guilty until you prove you
are not, instead of the other way round.
Experience has shown that sermons alone from our leaders
cannot do the job of recasting the morally weak Nigeria,
Chinua Achebe pointed out clearly that our problem is squarely
failure of leadership. We have a breakdown of the nervous
system; there is degeneracy in the spirit, soul and body of this
giant of Africa. Nothing can nourish the spirit save religion and
morality, the body can be nourished by in our instance econ-
omy and politics of food, in Okere (1983: p. 54) wrote “if the
spirit is starved of religion it atrophies, And the society where
spiritual side of life is under developed eventually degenerates
and disintegrates”.
Is immorality in our blood? Is corruption a cultural trait of
Nigerians? It is not, history has not recorded any great civiliza-
tion anywhere in the world that has not risen under the canopy
of a great religion. Iheoma (1995: p. 21) wrote “the renewal or
continuation of human existence necessarily includes the re-
newal of social life through the transmission of beliefs, values,
ideas and social standards from one generation to another”. “It
becomes the concern of this paper to look at the role religion is
going to play to ensure that its central objectives are realized in
Nigeria. These objectives are ideal qualities of human existence;
self-realization and sense of community or brotherhood. In the
words of Radhakrsman a quest of emancipation from the im-
mediate compulsions of vain and petty mood”. How will relig-
ion aid in bringing about nation building?
Religion Is a “Sine Qua Non”
Religion is indispensable in our national goals, integration
and reconstruction because of its very nature. Religion is a
“what” and a “how” of life. It tells us what to believe, what
should be done and how to go about what to believe, what
should be done and how to go about it. It sheds light on the
nature of the supreme reality, the nature of man, the origin of
man, the dignity and final end of man. Uche (2004) takes a
functional role of religion as a matrix of culture.
Religion confers identity on a people or group. The identity
which African traditional religion gives the African is not and
cannot be determined and stamped that irrespective of condi-
tions and factors it must be so, rather it is dependent on how
Africans did exercise their freedom, such gives a character and
by that they are identified. It is so for there is high level of in-
determinacy in life and there is no known or established law
that has said that there must be only one effect attached to a
course, the truth is that there could be multiple effects which a
cause has the propensity to attract. Dukor (2010: p. 136) rightly
pointed out thus: “The identity question, apart from the associ-
ated problems of freewill and choices, is a big problem itself,
because as human nature, its predictions can or cannot be about
its substance and hope. Prediction is much more possible in the
inorganic but less in the organic and in particular, human
thought and action”.
Religion gives identity to man and no doubt different relig-
ions give identities, but these identities could be harmonized.
Little wonder, Dukor asserted that identities can be reduced to
one. We do accept it because at the level of possibility, any-
thing can happen. But we know and we believe you do know
too that we exercise our freedom, make choices and these vary
and change which is a reality in life and a constant presenting
variation; and we recognize variety as the spice of life.
We must not overlook the fact that it was our forebears re-
sponse to existence that birthed African traditional religion,
which was their response to necessity, which in turn points at
our identity, triggered in the pulse, pull and pressures of moral,
psychological and/or existential crises. Dukor (2010: pp. 137-
138) cites Faupal thus: nature does not but “choose” to change
overtime, it does so by chance variation about parental norms
so that those variations themselves become new norms from
which again, chance variation occurs in the next generation.
And whether any of these variations survive or not depends
largely on their compatibility to the environment in which they
find themselves again by chance…”
Religion Is Necessary in Life:
It Is the Core of Life
For the Africans life is religion and religion is life. It is not
enough for one to hold that religion is an aspect of life; rather it
is at the core of life. In short, it is the core of unthinkable to
divorce religion from life in African understanding. The Afri-
can acquires religion by being part of his society; little wonder
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Uche (2009b) articulates the socio-religious significance of
taboos as social sanctions promoting cohesion, solidarity and
unity in Africa.
Mbiti Penned (1970) religion permeates all departments of
life so fully that it is not easy and possible always to isolate it…
Religion is the strongest element in traditional background, and
exerts probably the greatest influence upon the thinking of the
people concerned. Life is not possible for the African without
religion. Mbiti (1982: p. 195) cements it thus, “Religion is a
universal part of human life. It must, therefore, have a great and
important value, otherwise by now most people in the world
would have abandoned it completely”.
That religion runs through the veins of the African is a truism.
Bishop Shanaham did observe this. John Jordan (1971: p. 115)
penned the observation of Bishop Shanaham thus: that the av-
erage native was admirably suited by environment and training,
for an explanation of life in terms of the spirit rather than of the
flesh. An unreligious life worth’s nothing to the African, in
short, it is not possible. Pope Paul II (1968: p. 8) echoed the
same thing about Africans.
“The constant and general foundation of African tradition is
the spiritual view of life”. Christianity is a gospel of salvation-
salvation of man, the entire man hence permeates every aspect
of human life. It is a “what” of salvation a “how” of salvation,
hence it is a practice religion. It recognizes the duo nature of
man—that man is made up of body and soul and tries to touch
on these aspects. It is a religion of the whole person.
The Islamic religion does permeate through the entirety of
man. Ajibola (1975: p. 147) writes in the entire scheme of Is-
lam, the body is indissoluble linked with the soul. The soul is
not a product of the body but is so linked with the body that
whatever happens to one affects the other directly or indirectly.
God Occupies a Unique Place in Religion
The Supreme Being occupies a unique place in the religious
life of the people of Africa. Belief in Him is common place
everywhere in Africa. It is taken for granted. There is not a
single African who does not believe in God. Mbiti (1975: p. 40)
buttresses this thus: All Africa people believe in God. they take
this belief for granted. It is at the centre of African Religion and
dominated all its other belief. He is seen as the power that gov-
erns and sustains creation and every thing in existence. Pope
Paul II (1968: p. 19) pointed out the place Africans give to God
when he wrote: “In this spiritual concept, the most important
element generally found is the idea of God, as the first ultimate
cause of all things”. Africans do believe in other divinities and
deities but as they are messengers of God to take care of some
departments of life.
Christianity accords a unique place to God head, but talks of
three persons in one God. It talks of God the father, God the
son and God the Holy Spirit. There is unity in three persons in
one God. The scriptures talked about the coming of Jesus cen-
turies before his birth. Mathew 1:23 talked of the virgin that
would be with a child, a son of God who will be called Em-
manuel-God with us. While Philip in John 48 asked Jesus to
show them the father, Christ replied as in John 14:10 Do you
not believe that I am in the father, and the father in me?
Again, Christ told the apostles that if he does not go home,
the parachute will not come. He established the thread of this
unity. Christianity gives prominent position to the Trinity. Is-
lam equally preaches and lays emphasis on the unity of God.
Ajibola (1975: p. 143) writes, Muhammad “emphasized the
unity of God whose creation was a visible sign of his presence
but who in His essence was invisible”. The Holy Quaran (exll:
2-5) hold.
Say, He is Allah the one! Allah the independent and Be-
sought of all. He begets not nor is He begotten. And there is
none like unto Him Muslims believe in Salat (prayer) Saum
(fasting), Zakat (poorate, Haji (pilgrima g e t o Mecc a ) etc.
Christians believe in almsgiving, praying and fasting too.
Traditional religionists do believe in these also. Ezeanya (1979:
p. 15) writes “for his overall well being, progress, security,
protection from his enemies, recovery from sickness, man must
have constant recourse to them by prayers and sacrifices of
different kinds”.
Human Dignity
For the African, man is at the centre of the universe. God
made him (man) a focal point of the universe, that God and the
deities, and divinities are at the service of man. Parrinder (1970:
p. 85) presented the views of some scholars on African tradi-
tional religion thus “At the apex was God the Supreme Being,
on the two sides were the great spiritual powers manifested in
gods and ancestors, and at the base were the lower powers of
magic. In the middle was man under the influence of many
different kinds of power”.
Human life is considered sacred; hence everything is done to
preserve it. Little wonder, the Igbos denial of formal burial to
anyone guilty of suicide. Basden (1966: p. 58), Chinua Achebe
in Things Fall Apart; Ezeanya (1976: p. 6) buttresses this point
as regards his respect to life. “Even a cursory glance at the tra-
ditional religious practices of the African shows it is anthropo-
centric in the sense that all the religious practices invariably
point to one objective, namely LIFE and its preservation”.
When sacrifices and prayers are offered to God; and evil spirits
as the case may be, the aim is to preserve the life of man.
Ezeanya (1979: p. 16) writes, “The sacredness of life accord-
ing to many African traditions cannot be applied universally to
include every human being in the same degree”. It does look
that not every human being has dignity as some are even killed
to bury others. Where human beings were killed, it was done to
fulfill religious obligations. Ezeanya (1976: p. 9) has this to say;
the killing was done “either to satisfy the demand of a divinity
for a human victim so that a community might not perish or
because it was necessary to give a departed chief some retinues
to accompany him to the land of his fathers… where twins were
killed, this was done because it was felt that it was unnatural for
a human being to imitate lower animals. Similarly, children
who were born with feet foremost perished because such “ab-
normal” births were regarded as a crime against the “mother
earth”. Apart from these noticed in the distant past the human
person was respected.
Christianity is known for the kind of position it gave to man.
The Holy writ says that God created man in his image and
likeness. The book of Genesis 1: 26-27 says “Then God said,
‘Let us make a man—some one like ourselves, to be the master
of all life upon the earth and in the skies and in the seas’”.
So God made man like his Maker. Like God did God make
man; man and maid did he make them. Every other work of
creation stand on a different footing in respect of its relation-
ship to God. Only man has a different kind of relationship to
God—a direct immediacy to Him. His dignity and respect arise
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from being made in the image of God. Von Rad (1965: p. 144)
emphasizes on this great position of man thus: “On the topmost
step of this pyramid stands man, and there is nothing between
him and God; indeed, the world, which was in fact made for
him, his in him alone its most absolute immediacy to God. Also,
unlike the rest of creation, he was not created by the word; but
in creating him God was actuated by a unique, solemn resolve
in the depths of his heart”. God did an extra job to create man.
He thought deeply and used his hand and the clay and breathed
the vital spat. In short, man’s creation took the heavenly di-
God did not stop there. He gave man authority and responsi-
bility. The Holy Bible says in Gen. 1:28 “And God blessed
them and told them, “multiply and fill the earth and subdue it;
you are masters of the fish and birds and all the animals”. Er-
hueh (1989: p. 74) buttresses “dominion over the vast universe
is another theological foundation of human dignity. Because
man is lord of the whole world, it goes without saying that man
has higher dignity than all other creatures in it”. Man is a being
open to God, in dialogue with God.
Man in Adam lost his dignity when Adam fell from the state
of grace. Man’s dignity was restored when Christ—the word of
God took flesh. Flannary Austin (1975: p. 923) writes “for, by
his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united
himself with each man”. Christ through his resurrection raised
man to the dignity of sons of God.
Islam too does accord respect to the human person. Ajibola
(1975: p. 149) writes “Islam is not earth-rooted but it never
ignores the fact that man’s physical frame was fashioned out of
clay and he cannot ascend to heaven without first planting his
feet firmly on earth”. Muhammad (1975: p. 149) writes “he
realized that the dignity of human life cannot be preserved
without economic security, and social justice is to a very large
extent, based on ec o n o m i c j u s t i c e ” .
Human Destiny
Africans believe that there is life after death. It is generally
agreed upon that the life beyond is determined by the life here
below. Awolalu, (1972: p. 116) writes “one central theme runs
through the African concept of man’s destiny: namely, that at
death, while the carcass is buried in the earth, the essential per-
son passes on into another life, it is held responsible for deeds
or misdeeds, and it is rewarded or punished accordingly by the
author of life. Thus in Africa it is strongly believed that death
does not bring an end to human life. There is in man an element
which is immortal; and this sense of immort ality gives comfort
in privation and misfortune and as a revenge to death”.
Ajibola writes, “the unity of God, prophethood of Muham-
mad (peace be upon him) and the concept of life after death are
the basic articles of its faith. So Islam believes in life after
death”. Christianity is a way of life. It equally preached that
there is life after death. In short, it is concerned more with life
beyond than this present life. Ajibola (1975: p. 144) writes
“Christianity cannot provide any solution to the burning prob-
lems of the day as Christianity does not have any plan for man
to live on this earth… the religious man is expected to despise
the good things of this world and the next world will compen-
sate him for what he lacked in this mundane existence. The
poor are asked to suffer in patience for a short while for their
existence on earth after all is very transient”. He has pointed out
that Christianity talks about and believes in life beyond the
grave. The truth is that Christianity equally concerns itself with
solving problems which afflict man in the “hic et nunc”. Chris-
tianity is too clear that after death comes judgment and that the
dead is either rewarded in heaven or is punished in hell. Chris-
tianity is surer than every other religion where man goes after
death, for Christ is the founder. Christ said in John 14:6 “I am
the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father ex-
cept through me”.
Elsewhere he said in my father’s house are many mansions,
if it were not so I would have told you. He promised his apos-
tles that he was going to prepare a place for them, this implies,
life beyond the grave. The existence of life after death influ-
ences man’s present life for “everyone” makes strenuous efforts
to live a life that is capable of leading him to life eternal. This is
why men aspire to live a life of very high standard of morality.
Nobody wants to be separated from his ancestors, good men of
the past and God himself, the source of life and goodness.
Though moral judgment need not be made on identity, the
appreciation of identity could engineer judgments of a sort, that
could aid in enhancing human dignity and sustaining it., belief
system underscores identity, and beliefs are powerful and need
not be tied to traditions though some beliefs do qualify as tradi-
tional. Even though there are ripples in the discourse on African
identity, it is agreed upon that African traditional religion con-
fers a sort of identity on Africans.
African Traditional Religion (A.T.R.) can make frantic ef-
forts to rediscover, redefine and integrate African identities and
not allow the other currents to impose unduly identity that is
contrary and injurious to African identity so as to restore and
maintain the prestige of the African. It will be the duty of us
Africans, not to be identity-less, by maintaining that the cloak
of globalization should not becloud us, and make us an appen-
dix or map us out of the sphere of existents. If we remain firm
then, African traditional religion has contributed to the global
pull and terrain of building a more balanced contemporary man.
We must not allow the euphoria of what is European make us
absorb so much from the west or occident as to lose our identity.
We must refuse to be engulfed by the other and dance our own
dance in the universal playground. We sell our birthright, if we
lose our identity, we must preserve it. Dukor (2010: p. 157)
asserts, “we take identity as something that is both physical and
transcendental. In actual fact, ancestralism is something that is
unique to the Africans which is metaphysical but in the ethical
Implications of These Values of Religion
Mbiti (1982: p. 44) said God has been qualified as “creator,
creator of all things, moulder, begetter, bearer, maker, potter,
fashioner, architect, carpenter, originator, constructor, and so
on”. The Africans believe that he is constantly at work. Mbiti
adds “the people speak of God as the keeper, up holder, pre-
server, prosper, guardian, caretaker, pastor and saviour”. It is
expected that God must have a pride of place in the life of the
individual and the nation if the nation must survive and prosper.
Traditional values propagated by African traditional religion
has been thrown to the wind, and our leaders ignorantly think
they can build Nigeria without recourse to God. Christianity
equally knows and preaches that God must be given a place of
honour in our lives and the life of the nation. The psalmist says
“unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in
vain”. Fathers of the Vatican Council II hold as Flannery said
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“we do honour to your authority and your sovereignty, we re-
spect your office, we recognize your just laws, we esteem those
who make them and those who apply them. But we have a sac-
rosanct word to speak to you and it is this: only God is great.
God alone is the beginning and the end. God alone is the source
of your authority and the foundation of your laws”.
In Islam God is given a place of honour (A1 Quaran 11: 163)
says your God is one God; there is none save him, the all-lov-
ing, the all-merciful. Again in (CX 11: 1-4) it says.
He is God, the one; God, the eternally, besought of all, he
begetteth not, nor was he begotten; and there is none compara-
ble unto him. Religions know that the individual and the nation
cannot survive without God, hence appeals that the state be
anchored on God. Morality flows naturally from religious be-
liefs. The belief in life beyond the grave which is determined by
the quality of life lived here necessitates man’s struggle to live
a morally sound life here below. As the life of a person affects
that society, the individual strives to ensure that his way of life
does not precipitate calamity on himself and society. It is a
logical consequence of the Africans belief in the close relation-
ship between man and the powers that steer the course of nature
and human destiny.
Little wonder, a lot of sacrifices are made by the people in
order to keep the balance in nature, the awareness of the fact
that the powers will always punish evil, that brought about the
prevalence of law and order in the traditional society. Mbiti
(1975: p. 181) stresses “African religious beliefs, values and
practices are directed towards strengthening the moral life of
each society. Morals are the food and drink which keep society
also breaks down and the end is tragic…” with the belief in
religion, it has made lasting contribution for religion emphasize
the relevance of morals in religious practices and insists that
moral be extended into every aspect of life for the good of the
individual and society. Religion is and remains the core of the
human life.
Christianity, for instance, lays bar man’s capacity for good
and evil, his passions, the principles of social justice, the nature
of mortal life, its transitory nature and how man’s values can be
reordered. These values enunciated by religion are necessary
for true development of man and the society. The development
we talk of here is complete development in which man is alive
to his responsibilities. He cannot be so, unless he is alive in his
dimensions as an incarnate spirit. It is the development of the
human agents that is at the root and foundation of other phases
of development. It is this being (man) who though influenced
by society that eventually through his thoughts shape society.
Religion should aid in the reconstruction of society by help-
ing to make man qualitatively better, this can be done by striv-
ing to bring about a new type of man who will have humility as
his strength for God is very simple and humble, a man whose
integrity will be his greatness.
Since the problem of the contemporary man is that of the
spirit, it is metaphysical, only religion can reach the depths of
man’s being and heal it. Ajibola (1975: p. 146) holds “religion
is something that human nature demands. It is said that there
are basic human needs; food, clothing and shelter. These are
physical needs. Beyond these are spiritual needs as well which
science and philosophy fail to satisfy. As the human stomach
requires a home to live in, so the human mind also requires
certain things and one of such things is the consolation from the
questions which beset the human mi nd…
Religion fulfils the spiritual requirements of man by provid-
ing for suitable answers to fundamental human problems. “He
continued “the body must be looked after to become fit, strong
and pure in order to help the harmony of the spirit”. Religion
should aim at liberating man from bondage in every aspect of
his life here on earth. It should aid in liberating him from ego-
tism, tribalism, ethnocentricism, materialism, nepotism, embez-
zlementism, god-fatherism etc. This will aid him to develop a
responsible conscience. Okolo (1979: p. 21) writes “the prob-
lem of modern man is that of the ordering of values, the curbing
of appetites, the appreciation of higher and more permanent
good in the midst of the fleeting goods of the senses, and so on”.
Nigeria needs men of substance, men of conscience, who have
acquired the grace to keep their passions under control, these
are men of moral worth, probity and integrity. These are the
people who can make an impact in life and not necessarily men
of technology.
For any true development to take place in Nigeria, man must
be seen and taken for what he is if he is not built, nothing works.
Religion directs its concern to the whole person and not just an
aspect. This is why it is the core of man’s life, not even an as-
It is then bizarre to make a sharp distinction between the
temporal and the spiritual; for achieving perfection in one
without the other is destructive. It is the same man that is the
citizen of here below and heaven. Religion should stress the
need for the integral development of man and society. Ajibola
(1975: p. 147) called Muhammad a practical idealist. He writes
“Mohammed (peace and blessings of God be on him) trans-
formed all honest work into worship. He said that the man who
is seeking livelihood for his family is also worshipping God”.
The wage earner is a friend of God. The gospel did show that
Christ was concerned with both the spiritual and physical needs
of man. John 10:10 says Christ came that man may have life
and have it in ab un da n ce .
Religion aids man to reorder his fundamental options, per-
spective and values. It shows us the real things, which are not in
the transient things. Religion arouses man to a new awareness
of self, to his ontological vocation to be a subject, an architect
of his person and the transformer of his environment. Religion
is active, and transformative. Paulo Freire (1973: p. 76) recog-
nized this in his statement “human existence cannot be silent,
nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words
with which men transform the world… men are not built in
silence but in word, in work in action-reflection”. By implica-
tion, religion in the course of urging men to cater for them-
selves, work and transform their society is social, for a bond is
created between God, man and nature is created hence it is
progress and development oriented.
It is on account of this that religion is said to engender the
spirit of patriotism in the people. Okoye (1977: p. 14) writes;
“it has its moral foundation in piety and social basis in the com-
munity”. Religion should try to arrest or address the factors
which made it difficult if not impossible for citizens to show
love and loyalty to the nation.
In the past, in the traditional circles, men exhibited high de-
gree of patriotism, that even some freely gave up their lives for
their communities to live and others made great sacrifices for
their people. This devotion was linked up with religion.
Ezeanya (1979: p. 17) observed “this patriotism, limited though
it may be in scope, has nevertheless provided a sound basis for
patriotism in the present day Nigeria”. The truth is that every-
body has a part to play in the reconstruction of society for eve-
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rybody is important and has mission not only in Nigeria but on
earth, if the music produced by nature must be harmonic.
Concluding Remarks
Nigeria, for instance, is a nation made up of nations; she as-
pires for greatness and had already dubbed the cap the giant of
Africa. The aspiration is noble but she must be ever ready to
pay the price which is enormous. If we want a just society
where everyone is given his due, want to enjoy peace, internal
cohesion, progress and prosperity she must make room and
give the pride of place to the author of peace, who is the source
of all that is good. Nigeria made the first mistake at independ-
ence when she adopted the Anthem that hailed Nigeria before
thinking of God. Religion is an indispensable recipe, ingredient
for building a happy and stable nation. Why? It is because re-
ligion gives man an identity.
Etienne Gilson (1960: p. 10) rightly said “just now, states are
beginning to realize that they are not equipped to provide
themselves with the kind of citizens they need. They do not
need citizens merely, but law abiding citizens, …” Building a
nation without religion is like building a massive edifice upon
sand. Definitely the slightest gust of the wind will crumble the
building. Every religion believes that the world is peopled by
spirits and God, hence man is expected to live in such a way as
to make his life acceptable to these powers that people the
Fulton Sheen (1954: p. 244) said, “it is man who has to be
remade first, then society will be remade by the restored new
man… The constant refusal of man to allow a supra historic
Divine Power to break into his closed mind is the pride which
prepares catastrophe”. The religions of the world need meet
each other in a fraternal spirit of dialogue in order to recon-
struct their visions, focus and t he nation. Anchoring on t he rich
religious, moral and spiritual foundations of our forebears will
do much in this job of great concern.
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