Why would the government of Osun State build a church? Why would any government build a place of worship, at all?
In today’s plural, interconnected spaces, I cannot conceive of any interpretation of the goals of a government (except The Vatican) that would include the construction of a place of worship.
In the particular instance, reported by the news media, last week, it is difficult to come to terms with a scale of preference that is willing/ready to sacrifice parcels of farmland in prime cocoa growing locations for the construction of an “interdenominational worship centre, to be named ‘Open Heaven Worship Centre’”! This reconciliation is hindered further by the structure of our economy: agrarian, poor, and with high rural unemployment rates. An agrarian, relatively rich, economy with many of its people engaged at the value-adding end of the production ladder may not need that much land. But definitely, not us. And, at least, not now.
And why does the government of Osun State imagine that the N51 million paid as compensation to farmers whose lands would be used for the church (and whatever else it would cost to finish this “place of worship”) is the best use of money in the state? I admit that this question is related to my first question on the principles around which sub-national governments should be organised, and, in this sense, might be repetitive. However, against strong evidence of greater needs across the country — rising unemployment, deteriorating social capital, rising social tensions — one could argue that the government of Osun State could have found better use for this money.
However, there is the not too insignificant matter of the state governor’s image. It would seem that there have been rumblings in the state on concern that he might be part of (or indeed, be the inspiration for) plans to win the state for Islam. Besides, elections to the office of the governor approach. What better way to address these concerns (and put in a telling response ahead of the forthcoming politicking) than by building a church? Conversely, it would be a minor charge describing this as cynical use of government space, if the church building project then contributes to improving inter- and intra-faith relations and the general security situation in the state. At this point, even the project cost would have been money well spent.
But, then, is the state not welcoming the thin edge of a very thick wedge? On this expedient, it would be hard (if not impossible) and very expensive enough balancing the competing needs of Moslems and Christians in the state, going forward. Still, do these two confessions exhaust the spectrum of worship in the state? In a democracy, in which confessions play a role in the organisation of government, should not the goal be to guarantee equal treatment of all? Over the next electoral cycle, is the government of Osun state then minded to devote more money to other religions in the state (including by acquiring farmlands, and factory premises) for the construction of places of worship for these?
Perhaps, in the light of stirrings over the governor’s religious persuasion, there are strong arguments for the Osun State government to want to separate mosque and state. But not by building a church. One of the biggest threats to our democracy, today, is the relationship between the church and the state. Christians rejoice when the newspapers report visits to general overseers/men of god by elected heads of government. They revel rapturously at pictures of “our leaders” prostrate before these eminences.
And a minority feels endangered. When I recall the general “revulsion” at similar pictures of our leaders prostrate before the gods of Okija, it is obvious that both Christians and Moslems in the country (in their more rationale moments) understand the danger to the state when secular authorities plight their troth to spiritual ones. It is a danger of control that thwarts everything that non-others stand for. It is a danger of subversion of the state in the interest of non-obvious goals (the sundry visions of the marabouts and general overseers delivered in smoke- and mirror-filled rooms). It is a danger that is obvious from the Lagos State government’s inability to rein in those churches and mosques in weekly (daily, if you add the vigils) violation of the laws on acceptable noise levels. It is a danger of the capture of the state by narrow interests.
It is a threat that we all must guard against. Sadly, it is a threat, evidently, that sectarian confessions (in our case, largely of the Christian and Moslem flavour) are willing to accept, so long as the prostrating is before the idols of their gods.