I heard and met Tunde Fagbenle for the first time some two weeks ago. Permit me to tell you how. I was already anticipating my visit home and impatiently waiting for my last class of the week when the President of the department came over to me and asked me if I would love to go to a writing programme. What kind of programme? I wondered and asked but he wasn’t sure. I was interested but that meant I would have to change my plans and postpone my visit home to Thursday and that in itself was a dilemma. You see, my folks don’t understand why I don’t come home too often especially since I go to school in the same city I live. Also, I had promised to come home a few times and reneged on that promise. Anyway, it was nothing a phone call couldn’t fix and they seemed to understand- well, that’s what they said.

It turned out that it wasn’t exactly a writing programme –  it was a book reading for Tunde Fagbenle’s new book “AND THAT’S SAYING IT THE WAY IT IS”. That piqued my interest even more because I’ve never been to one. The book is a compilation of his newspaper column from 2010-16. Remember that before that Wednesday evening, I have never heard about him or read any of his works but he struck me as an interesting personality and I’ve done some research on him. I want to talk about him and his years as a journalist but no, you can find those online but I’m going to say this about him, he is an exceptional writer and an intelligent thinker.

Actually, there are lots of things I want to talk about from this book reading at Booksellers, Jericho but I’m going to stick to the theme of one of the articles from the book- prayers the country does not need.

Prayers the country does not need explores the futility of Nigerian’s hypocritical dedication to religion and its practices. It particularly emphasises the folly of saying prayers in public programmes wasting time that would have been better utilised. One would be inclined to agree with his assertion of the ridiculousness of the trend because let’s face it, what has prayers or religion in general done for this country? If indeed, religion matters in the issue of national development and whatnot, Nigeria would be one of the most developed countries in the universe. I’m not trying to commit some sort of blasphemy or offend believers of any faith but what can prayers do when the people that say these prayers are not even pure at heart. What can prayers do when a country is rife with evil and everything associated with it?

Personally, I don’t like talking about religion but maybe it’s time we began having real conversations about the actual benefits of religion to the polity. Right now though, I think religion has been one of the bedrocks of this country’s many problems. We have to think about religion before we get anything done and this is even surprising because, in the constitution, Nigeria is a secular state. Talk about showing disregard for everything. Recently, there has been an uproar about the introduction and implementation of Sukuk bonds because it was related to Islamic banking and as a result, there have been fears that this is an attempt by the government to Islamise Nigeria. Maybe now is the time to say this: the real problem is not religion, it is with us- the people practising it.

Over the time, we have used religion to as an excuse to commit crimes against humanity and make life hell for one another. I mean, look at the terrorism landscape in the country and look at the destruction it has caused. Also, look at the number of mosques and churches that are being used as a front to carry out nefarious activities.

I would never understand the need to use public address systems during night prayers and virtually all churches and all mosques are guilty of this. Prayers should be a personal conversation- an affair between you and God but no, we make it public even in the dead of the night. It does not matter that there are people who need to rest or people, who are actually working but couldn’t concentrate because of the noise blaring from speakers.

We have also done ridiculous things and used our love for religion as an excuse too. One of the many things that first surprised me in my first days at the university, and as time went on, amused me was the scribblings of the scripture on bathroom and toilet doors. The scripture is more than just words. It is supposed to be holy and treated with the utmost respect but what do we do? We invoke it in the dirtiest of places. We disrespect the sanctity of it and think we honour it. I know there are people who would have an explanation for this and I would be willing to hear them. Asides the religious undertone, doing this is not the most logical of moves- doors and walls are not meant to be defaced. We know this, yet we continue to do this. Again, the problem is not religion, it is with the people practising it.

Writing this made me remember an amusing story that happened some time ago and backs my belief that Nigerians have unreasonable faith in prayers, I was in a group of friends having a light conversation when someone in the group jokingly told another person that his childhood must have have been boring. What did the guy say? He said, “my childhood will not be boring in Jesus’s name”. Of course, everybody in the group burst into laughter. Maybe he really didn’t think about it before he retorted or maybe he believes in prayer so much that he would pray for a time that has passed; a time that he can never go back to but the idea of him praying for his childhood to be interesting when he is indeed an adult and in the university was funny to everybody. Needless to say, that childhood comment was supposed to be a joke.

It is about time we revised the way we practice religion. It is about time we changed our ways. Prayers will not change a thing when we are not prepared or even work towards actualising that change. No successful person in the world amassed their fortune by being just “prayer warriors”. No prosperous country in the world relies so much on prayers or religion- they got to the summit by actually having a system that works; one that everyone irrespective of their beliefs made sure of. Prayers matter, do not get me wrong but it won’t magically make things happen. We know this already, we should accept this reality and live by it. I am not Tunde Fagbenle; I can only hope that I have said it the way it is.

Lanlehin Toheeb