Buhari, Prayer Budget and the Independence Anniversary Celebrations By Leo Igwe

Whereas many Nigerians are excited to read about the reduction by the Federal government of the budget for this year’s anniversary celebrations, they are likely to overlook the fact that the ‘prudent’ allocations do not reflect the needs and priorities of Nigeria at the moment. Indeed, the anniversary program is low in terms of budget but lacking in terms of relevant ideas and insights. It follows the same ‘old’ pattern, which does not resonate with what should be our national aspirations at this time in human history.
According to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), President Buhari has approved 70 million for the organisation of events marking the anniversary. And what are these events? They are: Jummat prayers to be held at the Abuja National Mosque on September 25, an Inter-denominational Thanksgiving Service to be held at the Abuja National Christian Worship Centre on September 27, a ceremonial Change of Guards and children’s party slated for October 1 and 3 respectively.
The SGF further noted that four sub-committees have established to ensure the successful organization of these events. But he did not elaborate on what these committees would be doing or what made it necessary to constitute them.
Anyway, if the Buhari-government has been thoughtful and prudent enough to reduce the budget, it should have gone further to ensure that these anniversary events have substance and symbolically reflect the needs and priorities of Nigerians at the moment. Now if we take a critical look at the budget, a half of the money would go into organizing religious – Jummat and Christian – services. Yes, the Buhari government is spending approximately 35 million naira to stage Christian and Islamic prayers as part of the 55th Independent anniversary celebration. Really? This is inspite of the explanation by the SGF that they decided to slash the cost because of the current state of the economy. That means if the economy were to be better more money would have been funnelled into anniversary prayer programs. But my question is this: Given the state of the economy, why should the government bother at all allocating money and creating committees to oversee the conduct of Jummat and Christian thanksgiving services?
The budget for Christian and Islamic prayers to mark this anniversary is completely unwarranted and a waste of national resources. First of all what actually is this money meant for? Are they meant to pay the attendees to the events or to remunerate the imams and pastors who would preside over the Jummat and thanksgiving services? Given that Jumaat services are conducted and attended by government officials every Friday and church services are held on Sundays, does the government need a budget to get Nigerian Christians and muslims to organize services marking the Independence? Why not leave it open to all religious and non-religious groups to organize events in a way they deem fit to mark the independence anniversary? Again, why budget to stage Christian and Islamic services only? Is Nigeria a Christian and Islamic nation? Why discriminate against Nigerians who are neither Christians nor Muslims?
Personally I find this prayer initiative very surprising because this is a government that promised not to subsidize religious pilgrimages and now it is devoting millions of naira to organizing Christian and Islamic religious services as part of the anniversary celebrations. Is it not sad and unfortunate? Particularly when one thinks that similar events are going to be held in the different states of the Federation to mark the independence anniversary. That means more state funding of Christian and Islamic prayer programs across the country in the coming days. Wow.
Independence anniversary celebrations are very important events which sometimes Presidents, Heads of state and diplomats from other countries attend. They present opportunities for countries holding such events to showcase their progress and achievements over the years and to outline their dreams and visions for the future. Now what is the Buhari-led government going to show the world at these prayer sessions?
Is the government going to demonstrate to the world how prayerful Nigerians have become since independence or what? Now think about this, these prayer programs lack the symbolism of independence because they are religious services based on colonial religions of Christianity and Islam, not the traditional or indigenous religious formations. Based on this observation, don’t you think the prayer events are symbolically a disservice to the very idea of independence anniversary?
Now what if this prayer budget had gone into organizing events that showcase the richness and diversity of the Nigerian culture, art and literature beside and beyond praying in Christian and Islamic ways? Won’t that be money well spent? Why can’t the government stage events to celebrate national excellence particularly what the country has achieved in different sectors – education, tourism, science and technology?
The idea behind independence is the exercise of self rule and that people are better of governing themselves. So at the anniversary celebration, Nigeria should hold events that resonate with this very ideal. If we do not organize programs that celebrate Nigeria looking to the past, we can organize programs that celebrate Nigeria looking to the future? The government should use the anniversary to show the world that Nigeria is a thinking, not just a praying, nation and to display ways in which gaining independence has helped unleash the talents and resourcefulness of Nigerians.
Yes the Buhari government should exercise prudence not only by reducing the cost of national celebrations but also by organizing value adding programs; by devoting independence anniversary activities to celebrating creativity, invention, innovation and other ideals that uplift the nation.

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