Nigeria’s post-cosmopolitanism and the culture of the worstBy Jibrin Ibrahim 

Nigeria is becoming more and more frightening. Last week’s massacre of eleven worshippers and the wounding of 18 others at St Philips Catholic Church, Ozubulu spread shock waves all over the country. Conversations centred on the wanton nature of the killings – that the killers could not find their targets so they killed those they saw. Why would human beings kill just for the fun of it? The fact of the matter is that what happened is the new normal. For over one year, the Badoo Cult has been operating in Ikorodu where they have been killing dozens of people for ritual purposes. They are reported to have a preference for killing people abducted while praying in churches. Since 2009, Boko Haram insurgents have been killing people praying in mosques and churches. Lucky victims are blown up by bombs and the unlucky ones are subjected to ritual killing in which their throats are slit. This year alone, over 80 girls have been murdered as they were being used as suicide bombers. There is clearly a descent into barbarism that is difficult to understand. 

One of the reasons why rising barbarism is confusing is that a series of polls, including respected surveys by the Pew Centre have shown Nigeria to be one of the most religious countries in the world. Virtually all Nigerians affirm to be believers in Christianity or Islam. There are no significant numbers of self-confessed adherents of traditional religions. In addition, Nigeria holds the world record in terms of time and money devoted to prayers and religious activities. The expectation would then be that Islam and Christianity, which are based on the precepts of love, honesty, good and moral conduct, respect for the other and for human life would dictate the conduct of Nigerians. Read any newspaper and one is assailed about massive corruption, the raping of babies, stealing, including the theft of money collected for religious work and so on. There is a huge lie about what Nigerians say they are and what they really are. The reality is ugly and frightening. Life has become very precarious and ephemeral. Rural banditry, cattle rustling, kidnapping, militancy, widespread paganism, wanton killing characterise daily life.

What does the future hold for Nigeria? We appear to be modernising. More Nigerians have been having access to education. Cities have grown all over the country. Today, over 50% of Nigerians have abandoned their villages and moved to cities and towns. Since then, the conditions for future development in Nigeria have been dictated by rapid urbanisation. The pattern of urbanization has developed along corridors – Lagos-Ibadan, Port Harcourt-Enugu and Kaduna-Kano. Over and beyond these corridors of mega cities, the development of states and local governments have led to the development of over one thousand state capitals and provincial towns. As urbanisation has grown, the signifier of social trends has been the growth of informality at the level of the economy, society and above all in religion. Nigerian informality is located in poverty for the masses and obscene wealth for a vocal, crass minority.

The most important contemporary problem for Nigeria is the lack of opportunity for the youth. We have developed a huge youth bulge that has been growing and is indeed galloping. This is happening at a time in which formal opportunities for employment are declining, and most industries have closed down. Having a job has become a minority experience for Nigerians and opportunities only exist in the informal sector. Nigeria’s youth has been seeking to negotiate with a society in which poverty is growing and the future looks bleak for the majority. When we had a relatively high growth for over a decade, the future was bleak. Now that we have been in recession for two years, there is no future except for the daring and the wicked. Meanwhile, the marginalised youth who are glued to the social media know we have massive wealth for a few and conspicuous consumption of the obscene wealthy is what they see everyday.

The reality is that opportunities for the majority exist only in the sphere of darkness, the underworld, the criminal networks and above all, in occult arenas where the devil can help the bold and needy. So blood continues to flow as violence grows and is democratised, or rather popularised. Orthodox religious practices are displaced and new as well as old interpretations that offer faster routes to wealth and satisfaction become the order of the day.

Our sociology has been transformed profoundly. From the 1950s to the 1980s, migration to urban centres was based on the acquisition of modern education and skills. That was the era of cosmopolitanism. The pattern of migration therefore left the poorest in the rural areas and the adoption of urban life signalled social mobility. However, as population increase continued and a significant youth bulge developed in the population profile, the poor youth in the rural areas have also moved to urban centres. In this context, these cities have become the new focal point for the aggregation and aggravation of poverty amidst massive accumulation by a tiny elite. The most profound poverty has therefore been moving from the rural to the urban centres. The era of post cosmopolitanism has arrived.

Since the 1990s therefore, urban poverty has been growing more rapidly than rural poverty. Indeed, the main feature of urban life in contemporary Nigeria has been the precariousness of life. Daily subsistence needs such as food, housing, healthcare and education are lacking for a large proportion of the population. There is serious pressure on livelihoods, both formal and informal. More and more people are being pushed into the informal sector. The breakdown of the social fabric and family bonds is producing a lumpen culture characterised by delinquency, violence and religious extremism. 

The conditions created by urbanisation and social transformation is producing a new post cosmopolitanism. It is not based on the spread of modern education and the development of knowledge and refined culture. Diversity and multiculturalism has limited impact as many of the shantytowns in the cities are characterised by the aggregations of the village in urban centres. Globalisation is a major player for these communities. The village is transferred to the new urban centres but it’s a new village whose culture is being transformed through satellite television, cassettes, then video and now the social media. Cell phones have applications with ring tones that call the Muslim faithful to prayer and the Christian to the latest fiery sermons of the pastor. The Hausa villager in the city has a worldview that is daily informed by complex news analysis in their language from the United Kingdom, Iran, Egypt, France, Germany and China. Global conflicts and interpretations of religion, politics and social life are constantly on the ears of our people. Objectively, what our government is saying, doing, and above all, not doing, becomes a small part of the universe. Yes it’s small, but it’s important because it produces anger.

On the economic front, the informal sector with all its incertitudes is the basis of precarious livelihoods. The precariousness of life has created ideal conditions for the proliferation of informal as well as formal religious activities. Sufi and Wahabi orders and Pentecostal churches provide many survival functions – shelter, medical support and economic networks – that neither the family nor the state can secure in these times of crisis. Increasingly, it is the religious actors who are the social agents that provide meaning for the new and difficult conditions of life in the squatter towns. It is true that the village has been transplanted into the city but at the same time, new forms of bonding and differentiation are being created – new social networks are needed to provide comfort and emergency relief to those in distress; new lucrative spheres for accumulation, both legal and criminal, are being created – and for all of these and more, the religious sphere provides the most effective framework. As this new sociology takes root, I wonder who is watching and studying, not to talk of planning and taking action in these interesting times when the village has moved to the city but the logic of the city is firmly controlled by globalisation. Would we continue to watch the massive proliferation of divinity that is occurring and the runaway inflation in the production of religious movements, leaders and charlatans with teeming followers? As our society transforms god into a franchise that can be replicated by every budding entrepreneur with virtually no initial capital outlay, what does the future hold for us?

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