By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has described as reckless spending, the use of billions of Naira in constructing an ecumenical centre in Yenagoa by the Bayelsa State Government, demanding that actual amount spent on the project be disclosed.
This was contained in a statement signed by its President, Professor Ishaq Akintola.
“We demand to know the cost of the Bayelsa ecumenical centre which has just been built with public funds. We thought the age of prodigal governors was over with the current war on corruption but this just cannot fit into the new orientation. It is as reckless as it is flambouyant and as irrational as it is insensitive. Bayelsa government must speak up,” it stated.
MURIC said that it was worried by the rate at which acrobatic religiousity is beclouding the ability of Nigerian politicians to think strategically and invest in the future of coming generations.
“The low economic standing of Bayelsa does not call for such Father Christmas misadventure. With $5.5 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP), $2,493 GDP per capita and a GDP growth rate of only 5.3%, the government of Bayelsa has little or nothing to boast of economically. Besides, Bayelsa is dwarfed standing at number 26 on the GDP list out of the 36 states of the federation. What is there for Bayelsa to celebrate when Bayelsa only manages to get $4,337 in GDP when Lagos has $33,679 and Rivers, Bayelsa’s neighbour, has $21,073, five times more than Bayelsa!
“Governor Henry Dickson owes Nigerians an explanation. He must tell us the cost of the ecumenical centre built by his government. Not only that, he must tell Nigerians the rationale for spending the tax payers’ money on the construction of a church when neither Nigeria nor Bayeslsa State has been declared a Christian enclave.
“It should be noted that Bayelsa is among the states that are owing workers several months salary. Bayelsa is allegedly owing local government workers between ten and sixteen months salary. It is also allegedly owing teachers seven and a half months. What has Governor Dickson spent Bayelsa’s share of the Paris Club refund on?” It queried.
The group wondered what could have informed the governor’s decision to build such a gargantuan structure as a worship centre since he cannot pay salaries.
“Should people be worshipping and praise-singing on empty stomachs? Can a state which has failed to pay workers still go ahead to declare such surplus? Is it morally justifiable? Is there any scarcity of churches in Bayelsa? Is an ecumenical centre Bayelsa’s priority?
“The last time we checked, the Nigerian society was long on places of worship but short on morality, transparency, probity and accountability. All we can exhibit is gymnastic religiousity without the commensurate high level piety and discipline. We spend the most productive part of our days on our knees in the church and on our mats in the mosque. Nigerians have mistaken stupidity for piety. We produce nothing, yet we brandish the tag ‘giant of Africa’. The rest of the world is laughing at us.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we are not opposing prayers. We need prayers for individuals and for our country. But work and prayer must go pari passu. It should not be noisy congregations and lengthy, endless services all the time. It should be ora et labora. Yes, we must pray and work. It is the work of our hand that God Almighty will bless. Following the Weberian school of thought, religion can also help in shaping morality if we are moderate about it, but not religiousity as we now have in Nigeria,” it pointed out.
MURIC lamented that Nigerians have become emotionally inclined that they no longer recognize truth even when it is brought close under their noses.
“The elites are the worst. Cries of ‘Islamisation agenda’ would have rented the air if a Muslim governor had built a mosque with state money the way Henry Dickson has built a church with tax payers’ money. Nigeria’s elitist secularists have always argued that religion is a private affair. Why are they quiet now? Can’t we face reality for once in this country?
“What has Nigeria gained from the proliferation of churches and mosques except the idolization of society’s demons? What is there to celebrate when 30 states generate N516 billion naira but spent N1.4 trillion on wages? How can any state governor spend billions on the erection of a church when salaries are not being paid and workers are suffering? Is that part of industrialization or is Dickson simply dishing out Karl Marx opium in order to create a general amnesia in Bayelsa? Dickson is on the path of hero-worshipping. He is lining the pockets of his spiritual godfathers at the expense of the Bayelsa hoi polloi. Who did this to Nigeria?
“According to the speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, the House received a bill for the management of the edifice and passed it into law within 24 hours. This is a violation of the ethos of democracy. Where is due process in this? When did Bayelsa House turn into a mere rubber stamp? We expect Nigerian elites to shout blue murder but they appear to have gone on sabbatical. Nobody is here to remind us that Nigeria is a ‘secular’ state. The objectivity of Nigerian elites is seasonal. Their thermometer only works when they see ‘Islamisation’ or its mirage,” the statement noted.
It would be recalled that an ecumenical centre or church which is capable of accommodating ten thousand Christian worshippers at a time built by the Bayelsa State Government was officially commissioned two days ago.
The elaborate commissioning exercise was transmitted live for hours by AIT and TVC television stations and officiated by prominent Nigerian pastors.