Nigeria: Balancing Religious Persecution, Accommodation, Islamisation and Evangelism

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kidnapped in Nigeria
Nigeria

Narrated by Elijah, the story follows Timi, a young man who excelled academically, spoke 16 languages and became the first African clergyman in the Church of England. After marrying Bridget and having a daughter, he returns to Nigeria, leading a fulfilling life until tragedy strikes. His family falls victim to Baby Fire, a local thug, leading to a series of tragic events that turn Timi into a recluse. The film later introduces Elijah, who changes Timi’s life and helps him rediscover his faith and purpose.

Storylines concerning faith and religion often tread familiar paths in Nollywood, portraying clashes between clergies and witches, misguided pastors exploiting their congregations, or other predictable narratives tailored for the local audience.

Breath of Life, an original Prime Video production written and directed by BB Sasore and produced by Eku Edewor, offers a refreshing departure in its exploration of faith. The result is a visually captivating film featuring award-worthy performances from Wale Ojo, Chimezie Imo, and Genoveva Umeh. Their characters intertwine to create a compelling narrative that captivates viewers until the end.

Released on Prime Video on November 15 by Nemsia Films, co-founded by Derin Adeyokunnu, Breath of Life tells the story through the voice of Elijah. It was the closing film at the 2023 Africa International Film Festival. This faith-based movie revolves around Timi, who, having lost his sense of purpose, encounters Elijah, leading to a transformative journey.

Set in the 1950s, the film unfolds the extraordinary life of young Timi, portrayed by Ademola Adedoyin. Timi’s unique abilities and accomplishments set the stage for his promising future. However, a tragic turn of events in his Nigerian village puts his family in jeopardy, leading to a series of events that shape the man Timi becomes.

As Timi evolves into an older man in the 1980s, played by Wale Ojo, the film delves into his emotional turmoil. Ojo’s portrayal of the older Timi is not only a treat but also his most challenging role to date. The film’s attention to detail, from props to the choice of setting, enhances the immersive experience for the actor and the audience.

Chimezie Imo’s portrayal of Elijah, a young man with a lung disease, adds another layer to the narrative. Elijah’s interactions with Timi and others reveal his vulnerability and determination to make a positive impact.

Breath of Life stands out with its meticulous attention to props and detail, depicting Timi’s secluded life with authenticity. The film effectively uses visuals to convey the emotional depth of the characters and their stories. Scenes such as Elijah pleading for love in the rain or Timi rediscovering faith contribute to the film’s powerful emotional impact.

The inclusion of Anna, played by Genoveva Umeh, as Elijah’s love interest provides a refreshing dynamic to the story. Anna’s boldness and confrontation of challenges contribute to the film’s balance.

Overall, Breath of Life delivers a compelling narrative rarely seen in Nollywood, marked by stunning storytelling and powerful emotional scenes. It’s a movie that comes highly recommended for its unique approach to faith and humanity. And the film itself is the background for my short conversation in this essay about Nigeria and faith.

Nigeria, a country known for its rich tapestry of cultures and religions, faces complex challenges related to religious dynamics. The coexistence of adherents of Islam, Christianity, and various indigenous beliefs within its borders has given rise to intricate discussions around religious persecution, accommodation, Islamisation, and evangelism.

Here, I delve into these multifaceted issues to better understand Nigeria’s religious landscape:

 

Religious Persecution: Religious persecution in Nigeria takes various forms. It primarily occurs along religious lines, with both Muslims and Christians being victims in different regions. Factors such as ethno-religious tensions, competition for resources, and extremist ideologies have contributed to the persecution of religious minorities. The Boko Haram insurgency in the north and attacks on Christian communities in central Nigeria exemplify these challenges. While in the South generally large pockets of Muslim always in recent times feel undone in the political mix and general conversation.

Religious Accommodation: In contrast, religious accommodation is also evident in Nigeria. The country’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right to worship, providing a framework for religious pluralism. Nigeria’s diverse population necessitates policies that respect and accommodate various religious practices. Examples include state recognition of Islamic and Christian holidays and the allocation of funds for pilgrimages. Which again brings conflict without meaning to do so, as many argue that these accommodations in themselves have constituted more problems than solutions.

Islamisation: Accusations of Islamisation often revolve around fears that Islamic principles and laws are being imposed on non-Muslim populations. This perception has led to tensions, particularly when states with predominantly Christian populations introduce Islamic legal systems, such as Sharia law. The concerns about creeping Islamisation continue to have implications for religious coexistence and social cohesion. I intentionally would not discuss its tepid use in the last General Elections in the country for the purpose of this essay.

Evangelism: Evangelism, or the spread of religious beliefs, is a fundamental practice in both Islam and Christianity. While constitutionally protected, aggressive proselytization can create tensions. Christians and Muslims frequently engage in missionary activities, sometimes leading to disputes, conversions, and, on occasion, violence. While we may have passed the Bonke years in the North, we have witnessed killings of adherents of faiths on this singular factor.

Nigeria’s intricate religious landscape requires careful navigation to balance the protection of religious freedoms with the need for social harmony.

Several factors contribute to the ongoing discussions and challenges surrounding religious dynamics in Nigeria:

  • Political Exploitation: Some politicians exploit religious divisions for electoral gain, further entrenching religious cleavages. Like I said earlier, rather than a tepid conversation around its use by politicians in the last elections, I leave this conversation for another day.

  • Interfaith Initiatives: Civil society organizations and religious leaders often engage in interfaith dialogue to promote understanding and reconciliation.

  • Legal Framework: The country needs a robust legal framework that safeguards religious freedom, prevents discrimination, and resolves religious disputes. The absence of this is a very big factor.

  • Counter-extremism Efforts: Addressing the rise of extremist groups is critical to mitigating religious violence and persecution.

It is also intentional that I have done a well laid out synopsis of the movie breath of life to guide my conversation above, one it is the best movie that I have screened in this year 2023, and it helps me in delivering this Christmas message to my fellow Nigerians, and members of this bar, and those of the bench in attendance of this function of learned persons and civil society, and persons in government.

I conclude, Nigeria’s path forward involves fostering a society where religious coexistence is not merely a response to crises but a proactive commitment. A multi-faceted approach that includes legal protections, interfaith collaboration, and efforts to counter extremist ideologies can help Nigeria navigate the complexities of religious persecution, accommodation, Islamisation, and evangelism while fostering unity and social cohesion—May Nigeria win, and many compliments of the holiday seasons.

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