If you ever find yourself conversing in Yoruba and don’t understand something the other person says, you can always answer with “amin” because it will probably make sense at least 50 percent of the time. Amin means amen in Yoruba. Nigerians are very religious people for the most part and you can be sure that in any conversation you have in Yoruba, one person will say a prayer. For example, I have been talking about my upcoming exams with my Yoruba friends lately. Whenever I mention studying for an exam, everyone says “e máa se aseyori / you will pass,” and the response to that is “amen / amin”. Or if I tell someone I am returning to the U.S. at the end of May, they say “aá de layò / you will arrive in happiness,” or “Olorun yóo sin e lo / God will be with you on your journey”. Once again, the only response to this is “amin or ashé / amen.”
Nigeria is an extremely religious country. Massive billboards that just say “JESUS” in bold letters span over highways. You pass a church or a mosque every few kilometers. Every party, meeting and event almost always starts and ends with prayers. Inserting “Olorun / God” into any sentence automatically makes that point important. For example, if you say “Mo fi Olorun be / I am using God to beg you” you will certainly get that thing you want. When my mom landed at the airport in Lagos, I used phrases like “E joo, fun mi laye lati wole nitori Olorun / Please let me in because of God” and the security man escorted me through the door that is usually off limits to people receiving travelers. “Lagbara Olorun / By the grace-power of God,” is another ubiquitous phrase. People say things like “I will be in my office to attend to you tomorrow at 3 lagbara Olorun.
The 180 million people who make up Nigeria are either Christian or Muslim. Most Christians are either Baptist, Catholic or Anglican. Churches are some of the richest establishments here because they do not have to pay taxes, one of the reasons there are more churches here than schools. You see pastors riding around in the nicest cars and wearing the finest cloth. Religion is overwhelmingly divided on geographical lines. Most of the north is Muslim and the south is Christian. Politics must take this dichotomy to heart by ensuring that any president/vice-president ticket is Christian/Muslim. A Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket will never pass. I have had so many experiences with administrators or business people here saying “Lagbara Olorun a máa pari ise yen lola / By the grace of God we will have that work finished by tomorrow,” and I am thinking You either do it and finish it by tomorrow or you don’t, God is unnecessary in this circumstance.
Nigerians also love asking me about religion. Any time I am out of my house on a Sunday, people always ask me if I went to church and or which church I go to. Questions like this, which we consider private matters and off limits for casual conversation in the U.S., are questions people ask without even knowing you here. Politics is a more sensitive subject here than religion.
I am an open minded person; I accept believers of any religion and all peaceful displays of religion. Religion is a strong part about who Nigerians are and a part of identity. I think some people are too religious in Nigeria and leave things up to God to a debilitating extent. People also use the veil of religion to validate their criminal actions, like thieves or money launderers praying that their crimes go well. The way some people practice religion here undermines critical thinking and self-empowerment. Praying can only take you so far and after a while a person needs to take matters into his or her own hands. Many Nigerians are religious but not Godly and use “lagbara Olorun” as an excuse for actually doing work. I hope extreme believers can use their minds more and not leave as much for God to work out. When this happens everyone will benefit, even God.