Nigerians, and Africans in general, are a very religious people. But why does religion have to rule the entirety of our lives?

If you ask a Nigerian what qualities they look for in a significant other, their first reply will most likely be ‘God-fearing’. Obviously, the all-encompassing term is an empty word on a par with the vague ‘gender equalist’ phrase that Nigerian men, who can’t stomach the concept of feminism, call themselves to cloak their prejudice.

But because ‘God-fearing’ could really mean anything, it is sensible to probe potential partners for specifics if one wants to avoid future misunderstandings and heartbreaks.

With all the prayers emanating from these ubiquitous prayer houses, Nigeria remains one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

Religion permeates every facet of Nigerian life, even in areas where it shouldn’t matter. Years before, when I visited the MTN office to register my SIM card, the customer service representative posed a series a question, one of which was religious affiliation. ‘Christian or Muslim?’ he asked with a presupposition that piqued me a little. I wondered why a phone company needed to know which religion I subscribed to in order to activate a mobile phone line. ‘Neither. I’m atheist,’ I responded somewhat cavalierly, even though I wasn’t. The man shot a glance at me like I was Medusa in the flesh. He couldn’t believe there were atheist Nigerians.

In the corridors of power, religion has a strange, though sanctioned, stronghold, taking centre stage in legislation and politics. For instance, a Muslim presidential candidate must pick a Christian as their vice-presidential running mate, even if the most eligible person in the party is Muslim.

Similarly, the gender and equal opportunity bill aimed at addressing child marriage, women’s reproductive rights and domestic violence among other issues, suffered a massive blow in March at the hands of legislators, thanks, in part, to religion. Opponents of the bill argued it contravened religious teachings, with Senator Sani Yerima – a man who had to deny his wife was a thirteen year-old girl but refused to say how old she was – once again citing the Koran in his dissent.

Every neighbourhood and street corner features a place of worship, and depending on which part of the country you visit, it could be a mosque, a church or both. Still, with all the prayers emanating from these ubiquitous prayer houses, Nigeria remains one of the world’s most corrupt countries, currently sitting pretty at number 136 out of the 175 countries surveyed by Transparency International.

Religion is a personal pursuit that shouldn’t be rammed down the throat of others.

We touch our foreheads to mosque floors on Fridays, shout the loudest praises on Sundays but somehow haven’t been able to exorcise the demon of corruption. Instead, religious leaders fleece their congregation through tithes, offertories and the sale of blessings.

Nigeria is a country where hypocrisy is rules, where rendering blessings and committing sin simultaneously doesn’t seem incongruous and the commandment ‘Thou shall not steal’ is largely ignored. Once, I observed a bribe in progress, where the bribee unabashedly bestowed blessings on the briber, uttering ‘God bless you’ after pocketing a brown envelope pregnant with cash. Another time, I witnessed a man known to sing religious tunes every morning at work help himself to the company’s coffers.

Nigeria’s religiosity is quite perplexing.

I have decided to disengage from Christianity and by extension the Catholic Church because I can no longer subscribe to a religion that uses medieval texts to denigrate human beings, which in most cases happen to be women. I will no longer pretend that the papacy’s insistence to bar women from the priesthood and subdue their reproductive rights isn’t sexist, or that the practice of church officials forcing women to take pregnancy tests days before their wedding and then refusing them a religious ceremony if they’re pregnant isn’t misogynistic.

I cannot pretend that biblical verses like 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14, which clearly state women must be submissive, don’t contribute to and reinforce gender inequality and domestic violence in deeply religious countries like Nigeria.

Religion is a personal pursuit that shouldn’t be rammed down the throat of others via laws and other social conventions. There’s a need for religious Nigerians to recognise that it is tyrannical to expect those who don’t care for spirituality or religion to conform to their religious tenets. Nigeria, after all, is a democracy not a theocracy.