How to satirise religion in Nigeria
Are you one of those funny people who like making others laugh as you mock a part of the society they don’t belong to? Do you take pleasure in exaggerating the country’s flaws to draw attention to them or stating them exactly as they are (because Nigeria is already nothing but 923,000km2 of pure hyperbole) with surprisingly similar effects? Do you often wonder if half of your readers are smart enough to get your message written as it may be in English language? Then, dear satirist, this article is for you.
My sermon for you today is simple: Never attempt to bring religion into your art. The day you treat religion (and by that I mean any of Nigeria’s two major religions and their subsets) with half of the scorn with which you treat politics or other themes, that is the day you risk everything: your job, your audience, or even your life if you wrong the wrong people wrongfully enough.
But, as we happen to share a lot in common, I know you are stubborn. You like forbidden fruits and care little for your well-being. If the society had a reset button, you would be first to hit it. You see the humour in the darkest of tragedies or most serious of topics and can’t wait to share the joke with others.
Anyway, if you must write a satire about religion or anything and anyone directly connected to it as a devout believer or prominent promoter, then for your own good pay attention to the tips I am about to share.
Only the tip
If you would normally use 70 per cent of your satirical superpowers, then you must drink the Wakanda potion that makes people weaker. Forget the Black Panther. To satirise religion and live to satirise another day, you have to take the form of the Black Painter—writing what you mean (as a satirist would) but covering it in layers of emulsion paint that make it almost unrecognisable.
If, ordinarily, you would be inclined to write a “strongly-worded” piece of five or more pages, you can reduce it to half a page. Better still, you can ramble on the topic in the first four and a half pages before finally hitting the nail on the head with two to three paragraphs. Your message might get lost in translation, but then isn’t that better than you getting lost in transit?
Go for the low-hanging fruits
If you must attack a religious leader, go for those who are not yet in the mainstream—because even though they might claim to have been called, they are probably lying if they don’t have the millions of following and tens of megachurches or mosques to support it. God does not call a person who cannot convert the conversation to a conference call. And you know it is easier to condemn a person whom the society does not hold in high regards to start with.
Remember, God anoints but man appoints. “Touch not my anointed (unless they have yet to obtain their certificate of anointment from the court of public opinion),” says the Lord.
At the end of the day, most clerics share a lot in common. The actions of one are representative of the instincts of the others.
Don’t be a man of war but be ready for one
All fruits, no matter how lowly they hang, still have their own seeds, so you must be ready to be called out and maybe even cancelled by the subjects of your subject. You can never be fully insulated from attacks (in the physical, online, or even spiritual realm), so never let your guard down. “Constructive criticism” does not exist in the Encyclopaedia of Religion. Unlike in the United Nations, you are either a member or you are not. There is no room for (unbiased) observers.
Be as cryptic as possible
Clarity and satire are not always on good terms, I know. But in this instance, you have to be even more unintelligible. Be hidden in broad daylight. Be unpredictable. Be as confusing as the gender spectrum in the contemporary world. You can start by using a fake name for your subject. If the cleric’s name, for example, is Indiana Baba-Hossana, you can change it to something as alien as Indabosky Bahose. You can better fortify yourself with an unrelatable feature image and a disclaimer reassuring Doubting Thomases that all characters are sourced from no other place but the figment of your wild imagination.
Better still, writer under a pseudonym…
If your article ends up triggering the wrong nerves, believe me, you don’t want to be caught in the Aso Rock of a religious storm. Separate your art from yourself, except of course you have self-destructive tendencies and want to be remembered as the disbelieving writer who became a scapegoat for challenging Clerical Napoleons who, of course, are always right. Or except you are privileged to be writing from the abroad where freedom of expression is not just a paragraph under the section on freedom of religion.
So, learn from George Orwell and use a pseudonym. There’s still plenty of room in Kano prisons for hard-headed lots like you who delight in blaspheming against God and his earthly reflections. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to make it to the court.