The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, on Monday said that the controversial reactions to the New Year message of Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, are “diversionary” and “nationally unhealthy”.
Mr Soyinka, a professor, also warned that Nigerians must not succumb to the demands of irrational religionists who would demand a mile after getting an inch.
Agreement or disagreement with Mr Kukah’s position is demonstration of a nation’s badge of maturity and should be read as a continuation of the provocative discourse, Mr Soyinka said in a statement.
The Nobel Laureate wondered why religion is being echoed as a legitimate extract from Mr Kukah’s New Year address, adding that it is a “deliberate, emotive displacement of a central concern.”
Mr Soyinka was reacting to the controversies surrounding a New Year homily by Mr Kukah earlier in the month.
The clergyman had in a message titled: “A Nation in search of vindication”, accused the Muhammadu Buhari administration of not living up to expectations of Nigerians due to the various economic and security challenges affecting the nation.
He said Mr Buhari was “institutionalising northern hegemony against national interests.”
In a reaction to Mr Kukah’s sermon, top Islamic group, JNI, in a statement dated January 6, described the bishop’s sermon as “irresponsible and seditious”.
It said Mr Kukah’s message “was a prepared address considering the occasion and the audience, one cannot but agree that it was a calculated attempt to insult Islam which is typical of him. His veiled insinuation that Muslims have a pool of violence to draw from, is disgusting, disheartening, as well as condemnable.”
Another Islamic group, the Ummah Movement, with headquarters at the National Islamic Centre (NIC), Zaria, said the failure of Mr Kukah to retract his statement early enough triggered its reaction, hence “called for the immediate resignation of the Bishop from the Peace Committee, in view of his blatant anti-Muslim partisanship as displayed in his treasonable Christmas message.”
But in his statement on Monday, Mr Soyinka said the timing of Mr Kukah’s Christmas message and the ensuing attacks could not be more fortuitous, seeing that it comes at a time when a world powerful nation, still reeling from an unprecedented assault on her corporate definition, is now poised to set a symbolic seal on her commitment to the democratic ideal.
Mr Soyinka was making reference to the United States of America.
“Let no one be in any doubt that some of the most extreme of the violent forces that recently assaulted her governance citadel are sprung from religious and quasi-religious affirmations, a condition that still enables many of them to be brainwashed into accepting literally, and uncritically, indeed as gospel truth, any pronouncement, however outrageous and improbable, that emerges from their leadership,” the statement read.
“As usual, we have not lacked, within our own distanced environment, advocates who, even till recently, claimed to have seen in their vision, the triumph of God’s own anointed in the electoral contest of that same United States. They have been specific in their prophesy that what was denied at the ballot box would be restored in the law courts.
“And to set a divine seal on the matter, were not our streets in a part of this nation actually inundated by religious processions in support of the candidacy of their supposed Messiah, named Donald Trump? They had conferred on him the mantle of upholder of Christian values, endangered by satanic practices in, of all places, a nation designated as – God’s own Country!
“Of course, not all such tendencies represent the true face of any professed religion, we need only remark that all religions are plagued by a lunatic fringe. In this nation we have learnt the painful way what such inbred loonies are capable of. Thus, extreme care, and historic awareness, should be taken in imputing any act or pronouncement as an attack on faith. At base, competitors for recognition as first line defenders of the ramparts of religiosity are often motivated by non-religious agenda, which is yet another reason for the exercise of restraint and collective responsibility.”
The Nobel Laureate said it should not come as a surprise that a section of Nigeria’s Islamic community, not only claims to have found offence in Mr Kukah’s New Year address. What is bothersome, he argued, is the embedded threat to storm his ‘Capitol’ and eject him, simply for ‘speaking in tongues’. He added that any pluralistic society must emphatically declare such a response unacceptable.
“On a personal note,” he wrote, “I have studied the transcript as reported in the media and found nothing in it that denigrates Islam but then, I must confess, I am not among the most religion besotted inhabitants of the globe.
“That, I have been told, disqualifies me from even commenting on the subject and, quite frankly, I wish that were indeed the case. Life would far less complicated. However, the reverse position does not seem to be adopted by such religionists in a spirit of equity. They do not hesitate to intervene; indeed some consider themselves divinely empowered to intervene, even dictate in secular life.”
Mr Soyinka said because it is practiced by humans, religion is the business of everyone, especially when it is manipulated to instill fear, discord and separatism in social consciousness. He explained that the furore over Mr Kukah’s statement offers Nigerians another instance of that domineering tendency, one whose consequences are guaranteed to spill over into the world of both believers and non-believers, unless checked and firmly contained. Nigerians must at least learn to nip extremist instigations in the bud, he warned.
“One of the ironic features of religionists is, one is forced to conclude, a need to be offended. It is as if religion cannot exist unless it is nourished with the broth of offence.
“This may be due to an inbuilt insecurity, a fear that even the ascribed absolutes of faith may be founded on nothing more than idealistic human projections, not grounded in anything durable or immutable. Hence the over prickliness, aggressiveness, sometimes even bullying tendencies and imperious posturing.
“This leads to finding enemies where there are none. In certain social climates, it degenerates into inventing enmities in order to entrench theocratic power.”
Mr Soyinka recollected that not long ago, the governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai, came under blistering attack by the Christian community for allegedly insulting Jesus Christ.
He wrote: “What did El-Rufai say exactly? Nothing new or startling. All he did was deploy a common, everyday figure of speech to describe an overwhelming challenge. Both the circumstances and his exact phrasing elude me right now, but all it amounted to was that even Jesus Christ would find a particular problem intractable. Or perhaps it was simply that even Jesus Christ, were to return to earth,would be subjected to the Nigerian national culture of calumny?
“One or the other but, it hardly matters. What does matter was that instantly, there were demands from the ever-ready Onward Christian Soldiers – led by CAN leadership – for a withdrawal and apology.
“To my intense disappointment – as I declared at the time – el Rufai obliged. A huge mistake. Again and again we have warned against succumbing to irrational demands of religionists, yet even the brutal lessons of past surrenders appear to exercise no traction on society’s faculty of cause and effect, especially in that religious propensity for incremental demands. Surrender one inch, they demand a mile!”
The Nobel Laureate also wondered why the adoption of ‘BLACK FRIDAY’ to lure seasonal shopping addicts to Sale bonanzas drew solemn, sanctimonious flak from some religionists. He lamented that formal statement was issued, declaring this commonplace sale tactics an assault on the Islamic religion, since Friday happens to be its day of worship.
“These are the depths of absurdity into which society is dragged by the coils of spurious purism. Until now, we have yet to learn of Boko Haram, ISWAP, al-Shabbab and other rabid islamists declaring a cessation from killings in honour of Holy Friday.
“Again, one station that carried the broadcasts tamely withdrew its promotional campaign. Another piece of secular – that is, neutral- territory ignominiously surrendered. The tail continues to wag the dog.
“Lest the point be missed or watered down, the escalation of such irrationality is very simply outlined. Christians, not to be outdone, will seize the next opportunity to remind the rest of the world how their own Holy Day, Sunday, must and must not be used in mundane transactions in the future. Next, the Seventh-Day Adventists will demand no-go areas for Saturdays. After that, the Hindus, the Sikhs, plus the thousand and one religions of the world cornering their own Holy Day, then week, then month until we are moved to reconstruct the present calendar entirely, abandon solar principles and rebuild temporal notation around some newly discovered power planet. Did that broadcasting station consider, for a moment, the preposterous dimensions of that sectarian demand before yielding ground to a ridiculous minority of extremists?”
Mr Soyinka noted that of far weightier substance than any vaporous religiosity however, is the early mentioned civic condition of all occupiers of the nation, and their material and non-material entitlement as guaranteed by their enabling constitution. He added that when any individual or group, however lofty and privileged in its own self-regard, orders a citizen to quit his or her chosen place of habitation, then the very concept of nation being is nullified.
“The obvious issue, to summarize, is – double standards. Lack of equitable dealing,” he said.
“Agreement or disagreement with Father Kukah’s position is demonstration of a nation’s badge of maturity, and should be read, quite obviously, as a continuation of that nagging, provocative discourse. One fails to understand why religion is being sprung centre stage as a legitimate extract from that New Year address.
“There is a deliberate, emotive displacement of a central concern. It is calculated avoidance, diversionary, and thus, nationally unhealthy. Humans should not attempt to play ostrich.”
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