Soyinka knocks Ilorin emir over attack on traditionalist, harps on religious tolerance

Soyinka knocks Ilorin emir over attack on traditionalist, harps on religious tolerance


Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in an open letter has critisised the Emir of Ilorin, Sulu Gambari, for reportedly banning a Yoruba cultural event, the Isese festival, from holding in the Kwara state capital.

The playwright on Thursday said the emir’s action is an assault on civilized conduct. recalls that shortly after Adesikemi Olokun, an Osun devotee, reportedly released fliers announcing a three-day traditional event aimed at celebrating certain Yoruba deities, an Islamic group, Majlisu Shabab li Ulamahu Society, stormed her residence to warn her not to hold the celebration.


The group said they were sent by the emir, Punch newspaper reported.

The spokesperson of the Emir of Ilorin, Abdulazeez Arowona, reportedly said the emir and the palace supported the action of the Islamic group. He, however, said the group was not sent by the emir.

The priestess also reportedly claimed to have received death threats over the planned festival.

Isese day is a public holiday observed by Osun and Ogun states to give a sense of belonging to adherents of traditional religions. It is usually celebrated on 20 August.

But the Ilorin Muslim group vowed not to allow the celebration anywhere in the five local government areas of Kwara that constitute the Ilorin emirate.

Speaking on the controversy, Mr Soyinka said it is sad to see the ancient city of Ilorin, a confluence of faiths and ethnic varieties, reduced to this level of bigotry and intolerance, manifested in the role of a presiding monarch.

Emir of Ilorin Ibrahim Kolapo Sulu Gambari

“The truncation of a people’s traditional festival is a crime against the cultural heritage of all humanity,” he said.

“Year after year, Ramadan has been celebrated in this nation as an inclusive gathering of humanity, irrespective of divergences of belief.

“Not once, in my entire span of existence, have I encountered pronouncements by followers of any faith that the slaughtering of rams on the streets and market places is an offence to their concept of godhead. Vegetarians hold their peace. Buddhists walk a different path.

“Prior to Ramadan, non-Moslems routinely join in observing the preceding season of fasting as a spiritual exercise worthy of emulation.”

Mr Soyinka recalled how for instance, “a procession of Corpus Christ was once attacked, some killed, by a brood of Moslem fanatics, for daring to process along the streets of that same Ilorin. Needless to say, such abominations have become routine. Community is sacrificed to bigotry.”

Mr Soyinka said he presently teaches in Abu Dhabi in the Emirates where the Islamic religion originated, and the system is inclusive.

“It may interest you to know that, in Abu Dhabi, numerous programmes are pursued, at government expense, for the evolution of a humanised community based on religious tolerance and mutual respect,” he said.

“By contrast here, several tiers removed from Origin, must we turn the turban of enlightenment into a crown of bigotry? And in a society whose very constitution that supposedly governs us all guarantees freedom of belief, association and movement?”

The novelist described the emir’s action as one that has led to religious malformations.

“Your Royal Highness, it is conduct like this that has bred Boko Haram, ISIS, ISWAP and other religious malformations that currently plague this nation, spreading grief and outrage across a once peaceful landscape, degrading my and your existence with their virulent brand of Islam,” he said.

“It is conduct like this that has turned, before our very eyes, a once ecumenical city like Kaduna into a blood-stained mockery of cohabitation. It is conduct like this that makes it possible for a young student, Deborah, to be lynched in the very presence of armed police, on mere allegation of having belittled the image of a revered prophet.

“It is action of this nature, perpetrated in obscure as well as prominent outlets of the nation, that turns a young generation into mindless monsters, ever ready to swarm out and kill, kill, kill. Simply kill for the thrill of it, but under presumption of religious immunity. It is conduct like this that then nerves one extremist to wake up one day in a Scandinavian country, publicly announce his intention, and proceed to make a bonfire of copies of the Qur’an. Reprisals follow, equally mindless, trapping humanity in an ever-ascending spiral of costly but gleeful violence.”

He also said the African continent has endured centuries of disdain and despoilation at the hands of alien religions – Christianity and Islam at the forefront.

He urged the emir “to rein in those agents of division, of triumphalist intolerance, such as the Majlisu Shabab Ulamahu Society. There is a thin line between Power and Piety.”

“Call Yeye Ajasikemi OIokun Omolara to your side, make peace with her and make restitution whichever way you can for this grievous insult to our race. We know the history of Ilorin and the trajectory of your dynasty – but these are not the issues.

“The issue is peaceful cohabitation, respect for other worldviews, their celebrations, their values and humanity. The issue is the acceptance of the multiple facets of human enlightenment.”

Source: Premium Times Nigeria

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