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Soyinka: Quit notice to Kukah, extremist instigation

…says nothing in Christmas Day homily denigrates Islam

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, yesterday, expressed disgust at the recent quit notice issued to the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, by a section of the Islamic community, describing the action as an unacceptable extremist instigation.

Kukah had, on Christmas Day, stirred the hornet’s nest with a homily that took government to the cleaners. In the said sermon, Kukah x-rayed the activities of the Buhari administration and highlighted its failures in nearly every critical sector, including the economy, security and the fight against corruption.

In response, the Muslim Solidarity Forum, a group based in Sokoto, had called on Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over what they described as “malicious comments” against Islam, or quietly and quickly leave the state. Soyinka said that while it did not come as a surprise that the Islamic group claimed to have found Kukah’s Christmas Day homily offensive, it was bothersome and even unwholesome that they threatened to eject the cleric from Sokoto simply for ‘speaking in tongues.’

According to the playwright and human rights activist, the action of the group that issued the threat stands condemned, especially in a pluralistic society where freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution.

“On a personal note, 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 be 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.

“With the foregoing out of the way, we are compelled to remind ourselves that religion is upheld, and practised, not by robots, not by creatures from outer space, not by abstract precepts, but by human beings, full of quirks, frailties and conceits, filled with their own individual and collective worth, and operate in the here and now of this very earth. That makes religion the business of everyone, especially when it is manipulated to instil fear, discord and separatism in social consciousness.

“The furore over Bishop Kukah’s statement offers us 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. In this nation of religious opportunism of the most destructive kind especially, fuelled again and again by failure to learn from past experience, we must at least learn to nip extremist instigations in the bud. “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,” he said. Soyinka decried the quit notice handed to Kukah. He said: “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! “…When any individual or group, however lofty and privileged in its own selfregard, orders a citizen to quit his or her chosen place of habitation, then the very concept of nation being is nullified. “This is not the first time this fundamental principle of co-existence has been challenged. Still fresh in one’s mind was the mode of response by the Inspector- General of Police to a similar violation by a northern youth organization a few years ago when that group pronounced a deadline for the Igbo to quit their abode throughout the northern territory of Nigeria. It was a dangerous, provocative act, incendiary under any condition,” he said.

Soyinka argued that Bishop Kukah said nothing other than what every observant and concerned citizens of United States recently said about the conduct of the U.S. security forces. According to him, when confronted by peaceful protesters during the Black Lives Matter movement, their response was vastly different from that of the same security agencies when a predominantly white mob invaded its seat of government, thrashed it and hunted down the people’s elected representatives, rampaging for hours before they were finally “escorted out.” He said that such a contrast goes to the heart of nation and poses a real and urgent danger.

“That accusation has been voiced by both sides of the colour divide and across class divisions. Again and again, the warning was loudly voiced, it was unheeded. We remain fools if we fail to learn from the costly complacencies of others. “The obvious issue, to summarize, is double standards. Lack of equitable dealing. Agreement or disagreement with Bishop 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,” Soyinka said.

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