Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, has said that Nigerians must not succumb to irrational demands of religionists, adding that they would demand a mile after getting an inch.
Soyinka on Monday responded to critics of Sokoto State Catholic Bishop, Matthew Kukah, noting that their threats to excommunicate Kukah should not be condoned as the “brutal lessons of past surrenders appear to exercise no traction on society’s faculty of cause and effect.”
The Nobel laureate added that such threats were diversionary from the main critical issues which the cleric raised in his Christmas message and which were the obvious concerns of many Nigerians.
Soyinka said: “The timing of Rev Father Kukah’s New Year message, and the ensuing offensives 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, at the very least, a symbolic seal on her commitment to the democratic ideal.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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!”
Soyinka noted that Nigeria must nip religious extremism in the bud and disallow it from degenerating into national chaos.
“It should not come as a surprise that a section of our Islamic community, not only claims to have found offence in Father Kukah’s New Year address, what is bothersome, even unwholesome, is the embedded threat to storm his ‘Capitol’ and eject him, simply for ‘speaking in tongues’.
“Any pluralistic society must emphatically declare such a response unacceptable. On a personal note, I have studied the transcript as reported in the media and found nothing in it that denigrates Islam.
“The furore over Father 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,” he said.
Soyinka was reacting to the criticisms that have followed Kukah’s Christmas message, including one by a group – Muslim Solidarity Forum – which asked Kukah to apologise or leave Sokoto, a state in the Muslim-dominated North.
The bishop had accused President Muhammadu Buhari of institutionalising northern hegemony while reducing other parts of the country to second-class status.
According to Kukah, there could have been a coup or war in the country if a non-Northern Muslim President had practised a fraction of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘nepotism’.
The bishop warned that although Christians would not fight back, “God does not sleep”.
“This government owes the nation an explanation as to where it is headed as we seem to journey into darkness.
“The spilling of this blood must be related to a more sinister plot that is beyond our comprehension. Are we going to remain hogtied by these evil men or are they gradually becoming part of a larger plot to seal the fate of our country? The bishop had asked.
But the Muslim Solidarity Forum called on Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over his recent “malicious comments” against Islam.
Addressing a press conference recently, the acting chairman of the Forum, Professor Isa Muhammad Maishanu, maintained that Kukah’s statements could break the country’s religious faithful’s age-long peaceful coexistence.
“Our intention at Muslim Solidarity Forum is not to hold brief for the President, as he has those who are paid to do that; instead, our concern is the image and reputation of Muslims, which Mr Kukah finds pleasure in attacking without an iota of caution, and by referring to him [the president] as a Muslim, that automatically brings all Muslims [into] the issue.
“The bishop has a penchant for speaking in parables and innuendos.
“His reference to a people who possess ‘a pool of violence to draw from’ no doubt is a reference to those he has always characterised with violence – the Muslims. This is a serious provocation.
“He even has the guts to say the killings we are witnessing in Nigeria are part of a grand religious design! Religious? Who are the victims of the killings?
“What religion do they profess? Is it not a fact that over 90 per cent of those being killed are Muslims?
“Who is behind the so-called design?” he asked.
“These callous statements are unbecoming of someone who parades himself as secretary to the National Peace Committee and a member of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).
“As such, we call on Kukah to immediately stop his malicious vituperations against Islam and Muslims and tender unreserved apology to the Muslim Ummah or else quickly and quietly leave the seat of the Caliphate, as he is trying to break the age-long peaceful coexistence between the predominantly Muslim population and their Christian guests,” they noted.
The Presidency had described Kukah’s statement as an attempt to stoke the embers of hatred, sectarian strife and national disunity while the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) termed it as “reckless, inflammatory and unguarded.”