From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka has described the notice given to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Mathew Kukah, to quit the state as unacceptable.
Prof Soyinka said he had studied the transcript of the Bishop’s Christmas Day speech and found nothing in the speech that denigrated Islam.
The Nobel laureate gave his position in a statement on Monday entitled, “The Kukah offence and ongoing offensives”.
Bishop Kukah had in his speech on Christmas Day expressed his views on the challenges confronting Nigeria, particularly insecurity and poverty under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Bishop has come under heavy criticism for his speech.
But Soyinka in his statement knocked those who criticised Kukah as a result of the Christmas speech and expressed his worries over the threat to evict the Catholic bishop from Sokoto, insisting that it is unacceptable.
Prof Soyinka’s statement reads in part:
‘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 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.
‘In its own peculiar way, this is actually a rational proceeding. A perceived threat to a collectivity tends to rally even waverers round the flag. The core mission of faith custodians then becomes presenting religion as being constantly under siege. It all contributes to interpreting even utterances of no hostile intent as “enemy action”.
‘There is a deliberate, emotive displacement of central concern. It is calculated avoidance, diversionary, and thus, nationally unhealthy. Humans should not attempt to play the ostrich.’
Prof Soyinka noted that Bishop Kukah’s Christmas message, and the ensuing offensives, could not be more fortuitous, coming 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.’
The Nobel laureate said some of the most extreme of the violent forces that recently ‘assaulted the governance citadel of the world’s powerful nation sprung from religious and quasi-religious affirmations.’
He added that the condition still enabled many of them to be brainwashed into accepting ‘literally, and uncritically, indeed as gospel truth, any pronouncement, however outrageous and improbable, that emerged from their leadership.’
He added: ‘It should not come as a surprise that a section of our Islamic community, not only claims to have found offence in Bishop 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 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 was indeed the case.
‘Life would far less be 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.
‘Everyone should be reminded 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 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, fueled again and again by failure to learn from past experience, we must at least learn to nip extremist instigations in the bud.’