• Osinbajo laments government’s inability to bring bigots to justice
James Emejo in Abuja
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, yesterday warned Nigeria against the dangers of religion bigotry, saying the country could not step forward to its manifest destiny unless the growing fanatical approach to issues of faith was moderated.
“If we do not tame religion in Nigeria, religion will kill us,” he said emphatically at the launch of a book, Religion and the Making of Nigeria, by Prof. Ayo Vaughan, in Abuja, adding: “Many Nigerians have paid the ultimate price because of religion and religion is now embedded in our society.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was also at the event spoke along the same lines, lamenting the endemic inability of the law enforcement arms of government to bring the perpetrators of religious violence to justice.
“Very few people have been prosecuted for religious violence but none has ever been brought to conclusion; why are such cases never concluded? Too many cases of high profile murders that are not concluded in this country,” the vice president said.
Soyinka, who spoke against the background of the recent killings in Southern Kaduna that had continued to fuel mutual mistrust among the diverse ethnic and religious groups in the country, said given the depth of the disharmony religion had caused among Nigerians, it had become necessary for government to encourage a more in-depth knowledge of religion that should be taught in the nation’s schools.
“I would canvass for religious studies but not the study of religion,” he said, adding: “The innocent ones are the ones who often pay the ultimate price in religious crisis. Even as religious leaders cannot denounce the murdering acts of religion.”
He regretted that religion was inducing trauma and anxiety instead of solace that it claimed it could give, explaining that religion had become an ironic product of human inadequacy.
“There is a monster always waiting to pounce on innocent Nigerians under the name of religion,” Soyinka said.
The Nobel laureate decried the handling of killing of over 800 citizens in Southern Kaduna by both Governor Nasir el-Rufai and President Muhammadu Buhari.
He decried the admission by el-Rufai that he paid killers of Southern Kaduna people to stop the carnage.
He said: “What astonished me was not the admission by the governor but the astonishment of others at such governmental response to atrocity. There was nothing new about it. Has appeasement to religious forces not become a Nigerian face of justice and equity? First lethargy and then appeasement. Wasn’t Boko Haram’s Muhammed Yusuf a beneficiary of appeasement in a similar fashion?
“If you ask why General Buhari did not act fast enough when these events take place, which degrade us as human beings, well it is perhaps he has been waiting for the governor of that state to send money to the killers first for them to stop the killing.”
He said it was no longer enough for religious leaders to simply condemn violence perpetrated by their followers.
“What, however, concerns the rest of us no matter the internal wrangling, rivalries or controversies within any religion, is that the innocent are often those who pay the highest price. The non-adherents to one line of belief or another.
Soyinka noted that religion in the history of Africa “has been a disastrous venture, a disaster in many zones and continues to be even so today.”
Also, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who spoke at the event, lamented the country’s inability to prosecute perpetrators of religious violence and other high profile murder cases in the country.
The vice president who described the issue of federal character as a hypocritical tool in the hands of the elite in peddling influence observed that at critical times, they forget religion and ethnicity.
“National character is very hypocritical. When we are playing football, we all clamour for the best legs because we want to win. We don’t ask how many Muslims or Christians are in the team. When you are sick, nobody asks about the religion of the doctor. We only ask about competencies.”
The vice president said religion had been a veritable tool in forging educational development of Nigeria but that “the manipulation of religion by the elites has led to the problem that we are facing. Nigerian elite will use religion when it is convenient and at other times they may use ethnicity or some other form of identification.”
According to him: “It is that frequent use of religion for manipulative tendencies that has led to our predicament. And this is because we always discuss the issues after conflicts where lives are lost and it thus make such discussions emotive.
“Identification leads to advancement and so the elites report to religious and ethnic manipulation.”
Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah in his contributions lamented that religion had been used mainly for manipulating the people by northern elites.
He said: “Unless we get round to defining what constitutes religion and in this particular case, the way and manner in which the northern ruling class continues to use religion as a cover to perpetuate and subjugate the people, the problem will persist.
“We may never prosecute anybody for killing in the name of religion precisely because we have been unable to separate criminality from religion.”
Kukah said it had been impossible to prosecute anybody for religious violence because of the feeling that people could kill in the name of religion.
According to him: “The dangerous crimes that have been associated with religion in any part of the north have never been a result of theological differences or disputation. It has always been about economic.
“In Zango Kataf, it was the siting of a market, while in Bauchi, it was about someone being accused of using pork as suya. None of the conflicts started in the church or mosque. They are largely about economic opportunities.”
The cleric noted that the book has offered an opportunity to think more clearly because “in northern Nigeria, schools that were built by the Catholics in Kaduna have now been given names of Muslim heroes and heroines.
“Would anybody take over a school built by Muslims in Nigeria and turn it into either St. Thomas or St. Margaret?” he queried.
The reviewer of the book, Prof. Bolanle Awe, expressed concern that the two imported world religions have been mostly unfavourable to the cause of women.
“Among the Christians, the Christian colonisers did not prepare the women for any active and positive participation in the development of Nigeria,” she said.
Awe said women were provided education by the Christian colonial government primarily to make them ‘good wives,’ good hostesses and good monuments of society.
According to her, women were not trained to participate in the higher echelon of government administration, adding that in northern Nigeria, where Islam predominates, the situation of women could be described as worse, saying they were not to be heard and even seen.