Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on Monday defended Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Dr. Matthew Kukah, over his Christmas homily, saying the attacks on him by the federal government and some Islamic groups were unwarranted.
Soyinka, in a statement, said he had studied the transcript as reported in the media and found nothing in Kukah’s message that denigrated Islam as alleged by the Islamic groups.
Kukah, in his Christmas homily had accused President Muhammadu Buhari of promoting northern hegemony, saying that there could have been a coup if a non-northern Muslim president had done a fraction of what Buhari did.
His homily drew censures from the federal government and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), led by Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, which attacked the bishop for allegedly denigrating Islam and Muslims.
The Muslim Solidarity Forum also joined the fray, with a call on Kukah to apologise for his alleged attack on Islam and Muslims or leave the Caliphate.
The forum, which labelled itself as an umbrella body for Islamic organisations, scholars and clerics, said Kukah’s Christmas homily was capable of triggering religious violence in the country.
However, Kukah had rebutted the allegations and accused the JNI Secretary-General, Dr. Khalid Aliyu, of inciting violence against him.
He had also challenged the JNI to “as a matter of honour” show where he attacked Islam or Muslims in the statement, adding that he is “more than happy to apologise” for such.
However, in a bid to douse tensions over Kukah’s homily, the presidency had waded into the controversy again, with a caution to the Islamic group that demanded that Kukah should apologise or quit Sokoto State, to back off.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, had cautioned the Islamic forum against issuing such an ultimatum and should, therefore, let Kukah be.
The presidency had also described as wrong and unconstitutional the conditionality given to Kukah.
Soyinka, in the statement titled, “The Kukah offence and ongoing offensives,” however, noted he was not among the most religion besotted inhabitants of the globe.
He said: “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.”
Soyinka alleged a deliberate, emotive displacement of central concern, describing it as calculated avoidance, diversionary and thus, nationally unhealthy. He urged humans not to attempt to play the ostrich.
According to him, 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.”
He added that some of the most extreme of the violent forces that recently assaulted the United States Capitol sprung from religious and quasi-religious affirmations.
He said 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.
Soyinka said it should not come as a surprise that a section of the Islamic community, not only claims to have found offence in Kukah’s homily, adding that “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,” he stated.
Soyinka said that the reverse position does not seem to be adopted by religionists in a spirit of equity.
According to him, they do not hesitate to intervene, and some consider themselves divinely empowered to intervene, even dictate in secular life.
Soyinka said everyone should be reminded that religion was “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 fuelled again and again by failure to learn from past experience, we must at least learn to nip extremist instigations in the bud,” he explained.