Soyinka: If we do not tame religion in Nigeria, religion would kill us

Soyinka: If we do not tame religion in Nigeria, religion would kill us

Friday, January 13, 2017 11:41 am

L-R: Prof Olufemi Vaughan, His Excellency Vice Professor Prof Yemi Osinbajo; Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw; Amb Folasho Olukoya; Prof Wole Soyinka, and Bishop Matthew Kukah during the book discussion of Religion & Making of Nigeria at Shehu Musa Yar'Adua Centre, Abuja

L-R: Prof Olufemi Vaughan, His Excellency Vice Professor Prof Yemi Osinbajo; Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw; Amb Folasho Olukoya; Prof Wole Soyinka, and Bishop Matthew Kukah during the book discussion of Religion & Making of Nigeria at Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja


Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has noted that if not urgently curtailed  religious crisis and the attendants killing being witnessed in various parts of the country may ultimately lead to “unmaking of Nigeria.”

Soyinka spoke in Abuja at the launch of the book “Religion and the Making of Nigeria” written by Prof. Olufemi Vaughan held at Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja on Thursday.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was special guest of honour at the event.

While lamenting that from the way it is being practiced now, religion “is more likely to induce anxiety leading to trauma rather than solace and the consolation of spirituality which many religions claim for themselves,” the Nobel Laureate noted that the people usually killed during religious crisis were the innocent ones.

“The sitting president of this nation, Gen. Buhari once said ‘If you don’t kill corruption in this nation, corruption would kill us.’ I would like to transfer that cry from the moral zone to the terrain of religion. If we do not tame religion in this nation, religion would kill us,” said Soyinka who wondered what would have happened if religion was never invented.

“I do not say kill religion, though I wouldn’t mind a bit if that mission could be undertaken surgically; painlessly, perhaps, under anesthesia effectively spayed all over the nation or perhaps during an induced pouch of religious ecstasy.  However, one has to be realistic.

“Only the religiously possessed or committed would deny the obvious. The price that many have paid not just within this society, but by humanity in general makes one wonder if the benefits have really been more than the losses.

While wondering on the factors that may have been responsible for the transformation of religion to a killing machine, Soyinka said it is no longer sufficient for religious leaders to disown purveyors of violence within their fold “for the simple reason that others who dissociate themselves from conduct which universally is condemned are themselves declaring themselves partisans of their own in contradistinctions to others.”

He also condemned the handling of the ethno religious crisis in southern part of Kaduna State which according to Christian Association of Nigeria has claimed over 808 lives.

Soyinka was particularly galled by admission by the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai that he paid herdsmen responsible for the carnage to stop the killings.

Soyinka said: “What astonished me was not the admission by the governor but the astonishment of others at such governmental response to atrocity.

He added that people should not have been surprised about the open confession of the governor because such policy of appeasement has become the norm in the country.

“There was nothing new about it. If you ask why Gen. 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.”

Also speaking at the occasion, Vice President Osinbajo said religion itself was not the problem of the country, but the crises arising from its practice. The Vice President noted for example, that while religion has contributed to educational development of Nigeria, it is also one of the tools being used by the elite to gain social, economic and political advantage in the country.

“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.”

“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 the religion of the doctor. We only ask about competencies.”

The Vice President however said the relatively low rate of prosecution of those arrested for involvement in religious violence was not deliberate.

He noted that the country seemed to has a problem in successfully prosecuting cases of homicides, citing the inability of the country to bring those behind high profile murders to book as an example.

Also speaking at the event Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Mathew Hassan Kukah noted that religion had been used mainly for manipulative tendencies by northern elites.

“Unless we get round to defining what constitutes religion and in this particular case, the way and manner in which how the northern ruling class continues to use religion as a cover to perpetuate and subjugate the people, the problem will persist.”

The cleric said most reports of commission of enquiries set up after religious crisis in most parts of Nigeria indicated that such problems were usually set off by fight over economic resources and things not related to religion.

Others who graced the event include include Secretary to Oyo State Government Olalekan Alli, former Cross River Governor Donald Duke, Amb. Folorunso Otukoya,  Justice Ajoke Adepoju, Prof Hamidou Bole, Bishop Hassan Kukah, and  Sen. Babafemi Ojudu among others.

The author of the book, Professor Vaughan, is currently the Geoffrey Canada Professor of Africana Studies and History at Bowdoin College, Maine and a Senior Editor of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia in African History.

He was also recently appointed Henry Steele Commager Professor at Amherst College, Massachusetts.

Religion and Making of Nigeria is a well wrought and eloquently crafted analysis of the intriguing linkage between religion and modern state formation in Nigeria. Drawing on archival and contemporary sources, Olufemi Vaughan adroitly situates his material within the vortex of historical and anthropological contention over the religious antecedents of colonial and postcolonial Nigeria.

“Elegantly written, Religion and the Making of Nigeria is a truly outstanding work of interdisciplinary analysis that is likely to become the standard bearer for scholarship on religion and evolution of the modern Nigerian state in the forseeable future,”  Ebenezer Obadare, Professor of Sociology, University of Kansas said in his review of the book.


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