Playwright, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has taken a swipe at the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, for his role in stopping an Osun priestess, Yeye Ajesikemi Omolara, from holding an Isese festival in the state. The festival is to celebrate Ifa spirituality and practice.
Soyinka, who is the Akintalun of Egba and Giiwa of Ijebu-Remo, noted that such conduct turned, before our very eyes, a once ecumenical city like Kaduna into a blood-stained mockery of cohabitation.
He added that such conduct made it possible for a young College of Education student in Sokoto, Deborah Samuel, to be lynched in the presence of armed police on mere allegation of having belittled the image of a revered prophet.
The Nobel Laureate in a statement on Thursday titled, “Isese festival: An open letter to Sulu Gambari,’’ noted that “The greatest avatars that the world has known were not without human frailties, flaws, and errors of understanding. You are not omniscient. And you are not omnipotent.’’
Some Islamic clerics who were members of a Muslim group known as Majlisu Shabab-l-Ulamah Society earlier visited the priestess at her residence to tell her that the Emir of Ilorin sent them to warn her to desist from holding the three-day festival scheduled for between July 22 and July 24, 2023 in Ilorin. The priestess thereafter cancelled the festival through an online video, disclosing that her life was in danger having received several death threats.
The Akogun of Isara in the statement said, “Your Royal Highness, so soon after the Moslem season of spiritual purification, it is sad to see the ancient city of Ilorin, a confluence of faiths and ethnic varieties, reduced to this level of bigotry and intolerance, manifested in the role of a presiding monarch. The truncation of a people’s traditional festival is a crime against the cultural heritage of all humanity. Year after year, Ramadan has been celebrated in this nation as an inclusive gathering of humanity, irrespective of divergences of belief. Not once, in my entire span of existence, have I encountered pronouncements by followers of any faith that the slaughtering of rams on the streets and market places is an offence to their concept of godhead. Vegetarians hold their peace. Buddhists walk a different path. Prior to Ramadan, non-Moslems routinely join in observing the preceding season of fasting as a spiritual exercise worthy of emulation.’’
The elder statesman further said that it might interest the emir to know that, in Abu Dhabi, numerous programmes were pursued, at government expense, for the evolution of a humanised community based on religious tolerance and mutual respect.
He stated, “Your Royal Highness, it is conduct like this that has bred Boko Haram, ISIS, ISWAP and other religious malformations that currently plague this nation, spreading grief and outrage across a once peaceful landscape, degrading my and your existence with their virulent brand of Islam. It is conduct like this that has turned, before our very eyes, a once ecumenical city like Kaduna into a blood-stained mockery of cohabitation. It is conduct like this that makes it possible for a young student, Deborah, to be lynched in the very presence of armed police, on mere allegation of having belittled the image of a revered prophet.’’
According to the essayist, this continent has endured centuries of disdain and despoilation at the hands of alien religions – Christianity and Islam at the forefront.
He added, “Your conduct is an affront to my sense of racial being, and that holds true for millions beyond these national and continental borders, stretching into the Americas and the Caribbean. There you will still encounter Isese and allied spiritualities. There, Isese still exerts its hold on the human spirit. Visit Brazil, go to Columbia, explore Cuba, and be humbled by the tenacity of this spirituality among the descendants of black humanity.’’
He urged the monarch to rein in those he described as agents of division, of triumphalist intolerance, such as the Majlisu Shabab Ulamahu Society and call the priestess to his side, make peace with her and make restitution whichever way he could for what he termed the grievous insult to our race.
Soyinka stated, “We know the history of Ilorin and the trajectory of your dynasty – but these are not the issues. The issue is peaceful cohabitation, respect for other worldviews, their celebrations, their values and humanity. The issue is the acceptance of the multiple facets of human enlightenment.’’