By Wole Soyinka
Easter Greetings to you, Rev Mathew Kukah and to all your followers. All has been said, I think. I am impelled however not to miss an opportunity to add my own Easter drop to the overflowing vessel of pietistic sentiments if only to reassure Christians – and also moslems in turn — that even we, non-believers, do partake of that same ethical communion to which most humanity aspire. Also, your Easter sermon opens up yet again those sluices of juridical hypocrisy to which we dare not cease to draw attention.
Such, in the immediate, remains the plight of two young men – Mubarak Bala and the musician Yahaya Sharif – one serving a sentence of twenty-five years, the other actually sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. That word “blasphemy” comes into its authentic mode, in my view, whenever anyone violates a solemn oath of office. Its penitentiality becomes even redoubled when such violators are pampered with the prerogative of mercy. Permit me to call special attention to the following from your sermon:
“Religious leaders…. must face the reality that here in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world, millions of people are leaving Christianity and Islam. While we are busy building walls of division with the blocks of prejudice, our members are becoming atheists, but we prefer to pretend that we do not see this. We cannot pretend not to hear the footsteps of our faithful marching away into atheism and secularism. No threats can stop this, but dialogue can open our hearts.”
I am persuaded that the recent largesse from the nation’s president has already won a few hearts and minds to the ranks, if not of outright atheism, then at least to a healthy skeptical regard of piety spouting leadership that sees nothing wrong in attempts to extinguish the life of a young man for an honest declaration of conviction, while veterans of broken pledges are let loose to further infect a world they have betrayed. No pardon has been extended in the direction of endangered, youthful integrity.
Of course, it is easy to track the trajectory of events. Nettled by increasingly scabrous comments, such as those of his predecessor in office, Olusegun Obasanjo, who declared that this incumbent has run out of ideas, that he has nothing left to offer the nation, Muhammad Buhari decided to embark on the Easter train and donate an Easter egg of truly presidential proportions to his subjects.
Coming from a leader who had placed all his eggs in one basket, labeled Anti-Corruption, this is one egg squashed against Nigerian faces that they shall not forget – or wipe off – in a hurry. It evokes the legend of Pandora’s box whose contents are alleged to constitute all the ills that plague the world. Putrid to the core, allied to power provocations in numerous variations, such as catapulting a notorious player in the martyrdom of a serving Minister of Justice to the hub of governance wheel, these define the nature of bequests that have brought the nation to this moment of near dissolution. Precedents are no consolation, no excuses. One states the obvious in remarking that precedents either undermine or reinforce principles, and aspiring offenders, especially in the political domain, are encouraged or inhibited by the ease or difficulty of access to the fount of mercy. Officeholders, we presume, are constrained by the existence of that dangling Sword of Damocles – simply knowing that one day, the cloak of immunity will turn threadbare, and the awaited day of reckoning finds them answerable. Clearly, not any longer.
You will forgive, though disagree with me, I know, for clambering onto the Easter wagon myself, to echo the words of the One whose passage through the world the Easter season commemorates:
“It is finished!”
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2023, Ideology And Issue-based Politics: Where Did We Miss It?
The significant year 2023 is still some eight months away, but the Nigerian political space is already feeling the weight and heat of electoral matters, especially with several candidates—presidential and gubernatorial—already signaling their intentions to contest. As at the writing of this piece, eighteen candidates from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have already signaled their intention to contest the position presently occupied by President Muhammadu Buhari. This number of candidates, and as many that would be joining the list, only signals how critical the year 2023 has become in Nigeria’s political calculation. And this is because the last seven years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s (PMB) administration has been a very rough ride and confounding, especially in security and governance terms.
Given current reality with critical development indices, the crisis of the Nigerian state and the future of the Nigerian project of national integration have become somewhat more complex in measures that will be more demanding for future leadership. Under the onslaught of the Boko Haram insurgents and the banditry associated with the Fulani herdsmen, the security problem has become increasingly worse, with kidnapping, banditry and criminality becoming rampant across the country. The security predicament is further compounded by governance matters—from poverty to unemployment to industrial unrest and galloping inflation. Fortunately, or unfortunately, those who want Buhari’s seat will also soon begin to campaign on the capacity to restitute the policy deficits of the current administration around security and governance. And Nigerians would be expected to make a tough choice at the polls, come 2023.
For me, the most critical absence in the gathering political storm for 2023 is the lack of any ideological frames around which to hang the tussles and electoral campaigns of the parties that are emerging and fielding candidates at both the presidential and gubernatorial levels. In other words, the two political parties—APC and PDP—both are distinguished by their conspicuous lack of ideological base around which significant issues, from security and the economy to public service reform and unemployment, can be distinctly articulated as campaign manifestoes. As part of her political development after independence, Nigeria adopted presidentialism from the political experience of the United States. The concept of presidentialism in the US gave birth to two ideologically rooted parties, the Republican and Democratic parties. Every significant issue in the American political space—from same sex marriage to racism—are determined on the spectrum of liberalism and conservatism around which the two parties revolve. And this is the backbone that speaks to the political dynamics that uphold good governance.
Good or bad governance is determined by the kind of politics that the political class play with the lives of their citizens. The objective of all political parties everywhere in the world is to contest for power as a means to an end, which is the determination of the trajectory of development that the ideology the party holds will take the country. An ideology therefore becomes a vision of politics attached to development. Thus, for instance, while Republicans prefer the free-market approach to healthcare that prevents the government from intervening in healthcare provision, the Democrats queue behind the universal health coverage and single-payer system. Thus, when ideological political parties gain control of political power, there is already a blueprint of policies and actions to be taken on behalf of the citizens. This is what happens in the United States. This is also what happens in Britain, and indeed in Europe. It is a far cry from the clueless politics that goes on in Nigeria where the political class is devoid of ideologies that determine what to do on significant issues.
We can then begin to ask the fundamental question that should circumscribe our thinking about 2023: the relationship between ideological and issue-based politics and good governance; and why the future of Nigeria depends sorely on what ideology we need to run the Nigerian state and make development happen for the citizens. In 2015, PMB rode to power on an integrity brand and an uninterrogated change agenda—the no-nonsense mien of a never-smiling president who will discipline the place and restore security of life and property. The closer we move to 2023, the more it is dawning again on us that ethnicity, religion and the power of incumbency remain the critical factors that would determine who becomes the president in 2023. And the laugh seems to be at the expense of me and all those who expect that the Nigerian political climate is ripe for an issue-based political engagement among the political parties. This is the lesson I got in a conversation with a gubernatorial candidate in the 2019 election. I was bristling in my analysis of how his adoption of strategic communication could serve as the platform for an ideology-rooted engagement. He laughed at me! His response: people are not concerned with issue-based politics on the campaign field. All that matters is “stomach infrastructure”!
And yet, this was not how the Nigerian state and her politics were envisioned and inaugurated. Nigeria’s nation-building and political development trajectory began most significantly with the best political motif. Pre-independence campaign was energized by ideology-rooted nationalist movements. For instance, the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact became the source of a frenzied ideological opposition motivated by pan-Africanism and the non-aligned movement. This was the type of ideological contestations around which the political parties, especially in the First Republic, were known for. Indeed, the nationalists were confronted with the future prospect of a nation that had just emerged from the womb of colonialism. It is in this context that we can understand the Nigeria-as-mere-geographical-expression thesis of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the diarchy ideological recommendation of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. No one would forget the political rivalry between the Action Group, Northern People’s Congress and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon (as well as the reincarnation of the rivalry between the NPN and the UPN). Or the People’s Redemption Party of Mallam Aminu Kano. Indeed, the Nigerian Political Bureau, set up by the regime of President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, had fundamental ideological recommendations that are still relevant for putting Nigeria together on a firm political footing. Nigeria’s return to democratic rule, signaled by the June 12 saga, also signaled the ideological extent that Nigerians could go in tracking political development in Nigeria.
The question now is: where did all this go? Where did we miss it? What has happened to the type of political contestations that enlivened political engagement from the post-independence period all through the First to the Second Republics? This is a fundamental question that becomes all the more insistent against the background of bare-faced power grab of the existing political parties without the complement of an ideology that constitutes a blueprint for ordering Nigeria’s future. And if the political parties lack a sense of history that it is ideology that shapes the political development of a state for good or for ill, how then can they be placed in the seat of power to run the most populous black nation on earth? How can national development and national integration ever happen in Nigeria if ethnic jingoists, religious fundamentalists and greedy politicians are the ones that constitute the choice of who to vote for? Truth be told, neither the APC nor the PDP has the organizing frameworks to dimension the future of the Nigerian state, especially in terms of political education, mass mobilization, interest aggregation and delimiting national discourse about Nigeria’s future. Which is why the tomfoolery of decamping from one side to the other has become such a normal play for politicians.
Come 2023, Nigeria would be committing another eight years of her future to a set of political office holders who have no sense of political history, ideological commitment or a vision of where Nigeria ought to head. The political space will soon be awash with obscene money taken from the common treasury, and deployed to seal the critical voices, especially of the youths that ought to be stringent in asking for vision, and blueprints and ideology. But once money has exchanged hands, the unscrupulous politicians are already given the unbridled licence to ransack Nigeria’s treasuries for their personal and selfish ends. And 2023 to 2026, and perhaps beyond, would have become a wasted effort in consolidating Nigeria’s future. If this scenario is possible, why are we not asking the right questions about 2023? Why are we not already signaling the fundamental significance of ideologically-rooted and issue-based politics as the benchmark around which we can begin to engage with all the political parties already jostling for political power? Why are the individuals more important than the critical questions we ought to be asking?
Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .
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Dear Deborah Samuel,
If a bird is dancing on the road, the thing drumming for it is in the bush, an Igbo proverb so apt, it seems appropriate to break the ice.
I will understand if in your anger and repulsion, you refuse to read any communique from the death trap that’s Nigeria. I cannot begin to imagine the pains and affliction you experienced at the hands of your accusers. I am further burdened with guilt at my inability to effect change but write political missives that are like drops of water in an ocean. This burden has manifested into nightmares and anxiety especially when I watched the video of your lifeless body, smashed skull in a pink attire. It seemed ridiculous when I read that your crime was blasphemy. A quick Google search showed that this is not a crime according to the laws of our country except in a Sharia Court. I became perplexed when I realised your name implies a member of a different faith, as such you cannot and should not be judged by those laws but here we are.
Blasphemy! Like the Pharisees accused Jesus, they asked for your head on a spike because you asked for professionalism and etiquette amongst educators. You asked that a class whatsapp group not be used for the propagation of religious beliefs and they sentenced you to death. They played jury, judge and executioner, which in itself is a criminal offence according to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. (I know a certain professor who would receive a fate similar to Hector of Troy for this crime you have been accused of)
It feels like a thousand years ago I was writing a similar letter to Bamise Ayanwole and discussing how her only crime was being born a female in Nigeria. Did you hear about her murder up north or were you more interested in your books and daily activities? Did you spare a thought for the dear girl not knowing you would share a similar fate?
It is strange that we still have to explain the crime of extrajudicial slaughter and that there are people who would happily defend this publicly. Why should the punishment for blasphemy, be death yet political thieves and murderers have schools, mosques and streets named after them? How is this just and the desire of God? It is more worrisome that students of a college of education, a teacher-training school would have such fanatics and heretics as students. Yet people marvel at the emboldened nature of Boko Haram and Fulani bandits.
I saw a video of your last moments; you were running for your life while the mob chased you, I cried as I watched you fall and I imagined your life flashing before your eyes with loud chants of God is great in Arabic as I imagined myself in your shoes. This video was soon followed by an alleged testimony from your course mate who claims your last words were: what do you hope to achieve with this? Well, I have several conspiracy theories but let me exorcise the demonic questions beleaguering my heart.
Where were your friends, course mates, Christian fellowship members, college management, student union executives, class representatives, chief security officer and other security personnel charged with ensuring the safety of students within the college premises? None of the school’s leaders could do anything to save or attempt to save you? Where was the dean, student affairs? Did they have their hands tied like a certain professorial executive? There was no one powerful enough to invite security agents? Did the gatemen not notice an unusual inflow of people or does their duty stop at giving gate tags and harassing students concerning dress code?
Where were the lecturers? As I cannot understand the magical disappearance of only those in authority especially when your life depended on it, I am worried about our collective future. I wonder if your murder site has released a press statement on this issue.
It took the uproar on different social media sites before placatory action was taken by the state government through the governor’s spokesperson who refused to condemn the crime. I think you should know that a certain influential cleric and a certain billionaire son by marriage quoted Islamic and Biblical narratives in support of the crime (he has threatened to take legal steps against his detractors). I wonder when northern and southern presidential aspirants will condemn the crime and your murderers (a certain aspirant initially did, but recanted with speed when he saw the displeasure of his northern followers and posted in Hausa that the erring message did not originate from him and was not his viewpoint). I was initially sad that none spoke against your ordeal yet I do not want their bloody hands on your charred corpse.
It will interest you to note that after calls for justice, the Nigerian Police got involved but claimed that the culprit who boasted on video has absconded to Niger (they claim he is an imported terrorist that gained entry into the country on the basis to avenge his offended sensibilities). However, the police made a show of harassing two men who they claim were involved in your murder and charged them for criminal conspiracy and Inciting public disturbance. Your accusers have rallied over 34 lawyers to defend their actions and a barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria posted on his social media page that ‘may the curse of God be on you’.
You asked what they hoped to gain from your attack and death? Do you remember when integrity personae donated one million dollars to Afghanistan and we all wondered what the benefit of such evil benevolence was to the common man? You know that the accusers of reformed anarchist have always claimed he has intentions to Islamise the nation else why has the government refused to condemn extrajudicial killings in the name of religion?
Remember when youths in Nigeria unified to speak against police brutality (and they warned northern youths not to unite with their southern counterparts) and the army was deployed to combat insurrection and public disturbance? Well Sokoto youths went on a rampage in solidarity of their compatriots arrested for your murder and guess which security agents were invited without weapons to quell the disturbance? NSCDC that’s all… (need I remind you of the unintelligence of the agency whose official did not know the website of his organisation?). The government of Sokoto invited mere street vigilantes to quell a religious crisis that had cost a young woman her life.
There is a Yoruba proverb that says one whose house is on fire, does not hunt rats. This does not apply to Nigerians who have had fire burn their homes, farms, offices, places of religion that they have had to live on the streets for years. Yet guess what we are currently hunting?
I hope you find peace and rest, auf Wiedersehen comrade!
.Giwa writes from the University of Lagos. email@example.com
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The Treacherous Notion Of Insulting Religious Sensibilities
By Leo Igwe
I have been campaigning vigorously for the release of Mubarak Bala, who has been jailed for insulting the religious sensibilities of Muslims, some Muslims in Kano. In the past two years, I have engaged the notion of contempt for religion as a crime or an offence that warrants any sanction or penalty. I am of the view that criticizing religions and highlighting their misconceptions, shortcomings and absurdities is a moral and intellectual duty. I have encountered many religious apologists and fence-seaters who have tried to defend the notion that insulting religion is a transgression that should be punished. In this piece, I want to reiterate the implausibility and unintelligibility of the treacherous notion of insulting religion.
As expected the brutal murder of Deborah Samuel for making supposedly blasphemous statements has reawakened the debate on insulting people’s faiths. I have seen some educated Nigerians tacitly justify this obscenity implying that the alleged remark by Deborah Samuel constituted a punishable transgression. Sometimes they put it expressly stating that they do not support making disparaging remarks about others’ religious beliefs. Look, those who try to justify the notion of insulting religion either do not understand the nature of religion or are not good students of history especially the history religions in Nigeria and Africa. Do not get me wrong, I understand that people feel hurt when their well-cherished religious or philosophical views or icons are challenged, criticized, questioned, or ridiculed. But that is what is, and what it means to live in a free and open society.
And this open-society feature is not peculiar to any people or culture. In a pluralistic society like Nigeria, people hold diverse views and opinions. These views may be offensive, hurting, or insulting to others’ beliefs and sensibilities, positions, and propositions. Some people’s religious sense is others’ religious nonsense. A person’s religious food is another’s religious poison. Clear and simple. People are bound to find other people’s religious or philosophical views and opinions objectionable and disagreeable. That is normal and should be expected. Nobody should expect to live in a society where there are no opposing or contradictory views and ideas. So instead of urging against insulting other people’s religious beliefs and sensibilities, which is a pretext for oppression, repression, and suppression of other religious and irreligious ideas, a case should be made for tolerance -tolerance of other religious and non-religious ideas and notions. A case should be made for respect for the rights of others to freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression, not respect for others’ religious notions. Ideas should not be respected. Human beings should be respected.
It is disingenuous to accuse people of disrespecting a belief or a religion, or to expect everyone to respect a particular religious icon. That is tyranny. That is a totalitarian tendency. Religious doctrines are to be believed or disbelieved, debated, confessed, and professed. Religions are made to be entertained, embraced or abandoned, renounced, examined and analyzed, accepted or rejected. In matters of faith, respect or disrespect is a factor of belief or disbelief. Christians who treat the Bible with respect do so because they believe that it is the word of God. Muslims respect Muhammad because they believe or are made to believe that he is the messenger from Allah or the greatest prophet of all times. Now, non-Christians and non-Muslims do not share these beliefs.
How does one expect an individual to respect a belief or doctrine that he or she rejects? What does it mean to insult a belief, that one thinks is mistaken, false, or untrue? Unfortunately, religion is replete with myths and misconceptions about the universe, nature, and how nature works. Many religious teachings are outdated and incompatible with many scientific and philosophical views. To be specific, how does one expect non-Muslims to treat the prophet of Islam with respect when they do not believe in his prophethood? How does one think that a non-Christian who is of the notion that Jesus never existed would treat Jesus with respect? The mistake many believers make is to expect non-believers to treat and respect their beliefs, objects, and personalities as they do. And as Germans would say: Das gehts lieder nicht(Unfortunately, that is not possible). That is not applicable. That is not healthy for society. Yes, that is not how religions operate.
Now think about it, the religions which demand respect are Christianity and Islam. Meanwhile, these are not the only religions and philosophies that exist in society. Why is it that believers, Muslims in this case, feel entitled to not be offended? Meanwhile, they espouse views and notions that going by their standards insult religious and irreligious beliefs and icons of others. For instance, Muslims claim that making disparaging remarks about the prophet of Islam is a red line. Understood. They claim that nobody should cross the redline without serious consequences. Fine. But in their everyday preaching and profession of faith, they cross the redlines of others; they make disparaging remarks about prophets and propositions of other religions and philosophies. In their profession of faith, Muslims dismiss other gods as non-existent; they downgrade other prophets. Don’t Muslims know that the recitation of Shahada is offensive, insulting, and provocative to many out there?
Muslims tell us that they love their prophets more than their parents, in fact, more than any human being. They tend to forget that people of other faiths and beliefs have a strong emotional attachment to their religious and philosophical icons too. And if people were to respond violently as Muslims often do to those who scorn their faiths and beliefs then there would be no peace in the world. There would be no Muslims or Christians, no believer or non-believer to respect or disrespect religions and philosophies.
It should also be noted that Christianity and Islam are faiths that missionaries, jihadists, and scholars from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia introduced to the region. These two religions owe their spread and dominance to the activities of those who ‘insulted’ and still ‘insult’ African traditional religious gods, prophets, and beliefs. So how does one make sense of the fact that the religions whose members ask that their icons be respected are out there relentlessly lampooning other religions and beliefs as a matter of divine mission and mandate? For centuries missionaries and proselytizers have in some cases, through physical and structural violence, and impertinent insolence toward African traditional world views and identities been furthering the cause of Christian and Islamic faiths.
The idea of insulting other gods, religions, and beliefs is embedded in the religious enterprise. Insulting religious beliefs is not alien to religions. Every religion blasphemes against other religions. Each religion claims to embody absolute truth and divinity as opposed to other religions that are fake or inferior, or custodians of minor/marginal gods. Interesting no religion is monolithic. Every faith is characterized by a plurality of views and doctrines; by competing and opposing sects, denominations, and traditions. These traditions have doctrines, and they make propositions that other faith traditions consider insulting or disrespectful. So insulting religious beliefs is part and parcel of the religious business. It is what religions do as a matter of fact. Instead of urging against insulting religious sensibilities, which is often a demand from members of a particular religion wherever they are in the majority, tolerant pluralism should be encouraged and fostered. Believers and non-believers should be urged to condone other religious and irreligious views. If anyone finds a view offensive or insulting, the person should challenge it, criticize it, scrutinize it, denounce it, examine it, and yes debate or debunk it. People of all faiths and beliefs should learn to accommodate and civilly engage positions and propositions that insult or disparage their faiths or beliefs whether they are in the majority or in the minority.
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