Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has warned that religion will kill the country if it is not tamed.
Soyinka stated this in Abuja on Thursday at the presentation of a book, Religion and the Making of Nigeria, written by Prof. Olufemi Vaughan.
He said President Muhammadu Buhari had said if Nigeria did not kill corruption, corruption would kill the country.
Condemning killings in the name of religion, the Nobel laureate stated, “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.
“I do not say kill religion, though, I wouldn’t mind a bit if that mission could be undertaken surgically, painlessly perhaps, under anaesthesia, effectively sprayed 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.”
Soyinka said he often imagined what the world would be if religion had never been invented.
He said, “Can one think of any landscape without religious architecture?”
He wondered when and how religion became a killing machine, adding that the word religion in Africa often induced anxiety, leading to trauma “rather than solace and the consolation of spirituality which many religions claim for themselves.”
Soyinka recalled that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a few days ago, said those killing people for religion were insane.
He said, “This is an attempt, an expression of deep frustration. It was simply an attempt to express what millions have felt with the same sense of helplessness. As for the custodians of religion, especially those called world religion, they cannot denounce the murderous tendencies of religion.”
The Nobel laureate wondered how any rational being could attempt to justify homicide as an act of devotion.
He stated, “For both the monk and the cleric or spiritual leaders, it is simply no longer sufficient to say this or that form of conduct is not permitted by this religion or the other. Or those who do this or that are not true believers of this prophet or that avatar or sage for the simple reason that others, who dissociate themselves from conduct, which universally is condemned, are themselves declaring themselves partisan of their own in contradistinctions to others.
“What, however, concerns the rest of us – no matter the internal wrangling, rivalries or controversies within any religion – what concerns us is that the innocent are often those who pay the highest price.”
According to him, religion is “simply the structuring of the unknowable to which human beings attach rituals, laws and taboos usually under a reverential relationship between mortals on the one hand and the unknowable supposedly supernatural on the other.”
He said recently, a monarch threatened a jihad on anyone who would dare to revisit the law of inheritance.
The renowned author added, “Religion in the history of this continent has been a disastrous venture, a disaster in many zones and continues to be even so today.
“In this very nation, in Southern Kaduna, over 800 souls were brutally extinguished suddenly while the issue of grazing land versus farming is unquestionably part of the conflict. It is equally undeniable that religious differences have played crucial role in the conflict.”
He stated that the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, admitted sending funds to those who were responsible for the killings.
Soyinka stressed, “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 Mohammed Yusuf a beneficiary of appeasement in a similar fashion?”
He stated that the Southern Kaduna killings had reminded Nigerians again that the monster always laid waiting to pounce under the guise of religion.
In his speech on the occasion, Osinbajo lamented the non-prosecution of perpetrators of religious violence and other high-profile murder cases in the country.
Osinbajo described the principle of federal character as a hypocritical tool in the hands of the elite, adding that they forgot religion and ethnicity.
He stated, “Very few people have been prosecuted for religious violence but none has ever been brought to conclusion. Why is it that such cases are never concluded? (There are) too many cases of high-profile murders that are not concluded in this country.
“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 competences.”
The vice-president stated that although religion had been a veritable tool for the educational development of Nigeria, “the manipulation of religion by the elite has led to the problem that we are facing.”
He added, “Nigerian elite will use religion when it is convenient and at other times they may use ethnicity or some other form of identification.
“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 makes such discussions emotive.”
The reviewer of the book, Prof. Bolanle Awe, said the two imported world religions had been mostly unfavourable to women.
Awe stated, “Among the Christians, the Christian colonisers did not prepare the women for any active and positive participation in the development of Nigeria.
“Women were provided education by the Christian colonial government primarily to make them ‘good wives’, good hostesses and good monuments of society. Women were not trained to participate in the higher echelon of government administration.
“In Northern Nigeria, where Islam predominates, the situation of women can be described as worse. They were not to be heard and even seen.”
At the event, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, lamented that religion had been used mainly for manipulative tendencies by the northern elite.
Kukah stated, “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. But it has been impossible for us to prosecute anybody because we have a feeling that somehow, people can actually genuinely kill in the name of religion.
“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.”