Professor Wole Soyinka has criticised the manner in which both the federal and Kaduna state governments handled the killings in Southern Kaduna which resulted in the deaths of over 800 citizens.
“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 Muhammed Yusuf a beneficiary of appeasement in a similar fashion?
“If you ask why General Buhari did not act fast enough when these events took 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,” said Soyinka at the launch of a book, Religion and the Making of Nigeria, by Prof. Ayo Vaughan, in Abuja.
Present at the event were the vice president of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, and the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah.
Soyinka decried the fact that many innocent Nigerians have paid the ultimate price because of religion. “If we do not tame religion in Nigeria, religion will kill us,” he warned, describing the history of religion in Africa as a “disaster in many zones and continues to be even so today.”
“What, however, concerns the rest of us no matter the internal wrangling, rivalries or controversies within any religion, is that the innocent are often those who pay the highest price. The non-adherents to one line of belief or another,” he said.
On his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said no prosecution for religious violence has ever been brought to a conclusion. Even though, in his opinion, religion has been useful in forging educational development of Nigeria, Osinbajo said, “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.”
According to him: “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 make such discussions emotive.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, Bishop Kukah said problems will continue to persist until we address “the way and manner in which the northern ruling class continues to use religion as a cover to perpetuate and subjugate the people.”
Kukah said it had been impossible to prosecute anybody for religious violence because of the feeling that people could 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. It has always been about economic.
“In Zango Kataf, it was the siting of a market, while in Bauchi, it was about someone being accused of using pork as suya. None of the conflicts started in the church or mosque. They are largely about economic opportunities.”
The cleric noted that the book has offered an opportunity to think more clearly because “in northern Nigeria, schools that were built by the Catholics in Kaduna have now been given names of Muslim heroes and heroines. Would anybody take over a school built by Muslims in Nigeria and turn it into either St. Thomas or St. Margaret?” he queried.