Isese festival and cultural discrimination
Isese festival

The recent public spat in Ilorin in respect of the opposition to moves by traditional religion adherents to undertake the Isese festival has understandably drawn mixed reactions.

From all accounts, at the core of the conflict is the protest by Muslim groups to not permit the advertised event to go on because they consider it sacrilegious to their own way of life and beliefs.

At the same time, matters have evidently also not been helped by the fact that the leading traditional ruler in the state, the Emir of Ilorin, had also waded in to make remarks that tended to ally with the wishes and threats of the Muslim groups.

According to the Emir, the programme would not be permitted to go on in the interest of peace within the community, adding that it was a proactive decision to avoid attacks, reprisals and the breakdown of law and order. He accused the Isese priestess, Yeye Ajesikemi of going beyond her boundaries.

While appreciating the tenuous religious and cultural relations in Ilorin and Kwara State, we consider the entire brouhaha as manifestly unnecessary and the act an affront to civil liberty and fundamental rights of the Isese practitioners.

This is because the right to hold religious beliefs of one’s choice and the freedom of worship are an expression of individual personality and conscience, which cannot be abrogated by fiat.

It is in this wise that we tend to align with Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka’s who had intervened in the matter and firmly stated his position that no culture and religion is superior to the other, and as such each person should be lawfully permitted and allowed to hold and practice their chosen beliefs and faith as they are so persuaded.

In his very pointed intervention, Soyinka described the decision to cancel the festival as “a crime against the cultural heritage of all humanity” and “an assault on civilised conduct”.

He reminded everyone that the Nigerian constitution guaranteed a freedom of belief and that the cancellation of the planned worship event would undermine the country’s progress.

This is even more important in a Nigerian setting where the sheer diversity in our country-build literally compels an acceptance of the fact and reality that we are an amalgam of different and diverse peoples and should therefore necessarily tolerate one another in the spirit of coexistence and mutual love.

In particular, we are not also overly encouraged by the position taken by the Emir of Ilorin in the entire saga. As a former Supreme Court Justice, we believe that the Emir is well aware of the position of the law on this matter and should therefore only have acted within its ambit and not now be associated by default by what is seen by some as smacking of religious bigotry.

As things stand, the Emir is a leader of all the people of Ilorin and must therefore be seen to not be acting in any manner that is prejudicial to the interests, rights and privileges of certain sections of the community while ensuring that everything is done within the bounds of the law.

Also notable, if not also disquieting, in the entire brouhaha is the relative quiet from the Governor of Kwara State and the Kwara State Government overall.

In our view, it is important that leaders of high stature as the Emir and the Governor rise above the mundane and proceed on to upholding the higher principles of life. The future and the greatest well-being of society lies in the greater accommodation of different interests, rather than not calling out and reprimanding those who stoke the embers of intolerance, disunity and discrimination.

And while the issues are still in the public domain, the recent latitude given to the Isese adherents by the declaration of a public holiday in some South Western states to enable them observe their celebrations without any let or hindrance introduces an added dimension to the matter. In affirming the right to worship of the adherents and also bringing the imprimatur of the state to bear on this in the form of a public holiday, the states have seemingly voted in favour of sustaining the right to worship of the Isese adherents.

This development notwithstanding, matters have also not been helped by reports indicating that certain Islamic religious leaders in Ilorin have continued to insist that Isese adherents must not carry out their worship within or around the town.

Our prayer and hope at this point is that these issues are doused in good time so as to prevent any needless escalation or degeneration as had emerged in countless spots within the country and across the world.

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