Ilorin: A stitch in time will save nine, By Ayodele Adio

Ilorin: A stitch in time will save nine, By Ayodele Adio

Kwara State governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq
Playing the ostrich? – Kwara State governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.

Sadly, such inspiring leadership remains scarce across the country. Disturbingly, the governor of Kwara state has shown very little interest in safeguarding the rights of the religious minorities in his state. If he continues to play the ostrich on this, what began as a verbal dispute along the Yemoja river could end up snowballing into a full-blown religious crisis. Uncomfortable as it may be, the governor must find the courage to lead, protect religious minorities and avert any impending crisis.

Reporting on an unusual confrontation between Islamic clerics and traditional worshippers in Yemoja, Ilorin, Kunle Akinriade, the head of The Nation newspapers investigation desk noted that, “a group of clerics led by one Imam Baba Olokuta Agidi threatened to deal with the traditionalists if they did not desist from carrying out the rites at the river.”

Displeased by the brazen threats, a group of traditional worshipers responded thus: “do the Muslims intend to kill other people that drink from this Yemoja River? And what do Muslims want to do with this river by asking us not to come here and threatening to poison it. They call us Idol worshippers, but we want to let them know that we are genuine indigenes of Ilorin. We are traditionalists and we can never be ashamed of our religion.”

The recent events in Ilorin, Kwara State, although not unprecedented, raises serious concerns for adherents of liberal democracy and all well-intentioned Nigerians alike. At the heart of this religious tension is the lingering question of how various group identities within Nigeria intersect with nationhood and if those contradictions can find meaningful convergence. If liberal democracy can maintain order and, more importantly, as we have come to see with sectarian violence, how do we ensure that what began as a public spat in Yemoja does not metamorphous into a full-blown religious conflict.

First, it is crucial to emphasise that Nigeria remains a secular democratic society, where citizens have the freedom to practice any religion in any state of the federation. Such rights, enshrined in the constitution, must always be protected by the state. In clear terms, the constitution grants every Nigerian the autonomy to make religious choices and the liberty to practice their religions freely. Hence, tolerance and respect for the rule of law should play the role of chief arbiter in a pluralistic society, instead of coercion and imposition.

…what worries me is not so much the imposition of a group’s way of life on others but the tendency of this behavioural pattern to lead to extremism and violence. Once a group abandons liberal principles and persists in its mission to restrict the fundamental rights of other groups, resorting to violence almost becomes inevitable.

Consequently, the idea, as advanced by Justice Salihu Mohammed, the secretary of the Council of Ulama in Kwara, that Ilorin is “no longer that of Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani or Nupe, but purely of Islamic culture,” is at complete variance with Nigeria’s constitution and blatantly ignores the city’s rich diversity.


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Granted, Ilorin is predominantly Muslim and their rights to identify with or embrace the Islamic culture is equally protected by the constitution. However, what the framers of the constitution sought to avert is a situation wherein a majority (ethnic or religious) would seek to impose its ways on a minority that exercises its rights to choose differently. Evidently, the only group seeking to threaten the peace and stability in Ilorin are not the ones who seek to exercise their rights to religious freedom, but those who have chosen to impose their ways and religious beliefs on others.

Secondly, what worries me is not so much the imposition of a group’s way of life on others but the tendency of this behavioural pattern to lead to extremism and violence. Once a group abandons liberal principles and persists in its mission to restrict the fundamental rights of other groups, resorting to violence almost becomes inevitable. The cycle typically begins with undermining the Nigerian state and the constitution, demanding for a state founded purely on religious principles, curtailing the rights and dignity of other religious groups, enforcing these views, and ultimately resorting to violence when met with resistance. The gradual emergence of these patterns in Ilorin is discernible, even to the untrained eye.

Regrettably, many residents in Ilorin (as in most of Nigeria) perceive their faith as the sole determinant of their future, not a democratically elected government. Hence, they are far more inclined to defend their religious beliefs in ways they wouldn’t for a constitution that holds little significance to them

This brings me to the issue of leadership, or the lack thereof. Religious fundamentalism and extremism often thrive in the void left by corrupt and autocratic politicians, who fail to address the needs of their constituents. When democracy falls short of delivering improved living standards, the allure of liberal democratic ideals diminishes, making religious fundamentalism an appealing alternative.

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Regrettably, many residents in Ilorin (as in most of Nigeria) perceive their faith as the sole determinant of their future, not a democratically elected government. Hence, they are far more inclined to defend their religious beliefs in ways they wouldn’t for a constitution that holds little significance to them. For mutual respect in pluralistic societies like ours, the democratically elected leadership must respond to the needs of the people, cultivate trust in the system and reinstate confidence in the rule of law.

Sadly, such inspiring leadership remains scarce across the country. Disturbingly, the governor of Kwara State has shown very little interest in safeguarding the rights of the religious minorities in his state. If he continues to play the ostrich on this, what began as a verbal dispute along the Yemoja river could end up snowballing into a full-blown religious crisis. Uncomfortable as it may be, the governor must find the courage to lead, protect religious minorities and avert any impending crisis.

Ayodele Adio, a political and communications strategist, is national publicity secretary of Youth Party.


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