‘Constitution guarantees freedom’ — Soyinka condemns ‘cancellation’ of ‘Isese’ festival



Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, has criticised the cancellation of the Isese festival, a Yoruba cultural ceremony, in Ilorin, the Kwara capital.


In an open letter on Thursday, Soyinka said Nigeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of belief, adding that the cancellation will undermine the progress of the country.


Earlier, Yeye Ajesikemi Omolara, a priestess, was said to have announced the commencement of this year’s Isese festival from July 22 to 24.


But members of the Majilisu Shabab li Ulamahu Muslim group in a video, warned the priestess against holding the event.


The group alleged that the order was from Sulu Gambari, Emir of Ilorin.


In an open letter to the Emir, Soyinka said stopping the festival “is a crime against the cultural heritage of all humanity” and “an assault on civilised conduct”.


“Year after year, Ramadan has been celebrated in this nation as an inclusive gathering of humanity, irrespective of divergences of belief,” he said.


 “Not once, in my entire span of existence, have I encountered pronouncements by followers of any faith that the slaughtering of rams on the streets and market places is an offence to their concept of godhead.


“Vegetarians hold their peace. Buddhists walk a different path.


“Prior to Ramadan, non-Muslims routinely join in observing the preceding season of fasting as a spiritual exercise worthy of emulation.


“It may interest you to know that, in Abu Dhabi, numerous programmes are pursued, at government expense, for the evolution of a humanised community based on religious tolerance and mutual respect.


 “By contrast here, several tiers removed from origin, must we turn the turban of enlightenment into a crown of bigotry? And in a society whose very constitution that supposedly governs us all guarantees freedom of belief, association and movement?


“Your Royal Highness, it is conduct like this that has bred Boko Haram, ISIS, ISWAP and other religious malformations that currently plague this nation, spreading grief and outrage across a once peaceful landscape, degrading my and your existence with their virulent brand of Islam.”


Soyinka urged the Emir to make peace with the priestess to enable “peaceful co-habitation, respect for other worldviews, their celebrations, their values and humanity”.

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