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The Looming Religious Crisis In Ilorin

  • “Going by the history of the town, Yoruba religious beliefs and practices were banned over 200 years ago, when Abdulsalam, son of Alimi, succeeded in eliminating Afonja, the founder of Ilorin, and the town became an Emirate of Sokoto Caliphate”

I do not envy Ebunoluwa Rotimi Adelesi, the newly minted Kwara State Commissioner of Police. Being the first female CP to head the State Police Command, Mrs Adelesi should be accorded the necessary support that would make her job easier and enjoyable.

But she already seems to have been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, no thanks to the needless supremacy battle between Muslim groups and traditional
religious practitioners in the state.

Just last week, the Kwara CP was forced to embark on a troubleshooting mission when she organized a peace meeting between the two warring groups. How far her peace initiative would go is yet to be seen as the two groups seem bent on canceling each other out.

The battleground is likely to be Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State. The date will be August 20 th or even before.

Though one of the six states alongside the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, that make up the North Central geo-political zone in the country, Ilorin, could be regarded as a Yoruba city, with over 80 per cent of its population being Yoruba-speaking people, there is also a sprinkle of Fulani, Nupe, and Baruba among the populace, and they have co-existed peacefully for several years but that peace is now threatened due to religious intolerance.

The peaceful city became enmeshed in crisis when a lady, Omolara Oladipo, also known as Yeye Ajisekeemi Olokun sent out invitations to friends and well-wishers ahead of her plans to celebrate the yearly Isese festival in the ancient town between July 22 and 24.

She has paid for a hall in the town for the social/ entertainment of her guests. Yeye Olokun went ahead to produce a flier that was posted on social media which caught the attention of a Muslim group, Majilisu Shabab li Ulamahu Society. The group was livid with rage that a town known as a Muslim city is about to host a celebration of a ‘pagan’ festival.

Members of the group stormed her residence to warn her not to hold any traditional religious festival in Kwara State in general or in Ilorin in particular.

The following day, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, issued a statement through Mallam Abdulazeez Arowona, that the Isese Festival should be canceled as it could lead to the breakdown of law and order in
the state.

As expected, the statement from the Emir, who should ordinarily be a rallying point for all, emboldened other Muslim groups in the state, who issued series of threatening messages, including a death threat to Yeye Olokun. In order for peace to reign in the state, she was forced to cancel the three-day event.

As expected, many Nigerians were not happy with the turn of events and they voiced their concern on what they termed the suppression of traditional religious worship in Ilorin. Led by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, many felt that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of religion, and wondered why the Emir and an Islamic group should prevent others from worshipping their gods.

Now, other traditional religious groups in the country have identified with one of their own and have decided to hold this year’s Isese Youth Festival in Ilorin on August 20th.

Olowoopejo Fashola Olugbenga, leader of the Youth Wing of the International Council for Ifa Religion (ICIR), and the Secretary, Awoyemi Ifayemi Omonda, have come out to say that the maiden edition of its Isese Youth Festival that will host over 2,000 young generations of Ifa and Orisa adherents from within and outside Nigeria will be held in Ilorin.

The duo said that there has never been any tension whenever Christians in Ilorin hold their crusades or whenever Muslim faithful exercise their right to peaceful worship and gathering, and wondered why their festival should raise dust in the state.

To give vent to their determination to hold the festival this time around, Traditional Religious Worshippers under the aegis of Isese Welfare Association have written a letter to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Inspector General of Police, and other relevant security agencies to wade into the brewing controversy in the state by ensuring that Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Association as enshrined in the nation’s Law book are protected to the letter.

The group, in their letter, signed by its coordinator, Aderemi Ifaoleepin and Secretary General, Ifagbenusola Popoola, noted that every form of intimidation and even death threats were applied by the Muslim faithful
to discourage the Yeye Olokun to cancel her yearly celebration.

“We are constrained here to ask these simple and straight questions: is Ilorin no longer a Yoruba community or no more part of Yorubaland? Is Ilorin now solely a Muslim community? Do people still have the right under the Nigerian Constitution to practice whatever religion they subscribe to?

If truly, Islam is a religion of peace, is threatening others over their belief system an act of peace? What does peace mean to these sets of fanatical Muslims in Ilorin? “Hosting the festival in Ilorin is significant to Ilorin Chapter of the ICIR Youth Wing because it would serve as a reminder to any deluded mind that Ilorin is part of Nigeria which still stands as a multi-religious and culturally diverse nation.

“It is not only unethical, unlawful, and a gross act of misconduct against the right of freedom of worship, but a sheer act of wickedness for the fanatical Muslims in Ilorin community to dictate the mode of worship and religious practices to be observed in llorin Emirate’. The group stated in their letter to Tinubu.

With less than a month to the anticipated August 20th fixed date for the Isese celebration in Ilorin, how security agencies will deal with the matter is yet to be seen. Already, social media is awash with videos of Muslim groups threatening to deal with anyone coming to the state to worship a river goddess, Iyemoja. They have set up a vigilante group to monitor all rivers and lakes in the town with the mandate to raise the alarm whenever any group of traditionalists is seen near any of the lakes in Ilorin.  

I have gone to great lengths to give readers background information on the religious crisis that is likely to erupt in Ilorin in the coming days. The Muslims, led by the Emir, are bent on proclaiming Ilorin as a Muslim City that would not tolerate any idol worshiping while the traditionalists have vowed to go ahead with their festival as they have rightly stated, that they are protected by the Constitution.

This is where I do not envy CP Adelesi. Is she going to provide police protection for the
traditionalists to have their festival unhindered in Ilorin and directly ensure that freedom of religion as guaranteed in the constitution is recognized and protected?

Or will she ban the festival and side with the Muslims and indirectly breach the constitution? Indeed, Section 38 of the Constitution is very clear on Freedom of Religion. It states that ‘every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion
or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.

Why can’t the Muslims in Ilorin live in peace with the traditionalists as enshrined in Quran 109? In six simple verses, Muslims are directed to live in peace with their neighbours, and to allow them to practice their religion as long as others don’t prevent them – the Muslims – from also practicing their own religion.

It’s stated in Qur’an 109 states:

  1. Say: O disbelievers,
  2. I do not worship what you worship.
  3. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship.
  4. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship.
  5. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.
  6. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.

If they can tolerate Christians practicing their faith in Ilorin without any crisis, I see no reason why traditionalists should not be accorded the same treatment in any part of Nigeria. Going by the history of the town, Yoruba religious beliefs and practices were banned over 200 years ago, when Abdulsalam, son of Alimi, succeeded in eliminating Afonja, the founder of Ilorin, and the town became an Emirate of Sokoto Caliphate.

Is history about to repeat itself once again?
However, in spite of our holier-than-thou attitude toward religion, most of us have proven to the world by our religious conduct that we are only religious but do not have any iota of Godliness in us. It is only in Nigeria
that you see thousands trooping to the Churches on Sunday but by Monday, are ready to kill others for money.

The same number goes to the Mosque every Friday but are far worse in their conduct with fellow human beings. We claim that we are with God but our conduct with our fellow human beings is not in tandem with what we preach. Both Christianity and Islam met traditional religious worship in Nigeria and no state in the country can be declared as either a Muslim or Christian state.

We are a multi-religious society and the sooner we choose to live in peace with our fellow humans, the better for us. It is time will elevate issues that will aid our development as a nation rather than dwelling on issues that divide us. There are several countries the world over that are doing well and they are not as crazy as we have become when it comes to religion.

In taking an honest appraisal, we may as well ask where our being religious has led us. We have some of the worst indices when it comes to human capital development the world over, yet we continue to pray for God’s mercies and guidance rather than working diligently to bring development to our people and our nation.

It is time we allow those who profess traditional religious beliefs to exist and practice their faith. Even if you believe the worst of them – that they are going to hellfire, allow them to do that in peace. Is it your fire?

By Kazeem Akintunde

SOURCE: Newsdiary Online

IMAGE: The Arkansas Democrat Gazette

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