By Owei Lakemfa
The Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Kolapo Sulu-Gambari, as a former Justice of the Court of Appeal, ought to know that Nigeria is a secular country. As a graduate of the Nigeria Law School, he should know that Section 10 of our country’s Constitution states in simple English that: The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.”
As a leader in the country, he ought to know that every Nigerian has a constitutional right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. As a lawyer trained in England he ought to know all these because they constitute part of the United Nations Fundamental Human Rights Convention.
As leader of a faith, the Emir should know that there is no compulsion in Islam. As a traditional ruler, he is expected to promote peaceful co-existence, and as an elder statesman who should be a societal role model, he ought neither to resort to self-help nor engage in impunity.
Unfortunately, this is the path he chose by banning Isese, a religious festival scheduled to hold between July 22 and July 24, 2023 simply because he does not share the beliefs of that religion.
Rather than be angry, I actually feel sorry for him because his actions and reasons he advances do not do justice to his training, knowledge, expertise and legacy.
First, assuming, without conceding that the African Traditional Religion, is a crime, he ought to report it to the police, not to send a rabble to invade the home of a lady, Yeye Ajesikemi Olokun Omolara Olatunji and threaten her life if she worshipped God in her religious belief.
The Emir exhibited little knowledge of Ilorin and the origins of the emirate when he claimed that such indigenous festivals had never “been associated or held in Ilorin, or within Ilorin Emirate”. Contrary to such claims, Ilorin, its indigenous religions and festivals, had existed by 1450, that is some 400 years before the Uthman Dan Fodio family with whom Alhaji Gambari claims lineage, migrated from the Toronkawa clan in Senegal.
Therefore, Alhaji Gambari’s claim that: “Our culture is Islamic-based, so we don’t promote idolatry at all”, has no foundation in fact and history. In any case, we know Ilorin, indeed Kwara State, is home to millions of Christians and other religious adherents.
So his utterances and claims are an invitation to anarchism. I do not think his claims that the Kwara State Governor and security agencies in the state back his illegal and unconstitutional actions, deserve any response.
Also, his claims to have given directives to security agencies to stop the traditional worship, deserves no response because not even a police constable would take unlawful directives from him.
The retired justice also claims that for such traditional festival to take place, the worshippers must get clearance from the police for them to have a lawful or, legal assembly. This, with all due respect, is incorrect. Sections 38 and 40 of the Constitution grants Nigerians the right to freely associate and assemble. Also, Articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right Act, grants Nigerians those basic rights.
Thirdly, Honourable Justice Anwuri Chiyere had in the All Nigeria Peoples Party v Inspector General of Police (2006) ruled that police permit for Nigerians to hold rallies is illegal and unconstitutional.
Fourthly, when the Police appealed this judgement, the Court of Appeal in December, 2007 dismissed it on the basis that that police permit is “a relic of colonialism” which is incongruous in a democracy.
Based on the Appeal Court decision, the National Assembly in 2015 amended the Electoral Act 2010. Section 94 (4) of the amended Act states that the role of the police at rallies, processions and meetings… “shall be limited to the provision of adequate security…”
Also, Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 provides that: “Where a person or organization notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession … the police officer responsible for the area where the meeting rally or procession will take place shall mobilize personnel to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.”
In any case, what police permit do worshippers of other religions obtain before they observe their festivals?
Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, who is Alhaji Gambari’s senior by six years, gave a brotherly advice to the Emir not to turn Ilorin into another scene of bloody religious and ethnic conflicts as was done in Kaduna. He had advised the Emir to learn from the United Arab Emirates which despite being an Islamic country, promotes other religions like Christianity.
But Alhaji Gambari responded that Soyinka is being “economical with facts”. The Emir claimed that his provocative acts and suppression of other religious beliefs and cultures “is to prevent crisis and not wait until it erupts…”. So how do you respond to a delusional argument?
Alhaji Gambari had attended Offa Grammar School, Offa and passed out in 1960. Moremi Ajasoro was an Offa, Kwara State lady of the 12th Century who was married to Oranmiyan, the king of Ile Ife. At that time, the Ifes had an existential challenge: some spirit-like characters used to invade the city and cart away humans and property. Moremi decided to act. She had a simple plan: to be captured by the invaders and possibly infiltrate their ranks, find out who they are and how they can be defeated. She made a vow that if she succeeded, she would sacrifice her only son, Oluorogbo, to the Spirit of the Esimirin river.
She was captured, the king of the invaders found her irresistible and married her. As the favourite wife, the King revealed that his soldiers were humans who merely wore raffia leaves from head to toe to frighten their opponents. She discovered that all that was necessary to defeat the invaders was for the Ife people to light torches and throw them at the invaders.
Moremi escaped and revealed the secret to the Ifes who roundly defeated the invaders. After the victory songs and praises, reality dawned on Moremi: she had to sacrifice her son. She became a legend in Yorubaland. One of the most famous festivals in Yorubaland, the Edi Festival, is in her honour and it attracts tourists.
A monument was also built in her honour in her home town, Offa, which should be the biggest tourist attraction. But religious fanatics turned it into a war continually attacking it. For them, it is a pagan shrine which should not exist, or be close to the mosque. Now, the shrine has been turned into the Moremi Hall of Fame. Ignorance, lack of knowledge, fanaticism, religious intolerance reigns.