Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, and Human Right lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), on Sunday, have criticised individuals who use religion to justify the kidnap of 14-year-old Bayelsa teenager, Ese Oruru.
Soyinka and Falana stated this while speaking at a joint press conference in Lagos. They said the matter was a criminal act and not a religious matter, and that those involved should be prosecuted.
It would be recalled that the parents of Ese Oruru had raised an alarm over the kidnap of their daughter by a northerner, Yenusa ‘Yellow’ Dahiru, who took the girl to Kano where he allegedly forcefully converted her to Islam and married her.
Soyinka faulted the belief that it is culturally acceptable to marry underage girls.
He said: “Culture is not static; it is dynamic and evolves. It is of humanity. There is no culture without human beings. If you say you are religious, there are others who could come to say they are holier than you are. We should take religion out of Ese’s abduction. We are talking about criminality.”
“Nobody should say people are Islam-phobic. We are only against criminality. Who invokes religion in criminal matters? Who brings religion into issues of government and constitution? If you want to bring religion into a criminal matter, then, let us talk about other things. When we are talking about crime, don’t diffuse it with religion.”
The Nobel Laurate also slammed the Director, Muslim Rights Concern and Professor of Islamic Eschatology, Ishaq Akintola, over his statement that Islam had no age barrier for marriage.
“I want to ask him (Akintola), who invoked religion in the first place? What everybody was screaming was that this was a crime, a criminal act. Who brought religion into a purely criminal act? People should be very careful when they speak. They should take care not to worsen an already inexcusable situation by dragging religion into it.”
Making references to Akintola’s statement that likened the situation to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Soyinka said that: “Did Shakespeare tell you that a court wants to grab Romeo and prosecute him? People bring their own intelligence into matters and think others are fools. Don’t quote Shakespeare when we are discussing criminality.”
“The welfare of a child is more important than the money stolen. If you steal money, you commit crime against society but when you force a child into marriage, you have ruined her for life. When criminality is in the public domain, it becomes everybody’s business.”
“So, who exactly brings religion into issues of governance, of constitution, of law? We’re saying that there’s something higher than the protocols of any religion, and has to be higher simply because those who inhabit this border called Nigeria belong to more than one religion. There has to be a commonality which directs our conduct, which organises our lives. As inadequate as it is, it is the Constitution.”
“For me – I don’t know about you – the welfare of a child is even more important than money that is stolen. You can always retrieve the money, but when you damage a child with a fistula, which ruins a child for life, if you believe in God, you’re committing a crime against God.”
“If you steal money, you commit crime against the circular society, but when you damage a child because of your own depravity, you ruin that child for life, you traumatise that child, so don’t come and tell me that you’re religious and pious.”
While faulting the actions of a former governor, Senator Ahmed Yerima, Soyinka said that such action emboldens others.
“A governor, now senator, boasts that he has a right to marry and consummated a marriage with a 13-year-old, when it’s proven that he actually paid the father who was a driver in Egypt, and we screamed at the time that this was a crime, not only in Nigeria but in a Moslem country – Egypt; that this was cross-border sex trafficking, in addition to flouting the laws of this nation and Egypt.”
“He took the girl from school and then announces his right to consummate the marriage – that his religion permitted him to do so.”
“When you invoke religion, there are others who will say: ‘O, you say you are pious, but I am holier than you, therefore I can interpret that same source the way I want to authorise me to kill you, your wife, your brothers, your family; because I say you’re not holy enough and I can prove it.’ That is what happens when we allow people to get away with impunity based on religion.”
“So, let’s take religion out of this. We’re talking about pure criminality and it is my demand, and will always remain my demand, that until you make an example of people like Yerima, there will be thousands of Yunusa, the man who abducted Ese,” Soyinka said.
He noted that a call for justice should not be translated as being anti-islam.
“I sympathise with his (Akintola’s) feeling that his religion is under siege. But he should look for other reasons. He shouldn’t try and suggest that people hate Islam. Don’t say that people are Islamophobic. That’s rubbish.”
“We’re against crimes, defined by the Constitution, the legal structure that bind us all together, and we say leave religion out of it. Any religious practice involves a continuous debate. But when we’re talking about crime please don’t diffuse the subject. When we say Yerima should be prosecuted, don’t diffuse it.”
Speaking on the Emir of Kano’s involvement in the issue, Soyinka stated that the emir’s actions were right and that: “The emir represents a modern traditional ruler who will help transform the primitive chiefs in power. If I am proved wrong, I will come back and apologise.”
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