By Wole Soyinka
Easter Greetings to you, Rev Mathew Kukah and to all your followers. All has been said, I think. I am impelled however not to miss an opportunity to add my own Easter drop to the overflowing vessel of pietistic sentiments if only to reassure Christians – and also moslems in turn — that even we, non-believers, do partake of that same ethical communion to which most humanity aspire. Also, your Easter sermon opens up yet again those sluices of juridical hypocrisy to which we dare not cease to draw attention.
Such, in the immediate, remains the plight of two young men – Mubarak Bala and the musician Yahaya Sharif – one serving a sentence of twenty-five years, the other actually sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. That word “blasphemy” comes into its authentic mode, in my view, whenever anyone violates a solemn oath of office. Its penitentiality becomes even redoubled when such violators are pampered with the prerogative of mercy. Permit me to call special attention to the following from your sermon:
“Religious leaders…. must face the reality that here in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world, millions of people are leaving Christianity and Islam. While we are busy building walls of division with the blocks of prejudice, our members are becoming atheists, but we prefer to pretend that we do not see this. We cannot pretend not to hear the footsteps of our faithful marching away into atheism and secularism. No threats can stop this, but dialogue can open our hearts.”
I am persuaded that the recent largesse from the nation’s president has already won a few hearts and minds to the ranks, if not of outright atheism, then at least to a healthy skeptical regard of piety spouting leadership that sees nothing wrong in attempts to extinguish the life of a young man for an honest declaration of conviction, while veterans of broken pledges are let loose to further infect a world they have betrayed. No pardon has been extended in the direction of endangered, youthful integrity.
Of course, it is easy to track the trajectory of events. Nettled by increasingly scabrous comments, such as those of his predecessor in office, Olusegun Obasanjo, who declared that this incumbent has run out of ideas, that he has nothing left to offer the nation, Muhammad Buhari decided to embark on the Easter train and donate an Easter egg of truly presidential proportions to his subjects.
Coming from a leader who had placed all his eggs in one basket, labeled Anti-Corruption, this is one egg squashed against Nigerian faces that they shall not forget – or wipe off – in a hurry. It evokes the legend of Pandora’s box whose contents are alleged to constitute all the ills that plague the world. Putrid to the core, allied to power provocations in numerous variations, such as catapulting a notorious player in the martyrdom of a serving Minister of Justice to the hub of governance wheel, these define the nature of bequests that have brought the nation to this moment of near dissolution. Precedents are no consolation, no excuses. One states the obvious in remarking that precedents either undermine or reinforce principles, and aspiring offenders, especially in the political domain, are encouraged or inhibited by the ease or difficulty of access to the fount of mercy. Officeholders, we presume, are constrained by the existence of that dangling Sword of Damocles – simply knowing that one day, the cloak of immunity will turn threadbare, and the awaited day of reckoning finds them answerable. Clearly, not any longer.
You will forgive, though disagree with me, I know, for clambering onto the Easter wagon myself, to echo the words of the One whose passage through the world the Easter season commemorates:
“It is finished!”
*Professor Wole Soyinka is the first black African to win a Nobel prize in Literature.