By Wole Soyinka
I have not seen the DAVIDO clip and would greatly appreciate if someone would make it available so we all can debate, objectively, the merits and demerits of positions taken over this recent product of the musician. There are however certain principles, histories, rights and responsibilities of artistic creativity that should not be smothered under emotional manipulation.
One unavoidably recalls, for instance, scenes from Whoopi Goldberg’s SISTER ACT, followed by a sequel SISTER ACT II: BACK IN THE HABIT. I understand that yet another version, SISTER ACT: The MUSICAL, is under preparation – such appears to be the popularity of the genre. To the best of my recollection, there has been hardly a murmur of offence being taken, not even at the scenes of nuns in their full regalia dancing through the aisles of the chapel and other sacred precincts of the monastery. Centuries of artistic production of this nature, in all disciplines the world over, can be viewed daily at the drop of a coin, even without digging into musty archives.
Let us learn to distinguish practitioners from their objects of devotion. The former are deserving of respect and understanding, BUT this must be mutual among all believers and non-believers. What we witness these days however is a galloping fever of over-sensitivity over frankly trivial aspects of social co-existence. I use the word “contrived” deliberately, because I have become convinced that such splurges of “offence taken” are meant to distract us from where the real offence has been, or is being committed often as a routine pattern of overweening entitlement against others. Such encroachments include freedom of belief, association, worship and even the sanctity of life in pursuit of, or repudiation of, existing structures of belief.
I refer, for the avoidance of doubt, to distractions from the abuse of power as exercised in the virtual proscription of traditional worship – the notorious case of ISESE in Ilorin for instance. There are others, hundreds of others, far too weighty to evoke in relation to this mere piffle of religious sentimentality.
The following should not be needed, but we appear to inhabit a nation space where memory deficiency has become an accreditation badge of competence in national affairs. I recall my intervention, several years ago, in an attempt to pillory former Governor of Kaduna State, El Rufai over some comment he had made that was considered derogatory to followers of Christianity. I forget the reference now but I do distinctly recall another of a bank manager who, at Easter tide, referred to the risen Christ as a metaphor for the risen dough in the bakeries of Oshodi. Something along those lines. Under obvious pressure, he apologized, and I rebuked him for the gesture. There was nothing to apologize about, and that applied equally to El Rufai’s comments at the time. It should come as no surprise that I equally absolutely disagree with Shehu Sani if indeed, as reported, he has demanded an apology from Davido on behalf of the Moslem community.
No apology is required, None should be offered. Let us stop battening down our heads in the mush of contrived contrition – we know where contrition, apology and restitution remain clamorous in the cause of closure and above all – justice. Such apologies have not been forthcoming. In their place, we have the ascendancy of petulant censorship in the dance and music department. Just where will it end?
Most forms of worship – from the Hare Krishna to Hinduism and lesser-known religions – seek transcendental experience through the medium of dance. It goes beyond mere elation or euphoria and involves surrender of the ego to the mystical and sublime – through dance. The secularization of that medium stretches across religions, and offers the artistes’ a means of invoking a sense of spiritual community, through a common act of self-surrender.
As already admitted, I have not seen the clip, but I insist on the right of the artiste to deploy dance in a religious setting as a fundamental given. Such deployment is universal heritage, most especially applicable in the case of Islam where a plot of land, even without the physical structure, can be turned, in the twinkling of an eye, into a sacral space for believers to gather and worship in between mundane pursuits.
Dancing in front of a mosque cannot therefore, on its own, be read as an act of provocation or offence but as affirmation of the unified sensibility of the spiritual in human. Let us learn to read it that way. Those who persist in taking offence to bed and serving it up as breakfast should exercise their right of boycotting Davido’s products – no one quarrels with that right. However, it is not a cause for negative and incitive excitation. The greater responsibility is to face squarely the root issues of religion in the nation. That root issue is starkly stated thus: the sectarian appropriation of the power of life and death across a community of believers, other believers, and even non-believers alike, be it for real, imagined, or deliberately contrived offence. It was not Davido’s music that lynched Deborah Yakubu, and continues to frustrate the cause of justice. Nor has it contributed to the arbitrary detention of religious dissenters – call them atheists or whatever – such as Mubarak Bala, now languishing in prison for his 38th month. These are the provocations where every citizen should exercise the capacity for revulsion.
They are the issues deserving of, indeed exercise primary claim on a nation’s capacity for righteous indignation. All else is secondary. Distractive piffle!