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The Legality or Otherwise of Refusing the Establishment of Osun Worship in Ilorin Metropolis

INTRODUCTION 

Nigeria, as a nation, is governed by its constitution, which holds binding legal authority over all other laws in the federation. Consequently, the legality of actions within Nigeria must conform to the constitutional provisions, including fundamental human rights such as freedom of religion.

While the constitution grants individuals the right to practice their religion, it also recognizes that each religion has the freedom to conduct its practices. This article examines the contemporary situation in Ilorin, where a dispute has arisen between Muslims and Osun worshippers over the latter’s desire to hold their religious festivities in the city.

Despite constitutional provisions protecting freedom of religion, Ilorin residents have vehemently opposed this, raising questions about whether their actions violate the fundamental human rights of freedom of religion.

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  • Brief Facts and Background

Ilorin is well-known as a predominantly Islamic city, with its population consisting of various tribes, including Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Tapa, Nupe, Ibaruba, among others. Its historical origins trace back to ancient times when its founders unanimously agreed that the city should be ruled by the Emir (Sheikh Alimi Janta), its first leader.

Virtually all indigenous residents of Ilorin are Muslims, making non-Muslims a rare sight in the city. In recent times, a social media discussion has emerged regarding the presence of Osun worshippers in Ilorin metropolis, along with other religious groups.

In July, a group of Iyas Osun, who worship Iyemoja, the goddess of the river, gathered in one Ilorin community dressed in traditional white attire adorned with beads, bangles, and chains.

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Their religious ceremony drew opposition from one of the locals who believed it contradicted the prevailing beliefs and faith of the area. Despite his objections, the worshippers persisted in conducting their rituals before leaving the area.

The Mogaji (leader) of the community had previously warned the worshippers not to perform their rituals there, but these warnings were ignored. Subsequently, a group of clerics intervened to prevent the worship of the river goddess, a move supported by the community residents and the Mogaji.

In response to this, adherents of the traditionalist group, in an act of defiance, announced their intention to come to Ilorin metropolis from various Yoruba states to practice their religion.

This decision led to protests from the people of Ilorin and the clerics. They argued that Ilorin and its surroundings were designated for Islam, and Osun or other traditional worshippers should practice their religion elsewhere, such as in Osun state.

One resident, Alfa Labeeb Agbaji, expressed this sentiment in poetic language, saying, “We are not prohibiting Osun worshippers or followers of Ifa from practicing their faith. However, we insist that they refrain from doing so in Ilorin, which is our stance.”

In addition, the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Sulu-gambari, a learned authority in law, reiterated that the arrival of Osun worshippers to perform their rituals, including Idors, Oro, Osun, and Ifa, in Ilorin could potentially disrupt the peace and harmony of the community, potentially leading to chaos.

He emphasized that Osun worshippers should refrain from coming to Ilorin for their religious practices.
In response, some public figures and stakeholders criticized the Emir and the people of Ilorin, labeling them as religious extremists.

They argued that Ilorin is located in Yoruba land, individuals intending to practice their traditional religions within the city have every right to do so, as guaranteed by Section 38 of the Constitution, which protects freedom of religion, conscience, thought, and belief.

Prominent figures such as Professor Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana SAN joined in opposing the opposition to the traditional religious practices in Ilorin.

 

  • Legal Position of the Right to Freedom of Religion

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), forms the foundation of our legal system and holds supreme authority. All other laws, including customary law, derive their legitimacy from the constitution.

Section 1(1) of the Constitution explicitly states that the constitution is supreme and binds all authorities and individuals throughout Nigeria. This means that any law conflicting with the constitution’s provisions is void to the extent of that inconsistency.

Numerous judicial precedents support this principle. For instance, in the case of Inakoju & Ors v. Adeleke & Ors (2007) LPELR-1510 (SC), the court held that any violation of the constitution’s provisions that contradicts its principles is unconstitutional, null, and void.

Similar views were echoed in Onwere V. Nwazuo & Ors (2012) LPELR-20838(CA), emphasizing that the constitution is the highest law, and any law conflicting with it, is invalid.

Regarding the right to freedom of religion, Section 38(1) of the Constitution explicitly guarantees every person the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

This encompasses the freedom to change one’s religion or belief and the freedom to manifest and propagate one’s religion in worship, teaching, practice, and observance, either alone or in community with others, publicly or privately.

It’s important to note that the people of Ilorin did not obstruct anyone from practicing their religion as they wished. Instead, they argued that since there are already established places for the practice of these religions elsewhere, it would be reasonable for all parties to maintain their status quo and practice their religions without hindrance, harassment, or persecution.

This perspective aligns with the recent Supreme Court case, Lagos State Government & Ors. V. Miss Asiyat Abdul Kareem & Ors. (2022).

A recent article titled “Right to Freedom of Religion in Nigeria: Ilorin in Perspective” by Ifasesin Ifagbemi, criticized the actions of the people of Ilorin.

The article argued that adherents of Osun, Ifa, Oro, and all traditional religions have the right to practice their religion and denounced the Emir’s claims.

The article also referenced Section 10 of the Constitution, which prohibits any state from adopting a particular religion as the state religion, implying that no state should be exclusively associated with one religion.

In response to these arguments, questions arose, including the writer’s status as an indigene of Ilorin, the status of those who wish to practice their religions in Ilorin, the historical precedence of Oro or Idors worship within Ilorin, and whether there are established places within Ilorin’s jurisdiction for such worship. It is worth noting that the answers to these questions appear to be in the negative.

 

  • Whether from the Circumstances, the Above Doctrine of Peace and Public Policy can Serve as an Exception to the Right to Freedom of Religion

It is a settled principle of law that the court does not base its judgement on public policy. And the public policy can not serve as exceptions to any provision of fundamental right. See the case of Amaechi V. Inec & Ors (2008) LPELR-446(SC).

The Supreme Court reiterated on whether or not a constitutional right can be waived thus:
“… A right that insures to the benefit of the entire public can never be waived.”

Nobody, not even the State can waive the rights entrenched in statutory or constitutional provisions which have been made in favour of the whole country. It is clearly not pro publico but contra publico to introduce the doctrine of waiver to such rights.See A-.G., Bendel State v. A-.G., of the Federation & Ors. (1981) 10 S.C. 1; (1982) 3 NCLR 1.” Per Pius Olayiwola Aderemi, JSC (Pp 273 – 273 Paras B – C)

However, in response to the arguments presented by Ifasesin Ifagbemi in his article and the contrasting viewpoints of Professor Wole Soyinka, as well as considering the questions raised earlier, it is essential to examine whether there can be a legal justification for allowing trespassers to encroach upon someone else’s land by invoking the right to freedom of movement.

In a negative context, it is evident that this constitutes a valid exception to the right to freedom of movement.

Similarly, introducing a new culture, tradition, or religion within the vicinity of Ilorin metropolis is likely to provoke curiosity and intrigue within the community.

Interestingly, these people claiming to introduce this culture or religion are the indigenes of Ilorin community. If they are actually indigenes of Ilorin, the storyline would have be entirely different. But they can not claim any area or street to be theirs in Ilorin particular.

In view of this, the Emir of Ilorin’s assertion that such a move could lead to chaos, anarchy, and the disruption of peace in the area holds significant weight. Preserving peace and order is of utmost importance in any society. To illustrate, if it were announced that no one should leave their homes during the Oro festival in Osun or other Yoruba jurisdictions, few would dare to defy that directive and claim a right to freedom of movement.

Therefore, individuals cannot simply hide behind the right to freedom of religion in such circumstances.
From the circumstances, they are not actually from Ilorin locality but they want to come there for the purpose of establishing this festival, public policy can therefore serve as a valid exception to the right to freedom of religion.

It is surprising that Ifasesin Ifagbemi did not delve deeply into the core of the right to freedom of religion and the bottom of the facts of this case.

In fact, he failed to adequately address the doctrines of necessity and public policy in his article.

In light of these considerations, I respectfully submit that public policy in Ilorin metropolis has never witnessed such festivals and its environs.

Introducing such a religion and festival has the potential to disrupt the harmony and peace that Ilorin residents have long enjoyed, and it would be unwise for the community’s leadership to ignore these implications.

The Emir of Ilorin, Sheikh Ibrahim Sulu-gambari, has clearly recognized the potential consequences of allowing such festivities to take place in Ilorin and has taken a stance to prevent this. The Emir’s statement primarily emphasizes the importance of maintaining peaceful coexistence among Ilorin residents.

It is crucial to recognize that the Oro or Idors festivals are novelties in Ilorin’s norms, culture, and tradition, which many of the public figures who criticize the Emir’s stance can attest to this undeniable facts.

Indeed, they want to use this avenue to provoke people of Ilorin by coming to their community to intrigue it. Ilorin residents respect the rule of law, and the Emir has not isolated Ilorin as a unique jurisdiction to rule, as suggested by Ifasesin Ifagbemi in his article.

Therefore, there is no justification for individuals to use Section 38, Section 10, or the argument that “Ilorin is an ancient town of the Yoruba people and is populated by indigenes across religious lines” as reasons to override the Emir’s concerns.

 

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, I humbly submit that there is no compelling reason to permit outsiders to come and conduct festivals in Ilorin, as this would go against the established norms and culture of the city and could disrupt the harmonious coexistence of its residents. Instead, each group should practice its religion within its own context.

It is essential to recognize that the debate surrounding this issue is complex, and taking into account the doctrine of public policy and the potential disruption to peace and order is crucial. Public policy considerations, as well as the Emir’s concerns, should not be dismissed out of hand.

About the Author

Jamiu Lukman Akanbi is a prolific writer and a student at Usman Danfodiyo University in Sokoto. He has actively participated in moot and mock competitions both within and outside his faculty, often representing his chamber.

He has held positions in the prestigious chamber of Justice Amina Augie at Usman Danfodiyo University. J.L. Akanbi has a passion for commercial law, intellectual property, litigation, real estate, and corporate practice.

He can be reached through: 08146965956/[email protected]

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