Open Letter to express solidarity with Osun Priestess warned by Muslim group against holding Isese in Ilorin


Greetings beloved Priestess Yeye Adesikemi,

My name is Dr Michelle Yaa Asantewa. I am a founding member of the Council of African And Diasporic Indigenous Spiritual Systems (CADISS), set up in the UK. We saw the article, published by Punch on 1st July, on social media, fully titled: Muslim group storms Osun priestess’ house: if you love yourself don’t hold Isese festival in Ilorin.’ As advocates for the recognition of African Indigenous spiritual practices globally, we are deeply disturbed by the article’s content about the threats imposed on you by the Majlisu Shabab li Ulamahu Society. Although we observed many shares of the article, we noted that, prior to Elder Wole Soyinka’s rebuttal published in Within Nigeria a few days later, none of the shares were explicitly denouncing the ‘threats.’ For our part, we wish to remedy this omission immediately and hereby extend our support to you as comrades, practitioners, and keepers of our traditions, albeit here in the diaspora.

Further, we wish to emphasise to the perpetrators that this attack on your way of life, and religious/spiritual belief contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the state of Nigeria is a signatory. Specifically, Article 18 declares: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” (The gender mode, ‘his’ is in the original.)

Accordingly, this means that as a Priestess of Osun you should be protected by the Nigerian state as you are legitimately entitled to practice your belief and express your way of life without fear of persecution and discrimination, as is purported by the report about the threats. Again this is instituted in Article 7 of the UN Declaration, which states: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

As reported, there is a suggestion that a separate law exists for Ilorin Muslims, enabling them to discriminate against anyone who practices alternative faiths/religions and ways of life. Those who visited your home reportedly stated: “We are here on behalf of the Emir of Ilorin to ask that you desist from any Isese. We are also backed by the laws of the land. We are not here to fight you but to warn you against this celebration.” If true, this ‘law of the land’ is contrary to the UN Declaration on Human Rights and should be redressed.

We feel that the fliers you distributed would surely encourage wider participation and inclusion and be a means of educating others, thereby fostering much required harmony within your community, within our world. Rather than warnings or threats being imposed against the celebration of the Isese Festival, we contend it would be humane and progressive for the Majlisu Shabab li Ulamahu Society to exercise ‘interfaith/interreligious’ tolerance and understanding, as a reflection of their own faith and humanity. Terrorism of any type violates our humanity, contradicting our collective freedom, harmony and human understanding. In this regard, Articles 19, and 20 also provide for ‘peaceful assembly and association’ to practice and celebrate said religion/beliefs. These threats by the above Muslim sect in Ilorin contrives that only they can assemble, and that only their ‘deity’ must be celebrated/recognised. This is no mere discrimination; it is an instance of terrorism, and we vehemently denounce it, in oneness with author and activist Wole Soyinka. We may all take counsel from his words, that: “humanity builds on the past, preserving alternatives of world views, not destroying that past, which is any case, indestructible.”

As it stands, their actions also oppose the recent Resolution adopted by the (UN) General Assembly on 28th May 2019. This is A/RES/73/296: International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief, “strongly condemning continuing violence and acts of terrorism targeting individuals, including persons belonging to religious minorities, on the basis of or in the name of religion or belief.”

Of course, we acknowledge that the UN is only one instrument through which we seek to ensure the protection of our traditions. Its links to colonialism do not deter us from the utilization of its functions when it comes to demanding protection from those who oppress, discriminate and commit acts of violence against anyone practicing their religion, spirituality and way of life.

Therefore we:

–  implore the Emir of Ilorin, Dr. Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari to recognise these actions as discriminatory and inhumane, and to withdraw the ‘threats’, as alleged so that the Isese Festival can take place without fear of harm to and by anyone.

remind those opposed to the practice of Traditional Spirituality in Africa, and particularly in this instance, the celebration of the Orisa Osun, that the Osun Sacred Grove is a UNESCO protected heritage site; this matters because it is about respect and inclusion.

call on all practitioners of Any variant of Indigenous African Spiritual Systems (on the continent and in the diaspora) to join us in condemning this action by the Muslims of Ilorin as reported in the Punch article, and to offer support to Yeye Adekisekemi so that she remains steadfast in her belief, practice and way of life.

Given that the Osun-Oshogbo sacred grove in Southern Nigeria is a UNESCO protected site, why should anyone in Nigeria live in fear of honouring Osun and practicing their belief? There is room for all to celebrate and enjoy their way of life, with freedom, dignity and in collective harmony. Beloved Priestess, we encourage you to continue to celebrate Isese and wish to let you know you are not alone in your belief and the way you live your life. Here in the UK we connect with the annual Osogbo festival and take part in a river ritual in honour of Mami Osun. This happens on the second Sunday of August and this year will be on the 13th. We will remember you, especially, as we honour our beloved Mother of sweet waters. We give thanks that Orisa has connected us across the diaspora so that we can be comforted by one another and feel confident to celebrate and practice our traditions with courage and pride. On this Osun day, we extend our love, wish you many continued blessings and ancestral protection.

Yours in spirit and in truth

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