Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, has hit back the presidency, noting that Aisha Buhari, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, also agrees with what he said about her husband.
The outspoken Catholic Bishop made the remark on Arise TV on Tuesday morning, in response to a statement on Monday, by the presidency asking him to stop playing politics with religion.
Following Bishop Kukah’s Easter homily in which he accused Buhari of destroying Nigeria, the president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in the statement titled ‘Kukah’s virus of hate,’ accused the cleric of spreading hate against the administration.
Quoting different biblical passages, the presidential spokesman faulted the Bishop, saying “from his pulpit, he devoted his Easter message not to Christ’s death and rebirth so Man might be saved – but to damning the government in the most un-Christian terms.”
While accusing Kukah of neglecting Bible’s teachings, Shehu said Easter should be a time for renewal, and for hope and “not a time for religious leaders to play politics, or politicians to play religion.”
He added, “Nigeria knows too well Bishop Kukah’s views of the government. He has made quite clear how much he dislikes them from the day they were elected.
“Whether expressing his political views is a good use or an abuse of religious office is for others to decide. But the people of Nigeria have spoken – twice: they support this government at the ballot box. They have not been swayed by hateful talk from any bully-pulpit.
“We respectfully ask Bishop Kukah to leave government to the voters and the politicians they elect, while he concentrates on his job, as it is expressed in James 1:27: ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
“Or else, he should put away his clerical garb, join partisan politics and see how far he can go.”
However, Bishop Kukah during the interview on Arise TV on Tuesday, re-echoed the points made in his Easter homily, noting that he had nothing personal against the President but his policies which, according to him, Aisha also disagrees with.
Kukah said, “All those saying I attacked the President, I have never attacked his person. All I have spoken about is his inability to manage diversities effectively and efficiently. I have studied diversity as a subject and I know what I am talking about,” he said.
“Those who think these things are personal would see that I have never talked about his person or character; I believe he is a gentleman but as far as being the President is concerned, he has done a bad job, even his wife has also disagreed with his policies.
“So, those guys should not sit in their air-conditioned office drinking coffee and thinking everything is honky-donkey. Let them disagree with the text of my message.”
According to him, he has great respect for the President and his person who he considers a gentleman but when he assesses him as a President, he has failed woefully in the delivery of his job.
He said, “Let me set the record straight, I delivered my sermon to my congregation and the message. The bearers of the message are directed primarily to the good people of Sokoto dioceses.
“The President knows that I have great respect for him and he is a gentleman, but he has done a terribly bad job as the President of Nigeria.
“There is nothing I am saying that is new; all the pastors who preached yesterday during the Easter service said the same thing. Tell me one thing about the message that I preached that you disagree with and let’s discuss.”
Kukah who affirms that he speaks directly with the President said that his criticism of the government is nothing personal but the zeal to see things get better in the country.
He added, “For a Muslim (Garba Shehu) to sit down and tell me what an Easter message should contain is something.
“Buhari himself knows that there is nothing personal in what I say. One thing the President has said that humbled me is that he told me, ‘Bishop Kukah, I know where you stand on any issue that has to do with Nigeria.’
“What connected me with Buhari and a lot of Muslims is not the Catholic Church, it is my public position on a lot of things. And I am not saying it so that you must agree with me. But Nigerians have been extraordinarily magnanimous because I have not had many people saying we disagree with you and I have not spoken because I know the issue. The primary beneficiary of what I say is me and I speak for myself. If you have any issues with me, let’s clarify the issue.”