Reactions have continued to trail the Christmas message delivered by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, which threatening to assume religious coloration. On December 25, 2020, outspoken Bishop Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah climbed the pulpit to deliver his Christmas Homily, but the outcome has been characteristically predictable.
A bold and eloquent speaker whose oratory and intellect pierce the soul, he more often than not stirs up a storm. This time, he ignited a raging fire.
Speaking under the subject, “A nation in search of vindication,” Kukah took stock of the country’s mounting security and economic challenges, as well as the unprecedented ethnic and religious divisions, and put the blame squarely on President Muhammadu Buhari’s table, a verdict that has continued to stir controversy.
“The roads to the graveyards are busier than those to the farms. Amidst the wails and laments, I hear the congregants saying; the world is coming to an end, it has never been so bad….
“Not unexpectedly, this Christmas is again coming against a backdrop of so much pain, sorrow, and uncertainty in our land. We all seem to have become sedated and inured to pain.
“Tragedy has been standing as our gatekeeper. For over ten years now, at almost each Christmas, a dark pall of horror, sorrow, and death has consistently hung in our horizon threatening to eclipse the promises of the joy of Christmas…” he had lamented.
“As our country drifts almost rudderless, we seem like people travelling without maps, without destination, and with neither Captain nor Crew. Citizens have nowhere to turn to. After he assumed power, a delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference had an audience with President Buhari.
“In the course of our discussion, the President shared with us his frustration over the state of decay and rut that he had met. In frustration, I vividly recalled him saying that, from the decay and neglect, it seemed as if preceding governments had been doing nothing but just eating and going to the toilet!
“Looking back, one might conclude that those were happy times because at least there was food to eat and people could go to the toilet. Now, a journey to the toilet is considered by the poor an extra luxury.”
But it’s his pointed accusation against Buhari of unabashed nepotism, and his remark that there would have been a military coup if same was done by a Christian president, that has irked not only the federal government, but also the Muslim community, turning what was otherwise a message of hope into subject of religious warfare, with the likes of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Arewa Youth Consultative Forum to (AYCF), and more recently, JNI calling for his head.
President Buhari, he had said, “deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status.
“He has pursued this self-defeating and alienating policy at the expense of greater national cohesion. Every honest Nigerian knows that there is no way any non-Northern Muslim President could have done a fraction of what President Buhari has done by his nepotism and gotten away with it.
“There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war. The President may have concluded that Christians will do nothing and will live with these actions. He may be right and we Christians cannot feel sorry that we have no pool of violence to draw from or threaten our country. However, God does not sleep. We can see from the inexplicable dilemma of his North.
“It is curious that President Buhari’s partisanship and commitment to reinforcing the foundations of northern hegemony have had the opposite consequences. For a long time, beyond the pall of politics, very prominent northerners with a conscience have raised the red flag, pointing out the consequences of President Buhari’s nepotism on national cohesion and trust.
With time, as hunger, poverty, insecurity engulfed the north, the President’s own supporters began to despair and lament about the state of their collective degradation.”
An embittered federal government was the first to issue a response. A day later, on December 26, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed accused the Bishop – without mentioning his name – of stoking the embers of hatred.
Mohammed argued that while religious leaders have a responsibility to speak truth to power, such truth must not come “wrapped in anger, hatred, disunity and religious disharmony.
Continuing, he accused the clergy of trying to instigate a coup.
“The Federal Government has urged religious leaders in the country to refrain from stoking the embers of hatred and disunity, warning that resorting to scorched-earth rhetoric at this time could trigger unintended consequences.
“It is particularly graceless and impious for any religious leader to use the period of Christmas, which is a season of peace, to stoke the embers of hatred, sectarian strife and national disunity,” he said.
”Calling for a violent overthrow of a democratically-elected government, no matter how disguised such a call is, and casting a particular religion as violent is not what any religious leader should engage in, and certainly not in a season of peace.
“Instigating regime change outside the ballot box is not only unconstitutional but also an open call to anarchy.”
Mohammed’s response triggered a tsunami of attacks on the Bishop, with the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum going as far calling for his arrest for “incitement of military coup.”
“Such a reckless statement by Kukah betrays something much more sinister against both the North and the nation as a whole because Nigeria is at a stage that it requires responsible advice for attaining peace and stability, not deliberate attempt to mischievously compound our problems, the forum’s president, Alhaji Yerima Shettima said in a statement.
“If Kukah wants to play politics, he should not do so in the pulpit and he should keep the Bishop’s office aside and choose any Nigerian political party platform to contest for President in 2023 and stop all the pretence.
The ACF attack was followed up by MURIC, which in a statement by its director, Ishaq Akintola asked Kukah to resign his position as secretary of Nigeria’s Peace Committee.
“How did such a belligerent combatant emerge as the secretary of Nigeria’s Peace Committee? What good can come from a man who is filled with hate and bias for a large section of the country?” he wondered.
“He calls for a coup against a democratically elected government. He stigmatized Islam as a violent religion. He derides the North. We demand that Kukah should honourably recuse himself from the Peace Committee.
“Failure to do so will have a devastating effect of discrediting that committee. It will mean that the committee was set up in the first place for a partisan purpose.”
However, Christian and some Muslim groups soon sprang up to defend the Bishop. The Christian Association of Nigeria in the 19 northern states and Abuja in a statement warned the Presidency and MURIC against twisting Kukah’s Christmas Day message.
In the statement signed by its Vice Chairman, Rev. John Hayab, Northern CAN said the association was shocked at an attempt by the Presidency and MURIC to twist Kukah’s message.
Hayab described as baseless and worrisome the claim by Akintola that Bishop Kukah had referred to Islam “as a violent religion” and “called for a coup”.
“CAN in 19 northern states and Abuja has read with great shock attempts to further divide the nation by the Presidency, the leadership of MURIC and other individuals and groups aimed at twisting the crux of the homily Bishop Kukah gave at Christmas,” Hayab said.
“Sadly, MURIC aims to incite citizens against one another along the lines of faith instead of denouncing the insecurity witnessed across the country, which is the point in Bishop Kukah’s message.
“For the avoidance of doubt, from the East to the South, West and all over the North, travelling has become a nightmare while hapless people are dragged from their homes for ransom. The Christian body maintained that “It is time for the Presidency, MURIC, and misinformed individuals to eschew their intolerance and admit that Nigeria under Buhari has strayed from the path and vision that the independence of this great country was fought for and won.”
The Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt Forum (SMBF) and the Catholic Church to which the Bishop belongs soon entered the fray.
Defending Kukah in a statement by Yinka Odumakin (South-West), Chief Guy Ikoku (South East), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), titled, ‘You cannot suppress the voice of reason’, SMBLF declared that the cleric remained a national icon and a hero of the masses, whose voice of truth and reason can never be suppressed successfully while demanding an immediate apology to him for the baseless.
“The outspoken cleric who has been a beacon of truthfulness over the years remains a foremost defender of the aspirations of millions of Nigerians across ethnic and religious lines. On this occasion, his comments have been applauded by the majority of Nigerians and we all stand with him,” the forum said.
The leadership of the Catholic Church in Nigeria also rose to support the position expressed by Kukah. In a statement issued on December 28 by the National Directorate of Social Communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria in Abuja, the church urged lovers of truth and justice to rise in defence of Bishop Kukah against the attack on his person and the attempt to discredit the simple obvious truth in his message.
“We are quite aware of the 2020 Christmas Message by our revered Bishop Hassan Kukah and the enormous space it has enjoyed on social media and in public sphere. As expected, the agents of evil have gathered to attack the person of the Bishop and to discredit the simple obvious truth of the message.
“This is the stock in trade of evil people. However, they often succeed when good people, Christians, choose to do nothing,” the church said. “I am therefore calling our attention to this new development so that we can all rise in unison and stand for truth”.
Quoting a popular verse by St. Augustine, the Church said that “evil is absence of good”, adding that people should add a voice in support of goodness, in order to forestall the reign of evil.
A Muslim group, the Coalition of Nigerian Muslim Professionals also threw its weight behind the Bishop.
The coalition in a statement by its National Coordinator, Prof. Mohammed Inuwa, commended Kukah for what it described as “his boldness to speak truth to power”, while faulting those vilifying him.
The group noted that President Buhari means well for the country, but faulted him on some actions taken by his administration which it said, was not promoting unity.
It warned against twisting the message to mean the Bishop endorses coup, saying contrary to those promoting that insinuation, the revered Bishop was too learned to support such ignoble path to installing leadership, saying Nigerians with a conscience would not fall to the antics of those twisting the Bishop’s message for selfish reasons.
The group said having followed Bishop Kukah’s activities and preaching since the days of the military, it was convinced that not too many Nigerians took the interest of the country at heart like Kukah.
“Even during the military era where people dreaded the powers that be at the time, Bishop Kukah, who was then a Catholic priest spoke truth to those at the helm of affairs without fear or favour. He has shown through his actions all the years that he is a true son of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. We should support him for being bold enough to come out to speak what many Nigerians know is the truth but afraid to speak out for fear of the leadership”, the statement said.
“While we must admit that President Muhammad Buhari means well for the nation, we must say that most people in his government are grossly incompetent and don’t deserve to stay around power even in an uncivilized space,” the group stated.
“There’s nothing wrong with Bishop Kukah’s statement in the actual sense. Some regions particularly the South East have been marginalized in successive governments, and the administration of President Muhammad Buhari came and amplified it,” it added.
Amid the attacks and counter attacks, Kukah clarified while speaking to journalists on Monday 28 December, that he only spoke truth about the nepotism of President Buhari’s administration based on evidence, but never called for a military coup as being alleged in some quarters.
“The reactions,” he said, “are a reflection of every citizen that make ups Nigeria. It is sad that when you drop something in Nigeria, everybody goes back to their enclave and abandons the larger picture. I am someone who never takes offence to what people say about me.
“What I said was my opinion based on evidence and what has happened in Nigeria, and if you looked into the records, there is evidence that justifies that statement, and if anyone thinks I am wrong, they should come out with a superior position.”
The Bishop’s clarification, however, did little to assuage his attackers. On Wednsday, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar led Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) accused him of “a calculated attempt to insult Islamic which is typical of him.”
In a statement by its Secretary General Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, the apex Islamic body in the North said the Bishop’s “veiled insinuation that Muslims “have a pool of violence to draw from, is disgusting, disheartening, as well as condemnable”.
The JNI’s statement also faulted the cleric, who is a member of the National Peace Committee, for “always keen in pushing at the national fault lines, religion, tribe and North-South divide.”
The JNI described Bishop Kukah as a “conflict entrepreneur disguised as a clergy”, admonishing him that Christmas homilies should come with messages of hope, unity, mercy, forgiveness of the Supreme Being and resilience through prayers, especially in this trying time.
“Kukah is the Bishop of the Sokoto diocese located at the seat of the Caliphate and the heart of Islam and Islamic scholarship, culture and practices in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the status of Sokoto to the Muslims and Islamic history, Bishop Kukah was warmly welcomed, accepted, accommodated and accorded respect deserving of his position as a religious leader.
“Bishop Kukah should not take Muslms kindness for timidity or foolishness. In being accommodative and kind, the Muslims are adhering to the teaching of the Glorious Quran that even in times of war the Muslims should offer assistance to those who seek their protection.
“Therefore, the Muslims kind nature should not be taken for granted, warning that a Muslim should not allow himself to be ridiculed.”
Following the position of the JNI, however, a Christian group, the Nigeria Christian Graduate Fellowship (NCGF) cautioned the Federal Government and others attacking the Bishop against inciting violence in the country.
In a statement by its president, Professor Chuks Eboka, the NCGF noted: “The NCGF wishes to state unequivocally, and without any fear of contradiction, that after a careful reading of the full text of the Christmas homily of Bishop Kukah, we did not find in it anything that suggests a call for a coup against the government of President Buhari or that was denigrating to Islam.
“The homily entitled ‘A Nation in Search of Vindication’ contains absolutely nothing that could be considered an affront to Islam or even vaguely suggestive of a call that a coup is staged against the Buhari-led government.”
According to him, what Kukah did was to draw Nigerians’ attention to the alarming and deteriorating state of security in the country under Buhari’s watch, and the apparent abdication of the responsibility to protect the life and property as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
“A few days ago, the President said that only God could secure Nigeria’s border with the Niger Republic. NCGF is in full support of Kukah’s position and considers what he did a worthy duty to perform as a responsible and concerned citizen who is never afraid to speak truth to power.
“We regret that rather than the government paying attention to the serious issues consistently raised by Kukah, MURIC, Arewa youths and their cohort have chosen, instead, to demonise the bishop and suggest that he be charged with treason.
“This is in stark contrast to the response to other individuals and bodies, including from the North, that have equally expressed serious concern about the state of the nation, with some of them going as far as calling for the resignation of President Buhari.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Kukah who has maintained that he is not bothered by the attacks against him has continued to preach his message. While delivering a sermon at the Wake keep Mass for His Grace, Archbishop Peter Yariyock Jatau at St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral, Kaduna on Tuesday, the Bishop warned again that darkness was enveloping the nation, as the sun quickly recedes.
Taking stock of the country’s mounting security and developmental challenges, he concluded that the country had become one huge waste land, huge debris of the deceit, lies, treachery, double dealing and duplicity.
“Nigerian politicians have turned our politics into a huge Trojan horse, a hoax, a hall of guile and dissimulation. The levels of frustration are rising by the day and we can see all this in the rise in domestic violence and inter-communal conflicts. A combination of all these has turned us unto a nation at war with itself,” he said.
Kukah noted that Nigeria had challenges in its post civil war era, but even those are nothing compared to the bloodshed going on in different parts at the moment, particularly in the Southern parts of Kaduna, which has continued to witness unending bloodletting by bandits.
“Post-civil war Nigeria faced severe challenges but nowhere was this more so than the North with Kaduna being the epicentre. Suspicion gradually set in. No one needs to recite the litany of woes and bloodshed that have characterised the great city of Kaduna,” he lamented.