The Christmas message by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah four days ago has generated multiple reactions from government circles as well as religious groups, tribal sets and individuals.
Official reaction on Saturday, 26 though indirect, was from the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed who warned religious leaders that resorting to scorched-earth rhetoric at this time could trigger unintended consequences.
Part of the statement said it is graceless and impious for a 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.
Kukah had in his Christmas message last Friday, hit hard on Buhari’s administration accusing the president of turning nepotism into a state policy.
He doubled down by alluding to the fact that there could have been a coup if a non-northern Muslim president had done a fraction of what Buhari did. And further accused the president of institutionalising northern hegemony by “reducing others in public life to second-class status”.
Read: Kukah says Buhari pursuing Northern Hegemony at expense of National Cohesion
The outspoken clergy came under more attacks on Monday as the president’s Special Assistant, Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, in a tweet accused the bishop of being critical of Buhari due to loss of patronage.
Said she, “They’ve met more than once. So, what’s the problem? Baba no dey drop. He’s rebuilding a nation battered by greed, political and religious favours. Buying the support of traditional/religious/political leaders is no longer on the table. Rebuilding our nation is the main focus.”
The Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) called for the arrest and prosecution of Kukah over his Christmas message. In a statement on Monday by its National President, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, Kukah’s comments was described as inciting and a “treasonable felony against the Nigerian state.”
Shettima accused the bishop of using “nepotism as a weapon of calumny against the government and people of Nigeria,” adding that it is an attempt to “set the South against the North in order to destabilise our country and further complicate matters.
The Muslim Rights Concern on their part described Kukah’s claim of nepotism in Buhari’s administration as false. Prof. Ishaq Akintola, director of the Muslim group in a statement on Monday, said the comment by Kukah is reckless, inflammatory and unguarded.
In particular, Akintola said continued, we are most disappointed that such a heavily prejudiced and explosive statement is coming from the secretary of Nigeria’s Peace Committee.
“Kukah’s allegation of nepotism against PMB holds no water. It further goes to prove that allegations of northern hegemony, caliphate domination, Islamisation and fulanisation are not more than a myth, a mirage, a phantom.
And defending one of its own, the leadership of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, CAN and SMBLF countered the allegations accusing his critics of mischief.
A statement released by the National Directorate of Social Communications of the Catholic Church in Abuja, urged lovers of truth and justice to defend Kukah against the attack on his person and the attempt to discredit his message.
The church said the situation in Nigeria no longer allows anyone to sit on the fence or feign indifference.
“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 truth about our nation is also that there are only two parties now existing: the good and the evil, the oppressed and the oppressor, the suffering people and the benefiting government officers and their families. Please stop allowing anyone fool you with these cards: religion and tribe,” the statement added.
“I am therefore calling our attention to this new development so that we can all rise in unison and stand for truth,” it said.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) also dismissed allegations that Kukah called for a coup in his Christmas message and made any expression suggesting an affront to Islam.
A statement by its Vice-Chairman in-charge of the 19 Northern states and Abuja, Rev. John John Hayab on Monday, described Akintola’s earlier statement on Kukah’s message as misleading.
“CAN 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.
“Of grave misgiving is the baseless claim in a statement signed by the President of MURIC, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, that Bishop Kukah had “referred to Islam as a violent religion” and “calls for a coup.”
“That such a statement comes from Prof. Akintola is not only laughable but misleading and tissue of lies. Records show MURIC’s leadership is often careless with assertions and many times acting as if it was a political platform instead of a religious one.
“CAN 19 northern states and Abuja, therefore, condemn in its entirety the misleading and inciting statements of MURIC and its likes calling on the international as well as the local community to particularly counsel Prof. Akintola of MURIC to learn to walk the path of honour and not be a merchant of crisis.
“Reading through Bishop Kukah’s “A Nation In Search of Vindication”, CAN is unable to find any expression suggesting an affront to Islam or a call for a coup.
“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 of Bishop Kukah’s message. 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.”
“Let the government do the right thing by creating a sense of inclusion for all and sundry, defending the citizens from harm, bringing an end to the growing insecurity in towns, cities, and villages that we could attain greatness together,” the statement posits.
Meanwhile, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has expressed its support for Kukah, on the state of the nation he addressed in his Christmas message.
The group, in a statement by its leaders, Yinka Odumakin (South-west), Chief Guy Ikoku (South-east), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-south) and Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), condemned the reaction of the federal government.
The forum said Kukah has been a beacon of truthfulness over the years, and remains a foremost defender of the aspirations of Nigerians across ethnic and religious lines, adding that the voice of truth and reason can never be suppressed.
” We want to remind the federal government and its attack dogs that in the past, they had equally welcomed the forthright views of this man of God when it favoured them. So why attack him now when he cautions them on their divisive policies? Today, the country has become terribly divided along all kinds of lines. It is shameful and indefensible that suddenly, the federal government is dominated by one small ethnic group and they expect all to keep quiet like slaves.
Also, the wind of insecurity is now almost tsunami and even up to Mr. President’s doorstep in Katsina when he was home recently on holiday. ” What we expected was for those concerned to retrace their very unhelpful steps and get back to rekindling oneness in the country. We once more call on the federal government to take urgent steps to restructure the country. Finally, we remind those concerned that the voice of truth and reason, can never be suppressed successfully.
Bishop Kukah remains a national icon, a hero of the masses. We therefore demand immediate apology to him for the baseless attacks,” the statement resolved.