Nigeria’s presidency on Sunday took issue with the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah, over his submission to the United States Congress that nothing really works in Nigeria.
It described as unfortunate and disappointing the position of the “so-called” man of God painting his country in bad light before a foreign parliament.
Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, said in a statement that it was unfortunate, and disappointing for Nigerians to bear witness to one of their churchmen castigating their country in front of representatives of a foreign parliament.
The presidency stated that it is familiar with overseas political tours that opposition politicians take – visiting foreign leaders and legislators in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe, saying the argument goes that if they are heard seriously abroad, then Nigerian citizens back home should surely listen to them too.
It said: “But in order to be heard at all, and to maximise media coverage back home for their activities, inevitably these visits involve painting the worst possible picture of our country before their chosen foreign audience.
“Soon enough we inescapably hear an identical list of racist tropes against Northerners, how one religion dominates governance above all others, how the government is doing nothing to address herder-farmer disturbances, and how the government spends money on infrastructure to benefit everyone but the group and religion of the speaker.
“Of course, in order not to disappoint their western audience, regardless of fact, the list is always the same-and always slanted for whoever wishes to cross-check.”
The statement added that Nigerians expected such position from the opposition, stressing that it is troubling when a “so-called” man of the church copies the worst excesses of those seeking personal advancement in public office.
The presidency also explained steps taken so far by the present administration to tackle herder-farmer disturbances, saying “only this government has put forward the first and singular plan in nearly a century to address herder-farmer challenges – a fact recognised by international NGOs, including the International Crisis Group”.
It punctured Kukah’s position that the Buhari-led government has done nothing in six years.
“To declare to a foreign audience that this government does nothing is an incredible falsehood,” the statement added.
Rather than the investment in infrastructure between Nigeria and Niger Republic being wasteful and biased as erroneously said by Kukah, the presidency said a similar infrastructure project between Lagos and Benin Republic had revolutionised the two neighbouring economies to the advantage of both countries.
According to it, there is religious balancing in government appointments notwithstanding that the 1999 Constitution never stipulated ethnic or religious leaning in appointments into public office.
“There is no bias in this government when the president is Northern and Muslim, the vice president Southern and Christian, and the cabinet equally balanced between the two religions. But neither is there anything in our constitution to state that political posts must be apportioned according to ethnicity or faith. It takes a warped frame of mind for a critic to believe ethnicity is of primary importance in public appointments. It is yet more troubling to hear a churchman isolating one group for criticism purely on ethnic lines,” it added.
The presidency also faulted Kukah’s position that only Christian schools were being attacked by bandits and terrorists, saying bandits and terrorists had in the past attacked both Christian and Muslim schools.
It said: “With due respect to the esteemed position he holds, the bishop’s assertion that only Christian schools are being targeted by bandits or terrorists is not supported by the facts on the ground. It is sad to say but also true that victims of crime, kidnapping, banditry and terrorism cut across all strata of the society.
“Sad but true that Kankara students in Katsina State were stolen by bandits of the same Islamic faith as those they took away. The same may be true of those who are still holding the 134 students of the Islamic School at Tegina in Niger State. The nation witnessed the sad incident of the female students abducted by bandits at Jangebe in Zamfara State and the over 100 predominantly Muslim students of the Federal Government Girls College, Birnin Yauri, in Kebbi State who are currently in captivity- and the nation’s security agencies are hard at work to release them unharmed.
“The attack on Christian students is sad and unacceptable; so also is the abduction of students of other faiths. The claim that only Christian schools are being targeted is totally untrue.
“As a nation and a people, we must together define evil as evil. We must not allow our religious differences to divide us. No one gains but the evil doers when we divide our ranks, according to ethnicity and religion in confronting them. The bandit, kidnapper and terrorist are the enemies of the people who should be confronted in unison.”
The statement also quoted copiously from the Bible to support its claim on ethnicity and racialism.
“To be clear, the Bible is definitive on matters of ethnicity and racialism: In Romans 2:9-10, it says: ‘There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good’.
“And in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Whether Christian or Muslim, we stand by these beliefs and are steadfastly committed to them in governance.”
The presidency flayed the cleric for disparaging Nigeria before a foreign audience.
It said: “There is no place in mainstream civil discourse for those who actively, negatively, and publicly label an individual ethnic group, especially before a foreign audience.
“These are not the views expressed or opinions held by the vast majority of the citizens of Nigeria. For all our challenges as a nation, nearly all of us seek to live together in harmony, celebrating differences, and finding common ground as Nigerians above all. But people like Kukah are doing their best to sow discord and strife among Nigerians.
“More than any other set of people, leaders – in politics or religion who preach respect for truth have a duty to practise it. It is a moral and practical responsibility.
“Going by the history of the church as is well known, it will stand up publicly for the truth.
It is time others did the same.”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja