The controversy generated by the Christmas message of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, in which he criticised President Muhammadu Buhari, generated more reactions on Monday as groups and a presidential aide weighed in.
While the president’s Special Assistant, Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) and Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) knocked Kukah, the Catholic Church in Nigeria, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) defended him.
Kukah, in the Christmas message last Friday, had accused the president of turning nepotism into a state policy.
He had said that there could have been a coup if a non-northern Muslim president had done a fraction of what Buhari did.
He accused the president of institutionalising northern hegemony by “reducing others in public life to second-class status”.
“This government owes the nation an explanation as to where it is headed as we seem to journey into darkness.
“The spilling of this blood must be related to a more sinister plot that is beyond our comprehension. Are we going to remain hogtied by these evil men or are they gradually becoming part of a larger plot to seal the fate of our country?
“President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony. 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,” Kukah had added.
However, the federal government fired back a day later, saying 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.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a statement that was an allusion to Kukah’s criticism of the president, warned religious leaders that resorting to scorched-earth rhetoric at this time could trigger unintended consequences.
Kukah came under more attacks on Monday as Onochie accused the bishop of being critical of Buhari due to loss of patronage.
The presidential aide tweeted: “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.”
In its reaction, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) called for the arrest and prosecution of Kukah over his Christmas message.
AYCF, in a statement Monday by its National President, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, described Kukah’s comments 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.
“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.
“If Kukah wants to play politics, he should not do so on the pulpit and he should keep the bishop’s office aside and choose any Nigerian political party platform to contest for the president in 2023 and stop all the pretences,” the group stated.
He said Kukah should be reminded of the struggle to rid the country of military dictatorship.
“We will not allow opportunists, who did not make any contribution, to scuttle the democracy achieved through the sweat and toil and the sacrifice of our liberty,” he added.
The Muslim Rights Concern also faulted Kukah for criticising Buhari.
The Muslim group described Kukah’s claim of nepotism in Buhari’s administration as false.
MURIC’s Director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, in a statement on Monday, accused Kukah of recklessness.
“This is a most irresponsible pronouncement and we will not allow it to go unchallenged. Kukah’s statement is reckless, inflammatory and unguarded.
“It is the most egregious, luciferous and serpentine statement of the year 2020. In particular, 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.
“Kukah knows those who engage in favouritism but he has chosen to be a pot calling the kettle black. Certain people are unhappy with a situation whereby they can no longer walk freely into Aso Rock for the low-hanging apples,” MURIC said.
However, the leadership of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, CAN and SMBLF rose in defence of Kukah, accusing his critics of mischief.
The Catholic Church, in a statement by the National Directorate of Social Communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria 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 show 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.
“I am therefore calling our attention to this new development so that we can all rise in unison and stand for truth,” it said.
According to the church, everyone must choose and stand up for what he or she believed in.
“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.
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.
The association accused the federal government and Akintola of twisting Kukah’s message, stressing that it is injurious to the development of the country.
CAN, in 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.
He called on the international community to counsel Akintola on the need to take the path of honour in matters of national importance.
The statement said: “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.”
CAN accused MURIC of keeping quiet when 76 farmers in Borno State were killed in early December and 344 pupils of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Katsina State were kidnapped.
“Given the current happenings in Nigeria with kidnapping, banditry, horrible atrocities committed against hapless citizens by members of Boko Haram, Nigerians should be united in condemning and finding solutions to the awful condition that we are in as Bishop Kukah has rightly done. For those castigating the revered cleric, we would call them by name – they are sectional zealots who only see the trouble in Nigeria from their primordial views.
“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.
“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,” it added.
Meanwhile. the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has expressed its support for Kukah, on the state of the nation.
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.
The group expressed concern about the reactions of the presidency and the Northern Elders Forum over the Christmas Day message of Kukah.
It said: ”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 majority of Nigerians and we all stand with him.
”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.”
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Udora Orizu