The Nigerian Bishop whose Christmas message sparked controversies in the West African nation with some quarters accusing him of “very serious crimes” has sought clarifications about his specific faults.
Reacting to a statement by the Islamic group, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), who alleged that the Christmas message was an attack on Islam, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese says, “I am ready to apologize if shown where l insulted Islam.”
“In all of my writings over the last forty or more years, I have never written a single paper or article on Islam as a religion. If there is any scholar anywhere who knows, let him or her say so,” Bishop Kukah has been quoted as saying Wednesday, January 13 in an interview.
The Nigerian Bishop adds, “How a critique of government policies suddenly becomes hater of Islam and the north, begs belief.”
On Tuesday, January 12, the Muslim Solidarity Forum, MSF, asked Bishop Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over what they termed his recent “malicious comments” against Islam.
“We call on Kukah to immediately stop his malicious vituperations against Islam and Muslims and tender unreserved apology to the Muslim Ummah or else quickly and quietly leave the seat of the Caliphate,” the acting Chairman of the Forum, Professor Isa Muhammad Maishanu, said at a press conference January 12.
The Muslim leader accused Bishop Kukah of “trying to break the age-long peaceful coexistence between the predominantly Muslim population and their Christian guests.”
He went on to say, “Our intention at Muslim Solidarity Forum is not to hold brief for the President, as he has those who are paid to do that; instead, our concern is the image and reputation of Muslims, which Mr. Kukah finds pleasure in attacking without an iota of caution, and by referring to him [the president] as a Muslim, that automatically brings all Muslims [into] the issue.”
The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar equally said the Bishop’s message was a direct target to Muslims.
In a statement titled, “Press release on Reverend Kukah’s Christmas homily,” and authored by the JNI’s Secretary-General, Dr Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, the Sultan describes Bishop Kukah’s Christmas message as “irresponsible and seditious.”
“Though the message is disguised as political hogwash to deceive the innocent, there is no doubt that it was a poisoned arrow fired at the heart of Islam and Muslims in Nigeria, hence the need for this intervention,” the Sultan says in the January 13 message issued in Kaduna.
In the January 13 interview, Bishop Kukah invites Dr Aliyu to “clarify and validate his accusations against him and advance the reasons why he should incite violence against him.”
“Dr Aliyu should formally identify where in my sermon I attacked Islam or all Muslims in Nigeria. I would be more than happy to apologize for the offensive part of the statement,” the Local Ordinary of Sokoto adds in the January 13 interview.
In a press release issued Wednesday, January 13, Nigeria’s Presidency faulted the MSF group over the threat it issued to Bishop Kukah.
“The reported ultimatum by a group based in Sokoto, ‘Muslim Solidarity Forum,’ calling on the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev Matthew Hassan Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over his recent ‘malicious comments’ against Islam, or quietly and quickly leave the state, is wrong because it is not in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the Senior Special Assistant to the President Buhari, (Media & Publicity), Garba Shehu says in the statement.
“Bishop Kukah must be allowed to practice his faith and politics,” Mr. Shehu says.
He adds, “Under our Constitution, every citizen has the right to, among others, freedom of speech and expression, the right to own property and reside in any part of the country, and the right to move freely without any inhibitions. Nigeria’s strength lies in its diversity.”
In the five-page Christmas Message issued December 25, Bishop Kukah is critical of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government amid multiple cases of insecurity in parts of Africa’s most populous nation characterized by abductions and killings.
Circulated under the title “A Nation in Search of Vindication,” Bishop Kukah, in the nine-point message, stated, “President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a program to stratify and institutionalize northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status.”
Nigeria’s President “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,” the Nigerian Bishop further said in his message.
Bishop Kukah further said President Buhari was “institutionalizing northern hegemony against national interests,” adding that “if a Southern Christian president had practiced such nepotism, there would have been a military coup in Nigeria.”
Following the controversy sparked by Bishop Kukah’s message, Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of Nigeria’s Oyo Diocese came to the defense of his brother Bishop saying, “I stand firmly with Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Christmas message.”
“Where else could I stand, given my conviction that the Bishop of Sokoto wrote it sincerely for the purpose of making Nigeria better,” Bishop Badejo said in a statement shared with ACI Africa.
In his message titled, “A time to stand for truth,” Bishop Badejo underscored, “The truth is that the nationwide insecurity and our government’s tame reaction to the same has become nothing short of a monumental embarrassment.”
It is not the first time a Catholic Bishop in the West African nation has come under fire for his sermon on the welfare of the nation.
In November, Muslim leaders in Nigeria petitioned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and other security heads in the country to interrogate Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah of Nsukka Diocese over alleged “hateful sermon” that they say led to attacks on Muslims in some parts of the West African nation.
In his October 18 homily that was based on the #EndSARS protests, Bishop Onah made a comparison of the treatment given to Muslims and Christians practicing their respective faiths in the various regions of the country.
“We hear the Muslim call to prayer from our windows in our bedrooms at 4.00 a.m. and a Christian in Abuja (who) takes her Bible to call people to accept Jesus Christ is murdered by Islamist fundamentalists and nothing happens,” the Bishop bemoaned in his homily published on his YouTube Channel