Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Matthew Hassan Kukah’s scathing attack on President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday, December 28 raised more dusts.
Northern groups and Southern elders disagreed over calls for Kukah’s arrest for his discreet call for undemocratic removal of the President from office.
The Federal Government at the weekend lashed out at the cleric and urged him to “stop stigmatising the President over nepotism claims”.
While the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) and the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) faulted the bishop’s comments, the Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt Forum said Kukah merely spoke truth to power.
Kukah said in Christmas message: “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…
“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 CNG threatened to report Kukah to the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying his Christmas Day message undermined national unity.
It said in a statement by its spokesman, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman: “The CNG finds it ironic that a reverend would choose the revered occasion of the celebration of the birth of Christ to needlessly incite hatred against a section of the country.
“It testifies to how religious bodies and leaders such as Kukah in more ways than one, attempt to aid the deterioration of the situation in the country by stimulating a form of Islamophobia on the back of the most gratuitous false story of an Islamisation agenda.
“It also furthers the irresponsible and unacceptable practice of preachers using the pulpit to promote falsehood and incite their followers against certain sections of the society by labelling and earmarking them to be targeted irrespective of whether they are part of a crime committed or not.”
The coalition accused Kukah of mischief in “deliberately distorting the Nigerian coup narratives to suit an agenda that tends to portray the North, the Hausa/ Fulani and Muslims in a bad light and render them as the culprit and the guilty entity”.
It said: “We emphatically repudiate any attempt at the vilification of one ethnic and religious group or the other for whatever reason or justification…
“We therefore, give notice to Kukah and his fellow instigators and perpetrators of all hate crimes, that the CNG is ready and willing to take matters to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for redress where local remedies could not be provided against their irresponsible actions.
“We remind the Federal Government of the imperative of checkmating all religious groups and religious teachings that undermine Nigeria’s peace, security, and peaceful coexistence through unguarded utterances and deliberate actions aimed at fomenting unrest and engendering inter-religious and inter-communal conflicts.
“Individuals associated with such groups or actions that incite others to violations must be decisively dealt with.
“In that regard, we remind the government of our earlier advice for the enactment of appropriate laws to deal with all manifestations of hate speech from any quarter.”
The AYCF described Bishop Kukah’s Christmas homily as unguarded and open incitement to military coup and insurrection against a democratic government.
In a statement by its National President, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, the group condemned “Kukah’s use of nepotism as a weapon of calumny against government and people of Nigeria”.
AYCF urged the Federal Government to place the Bishop on a special watch list for his alleged attempt to “set the South against the North in order to destabilise our country and further complicate matters”.
The group said: “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 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 pretences.”
Tiv Youth Council Worldwide, in a statement by its
President and Convener Mike Msuaan, said: “We wonder why the Bishop has not found it honourable enough to commend the efforts of the President in the rescue of some of the Chibok girls and all the Kankara boys from the hands of insurgents.
“Kukah is working for the interest of enemies of the country and sowing the seeds of division at a time Nigerians across regional, ethnic and religious divides are working and praying for peace to reign in the country.”
But the Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt Forum condemned “the outbursts of the Presidency and the Northern Elders Forum” over Kukah’s message.
In a statement by its leaders Chief Guy Ikoku (Southeast), Senator Bassey Henshaw (Southsouth), Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt) and Yinka Odumakin (Southwest), the Forum said Bishop Kukah did not deserve the verbal attacks.
The Forum 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 the 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 can call on the Federal Government to take urgent steps to restructure the country.
“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 demand an immediate apology to him for the baseless attacks.