…faults Muslim group’s quit notice, ultimatum to bishop
The Presidency, yesterday, broke its silence over the controversies trailing a sermon delivered by the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Most Revd Matthew Hassan Kukah on Christmas Day, declaring that the message “greatly offended” President Muhammadu Buhari, his government and many other Nigerians.
This declaration came barely two weeks after Kukah stirred the hornet’s nest with a homily that took the government to the cleaners and shook the administration to its foundations. In the said sermon, Kukah x-rayed the activities of the Buhari administration and highlighted its failures in nearly every critical sector, including the economy, security and the fight against corruption.
In the message titled: “A Nation in Search of Vindication,” Kukah warned that Nigeria was at the verge of becoming a failed state given the increasing rate of terrorism, banditry and mass abductions in different parts of the country.
In the wake of the controversy generated by the message from the pulpit, the Muslim Solidarity Forum, a group based in Sokoto, had called on Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over what they described as “malicious comments” against Islam or quietly and quickly leave the state.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who gave a response on behalf of the Presidency, accused Kukah of making controversial remarks against government and the person of the president, stressing that some Nigerians even considered his message as anti-Islamic rhetoric.
“Father Kukah has greatly offended many with his controversial remarks against the government and the person of the president, with some even accusing him of voicing anti-Islamic rhetoric,” he said.
However, responding to the reported ultimatum given to Kukah by the Muslim Solidarity Forum, the Presidency said the action was wrong and not in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Shehu said it was wrong for any person or group to make such a pronouncement against a fellow citizen.
“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. The right for all religions to co-exist is enshrined in this country’s constitution. The duty of government, more so, this democratic government, is to ensure that the constitution is respected. But all must respect the rights and sensitivities of their fellow Nigerians.
“On matters such as these, responsible leadership in any society must exercise restraint. Kneejerk reactions will not only cause the fraying of enduring relationships, but also the evisceration of peaceful communities such as Sokoto, the headquarters of the Muslim community as beacon of pluralism and tolerance. “The Sultanate has historically had good relations with followers of all faiths.
That is why Father Kukah was received on his arrival in Sokoto with friendship and tolerance. “Under our laws, groups or factions must not give quit notices, neither should they unilaterally sanction any perceived breaches. Where they occur, it is the courts of law that should adjudicate.
Unilateral action is not the way to go. “Groups such as the Muslim Solidarity Forum must be seen to share and uphold the country’s multireligious principles. And individuals like Father Kukah must respect the feelings of his fellow Nigerians in his private and public utterances,” Shehu said.
New Telegraph recalls that in the Christmas Day message, which has continued to generate criticisms and support from a cross section of Nigerians, Father Kukar highlighted the seeming incapacity and failure of the Buhari’s administration to stem the tide of insecurity and bring succour to the people. Kukah also alerted Nigerians on the dangers of food insecurity, which the nation faced as a result of the insecurity in mostly agrarian communities.
The highly vocal cleric had, among other things, accused Buhari of nepotism and postulated that there could have been a coup d’état against the government of the day if a nonnorthern Muslim President and Commander-in-Chief had done a fraction of what Buhari had done in the last five years. In view of the harsh criticisms that followed the sermon, Kukah denied advocating a coup d’état to topple the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that he only expressed his candid opinion on the state of insecurity and dwindling economic opportunities in Nigeria.
The cleric maintained that as a Nigerian, he had the right to express his opinions on the state of the nation at any time. “The reactions are a reflection of every citizen that make up Nigeria.
It is sad that when you drop something in Nigeria, everybody goes back to their enclave and abandons the larger picture. I am someone who never takes offence to what people say about me. “What I said was my opinion based on evidence and what has happened in Nigeria, and if you looked into the records, there is evidence that justifies that statement, and if anyone thinks I am wrong, they should come out with a superior position.
“It is unfair for a journalist or news medium to report that I called for a coup while expressing my personal view about Nigeria,” he said. Kukah expressed disappointment over calls by some groups for his arrest on allegation of treason, insisting that he had no grudges against President Buhari, but was only pouring out the frustrations of the majority of Nigerians on the way the current administration has been handling the affairs of the country.
The Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), however, faulted Kukah, stating that the cleric’s message was an attack on Islam. But, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) has thrown its weights behind Kukah’s Christmas Day message. Similarly, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the 19 Northern states and Abuja, said the time had come for Nigerians to unite and condemn the current woes bedevilling the country.