Bishop Kukah versus Nigeria’s Government: Are Christians really perscuted? 

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By Justine John Dyikuk

Reactions have been trailing Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah’s July 14, 2021 virtual presentation at the Tom Lantos Human Rights’ Commission, Washington DC on the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. During his speech, he also unraveled issues around religious nepotism. In an attempt to analyze the points of divergence between Kukah and the Federal Government (FG), it is crucial to note that the Bishop was only invited, along nationals of other countries, to give his testimony on the ugly state of affairs in the country.

Before the US invites great public intellectuals like Bishop Kukah, they have their evidence. Virtual space makes it possible for people to instantly access information about any country in clear visuals and soundbites. Perhaps moved by the impulses of international public relations based on the country’s perception before the international community, the presidency took up arms against the respected cleric. Accordingly, it is critical to review the issues.

First, like elder-statements who have decried the high level of insecurity in the country such as Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Former Minister of Defence, Theophilus Danjuma and Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, Bishop Kukah lamented about the poor handling of security. In a swift response on July 18th, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu claimed that: “Only this government has put forward the first and singular plan in nearly a century to address herder-farmer challenges” describing the matter as “an incredible falsehood.”

Well, is it Kukah who ranked Nigeria the 8th least peaceful country in Africa? Was he equally the person who rated killer herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world? How about Nigeria being one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth? Did The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2018 not rate Nigeria as third most terrorized nation in the world? Did that report not also indicate that deaths arising from terrorism in Nigeria rose to 2,040 in 2018 – a 33 percent increase making the country the most terrorized nation in Africa?

Secondly, the Bishop lampooned the President for nepotism. However, Garba denied, saying: “There is no bias in this government – neither is there anything in our Constitution to state that political posts must be apportioned according to ethnicity or faith.” Well then, what is the place of the Federal Character Commission? Is it false that for the first time in the history of this country, the President, Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representative are all Muslims?

Is it also untrue that the President only appoints Muslims into key political offices like the security Chiefs? Is it a lie that the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge is not included in the Deradicalisation and Rehabilitation Programme for so-called repentant terrorists? What of Nigeria’s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) in flagrant disregard of the Constitution that ours is a secular state? Did a Human Rights’ Advocate and Lawyer, Malcom Omirhobo not recently sue the Federal Government at the Federal High Court in Abuja, asking it to revoke Nigeria’s membership of OIC as reported in Punch Newspaper?

Thirdly, the Bishop of Sokoto also raised the issue of persecution of Christians in Nigeria. He told the international audience that the persecution takes various forms such as “rightly violent and destructive/dastardly actions” like abduction of Christian girls, turning them into sex slaves, forcing them into marriages and forced conversions to Islam; kidnapping of Priests and Nuns with demand for ransom or outright killing as well as razing down of Churches, medical facilities and presbyteries “with no provocations from the communities.”

On this, the Presidential Media Aide claimed that terrorists do not only target Christian schools. Recall that when the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Chairman of Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State, Rev. Lawani Andimi was killed by Boko Haram, President Buhari responded that Muslims were also being killed. Well, Bishop Kukah replied him at the funeral of the 18-year-old Seminarian, Michael Nnadi, who was killed by Fulani herdsmen by asking: “If your son steals from me, do you solve the problem by saying he also steals from you?”

Is the Presidency aware of the report by Open Doors that Christians killed in Nigeria in 2020 as a result of Islamic violence increased by 60%? And that the report also indicated that “more than 2,200 of 4,761 Christians killed around the world in 2020 died in Nigeria because of radical Islamists?” In the same vein, International Christian Concern estimated that in over 18 years, 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have been killed by Boko Haram terrorists or arms-wielding gangs in Nigeria. Interestingly, on December 18, 2019, the US government added Nigeria to a Special Watch List (SWL) of countries which tolerate religious persecution. So, to be fair to him, Bishop Kukah was modest by not inciting the public with grim figures.

The fiery Prelate noted that “what we are dealing with is the Jihadist/Salafist supremacist strain of the faith that is at best a cancer that threatens the Muslims who do not believe what they themselves believe” and submitted that “We must name the devil so as to cast it out.” Kukah demanded that “a majority of those who are good Muslims must rise in defense of their religion by reversing this inhuman view of religion which pretends to be working in the name of the religion.” Nothing could be truer!

Garba Shehu’s citing of Romans (Cf. Rm. 2:9-10) and Galatians (Cf. Gal.3:28) as seeming justification for matters of ethnicity and racialism does not impress. Even the devil quotes the bible (Cf. Matthew 4:9). What is crucial is whether the scriptures quoted are within context or if they apply to current realities – match truth. He went ahead to claim that: “Whether Christian or Muslim, we stand by these beliefs and are steadfastly committed to them in governance.” Does the evidence on ground justify this remark?

Perhaps pained by Kukah’s submission, the Presidency said it is unfortunate for citizens to bear witness “to one of their Churchmen castigating their country in front of representatives of a foreign parliament.” They should be reminded that in his February 26, 2015 speech at the prestigious Policy Think Tank, Chatham House in London, General Buhari washed Nigeria’s dirty linings in public when he said “Boko Haram has sadly put Nigeria on the terrorism map, killing more than 13,000 of our nationals.” Did he not also tell the world that “Apart from the civil war era, at no other time in our history has Nigeria been this insecure?”

In one breathe Garba accuses Kukah of sowing “discord and strife among Nigerians” and in another, he submits that the Church is well known for publicly standing “for the truth.” Politicians would always praise clerics who hold brief for them. Has General Buhari suddenly forgotten how in 2001, a magnanimous Fr. Matthew Kukah helped in restoring his image after suffering nationwide backlash for allegedly declaring support for full implementation of Shari’a Law and calling on Muslims to only vote for their fellow Muslims during elections? Truth be told – President Muhammadu Buhari is the greatest beneficiary of Bishop Kukah’s benevolence. Rather than insinuate that the revered Bishop is seeking for favours, the presidency should come clean by seeing him as an elder-statesman who believes in the Nigerian Project and has remained true to his noble calling. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

• Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.