The religious community in Nigeria is on high alert. One of its most potent voices is being faced with a Hobson’s choice. He is to recant or quit. None is a choice in real terms. Each is tantamount to woeful annihilation.
As was the case in the Renaissance period in Europe when opposition to the renaissance spirit led to restriction to biblical studies and forced recantation of teachings, the Christian clergy in Nigeria is facing the threat of being hounded to submission. The conscientious ones among them are being blackmailed and threatened. They are being made to bury the word rather than preach it. This is the unenviable lot of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah. His Christmas Day homily has ruffled feathers and those who were ill at ease with it are raking muck. They want the cleric to eat his words or quit the environment in which he operates. The order coming from a Muslim group is an affront on the Christian faithful in Nigeria, and they are up in arms against the effrontery.
Before the Kukah baptism of fire, religious tension was subdued in Nigeria. It was anything but rife. What has always ruled and reigned was ethnic hate.
In 2017, for instance, an atmosphere of distrust was created between the North and the Igbo following the irresponsible ‘quit notice’ given the Igbo by some misguided elements from the North. Ethnic tension rose to fever pitch levels. There were tough talks from both sides of the divide. Somehow, the matter blew over and the country continued to amble along. But what is happening at the moment is unknown to religious circles in Nigeria. Never before has a clergyman been asked to apologise to adherents of a different religious faith or face eviction. The ultimatum is even laced with threats to life. Kukah is being fed with this bitter pill for firing at the Muhammadu Buhari presidency.
When the bishop, a few weeks ago, pilloried the present government for its maladministration, it was received in normal circles as a natural dose that should be administered on any government that has failed to find the tree for the woods. It was supposed to rouse the non-performing administration into action. But a statement that is supposed to be subjected to political analysis has been reified. It has been stripped of its political import and is now being fully domesticated in the realm of religion.
To be fair, the Buhari presidency took the Kukah interjection in its stride. Its response to the criticism was tame. It was without visible malice. The government was wise enough not to throw brickbats at a patriot whose home truth on the Buhari order is unassailable. But if the Presidency did not go belligerent, its foot soldiers are doing so to the fullest. That is why a certain group called Muslim Solidarity Forum crept into the scene. Incensed by what it considered Kukah’s effrontery, it carried a content analysis of the clergyman’s Christmas Day homily and concluded that he set out to disparage Islam. The man who spoke for the religious group said that since Kukah described Buhari as a Muslim, anything said of or about the President is the business of all Muslims. This argument sounds stranger than fiction. It is only a troublemaker that can wear such a belligerent garb. For this reason, the organisation ordered Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the Muslim Ummah or quickly and quietly leave Sokoto. According to the Muslim organisation, Christians do not have a stake where Kukah fired from. They are nothing but guests in the seat of the Caliphate. In all, the rage from the Muslim group suggests that Islam and Buhari are interchangeable. If you offend one, you have offended the other. We can now understand why Kukah expressed regret that Buhari has become a religion to Muslims.
The charge at Kukah betrays a mindset. It is patronizing, condescending and vexatious. It is intolerance in its raw form. The bad blood inherent in their disputation is the real cankerworm that is eating away the heart and soul of the nation. It is worthy of note that some other Muslim organisations such as Muslim Rights Concern have since toed the line of Muslim Solidarity Forum. This goes to show that what issued forth from Muslim Solidarity Group was not a slip. It was calculated and deliberate. This intolerant disposition is injurious to religious harmony. It is a huge threat to national unity. By reacting the way it did, the Muslim forum has made criticism in Nigeria a dangerous pastime. It has introduced religion into every facet of our national life, including the harmless province of public commentary. As things stand, Kukah’s life is clearly under threat. The ploy is to silence him and by so doing send a dangerous signal to any other Christian clergyman who may find reason to criticise a Muslim in power. This development is creating avoidable tension and panic in the country. The story it tells is that of intolerance, distrust and disunity.
As the country grapples with the new cankerworm called quit notice, it is reassuring that Kukah’s courage has not failed him. He is as convinced as ever that he did no wrong. He wants his traducers to tell him where he has gone wrong beyond the blanket but unfounded allegation that he insulted Islam. The truth is that no one has been able to pin him down to any misdemeanor except that he criticised a Muslim in power. To criticize Buhari has, therefore, become a cardinal sin in Nigeria. This absurdity is what the country is being forced to entertain.
It is much more regrettable that those who are incensed with Kukah are not interested in the substance of his submissions. They do not care a hoot about the dangerous slide that their intolerance is taking the country through. Their interest is the religious affiliation of the man being talked about. Religion has thus become our Achille’s heel. It has become the very weak link that will send Nigeria to the gallows.
The blackmailers and threat-mongers may have succeeded in the area of politics. Here, the nepotistic regime of Buhari has installed a cabal that sees Nigeria as the birthright of today’s men and women of power. They have not just employed politics of exclusion as a game plan, they have deployed armies of occupation to areas that could possibly reject and resist their hegemony. It is the scheme that has brought to the fore something called Miyetti Allah. The organisation spells impunity. It is set up to take over where the government of the day may not openly identify with. Their reign of conquest has largely succeeded under the Buhari order. That was one of the sore points of our new national order that the Kukahs of Nigeria could not stomach.
But the insurgent agitators are planning a counteraction. That is what has manifested in their plot against Kukah. But if the idea is to instill fear in the man of God and reduce him to a lame duck in God’s vineyard, the plot has failed. The plan to get him to leave the seat of the Caliphate is also headed for the rocks. A Catholic bishop does not quit. He cannot go on transfer. He will remain wherever he is posted until he attains the mandatory retirement age of 75. Kukah is nowhere near this age. Those who do not like his guts should, therefore, begin to learn to accommodate him. They should respect the contraries that he represents. That is how to let beings be.