The presidency has chided an Islamic group over its criticism and veiled threat against the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, over a recent controversial message he issued during Christmas.
The Islamic group, Muslim Solidarity Forum, had asked the outspoken cleric to tender apology to Muslims in the state “or leave the state” over his controversial Christmas message.
The clergyman in his Christmas message titled: “A Nation in search of vindication” alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari was not living up to expectations due to the various economic and security challenges affecting the country.
He also alleged that Mr Buhari was “institutionalising northern hegemony against national interests,” adding that if a Southern Christian president had practised such nepotism, there would have been a military coup in Nigeria.
The statement, however, triggered controversy as, for instance, a Muslim group described the bishop’s sermon as “irresponsible and seditious.”
PREMIUM TIMES also reported how a major Islamic group, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) said Mr Kukah’s message “was a prepared address considering the occasion and the audience, one cannot but agree that it was a calculated attempt to insult Islam which is typical of him. His veiled insinuation that Muslims have a pool of violence to draw from, is disgusting, disheartening, as well as condemnable.”
In response to that, the bishop responded saying JNI was inciting violence against him.
Also, the Muslim Solidarity Forum (MSF), warned the cleric to “quickly and quietly leave” Sokoto, the Seat of the Caliphate.
MSF through its acting chairman, Isah Maishanu, said Mr Kukah’s “innuendos and parables” in his speeches were against Islam and its adherents, adding that they were provocative.
Presidency wades in
However, the presidency has waded into the face off via a statement signed by Garba Shehu, the spokesperson of President Buhari.
Mr Shehu said: “under Nigeria’s 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,” in a bid to defend the cleric’s rights.
“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 the 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.
“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.
“On matters such as these, responsible leadership in any society must exercise restraint. Knee-jerk 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,” Mr Shehu said.
“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 multi-religious principles. And individuals like Father Kukah must respect the feelings of his fellow Nigerians in his private and public utterances,” he added.