By Francis Damina
For sometimes now, there has been an influx of reactions deeply steeped in bile as feedbacks to the homily delivered by His Lordship, Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, on 11th February, 2020, at the Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Kaduna. The event was the funeral of Michael Nnadi – a seminarian of Sokoto Diocese kidnapped and later killed by his abductors. The feedback has been marked by harsh insulting language:
Offensive, intemperate, filthy, obscene, and vitriolic, to say the least. They are so harsh that the conclusion one could easily draw is that, a fatwa had been placed on his Lordship’s head. His crime: that, owing to his antecedents, and in this latest outing, the Bishop has openly demonstrated “his antipathy against Islam and northern Muslims.”
He said in the homily: “Today in Nigeria, the noble religion of Islam has convulsed. It has become associated with some of the worst fears among our people.” And that: “This president has displayed the greatest degree of insensitivity in managing our country’s rich diversity.
He has subordinated the larger interests of the country to the hagemonic interests of his co-religionists and clansmen and women. The impression created now is that, to hold a key and strategic position in Nigeria today, it is more important to be a northern Muslim than a Nigerian”.
But were this the first time the Bishop is found culpable of making ‘snide remarks’ about the religion of Islam ( I think, northern Islam), he would have been forgiven.
Unfortunately, to paraphrase Mohammed Haruna, it is a hobbyhorse he has been riding on.
Recall that in 1993, he published his Doctoral thesis entitled ‘Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria’ detailing how northern oligarchists have been manipulating the noble religion of Islam to inflict hardship on minorities and to as well, gain political and economic control. By this, at least, for some of us, he appeared to be consolidating Bala Usman’s theory on ‘The Manipulation of Religion’. Though, aside his thesis, he has extensively spoken about Islam in Northern Nigeria, the two most memorable examples in recent time are his homily on 20th December, 2012 at the funeral of Governor Patrick Yakowa and a keynote address he delivered at Fountain University, Osogbo, to a Muslim organization on the theme:
‘Challenges for Development and Good Governance’ on 22nd November, 2015.
In the keynote address, he said to his audience: “In your part of the country, as in other parts of the world, I hear about families with Christians and Muslims living together, marrying and intermarrying and so on. In the North, this is anathema. Every time I bring this up, I hear people say that this is what Islam teaches, that the religion allows Muslim men to marry Christian girls (and hopefully make them Muslims) while Christian men cannot marry Muslim women. If this is not apartheid in broad daylight, I do not know what it is.”
On the homily, the bitter reactions are well documented in a book I co-authored with Adamu Adamu, Mohammed Haruna, Steven Nkom, et al, titled ‘Governor Yakowa’s Funeral Homily: Matters Arising’. And the reactions have, especially Abubakar Gimba’s, now as then, remained fresh on my mind. In his review at the Book presentation, Mike Ozekhome said: “Abubakar Gimba, former Pro-Chancellor of IBB University, Lapai, Niger State, fired the first salvo. He accused Kukah of singling out and denigrating Muslims, with such phrases as ‘religious bigots’, ‘dubious religious manipulations’; ‘members of the nefarious mafia whose selfishness hindered the development of Kaduna State in particular and the North in general; ‘those who have projected Islam as a basis for power… and created the condition that now threatens the foundation of our society’; and ‘ one of the worst shows of selfishness by an unproductive and selfish cabal who have deployed religion to hide their goal.’
The Bishop’s offence in the homily was that, he, as Ozekhome noted:”…unapologetically posited that the ‘northern ruling class’, by policy, appeared to have erected an invisible sign that read: ‘No Christians Need Apply’, to what would later be called Kashim Ibrahim House; or represent this state at the highest levels’. He berated the political system that never allowed Kaduna State, like Sokoto State, to be governed by non-Muslims, arguing that this ‘policy of exclusion against non-Muslims turned Kaduna State into a political Mecca and laid the foundation for the unnecessary and sad religious tensions that have continued to dog the State.”
Those who accuse the Bishop of being against Islam and its adherents could probably, in sincerity, testify that, at several times, when we were faced with the narrative of Islamization amidst Boko Haram and Herdsmen killings, Bishop Kukah’s interventions served as calming influence in the vortex of the tensions. Without apologies, it is pertinent to make the point that the views of His Lordship as contained in his homily last Tuesday, infallibly represent the views of most northern Christians. This is because, as the Bishop said: “The persecution (preferably marginalization) of Christians in Northern Nigeria is as old as the modern Nigerian state. Their experiences and fears of northern, Islamic domination are documented in the Willinks Commission Report way back in 1956. It was also the reason why they formed a political party called, the non-Muslim league. All of us must confess in all honesty that in the years that have passed, the northern Muslim elite have not developed a moral basis for adequate power sharing with their Christian co-religionists.”
Only recently in a reflection on EWTN, the Bishop observed: “The difficulties that Christians encounter in northern Nigeria arise from the fact that there are many Muslims who almost behave as if the Sokoto caliphate is still in existence, and who literally see themselves as living in a theocracy. So, the lingering feeling that we are Muslims in a Muslim environment suddenly throws up the distortions and the feeling that being anything other than a Muslim, makes you an outsider.”
The most fascinating part of the reflection was where he said: “So, the question of the situation of Christians in northern Nigeria is the larger question of minorities whether they are women, children, men, Muslims, etc. Because, as I often say to people, there are parts of Nigeria that Muslims are almost non-existent and there are other parts, where they are a minority.” He concluded by saying: “The solution is really a question of what kind of architecture does a modern state designs to be able to enhance pluralism but also to create a sense of identity that is over and above ethnic, regional or religious considerations.” I think, the Bishop’s angst with the handlers of the Buhari-led government lies on whether they have been able to create this super identity or not.
Again, on the so-called attack on Islam and Muslims, a distinction must be made between Islam and what the parochialists, in their existential drive for privileges, present to us as the religion; and also, between the culpable minority and the innocent majority. It is this culpable minority, whose stock in trade is the manipulation of religion to quench their inordinate desire, that are responsible for why the North is today defined in superlative terms: the most violent; most impoverished; most insecure; most backward in education, etc.
Sincerely, Northern political and religious leaders must take off time to ask why we have, contrary to what obtains in other climes, a brand of Islam, assuming it is Islam, that breeds millions of children on the streets known as almajiris; a brand of Islam that has no space for intermarriages with non-Muslims; a brand of Islam that Boko Haram and kidnappers lay claim to as it’s missionaries, etc. This for me is the Crux of the matter.
Finally, as we are told by psychologists : “If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn; If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight; If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence; If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice. Unfortunately, Bishop Kukah, right from childhood as a minor minority, has been living with injustice deeply steeped in religion and ethnicity. How do you expect him to behave?
––Damina writes from Kaduna and can be reached: email@example.com