•Says forum’s apologise-or-leave-Sokoto conditionality unconstitutional
•Northern elders warn against inflammatory religious comments
By Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale
The presidency yesterday waded into the raging controversy over the Christmas homily of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Hassan Kukah, with a caution to an Islamic group that demanded that he should apologise or quit Sokoto State, to back off.
It said in a statement by a presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, that it was wrong for the group based in Sokoto, Muslim Solidarity Forum, to give conditionality to Kukah, over the homily in which he accused President Muhammadu Buhari of promoting northern hegemony, and interpreted by some Islamic interests as attacking Islam and Muslims.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) also expressed concern over what it described as disturbing comments with religious undertones, which it said were causing anger and fear in the public domain.
Kukah, in his Christmas homily, had said that there could have been a coup if a non-northern Muslim president had done a fraction of what Buhari did.
His homily drew censures from the federal government and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), led by Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, which attacked the bishop for allegedly denigrating Islam and Muslims.
The Muslim Solidarity Forum joined the fray on Tuesday, with a call on Kukah to apologise for his alleged attack on Islam and Muslims or leave the Caliphate.
The forum, which labelled itself as an umbrella body for Islamic organisations, scholars and clerics, said Kukah’s Christmas homily was capable of triggering religious violence in the country.
The Acting Chairman of the forum, Sokoto chapter, Prof. Isa Maishanu, said the message of the cleric was a direct attack on Islam, adding that that was not the first time Kukah was attacking Islam and Muslims, especially those from the northern part of the country.
He faulted the message of Kukah in which he said if a fraction of the nepotism committed by Buhari, a Muslim and a Northerner, was committed by “any non-northern president,” there would have been a coup in the country.”
However, Kukah, on Monday, rebutted the allegations and accused the JNI Secretary-General, Dr. Khalid Aliyu, of inciting violence against him.
He also challenged the JNI to “as a matter of honour” show where he attacked Islam or Muslims in the statement, adding that he is “more than happy to apologise” for such.
However, in a bid to douse tensions of Kukah’s homily, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Shehu, cautioned the Islamic forum against issuing such an ultimatum and should, therefore, let Kukah be.
The presidency described as wrong and unconstitutional the ultimatum that was given to Kukah.
It 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.
“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 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.”
The presidency added that although Kukah had 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 a 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,” it stated.
Northern Elders Warn against Inflammatory Religious Comments
Meanwhile, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has expressed concern over what it described as disturbing comments with religious undertones, which it said were causing anger and fear in the public domain.
NEF, reacting to the Department of State Services (DSS) alert of a plot to incite religious violence in some states, including Kaduna, Rivers, Kano, Lagos and Oyo called on Nigerians to be wary of mischief makers and subversive elements whose objectives could be to worsen the difficult circumstances under which Nigerians live today.
NEF’s Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, in a statement yesterday, said: “Northern Elders Forum (NEF) is concerned over disturbing comments with distinctly religious undertones, which are causing anger and fear in the public domain.
“The forum’s concerns have been compounded by published warnings from the Department of State Services (DSS) over attempts to cause breaches in security and peaceful co-existence through incitement in many parts of the country.”
It added that it would be cruel and tragic if communities are set up against each other in the names of their faiths.
“There are no threats to any religion under current circumstances that would justify action, which will threaten peace and harmonious co-existence in this country. If there are indeed reasons that could be exploited to engineer religious conflicts, the forum demands that governments deal decisively with them.”
It added that Muslims and Christians have no reasons to fight one another.