Exclusive Identity and Political Protectionism: The Bishop Kukah Case- Gideon Adeniji

A common tendency in the intellectual fields of political science and its affiliate disciplines in our Nigerian citadels of learning, is the serious attempt at dissuading the academic propensity of reducing the challenges of the country’s political landscape to issues surrounding religion and ethnocentrism. This is quite understandable since the goal of every academic endeavour is the objective analysis and examination of any subject matter under due consideration. However, as one who is not totally hindered by the methods of academics, but also privileged to be involved in the practice of an alternative discipline that encourages more flexibility in the examination of issues and expression of thought, we sometimes find ourselvesat variance with the academic template.

Time and again, which is also quite dependent on the persona or figure of the leader in power, the Nigerian political landscape has proven that the tussle for political relevance is significantly tied to the strings of religious and ethnocentric sentiments (whether intended or not), while other variables manifest only a meagre percentage in the whole scheme of analysis. One is coerced to arrive at such conclusion based on recent happenings that tend to prove the above submission right.

Recently, sometime in the month of July this year, Nigerians awoke to the news of the Federal Government condemning a statement by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, which he made while delivering a speech to the United States Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs during their Religious Freedom Hearings in Washington DC. The speech was delivered via electronic means for convenience sake, since the Prelate could not be physically present.

In a speech that was quite expository and copious, the crux of the Federal Government’s displeasure with Bishop Kukah’sspeech was the fact that he stated that Christians were either subtly or violently persecuted under the present political dispensation, which is made evident in the way and manner Bandits/Terrorists/Kidnappers have turned them to easy targets, coupled with the government’s stark inability in tackling the country’s security challenges. He also alleged that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, was showing more preference for the people belonging to his religious and ethnic affiliation than any other group in Nigeria in the way he went about his political appointments.

With a retinue of anger and displeasure, the Presidency, represented by Mr. Garba Shehu, released a statement on the 18thof July, 2021 where he accused Bishop Kukah of spreading falsehood, with the intent to discredit the administration and sow seeds of discord and strife in the country. However, the events that have occurred on the heels of this altercation, have not only proved the Cleric right, but has further aroused the consciousness of Southern Nigerians to the unrepentant prejudice of the Buhari administration in the careful selection of those to be condemned and those to be protected, further accentuating the religious cum ethnic argument as the basis of political upheaval in the country.

In the same month of July, the Northern Elders Forum, ably represented by her President, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, made a statement on Channels TV, where he maintained that the APC, which he said was substantially produced by the opposition party, PDP, would have completely wrecked Nigeria before 2023, as both the ruling party and the opposition are one and the same. Though, the statement was in response to the accusations of PDP Governors who alleged that the seat of power in Abuja has been changed to an APC headquarters for coercing PDP members to join forces with the ruling party, the fact remains that the Presidency and its party was indicted by such statement. Till this very moment, no response has been heard by the Presidency to protest such scathing remark.

In a similar vein, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’adAbubakar III, recently accused Nigeria’s elite and other influential individuals in the country, as being responsible for the problems of Nigeria while speaking at the 3rd National Summit of the Da’awah Coordination Council on Peaceful Co-existence and nation-building. In a direct affront on the country’s administration, the Sultan stated, without mincing words, that it is wrong to assume that things are getting better in the country, as doing so will be like deceiving ourselves, while urging the government to ensure adequate food supply for the poor.

We should also call to mind that the Sultan, sometime in December 2020 during a condolence visit to the Governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Zulum, on the killing of about 43 rice farmers by Boko Haram Terrorist Group, had noted that despite their efforts as traditional rulers in discussing ways to tackle the problem with the leaders of the country, the situation of insecurity seemed to be getting worse. This was following an earlier condemnation of the same Bishop Kukah by the Federal Government for accusing the government of handling the problem of insecurity with child’s gloves. In both situations where the Sultan had challenged the Federal Government, no single response or statement has been heard from the Presidency to either deny what the Sultan has said or to accuse him of spreading falsehood. To be objective, there is no much difference between what the Sultan said and what Bishop Kukahhad stated. The only difference was the specification on Christian victims.

To begin with, it should be clearly stated, that Bishop Kukah never gave the impression that only Christians were being persecuted in Nigeria. He only hinted that victims of terrorism or banditry who are Christians were liable to more gruesome treatment if their abductors realized their religious affiliation. For example, the case of Michael Nnadi, the Catholic seminarian of Sokoto Diocese that was murdered by his abductors after he was kidnapped from Good Shepherd Seminary, Kaduna, revealed that he was murdered because he tried to preach repentance to his abductors who were Muslims,in a confession by the culprits after their arrest. It is also a known fact that Christian places of worship have been attacked by some of these extremists in the North, to the extent of being razed down by such criminal elements. The Christmas Day attack on St. Theresa Catholic Church, Madala, Niger Stateremains fresh in our memories. Despite the spate of attacks in the north, it is rare (not saying it has never happened) to hear that mosques or Islamic clerics are being abducted at the frequent rates with which Christian places of worship and clergymen are being abducted and sometimes killed.

Similarly, Bishop Kukah did not make a statement of fantasy that is insulated from objectivity when he noted that the President’s political appointments were lopsided and seemed to be along religious and ethnic lines. If the Presidency insists that such claims are false, available data proves otherwise. Even the blind in Nigeria know that well over 70% of appointments to security related offices, ministerial positions and even heads of government agencies or organizations, are dominated by Muslim northerners. There is no prejudice in such submission, rather than stating the obvious.

A government that claims to be working for the people should ordinarily not read these statements only in their negative undertones, but should see them as a clarion call to be awake to their responsibilities and work assiduously towards giving every Nigerian a sense of belonging. On the contrary, political protection seems to be an exclusive reserve of those from the Muslim north and Southern sycophants who have reduced themselves to political stodges and puppets in the hands of the northern elite.

The Presidency has shown it has zero tolerance for criticism that emanates from the Christian South and it is high time we fight and stand for our political destiny as Southerners,to salvage what is left of our dignity from the Hausa-Fulani political dynasty. Irrespective of our varying ethnic groups, whether Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Delta, Efik and the like, we need to realize that this is a political emergency that requires putting aside our ethnic prejudices to face the common enemy. The North has no regard for the dynamism and identity of the South because we are not of the same stalk. Unity and mutual understanding could have been a preferred option, but one can only preach unity and mutual understanding in an environment which is conducive to such ideologies. Sadly, the Nigerian clime seems far from such conducive atmosphere in its present state of affairs.

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