The subtle threat by a Muslim group, the Muslim Solidarity Forum (MSF) that the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Matthew Kukah should “quickly and quietly leave” Sokoto, the seat of the caliphate, has drawn a reaction the presidency which says he should be left alone to practice his faith where he is.
MSF had alleged that Kukah’s “innuendos and parables” in his speeches were against Islam and its adherents, a similar position to that held by the Secretary-General of the Jamatul Nasril Islam (JNI).
In a statement by spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu, the presidency, whose chief occupant, Muhammadu Buhari, Kukah larcerated in his Christmas homily, said: “The reported ultimatum by a group based in Sokoto, “Muslim Solidarity Forum,” calling on the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev Matthew Hassan Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over his recent “malicious comments” against Islam, or quietly and quickly leave the state, is wrong because it is not in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Recall that Kukah accused the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the umbrella body of Muslim groups, of inciting violence against him over the Christmas message
He said Buhari was “institutionalising northern hegemony against national interests,” adding that if a President of non-Northern extraction had done a fraction of that, he would have been removed from office via coup d’ etat.
In his accusation against the JNI chief, Kukah said: “The Secretary-General has accused me of being an enemy of his religion, Islam. He accused me of what he calls, firing an arrow at the heart of Islam and Muslims in Nigeria. He says I have been accorded respect and accommodated in Sokoto and I have turned around to bite a finger that has fed me.
“He poses a question: How can Muslims continue to be hospitable to one who proves to be an ingrate many times over? How can Muslims be comfortable in associating with a bitterly vindictive person disguised in the garb of a religious cleric?
“I can only take this statement from the secretary-general of JNI as a clear case of incitement to violence against me.”
Acting Chairman of the MSF, Prof. Isah Maishanu, said concerning the Catholic Bishop: “Kukah who lives peacefully and happily at the centre of the seat of the caliphate for almost a decade now, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the city that is founded on the teachings of Islam and benefitting from the goodwill of Muslim leaders right from childhood and up to this moment could not see anything good to appreciate in his Muslim hosts or their religion, to disparage them.
“Rather, he is always using provocative and uncouth language. His callous statements and acts of hatred is unbecoming of someone who parades himself a secretary to the National Peace Committee and a member of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).
“We therefore call on Kukah to immediately stop his malicious vituperations against Islam and Muslims and tender an unreserved apology to the Muslim ummah or else, quickly and quietly leave the seat of the Caliphate, as he is trying t break the age-long peaceful coexistence between the predominantly Muslim population and their Christian guests….
“We call on him to act as Bible ’ seek ye truth and it shall set you free’, by embracing the pristine monotheistic teachings of Jesus, son of Maryas, finally revealed by Allah the Almighty Lord, through the last Prophet, Muhammad.”