Rattled and angered by comments credited to Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, to the United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Religious Freedom on the alleged the unending persecution of Christians in Nigeria, the Presidency has sent a vitriolic response describing Kukah’s comments as that of “a warped frame of mind for a critic to believe ethnicity is of primary importance in public appointments…yet more troubling to hear a Churchman isolating one group for criticism purely on ethnic lines.”
The salvo comes as the mainly Christian Atyap community in Zango Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State, spoke of violence against the people that has left 42 persons killed, 7 wounded and 338 houses set ablaze in the last few days.
In Kaduna city, the leadership of the Atyap Community Development Association (ACDA) said that eight cars, 13 motorcycles, generators, food and domestic items were either looted or razed in the onslaught against Atyap chiefdom by alleged fulani militants
The president of the association, Samuel T. Achie, called on the Kaduna State government to buckle up and end the killings by bringing perpetrators to book.
Kukah, a Southern Kaduna Christian, called for collective effort to save Nigeria, noting that the faith-based harassment of Christians posed one of the greatest threats to the country’s existence and common humanity.
He did not spare President Muhammadu Buhari, who he accuses, as many have done, of nepotism.
“The challenge of rebuilding our country, moving it away from the brink requires collective efforts on our part. However, the policy choices of this government have reversed the gains we made in the area of peaceful coexistence and dialogue. We cannot give up. We must renew our commitment to creating a just society.”
Kukah lamented the state of religious freedom under Buhari adding that the experience of the Christian community in Nigeria is that of persecution and death.
He adds “There have been dastardly actions directed at Christians, because of their faith. We have cases of Pastoral agents, such as Priests and Nuns, who have been kidnapped, released after the payment of ransom or brutally murdered. Churches, medical facilities, presbyteries have been razed to the ground with no provocations from the communities….
“With over 500 tongues, Nigeria remains one of the most enigmatic pieces of God’s real estate on earth. Running, stumbling but never fatally falling, except for a brief civil war. She is home to one out of five black people on earth.
“Highly resourced, but endemically corrupt, a combination of serious governance missteps, series of military coups, years of maladministration, a culture of violence have seriously slowed down what should have been one of the greatest nations on earth. It has left its people vulnerable to poverty, disease, violence and death….
“My appeal, therefore, is that Aid Agencies consider more practical ways of engaging Church structures to alleviate the sufferings of the victims of persecution by way of granting scholarships to vulnerable children.”
The Presidency, in a Sunday evening statement, was equally unsparing and caustic in its response. It’s full statement reads: “It is unfortunate, and disappointing, for citizens of Nigeria to bear witness to one of their Churchmen castigating their country in front of representatives of a foreign parliament.
“We are all too familiar with these overseas political tours that opposition politicians take – visiting foreign leaders and legislators in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. So, the argument goes, if they are heard seriously abroad, then Nigerian citizens back home should surely listen to them too.
“But in order to be heard at all, and to maximise media coverage back home for their activities, inevitably these visits involve painting the worst possible picture of our country before their chosen foreign audience.
“Soon enough we inescapably hear an identical list of racist tropes against northerners, how one religion dominates governance above all others, how the government is doing nothing to address herder-farmer disturbances, and how the government spends money on infrastructure to benefit everyone but the group and religion of the speaker. Of course, in order not to disappoint their western audience, regardless of fact, the list is always the same-and always slanted for whoever wishes to cross-check.
“Nigerians expect this from their unimaginative opposition – but it is troubling when a so-called man of the Church copies the worst excesses of those seeking personal advancement in public office.
“Only this government has put forward the first and singular plan in nearly a century to address herder-farmer challenges – a fact recognised by international NGOs, including the International Crisis Group. To declare to a foreign audience that this government does nothing is an incredible falsehood.
“To suggest that investment in infrastructure between Nigeria and Niger is wasteful and biased – when a similar infrastructure project between Lagos and Benin has revolutionised the two neighbouring economies to the advantage of both our countries – is quite disturbing.
“There is no bias in this government when the president is northern and Muslim, the vice president southern and Christian, and the cabinet equally balanced between the two religions. But neither is there anything in our Constitution to state that political posts must be apportioned according to ethnicity or faith. It takes a warped frame of mind for a critic to believe ethnicity is of primary importance in public appointments. It is yet more troubling to hear a Churchman isolating one group for criticism purely on ethnic lines.
“With due respect to the esteemed position he holds, the Bishop’s assertion that only Christian schools are being targeted by bandits or terrorists is not supported by the facts on the ground. It is sad to say but also true that victims of crime, kidnapping, banditry and terrorism cut across all strata of the society. Sad but true that Kankara students in Katsina State were stolen by bandits of the same Islamic faith as those they took away. The same may be true of those who are still holding the 134 students of the Islamic School at Tegina in Niger State. The nation witnessed the sad incident of the female students abducted by bandits at Jangebe in Zamfara State and the over 100 predominantly Muslim students of the Federal Government Girls College Birnin Yauri in Kebbi State who are currently in captivity- and the nation’s security agencies are hard at work to release them unharmed.
“The attack on Christian students is sad and unacceptable; so also is the abduction of students of other faiths. The claim that only Christian schools are being targeted is totally untrue.
“As a nation and a people, we must together define evil as evil. We must not allow our religious differences to divide us. No one gains but the evil doers when we divide our ranks according to ethnicity and religion in confronting them. The bandit, kidnapper and terrorist are the enemies of the people who should be confronted in unison.
“To be clear, The Bible is definitive on matters of ethnicity and racialism: In Romans 2:9-10, it says: “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good”; And in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Whether Christian or Muslim, we stand by these beliefs and are steadfastly committed to them in governance.
“There is no place in mainstream civil discourse for those who actively, negatively, and publicly label an individual ethnic group, especially before a foreign audience. These are not the views expressed or opinions held by the vast majority of the citizens of Nigeria. For all our challenges as a nation, nearly all of us seek to live together in harmony, celebrating differences, and finding common ground as Nigerians above all. But people like Kukah are doing their best to sow discord and strife among Nigerians.
“More than any other set of people, leaders – in politics or religion who preach respect for truth have a duty to practice it. It is a moral and practical responsibility.
“Going by the history of the Church as is well known, it will stand up publicly for the truth.
“It is time others did the same.”
Meanwhile, the ACDA said concerning the killings in Zango Kataf: “In all the attacks in the 12 different villages as of July 15, 2021, a total of 42 people were killed and 338 houses burnt with 7 people wounded.
“Our revered places of worship were not spared as seven churches and their pastorium were razed by fire in various locations. Among the houses razed down by the the Fulani militia were the family compound of our paramount ruler, His Royal Highness, Sir Dominic Yahaya in Magamiya and the family compound of Retired Major General Shekari Biliyock in Abuyab, a former commandant of the Nigeria-African Peace Keeping Arm, the ECOMOG.
“The entire Atyap nation seems to be at a loss to explain these senseless killings by the Fulani militia as we have bent over to implement the decisions of the peace accord reached with the parties involved. The question is what else were we supposed to do that was not done? It seems apparent that these attacks are being sponsored with larger motives than meet the eyes.”
“With all these being said, in concrete terms we can submit that the our desire for peace is under threat by the Fulani militia. We felt that we will be better off if we stay in peace as brothers as was the case in time past.
“The Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria once said that anybody found in possession of deadly arms should be shot at sight. But as I am talking to you, Fulani militia still graze in Atyap land with AK47 hung on their shoulders and shoot any Kataf man on sight.
“There is no place in all the areas attacked that is more than 10 to 15 minutes’ drive from one security checkpoint to the other. It is not only lives and houses that were destroyed, but crops and places of worship inclusive.”