The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, has accused the Northern Muslim elite of using religion to hold onto power to the detriment of their people and the larger society.
Kukah also criticised Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State for his handling of the bloody violence and destruction of property in Southern Kaduna in 2017, which resulted in the deaths of several people in that part of the state.
Speaking in Kafanchan at the burial Sunday of Joseph Bagobiri, the late Catholic Bishop of the Kafanchan Diocese, Kukah maintained that despite its access to power for years, the North still remained backward and the poorest part of the country.
Kukah said: “It is sad that the Northern Muslim elite has used religion to hold onto power to the detriment of even their own people and the larger society.
“For despite holding onto power for all these years, the North is still the poorest part of the country, nearly 15 million Muslim children are on the streets with no future in sight. We are, as the governor of Borno would say, the poster child of poverty.”
He said Nigeria was facing a very serious crisis more than ever before.
According to Kukah, “Death, destruction and destitution have become our lot and nowhere is this more expressed than in Northern Nigeria.”
He noted that “today, Boko Haram and the herdsmen and farmers’ clashes are phenomena that are peculiar to the North and Islam”, adding: “We cannot run away from this.”
He warned that the world was changing and Nigerians have a country to build, observing: “Even Usman Dan Fodio (Islamic preacher and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate) said that a society can live with unbelief, but no nation can survive with injustice.”
Kukah said the late Bagobiri had lived at a time when clearly the foundation of unity and justice in Kaduna, in particular and Nigeria in general, seemed threatened, stressing that he fought against the marginalisation of the Southern Kaduna people.
He declared that no religious leader worth his salt can stand by in the face of visible injustice, stressing that “it will be a mortal sin” to remain aloof to the glaring injustice.
According to him, the people of Southern Kaduna had suffered the injustice of deliberate exclusion from all the rungs of local and national politics in the current administration.
He said: “They have got to where they are now by the sweat of their brows. We do not ask for pity or sympathy from anyone. We have come so far, not through the state, but in spite of the state in Northern Nigeria.
“That is why, as you leave this stadium (in Kafanchan), whether you are going to Abuja, Jos or Kaduna, please look left and right and note if you will see one single federal or major state government structure on the highway.
“All the structures you see as you drive along are the result of the sweat from the brows of our people.
“The federal and state governments are absent, Bishop Bagobiri was in the middle of all this.”
He, however, commended the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, for developing Southern Kaduna, and for appointing qualified Southern Kaduna indigenes into positions of authority.
He described the late clergyman as a great pastor and a builder of human capital, adding that Bagobiri made his contributions in the development of Southern Kaduna by trying to close the gap left by the neglect of the state and the federal governments.
Recalling his (Kukah’s) role in trying to find solutions to the killings in the state, Kukah said he had reached out to the National Peace Committee (NPC) led by former military head of state, General Abdusalami Abubakar (rtd), following which a meeting was held with el-Rufai, and after which the committee undertook a visit to Southern Kaduna.
“We wanted to hear from the governor. Essentially, the thrust of his comment was the fact that he was determined to end impunity and that for years, people had gotten away with so much.
“But I was taken aback by his (el-Rufai’s) combative mood and worried if he really and truly understood the issues.
“I had already gotten Gen. Abdusalami to agree that after seeing the governor, we would go to Southern Kaduna and he agreed… Next, we went on to Kafanchan the same day and met with a cross-section of leaders from civil society groups – CAN, JNI, etc. Everyone was quite delighted and offered very useful suggestions,” Kukah disclosed.
According to Kukah, however, more that one year after the peace committee had submitted its report, there has been no official response from the state government.
He said this explanation was necessary to set the records straight and respond to the allegations made by el-Rufai against religious and traditional leaders to the effect that they were somehow part of the problem, stressing that the governor may be right, “but the evidence before me leads to a different conclusion”.
Kukah also recalled that in an interview with Channels Television during the crisis, el-Rufai had levelled two accusations against religious leaders of promoting “a policy of exclusion”.
Kukah said the governor had also alleged that some church leaders had collected money from missionaries abroad to bury their dead and to rebuild thousands of churches that had been destroyed.
Speaking further, the bishop said: “I am not sure which religious leaders he was speaking of, but at least the two of the most prominent religious leaders in Southern Kaduna would be (late) Bishop Bagobiri and the Emir of Jema’a.
“It is interesting that when the interviewer pressed the governor for evidence on the graves and the damaging allegations he had made against these leaders, he seemed rattled and simply said the security agencies were gathering the information and that people (who had carried out the killings) will soon be prosecuted.”
Kukah went on to state that the 2019 elections were looming and no one was being prosecuted for the violence in Southern Kaduna last year.
“The elections are coming and still we have not commenced prosecution. As I have said, my encounter and experience with both the Emir of Jema’a and Bishop Bagobiri led me to a totally different conclusion…
“By his own admission, the governor said that a thousand churches had been destroyed in Southern Kaduna and that people had lost their lives.
“Yet, his one grouse was that these leaders were collecting money from good wishers abroad to bury their people.
“This was a clear case of self-indictment by the governor. First, did he expect that the people of Southern Kaduna would wait for him to come and supervise the mass burial of their people after burying the Shiites in mass graves?
“By casting aspersions on missionary assistance, the governor betrayed troubling ignorance of the causes of the crisis we have faced.
“The work of missionaries may be a problem for him today, but for the people of Southern Kaduna, the message of Christ is steeped in their blood.
“Without the missionaries, they would be no better than slaves, mere beasts of burden. Without the missionaries, the history of Northern Nigeria would be pathetic and the region would still be in the dark ages…
“There is neither retreat nor surrender because this is the faith of our fathers. It has given us the tools, the courage and the confidence we require to take our rightful place in our society.
“Apart from Barewa College, which other prominent institution in Kaduna State does not owe its origin to the missionaries? All the so-called government schools in Kaduna State are products of the criminal and unjust takeover of missionary schools by the state government,” he added.