Adamu Suleiman, Sokoto; Frank Ikpefan, Tony Akowe, Abuja; AbdulGafar Alabelewe, Kaduna
CATHOLIC Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Matthew Hassan Kukah on Tuesday said he did not call for a coup.
He said he had no problem with President Muhammadu Buhari, but with his leadership style.
The Bishop’s scathing attack on the President sparked a huge row. Some groups accused the cleric of calling for the President’s removal through undemocratic means.
But, Kukah said his Christmas message was misconstrued.
“Whatever I said can please or displease anyone, but that is my own opinion and doesn’t stop others from saying their own opinion. If you think my motive is wrong, say yours,” he told reporters.
According to the bishop, a section of the media painted a wrong picture of his position.
“It is unfair for a journalist or news medium to report that I called for a coup while expressing my personal views about Nigeria.
“I have no iota of grudge with President Muhammadu Buhari, but what I strictly and categorically said was that using religion as a tool for playing politics is unacceptable and would not be accepted,” Kukah said.
He added that his comments were not intended to cause any disaffection.
“My message was an opinion and for the love of the country,” he said, emphasising that he reserved the right to express his views on national issues.
“I am a Northerner, born and brought up in Barnawa village, a suburb of Kaduna and I hold no grudges against any northerner, be it Muslim or Christian,” Kukah said.
He lamented the loss of lives due to rising insecurity, saying: “I am pained and sad that my critics fail to see that.
“The loss of lives in the last 10 years and even before the advent of the current government calls for concern.”
The cleric said he hoped for a country where justice, peace and fairness will prevail.
On criticisms of his comments, he said: “The reactions are a reflection of every citizen that makes up the country.
“I am someone who doesn’t take offence in what others say about me.
“What I said was my opinion based on evidence and the happenings in the country and if you look into the records, there is evidence that justifies that statement, and if anyone thinks I am wrong, they should come out with a superior position.”
The Bishop said he had no partisan interest in politics. “There is no Catholic Priest available for party politics in Nigeria,” he said.
He told those that asking him to drop his cassock to join the political fray that he would have only done so had he lived during the time of the late Aminu Kano.
“I have no plan and will never play partisan politics for any reason. Those who link my message to partisan politics are only playing to the gallery.
“Take, for instance, brilliant Nigerian youths making comments about Chelsea or Arsenal and have never been to England. Does that make them players of such club sides?
“So, why will someone think because Bishop Kukah is speaking, therefore, he is a politician?
“People who make this argument are ignorant of elementary politics and ignorant of the role of a Priest.
“The truth is that a lot of us have not seen a priest saying what I am saying. The truth of the matter is, we are all in politics, but party politics for me, no.
“I am not a member of any political party and I cannot be. If it comes to voting, I exercise my right,” the Bishop said.
‘Let Kukah be’
The coalition of Nigerian Muslim Professionals asked those vilifying Bishop Kukah to let him be.
It said the country would be a better place if there were two or three persons like the bishop.
It urged President Buhari to take Kukah’s message as a wake-up call.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Prof. Mohammed Inuwa, the coalition noted that while President Buhari may have meant well for the country, some of his actions do not promote unity.
The coalition condemned attacks trailing Kukah’s Christmas Day Message, saying the revered Bishop was too learned to support an ignoble path of a coup.
“Even during the military era where people dreaded the powers that be at the time, Bishop Kukah, who was then a Catholic priest, spoke truth to those at the helm of affairs without fear or favour.
“He has shown through his actions all the years that he is a true son of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.
“We should support him for being bold enough to come out to speak what many Nigerians know is the truth but afraid to speak out for fear of the leadership.
“While we must admit that President Muhammad Buhari means well for the nation, we must say that most people in his government are grossly incompetent and don’t deserve to stay around power even in an uncivilised space,” the coalition said.
‘Nothing must happen to Kukah’
Also on Tuesday, the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) described calls for Kukah’s arrest as “a joke”.
The church’s General Secretary, Rev. Yunusa Sabo Nmadu Jnr, said nothing untoward must happen to the Bishop.
He said in a statement: “Some of the uncharitable groups have even called for the arrest of our revered Bishop. Arrest a man that spoke the minds of millions of Nigerian? They must be joking.
“The Bishop has spoken our minds, and we will resist any attempt by any group or agency of government to harm him. Enough of this intimidation.
“This style of governance to silent dissent voices by the Buhari administration is unacceptable and must be resisted.
“We invite the international community and Nigerians to hold General Buhari and his government responsible should anything happen to Bishop Kukah.
“As a matter of fact, nepotism under General Buhari administration is topnotch. This administration has a first-class in nepotism and maladministration.
“The Federal Government must immediately take steps towards addressing those concerns raised by Bishop Kukah rather than sponsoring fake groups to attack the revered Bishop.
“There is no denying the fact that Nigeria under General Buhari is now a centre of bloodshed. Killings, banditry, kidnappings and all forms of insecurities are now the order of the day.
“The President should face the job for which he swore to. Mr President, fulfil your campaign promises, secure the country and make life better for all of us.
“The earlier this administration takes steps to address these genuine concerns and stop living in denial, the better for them and the country”.
The youth wing of Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) faulted the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF) for calling for Kukah’s arrest, saying it was “baseless and senseless”.
SOKAPU, in a statement by its National Youth Leader, John Isaac, said the Bishop’s message was borne out of love for the country.
It said it was unfortunate that the AYCF would make such call when the Bishop only pointed out the obvious.
“It is, therefore, imperative to remind the forum that President Buhari in 1983 thwarted a democratically elected Government of Shehu Shagari, citing Nepotism, insecurity, corruption, and the poor state of the economy all of which are worst today than they were in 1983.
“It has become necessary, therefore, to state in clear terms that the entire youths of Southern Kaduna distance and disassociate themselves from the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum’s call for the arrest of Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, a call we all considers as not just baseless but senseless.
“We are calling on all well-meaning Nigerians to speak out and save the country from sliding into a failed state as the signals are at the moment visible to the blind and audible to the deaf,” SOKAPU said.
Lawmaker to Buhari: focus on message
A House of Representatives member, Tajudeen Yusuf, also backed Kukah, saying criticisms of his message on the state of the nation were unnecessary.
He urged Federal Government and other critics to focus on the Bishop’s message and not the messenger.
Yusuf, who represents Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu Constituency of Kogi State, said in a statement that there was a hypocritical effort to ignore the message and attack the messenger.