Catholic Bishop in Nigeria Disputes Assumption Religious Diversity Dividing Country

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria's Sokoto Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Even without religious diversity, Nigeria will still have problems, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto has said, disputing allegations that the challenges that the west African country is facing stem from the conflicts between Christians and Muslims.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah made the remarks at the National Inter-Religious Conference that was held in Kano State in northern Nigeria under the theme, “Harnessing Nigeria’s Religious Diversity for Sustainable Peace and National Development”.

Appreciating the choice of the theme, Bishop Kukah noted that Nigeria’s inability to manage her diversity is the source of her conflicts, including the rampant killings and displacements across the West African nation, as well as marginalization of Christians, especially in the northern parts of the country.

“Our inability to manage our diversity has accounted for the tragedy that we find ourselves in today as a country,” Bishop Kukah said during the December 1 conference.

He explained, “Rather than facing some terrible choices that the political class has made in managing our differences, we have ended up with the wrong diagnosis. These wrong diagnoses have led us to the popularization of ill-conceived ideas to which we now ascribe our differences and problems.”


The Nigerian Catholic Bishop continued, “For example, it is common to hear Nigerians say that Religion has become a problem for our country. We follow through with this falsehood by suggesting that the problems of Nigeria centre around an inherent conflict between Christians and Muslims.”

“At the elite levels, we also say that there are problems between northerners and southerners. At another level, we hear that there are problems between minorities and the majority. At another level, we say that Ethnicity is what is killing our nation and so on,” he further said.

“In my view, these ideas may be popular but they are more a symptom than a disease,” he said.

The solution to the challenges that Nigeria is facing, Bishop Kukah observed, lies in managing diversity in the country.

“I call on our politicians to develop the required skills for managing diversity because its mismanagement is killing our country,” he said, and added, “We will never be good Muslims or Christians if we do not embrace, respect, and honor one another and our faiths.”

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The Nigerian Bishop who has been at the helm of Sokoto Diocese since his Episcopal Ordination in September 2011 observed that the challenges Africa’s most populous nation is facing could not be solved by eliminating other regions and being left with one.

According to the vocal Catholic Bishop, conflicts still exist in countries that have only one religion and one language.

He underscored the need to dig deeper into what is ailing Nigeria rather than “blaming the symptoms”.

“If we say that there are problems between Christians and Muslims, what exactly are the problems and how are we going to resolve them? Will these problems be resolved by Christians converting to Islam or vice versa?” Bishop Kukah posed.

He referred to a book titled “A World Without Islam”, which he said concluded that if Islam or Muslims vanished from the world, there will still be no peace “because communities or nations will simply go back to the wars they were fighting before Islam emerged.”


“We can come to the same conclusion with a book titled, A World Without Christianity!” the Catholic Church leader who was appointed to the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in January 2021 said.

“The people of Somalia have only one single ethnic group and they speak one language, but who wants to go and live in Somalia today?” he posed, and explained, “We must therefore find other reasons for conflict in our society. We must look elsewhere if we are really and truly looking for how to build a good society and how to live in peace with one another.”

“Our hatred and violence against one another does not have much to do with Religion, Ethnicity, or even region. It has to do with how politicians handle identities, how they manage the concepts of fairness and justice,” Bishop Kukah asserted. 

He noted that some communities in Nigeria that do not have roads, water, jobs, and other amenities may feel deprived.

Others are those who feel that they have no representation at the highest levels of government, the Nigerian Bishop known for good governance advocacy said.

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He noted that where there is a threshold of deprivation, people are more likely to react violently if they feel that the reason why they do not have something is because others have it. 

In a similar way, he went on to say, Christians have been upset by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari because of the “skewed” nature of his appointments and how these appointments are perceived to have favored Northern Muslims. 

Bishop Kukah underscored the need to better manage the different religious, economic, and social groups in Nigeria, saying, “I call on our politicians to develop the required skills for managing diversity because its mismanagement is killing our country.”

“We will never be good Muslims or Christians if we do not embrace, respect, and honor one another and our faiths,” he emphasized. 

Lauding organizers of the December 1 conference, the Catholic Bishop, however, noted that Nigerians were tired of conferences that do not bear any fruit to end their suffering.

He said, “Today, most Nigerians have become cynical about Conferences, Seminars, Committees, Commissions, and so on because it is generally perceived that these initiatives are largely a distraction from the main problems of our dear country.”

The Catholic Bishop who has been lauded for delivering prophetic messages noted that while some Nigerians believe that governments do not have the political will to follow through with recommendations from conferences, some believe that these initiatives are empty of content and the government often simply wants to be seen doing something or that they want to score political points. 

“We can say the same thing about our endless national and international conferences, conversations, and seminars about dialogue and peace. The rituals continue and there is a sense in which we can say Nigeria is a country governed by Conferences and Seminars,” Bishop Kukah said during the December 1 conference in Nigeria’s Kano State.

This story was first published by ACI Africa on 05 December 2022.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.