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Amid Insecurity, Government Needs to “cultivate a sense of empathy”: Nigerian Prelate

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto. Crédit : Catholic Broadcast Commission of Nigeria

The Nigerian government needs to go beyond statements and “cultivate a sense of empathy” towards citizens who are victims of insecurity, a Catholic Bishop in the West African said at a recent virtual conference.

During the May 1 event, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese said that while people are dying, “all we get from the government (are) simple statements.”

“The government must cultivate a sense of empathy. Empathy is not the same as compassion. Empathy is at the very core of who we are as people. It’s what makes you want to reach out to a dying person and place your hand over his shoulder, assuring them that everything will be fine,” Bishop Kukah said during the 2021 edition of “The Platform,” an annual conference organized by Pastor Poju Oyemade of the Covenant Christian Centre in Lagos.

He further explained, “Empathy is the feeling of another person’s grief, suffering, and indeed entering into their scheme.”

Empathy, he also said, “does not provide instant healing, but it does provide a certain level of psychological comfort.”

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“You go to a lady who has just lost her husband and reassure her she will be fine. She will nod, but she is aware that it is not appropriate. But if you tell her, ‘It’s okay’ as a Priest, she will know that someone is concerned,” the Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese said.

He further said, “Government has failed miserably. And this is what is causing us more suffering, anguish, and sorrow; we are dying alone, burying our loved ones alone, and all we get are simple words that don’t really mean anything to us.”

In his presentation, Bishop Kukah sought to blame President Muhammadu Buhari-led government for “alienating citizens from government by distributing power unequally at the top.”

“Anybody who loves this country would have to accept the fact that the APC as a government and the President must take responsibility for the fact that the way power has been distributed in Nigeria has created a sense of alienation and it is the underlying factor why people feel the way they feel, why people feel so disenchanted, why people don’t feel a sense of psychological, emotional, cultural or even economical involvement in their country and there is the need to reclaim all of those things back,” he explained.

He added, “Government has come up very-very short; and this is what is increasing the pain, the agony, sorrow of people that we are dying alone, burying our people alone, and all we get are just simple statements that really say nothing to us.”

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Speaking about secessionist groups lobbying for the splitting of Africa’s most populous nation, the Nigerian Catholic Bishop said that staying together as a country will incur less cost than breaking apart.

“Yes, it may be right for everybody to want to go. Yes, it may be right for people to want to feel so dissatisfied that they want an end to what we have today. But the cost of staying together is far cheaper than the cost of everybody going their way,” Bishop Kukah observed.

He continued, “The challenge now is how do we connect back because all the things we are hearing now, nobody would have expected to hear them and now everybody wants to go home.” 

“Of course, all of us are angry but in my view, the challenge therefore is what kind of palliative do we need to calm our nerves; and I am not talking here of the palliatives in the way and manner that we understand them but something needs to happen to send out a signal to Nigerians that things are under control,” Bishop Kukah said.

“With the fact that we have the US Secretary of State speaking to us virtually, we would have preferred that our President spoke to the President of America rather than the Secretary of State but anyway, half bread is better than nothing,” the Nigerian Bishop said.

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As a way forward, he said, “We need to quickly get our people together. The need to rally our people together both to support the government and otherwise is very urgent and we cannot do this if our country is divided between those who love the party and those who don’t love the party.”

“We are in a democracy and we want to believe that this democracy has to be nurtured and the best we can do is not to subvert the process but to continue to uphold the ideals before those who are in power,” he further said.  

He challenged the Buhari-led government to work toward ways of inspiring citizens.

“The most important thing here is that the government must give us a reason – the body language – we need to be inspired as a country to inspire ourselves that this country is worth the psychological, the spiritual and the cultural engagements,” Bishop Kukah said.

Last year, the vocal Nigerian Bishop called on President Buhari to review the ideals of his predecessors and chart a new path for progress, resetting “the clock before it is too late.”

“Mr. President, please reset the clock before it is too late. I pray for you that God will touch your heart so that you embrace the ideals of those who came before you. This is not the Nigeria they dreamt of. This is not the Nigeria you went to war for,” Bishop Kukah said in his Independence Day message issued October 2.

In his 2020 Christmas Message, Bishop Kukah was critical of the Buhari-led government amid multiple cases of insecurity in parts of the West African nation.

In the message titled, “A Nation in Search of Vindication,” the Bishop highlighted the “endless woes” the people of God in Nigeria are experiencing.

His Christmas message triggered mixed reactions, with some quarters accusing him of “very serious crimes like treason and incitement for a coup.”

However, various Church leaders in Nigeria came to his defense, with Nigeria’s Christian leaders calling on the President to protect Bishop Kukah.

“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari and all the security agencies to ensure that no harm befalls the Catholic Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, Hassan Kukah,” the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said in a January 14 message.