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“Stop misleading politicians by endorsements”, Nigerian Bishop Urges Religious Leaders

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

The Catholic Bishop of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese has urged religious leaders in the West African country to refrain from endorsing politicians and termed such moves as “misleading”.

In his Wednesday, February 23 message on the occasion of the 80th birthday celebration of Pastor Enoch Adebayo of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah urges religious leaders to speak on behalf of Nigerians who are voiceless.

“It is important that we religious leaders stop misleading politicians and public officers by offering them the incense of public endorsement even by silence,” Bishop Kukah says.

He adds in reference to the role of religious leaders in the country, “We must wear our glasses of prophetic faith. By prophecy, I do not mean the criminal and misleading opportunism bandied by dubious men who hide under the umbrella of Jesus to make false and empty prophecies.”

Bishop Kukah further cautions religious leaders against taking a neutral position instead of denouncing the ills that are currently happening in the country and explains that religious leaders taking a neutral position symbolizes the “embracing political opportunities with the aim of securing power.”

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The Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese says that the country is in tribulation because citizens are facing many challenges.

“What we call neutrality is actually an opportunistic political calculation aimed at ensuring that we do not lose our space in the queue to the corridors of power,” he says, and adds, “Sadly, we are not living in ordinary times today. These are times of trial and tribulation for our country.”

Most chaos that the West African country has plunged into are as a result of “mismanagement of identity,” which gives rise to nepotism, Bishop Kukah goes on to say. 

Instead of blaming victims of atrocities in the country, the Nigerian Bishop says, “honesty is a virtue that needs to be embraced because Nigerians are running away from the country their forefathers labored to build as they no longer see it as what their forefathers really dreamt of.”

Making reference to the sufferings Nigerians go through, the Catholic Church leader says Nigerians “are dying of hunger amidst plenty, being murdered gruesomely by homebred and foreign bandits who are committed to taking us back to the jungle where we are all supposed to become serfs in their habitat of illiteracy.”

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The Nigerian Bishop says that most citizens of the West African nation yearn for peace despite the fact that their government is “alien to their daily needs”.

“Today, we all know that over 90% of long-suffering Nigerians want to live in peace and dignity as brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends. Even if their government has become alien to their daily needs, our ordinary farmers and even beggars would want to be left alone to beg and farm,” Bishop Kukah who has been vocal about good governance amid criticisms from government quarters says.

The Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of Sokoto Diocese since his Episcopal Ordination in September 2011 highlights several activities that the people of God in Africa's most populous nation would like to peacefully engage in without having to leave with fear of the unknown.

“Even if our mothers cannot have their children in any medical facilities, is it too much for them to ask that their children be saved from ritualists?” Bishop Kukah poses in his February 23 message.

He further queries in reference to Nigerians, “If their government officials, the custodians of our commonwealth who loot our resources and send their wards to Europe and America decide not to give them an education for free, is it too much for them to ask that their children at least trek to school safely?”

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“How much is too much and how small is too small? Successive uncaring governments have created the conditions under which Nigerians are now suffocating,” the Catholic Church leader laments.

Most Nigerians are opting to leave the country not because it is safer but because the leaders in their native country have created a situation that is uncertain for the people, he says.

The Nigerian Bishop who was appointed as a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in January 2021 notes that poor leadership is responsible for the disunity that is being experienced in the West African country and that most Nigerians are seeking new identities because of “frustration”.

“What we are witnessing by way of a surge in ethnic, religious, cultural, class, social forms of consciousness are the manifestation of the symptom of that frustration,” Bishop Kukah says, and continues, “It is within this context that we must locate the screechy cries of marginalization, oppression, injustice, and so on.”

In his February 23 message, the 69-year-old Bishop says attacks leveled against him by his “enemies” are due to his stand on state issues.

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“I have often been accused by my enemies of being political,” he says, and adds in reference to those who have accused him, “They say I am a politician in cassock. I actually like it when they say that because at least, it means that I have never taken the easy part of pretending to be neutral.”

Bishop Kukah further says that rebellion by the citizens towards the state shows that the people have been disappointed by the government.

“The rise in rebellion against the state is the result of the abandonment of citizens by its leaders,” he says.

Speaking about the dangers of failed public institutions, the Catholic Bishop says such situations always brew the rule of engagement, which he referred to as, “bandit mantra,” or “everyone for himself and God for us all.”

Bishop Kukah says that public institutions decay and start losing focus the moment public goods are not distributed equally.

“When public goods are not evenly shared, certain groups begin to develop a skewed sense of entitlement while others squirm or revolt against the system, institution, community or even nation,” he says.

He adds in reference to unequitable sharing of public goods, “It facilitates the decay in public institutions which become a den of thieves where governance becomes an act of pure criminal enterprise as public resources go to a tiny circle based on family ties, religious or class identities.”

Reflecting on the upcoming general elections, Bishop Kukah challenged Nigerians into presenting any political leader in the country who not only merits respect from people but who also commands obedience from the people.

He adds, “Anyone aspiring to govern Nigeria must present evidence that he or she understands what it is to weld disparate people together, that they have the imagination to manage diversity.”

“We do not want any claim of fabricated integrity, pretentious moral claims about fighting corruption or the promise of infrastructure,” the Nigerian Catholic Bishop says. 

As a way forward, Bishop Kukah proposes several measures that can be embraced by those in power and all the people of God in Nigeria in an effort to counter the challenges the country is facing.

According to Bishop Kukah, Nigeria needs an intelligent approach that involves, “new thinking, new strategies for subverting these institutions which no longer serve us.”

Reflecting on the forthcoming elections, he proposes a serious scrutiny of presidential candidates who have a duty of explaining their plans on how they expect to salvage the country from her current problems.

“At the heart of our elections next year must be the issue of whether we remain a country or we face our worst nightmare of the nation breaking up. The fears are real and it will be a pity if we pretend that this is not a possibility,” he says.

Making reference to the upcoming polls, Bishop Kukah says, “Our next Presidential candidates must tell us where they stand in the areas of the restructuring of this country or, if the word sounds irritating, tell us how we shall pull down these walls of deceit that have fractured our entire country.”

He urges the people of God in Africa's most populous country not to be swayed by the names of those vying for political seats but rather to look at a bigger picture of having a free and safe country.

“There may be a better name for them, but for all we care, we want a country where we are really and truly free, where we feel safe and where governance is not an extended fiefdom for a selected few who continue to misuse power,” Bishop Kukah said in his February 23 message.