The threat given by the Muslim Solidarity Forum (MSF) to Catholic Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of the Sokoto Diocese is unconstitutional, the Presidency said Wednesday night.
The group asked Bishop Kukah on Tuesday to apologize to the Muslim Ummah for alleged “malicious remarks” towards Islam or to leave the state quietly.
After his Christmas Day post, the outspoken cleric suffered attacks from various groups, mainly Islamic, in which he criticized the Buhari administration for what he described as its “nepotism.”
He reaffirmed his position in a sermon he gave at the late Archbishop Peter Jatau’s funeral in Kaduna on January 6.
In it, Kukah referred to Nigeria as “a wasteland” and “a nation at war with itself” and pledged to continue to speak out.
In comparison to the constitution, the Presidency failed the group’s call for Bishop Kukah to vacate Sokoto and warned the cleric to always take other people’s feelings into consideration when making his remarks.
The statement, signed by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Mallam Garba Shehu, said: “The reported ultimatum by a group based in Sokoto, ‘Muslim Solidarity Forum’, calling on Bishop Kukah to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over his recent ‘malicious comments’ against Islam, or quietly and quickly leave the state, is wrong because it is not in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Under our Constitution, every citizen has the right to, among others, freedom of speech and expression, the right to own property and reside in any part of the country, and the right to move freely without any inhibitions.
“Nigeria’s strength lies in its diversity. The right for all religions to co-exist is enshrined in this country’s Constitution.
“The duty of the government, more so, this democratic government, is to ensure that the Constitution is respected. But all must respect the rights and sensitivities of their fellow Nigerians.”
The presidency stated,
“Father Kukah has greatly offended many with his controversial remarks against the government and the person of the President, with some even accusing him of voicing anti-Islamic rhetoric.
“On matters such as these, responsible leadership in any society must exercise restraint.
“Knee-jerk reactions will not only cause the fraying of enduring relationships, but also the evisceration of peaceful communities such as Sokoto, the headquarters of the Muslim community, as a beacon of pluralism and tolerance.
“The Sultanate has historically had good relations with followers of all faiths. That is why Father Kukah was received on his arrival in Sokoto with friendship and tolerance.
“Under our laws, groups or factions must not give quit notices, neither should they unilaterally sanction any perceived breaches. Where they occur, it is the courts of law that should adjudicate. Unilateral action is not the way to go.
“Groups such as the Muslim Solidarity Forum must be seen to share and uphold the country’s multi-religious principles. And individuals like Father Kukah must respect the feelings of his fellow Nigerians in their private and public utterances.”
The call was named ‘no problem’ by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Chief Frank Kokori, a former frontline labor leader and pro-democracy activist, also took exception during his Christmas Day homily to an earlier assault on Kukah by Sultan Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar-led Jama’atul Nasril Islam (JNI), the umbrella body of Muslim groups.
He called on President Buhari and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State to ensure the protection and security of Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Sokoto.
In his Christmas letter, Kukah accused the Buhari administration of not living up to Nigerian standards because of the different economic and security challenges affecting the country.
The cleric said Buhari was “institutionalising northern hegemony against national interests.”
He further stated, “This government owes the nation an explanation as to where it is headed as we seem to journey into darkness.
“The spilling of this blood must be related to a more sinister plot that is beyond our comprehension…
“Every honest Nigerian knows that there is no way any non-Northern Muslim President could have done a fraction of what President Buhari has done by his nepotism and gotten away with it.
“There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war.”
Kukah later said he was misquoted in the portion of the message he talked about coup but insisted that he is “more interested in how religion can be used to foster unity.”
The JNI accused him of “being an enemy” of Islam and Muslims.
On Tuesday, the MSF took the gauntlet from the JNI, led by the Sultan, by insisting that the message of Kukah could cause religious violence in the region.
The Bishop, however, was defended by CAN, claiming he spoke the truth.
The general secretary of the organization, Joseph Daramola, added that the MSF was not only “myopic” but had deliberately inserted “religious-politics” into the message of the Bishop.
“There is no issue there (demand on Kukah to apologise of leave the Sokoto Caliphate). Why are they personalising the matter?” Daramola asked while speaking yesterday.
He added: “The man (Kukah) is saying the truth and they are trying to deliberately put religious-politics into it. These people are myopic in everything they are doing. Let them go and read his message. What do they want to do to him? Why would he apologise,?”
In Warri, the JNI Secretary-General was accused of trying to start a religious war by Kokori, president of the All Progressive Congress(APC).
He said he had read the message from Kukah and found no section where Islam or Muslims were mocked by the cleric.
He called on Governor Aminu Tambuwal of the President and Sokoto State to rein in the Secretary-General of the JNI.
He said, “Buhari and Tambuwal should call Dr. Aliyu to order, as he is trying to cause a very dangerous religious war in the country.”
“There was no portion where Bishop Kukah abused Islam or Muslims in his Christmas homily. Aliyu is an Islamic fundamentalist and should be treated as such.
“Aliyu should not drag Nigeria into his parochial ideology and if he’s worth his PhD degree, he should know that Bishop Kukah never attacked Islam or Muslims.
“It’s treacherous for JNI to misinterpret Bishop Kuku’s obvious message. There’s nothing anti-Islam or anti-Muslim in what Kukah said. Aliyu should desist from religious bigotry.”
He said that should Nigerians take up arms against themselves over religion, Aliyu should be held accountable.
Senator Shehu Sani also on Wednesday urged the MSF to engage Bishop Kukah in a debate rather than harass him.
The former senator writes in a tweet from his verified Twitter handle @ShehuSani: “My Dear Muslim Forum Sokoto, go in peace and meet Kukah in his parish.”
“Engage him in a debate and defeat or win him over with your superior argument. Be a tolerant host.
“No need to threaten or ‘expel him’. Don’t set a precedent for ‘Quit noticing the messenger’ (sic).”