A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights activists has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to sanction those issuing threats to Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic bishop of Sokoto, over his Christmas message.
“The campaign against Bishop Kukah confirms the fear that the regime is reluctant to conform to basic constitutional standards. The regime can end these fears by taking immediate action to bring those threatening Bishop Kukah to justice,” said the coalition, in a joint statement obtained by The ICIR on Wednesday.
The coalition noted that as long as the current administration failed to do so, Nigerians and the international community must hold it responsible for any harm that could befall Kukah or any member of Nigeria’s civil community.
Kukah recently came under sharp criticism and threats following his state-of-the-nation Christmas message where he condemned how Buhari was handling the affairs of the country.
He had accused the president of turning nepotism into a state policy, noting that there could have been a coup if a non-northern Muslim president had done a fraction of what the president was doing.
He had also said that the president was promoting and institutionalising a northern hegemony that had reduced others in public life to second-class status.
The handlers of the president, sympathisers of the Buhari administration, socio-political bodies such as the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) and religious bodies like Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) have all accused Kukah of instigating a forceful change of democratically elected government and hate against Islam.
In a sermon on Friday, 15 January, 2020, Abubakar Malami, an Islamic cleric based in Sokoto, threatened to kill the cleric by ensuring that “he will be crucified” if he challenges government, warning that they “will not listen to anybody when we are crucifying him.”
On Tuesday, 12 January, an unknown group known as Muslim Solidarity Forum (MSF) issued an ultimatum requiring him to “quickly and quietly leave” his seat in Sokoto, north-west Nigeria.
In response to the statement by the MSF, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, on 13 January, issued a statement in which he vehemently condemned the group for their threat. He also accused Bishop Kukah deliberately of ‘anti-Islamic rhetoric.’
However, the coalition noted in the statement that Buhari’s administration was moving towards silencing the clergyman through targeted intimidation, based on invented, sectarian distortion of his 2020 Christmas Day message.
“This is designed deliberately to incite deadly physical harm against him in a region characterised by indiscriminate violence,” the coalition said.
“In response to the violent threats against Bishop Kukah, the regime has chosen to take no steps but have, to the contrary, issued a statement that implicitly lends backing to those who have threatened on sectarian grounds to liquidate Bishop Kukah or run him out of his seat in Sokoto.
“The conduct of the regime and its spokespersons and supporters is in keeping with a pattern of attacks, intimidation and persecution of voices who have sought to speak truth to the regime in the exercise of civic and constitutional rights and duties.”
The group noted that the text of Kukah’s message contained no reference to Muslims, adding that Nigeria’s Constitution guarantees a right to freedom of movement within the country to all citizens. It stated that Kukah was an unarmed full-blooded citizen of Nigeria.
Citing the recent arrest of arrest of Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters and four others during a crossover protest in Abuja, the coalition stressed that “Section 15 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice and confers sovereignty upon the people of Nigeria from whom government through the Constitution derives all its power and authority.
“Section 17(2)(c) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution requires that ‘governmental actions shall be humane.’ Bishop Kukah’s Christmas message invited the government to take this charge seriously. Rather than do that, the regime has launched a campaign of dog whistle against him in a pattern consistent with the escalating efforts to shut down Nigeria’s civic space.
“The Nigerian state must be built on the ideals of freedom, equality and justice that can secure every Nigerian equal significance in the affairs of the country,” it added.
On New Year’s Day, officers of Nigeria’s security services severely assaulted and injured peaceful citizens, including Omoyele Sowore, who were exercising their right to symbolic protest as their act of cross over into the new year. They were released after 12 days in detention.
Some of the CSOs which signed the statement included: House of Justice, Global Rights, TAP Nitiative, SESOR, Open Bar Initiative (OBI), CedarSeed Foundation, We The People, among others.
Individuals who joined in signing the statement included: Others Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Abiodun Baiyewu, Gloria Mabeiam Ballason, Mike Utasha, Silas Joseph Onu, Steven Kefas, among others.