I must confess that I had not read the much talked about Christmas Message to Sokoto Diocese by HE Most Reverend Mathew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese until this morning. Ater reading several reactions to the said message, I felt it was only fair to the Lord Bishop that I read the original message in full for myself before making any comment(s) about it. If necessary.
Before I say a few words about that message, let me for purpose of full disclosure state that I am a baptised and confirmed Catholic and I hold the Priesthood in so much reverence. Every true Catholic knows that the respect we give to Priests is not because of the person or character of the Priest, rather in spite of it. The respect and reverence is to and because of what and who the Priest represents – Christ and the mother Church. Therefore when you go to the Priest for confession or communion, clothed in those apparals, the Priest is not just that man that you might even have committed a sin together with the previous day, but a representative of Christ.
This is part of the reason why some Christians exaggerate or misread the Biblical saying: “He permitted no one to do them wrong; Yes, He rebuked kings for their sakes, Saying, “Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm.” – Psalm 105:14-15.
Informed Catholics however understand that verse for what it is. While it is part of God’s promise to His chosen people of Israel and indeed God would not take lightly to harming His anointed ones and His Prophets, there is also an obligation of the people and the Prophets to be upright and walk, speak and act in and with the fear of God. It is equally an obligation of the people (Christians) to be able to call out the Prophets (read Priests) when they go wrong, especially when they seek to mislead the flock. Of course not in denigration, disrespect or judgement. Judgement is the Lord’s.
Indeed it was that clear understanding of his moral duty as a Catholic that my father of blessed memory, stood up on a certain Sunday before the entire congregation after Sunday Mass to tell the Priest who was still on the Alter to stop telling lies to the people. A fact that some others in the congregation that day knew but were not able or willing to speak up against. Indeed many Priests tell outright lies or twist the truth and the facts and often get away with it because many misread or are emotionally blackmailed by that line – touch not my annointed ones and do my Prophets no harm.
Reading His Lordship, Bishop Kukah, there really would not have been anything remarkable about his message, if not that he did not resist the temptation to get ultra-political and try to settle personal, tribal, religious and political scores and in so doing, I daresay, deliberately misled the congregation and his wide audience and sow seeds of discord, division and anger. Even insurrection. These are inimical to the message of hope, redemption and salvation which Christmas brings. Indeed at a moment as this which the world at large is hurting by no one’s sole cause, the message that Christians and non Christians alike and indeed the world needs is a message of Hope, Faith and Resilience.
The Priest, especially the Catholic Priest and indeed the High Priest as the Bishop represents is an eternal conciliator and reconciliator. A messenger of peace. His words must always portray and deliberately seek to engender love, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and unity. The Priest must always be seen to be on the side of truth, never to take sides, except to side the downtrodden, weak and helpless. He must speak truth to power just like Christ did but must not play to the gallery or be tempted to become populist.
Of course the Priest as a Prophet must always separate the State and the Church and consciously and cautiously strive not to become enmeshed in the politics of State and Kings. That was why Christ knowing fully well the dangers of populism and worldly politics and clearly understanding His Commission on earth wisely handled two testy and awkward situations he was confronted with during his earthly Ministry.
One was the incident of “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” Mathew 22:21. See also Mark 12:17. He further said “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.” Romans 13:1.
The other incident was that of the woman accused of adultery by the Scribes and Pharisees. John 8:3-11.
The scene of the woman caught in adultery and the Tribute Episode are similar. In both incidents, Jesus immediately recognized the traps set for him. In both instances, by his response, He exposed the hostility and the hypocrisy of His interrogators and recognized that His questioners were daring Him to enter the temporal fray of Judeo-Roman politics. In both Gospel accounts, Jesus gave quick-witted, but ultimately ambiguous, responses which exposed the hypocrisy of His interrogators rather than overtly answer the underlying question posed by them. Nevertheless, in each instance, the audience could infer the right answer embedded in Jesus’ response. Those were key teachable moments for both His followers and the powers that be. Moments which Priests like Bishop Kukah must always learn from and bear in mind.
As a Catholic, I have always been peeved by the penchant for Bishop Kukah for delving into and swimming in the murky waters of Nigerian politics and not always for the most altruistic of reasons or for positive impact. His perceived willingness to either hobnob with or subtly defend the perceived corrupt to stoking embers of division and pushing at our fault lines should bother every Catholic.
One cannot in one breath pretend to speak and fight for the North and the downtrodden in the North and in another breath seek to denigrate the same North. That can best be described as hypocrisy.
Everyone knows that for all the noise that has been made about insecurity in the North, more Muslims have been killed and more Muslim institutions destroyed. Therefore for His Lordship to in his paragraph 3 present issues as though there is a deliberate persecution of Christians is as inaccurate as is it insensitive. Christians as well as Muslims are mutually under pain and attack both physically and psychologically and they both need our empathy.
In his paragraph number 4, Bishop Kukah takes a dig at President Buhari. While I have no problem whatsoever with the Bishop or indeed anyone criticizing President Buhari or government, I have a perpetual beef with anyone playing the ostrich and to the gallery and pretending that we just arrived at this juncture as a nation out of the blues. Especially those who have been part and parcel and players in various forms and manner at the highest echelon of our national life, like Bishop Kukah has been. Equally this notion of a “failed” or “failing” State thrown around by people who have the God given privilege of saving the nation from failing or failure equally irks me to no end.
Bishop Kukah in his Paragraph 6 doubles down throwing every caution to the wind. Read him:
“President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status. He has pursued this self-defeating and alienating policy at the expense of greater national cohesion.
”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.
“The President may have concluded that Christians will do nothing and will live with these actions. He may be right and we Christians cannot feel sorry that we have no pool of violence to draw from or threaten our country. However, God does not sleep. We can see from the inexplicable dilemma of his North.”
How on earth could a High Priest, Shepherd of the flock, an Elder stateman, Intellectual giant and a member of the National Peace Committee utter such words? How on earth?
Bishop Kukah interestingly parrots Nnamdi Kanu’s words of “Nepotism” and “Northern Hegemony”. One would think that by his intellectual depth, the Bishop would better x-ray that worn out allegation of “Nepotism” by independently and objectively scrutinizing it, tabulating all appointments made and positions of high authority held geopolitical zone by geopolitical zone and by so doing put it in its clear context for his audience and then place it in its proper place which is in the trash can of caustic politics and ethno-religious jingoism.
I might be wrong but my gut tells me that the Lord Bishop has a personal beef, not only with President Muhammadu Buhari but also with Muslims and indeed Northern Nigeria (which he is part of). Whatever that beef might be, with all due respects, I think it is most unfair and improper for him to always seek to the drag the Church (read Christianity), Christians and indeed Nigeria into it and it is getting out of hand. Once more I respectfully hope the Catholic Bishops Conference dutifully calls him to order.
As I conclude, for all the appropriate Bible verses quoted by His Lord Bishop, there was one he left out thus: “For all (of us Nigerians) have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” – Romans 3:23. Therefore; “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” – Chronicles 7:14.
Someone said that “the criticisms and verbal attacks against Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah were a deliberate attempt to ignore the genuine issued raised in his Christmas message to the country”. I beg to differ. You cannot present a good message laced with poison that undermine the very message you may have wanted to preach and expect garlands.
On my part, I will continue to respect His Lordship Bishop Kukah, if not for his person and age, for his status as a representative of Christ on earth but I will once more humbly and reverently ask him to seek more wisdom and if he is not willing to be part of the solution, he should not be part of the problem. We all need that wisdom.
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” – Proverbs 12:18 (NIV).
God Bless Nigeria.
Nigerian Patriots Call