The war of words between the Presidency and the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, continued, yesterday, with the fiery priest challenging Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, and presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu to an open debate to talk about the achievements of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari since the administration took reins of government over seven years ago.
Kukah, who spoke in an interview on Arise TV, yesterday, in apparent reaction to a statement titled: “Kukah’s virus of hate” by Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, insisted that Buhari “knows that I’ve great respect for him and he’s a gentleman, but he has done a terribly bad job as the president of Nigeria.”
He said Nigerians know the truth, adding that even the First Lady, Aisha , does not support all the policies of her husband.
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In his Easter Sunday homily in Sokoto, Kukah had said Buhari has destroyed Nigeria and the only thing thriving in the country is corruption, warning that Nigeria must be reclaimed from its impending slide to anarchy.
But Shehu fired back and asked him to shed his priestly garb and join politics. “For a man who has been spreading hate for decades, nothing new in the homily, except for the fact that while millions of Christians were remembering the Lord’s crucifixion on Friday, His descent on Saturday, His resurrection on Sunday, and subsequent appearance to his disciples, Bishop Matthew Kukah was playing politics.
“From his pulpit he devoted his Easter message not to Christ’s death and rebirth so Man might be saved – but to damning the government in the most un-Christian terms.
“Bishop Kukah neglects the Bible’s teachings in James 1:26: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless”.
“Easter should be a time for renewal, and for hope. For those in authority – both temporal and spiritual – to come together in word and deed so those who look to them for example can be inspired by their grace.
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“Yet Bishop Kukah used his sermon purposefully to make dissensions and quarrels about the law. His accusatory list against the government revealed only his hatred for them.
“Still, when he accused them of division, he gave no examples: merely assertions emanating from his own mouth. His allegation of ethnic and regional divide was innuendo without proof, and he gave none.
“We respectfully ask Bishop Kukah to leave government to the voters and the politicians they elect, while he concentrates on his job.
“As it is expressed in James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Or else, he should put away his clerical garb, join partisan politics and see how far he can go.”
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But the Bishop, yesterday, maintained that he had nothing personal against the president but his policies which Aisha also disagrees with.
“All those saying I attacked the president, I have never attacked his person. All I have spoken about is his inability to manage diversities effectively and efficiently. I have studied diversity as a subject and I know what I am talking about.
“Those who think these things are personal would see that I have never talked about his person or character; I believe he is a gentleman but as far as being the president is concerned, he has done a bad job, even his wife has also disagreed with his policies.
“So, those guys should not sit in their air-conditioned office drinking coffee and think everything is honky-donkey. Let them disagree with the text of my message.”
He added: “Let me set the record straight, I delivered my sermon to my congregation and the message. The bearers of the message are directed primarily to the good people of Sokoto dioceses.
“The president knows that I have great respect for him and he is a gentleman, but he has done a terribly bad job as the president of Nigeria.
“There is nothing I am saying that is new, all the pastors who preached yesterday during the Easter service said the same thing. Tell me one thing about the message that I preached that you disagree with and let’s discuss.”
Kukah who affirmed that he speaks directly with the president said his criticism of the government is nothing personal but the zeal to see things get better in the country.
“For a Muslim (Shehu) to sit down and tell me what an Easter message should contain is something.
“Buhari himself knows that there is nothing personal in what I say. One thing the president has said that humbled me is that he told me, ‘Bishop Kukah, I know where you stand on any issue that has to do with Nigeria.’
“What connected me with Buhari and a lot of Muslims is not the Catholic church, it is my public position on a lot of things. And I am not saying it so that you must agree with me. But Nigerians have been extraordinarily magnanimous because I have not had many people saying we disagree with you and I have not spoken because I know the issue. The primary beneficiary of what I say is me and I speak for myself. If you have any issues with me, let’s clarify the issue.”