Nigeria’s highest ranking Catholic prelate has come to the defense of the bishop of Sokoto, accused by the Buhari government of playing “partisan politics.”
Cardinal John Onaiyekan (pictured), the emeritus Archbishop of Abuja, said on television Monday no one can stop the Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, from speaking against bad governance in the country.
A spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari described Bishop Kukah’s Easter Sunday homily as ungodly, accusing him of playing partisan politics by criticizing the government’s ineffective response to Islamic terrorism in the country.
“With all due respect to whoever is speaking for the Presidency, he has a wrong idea of politics,” Cardinal Onaiyekan said in response.
“Does that mean that whenever we (religious leaders) tell the truth and work to make our country better, we should shut up because we are playing politics? No, we refuse. We will continue to talk,” the cardinal said.
“Kukah is not preparing a coup against Buhari,” Onaiyekan said. “He is only concerned about the people he sees every day. Kukah is speaking for so many who do not have a voice.”
“What we expected from the Presidency was to hear what Kukah had to say and take the issues one-by-one; maybe give explanations, if there is a need for such, and hopefully consider considering his message in its future plans,” Onaiyekan said.
Speaking to the issue of granting amnesty to bandits and terrorists, Onaiyekan said the move only breeds more criminality.
“We should be telling bandits and terrorists: ‘Go and sin no more,’” he said. “We cannot in any way give them the impression that they are doing the right things.”
In his response, the cardinal echoed the critique offered by Bishop Kukah on Sunday.
“All the question of easy amnesty, under the pretense that they have repented, and spending money on them is sad, especially when we say we have no money to spend on the victims,” Onaiyekan said.
“Kids’ glove treatment of criminals boils down to bribing them to keep calm because the causes of criminality and insecurity will still be there,” he continued. “The more you treat criminals this way; the more others will come out so that they too can come to get the same treatment.”
“We made it clear that unless the injustices are addressed, there is no room for peace,” he said. “It is only when you address the injustice that you can now sit down for peace,” he said.
Onaiyekan also said that pockets of agitation against the government are “cries of anguish” stemming from the widespread situation of insecurity.
“With what we have now, there is no way you can excuse the authorities,” he said. “The first duty of the government is the security of lives and properties.”
“The separatist agitations across the country are cries of despair. If you cannot trust the government to protect you, where do you go?” he added.
“Government has not told us they are unable to protect us even though they have sometimes in the past told us to defend ourselves but how are we supposed to do that? So, the agitation for separation is simply a cry of anguish,” he said.
The cardinal concluded by urging the government to stop issuing statements and start taking effective action against the terror.
“We don’t need a powerful president, but a safer nation,” he said.
“They have the responsibility to do something,” he said. “We are tired of hearing beautiful words from rulers.”