By Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Dirisu Yakubu and Animasahun Salman
•We bear scars, and deep sorrow, our children are still in forests, says Kukah
•Cleric’s statement ungodly, not objective, Buhari deserves credit – APC
•PDP backs Kukah, lampoons APC, says everything Buhari did was wrong
The Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress on Sunday clashed over allegations by the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) failed to fulfil his 2015 electoral promises.
While the PDP backed the cleric, saying his assessment of Buhari’s regime was on point, the APC berated the Christian leader’s statement as ungodly and biased.
In his Christmas message at St. Mary Catholic Church, Sokoto, titled, ‘Let us turn a new leaf,’ on Sunday, Kukah said Buhari would leave office in good health, noting, however, that Nigerians were in pain on account of his failure to fulfil his promises to fix the country.
Kukah, who had attacked Buhari several times on his policies and inability to tackle corruption, cited nepotism as a major factor that characterized his regime.
The priest, however, commended the President’s efforts in the area of infrastructure, where he acknowledged there has been a measurable improvement in the landscape, especially in the area of roads.
Speaking against the backdrop of Buhari’s several trips to a United Kingdom hospital for medical treatment, the cleric noted, ‘’I speak for myself and Nigerians when I say, we thank God that He mercifully restored you to good health.
‘’We know that you are healthier now than you were before. We can see it in the spring in your steps, the thousands of miles you have continued to cover as you travel abroad. May God give you more years of good health.
‘’However, I also wish that millions of our citizens had a chance to enjoy just a fraction of your own health by a measurable improvement in the quality of health care in our country.
‘’It is sad that despite your lofty promises, you are leaving us far more vulnerable than when you came, that the corruption we thought would be fought has become a leviathan and sadly, a consequence of a government marked by nepotism.
‘’In my Christmas message last year, I pointed out the fact that you had breached the Constitution by your failure to honour and adhere to the federal character provisions of our Constitution. The evidence is all before us all.’’
The bishop recalled that the Buhari regime has similarly failed to rescue scores of school children held captive in the forests by insurgents and bandits, stating that Nigeria is bearing scars and deep sorrow.
Kukah further flayed the President over alleged nepotism in his choice of appointees whom he described as mediocres, adding that the nation has paid the price for entrusting power to characters who treated it as their family property.
“Nepotism is a cancer which has consumed us in the last few years. We have paid the price of nepotism entrusting power into the hands of mediocres who operate as a cult and see power purely as an extension of the family heirloom,’’ he lamented.
The bishop called for a change of strategy to confront ‘’those who sit on the throne of power in arrogance and are determined to reduce our country to a jungle,’’ stressing that Nigerians needed to stand up firm against their oppressors.
Noting that a caste system has emerged in the country, Kukah challenged the citizens to rally together ‘’to destroy those who have institutionalised a caste system in our societies because every life matters.’’
He stated, ‘’Although the responses to my messages suggest that, generally, Nigerians listen to our voices in the wilderness. However, the deliberate culture of pauperisation and destitution of our people continues. So, we need a change of strategy so that we can turn a new page.
‘’We need a new strategy to confront those who sit on the throne of power in arrogance and are determined to reduce our country to a jungle. We need a new strategy that separates men and women of honour from those who have chosen dishonour.
‘’We need a new strategy that provides a clearer moral guide for ordinary citizens who, based on the moral strength of culture and religion, are seeking to build a good society, even if with straws. We need to stand up and stand firm. We need new mechanisms for saying no to the violence of governance.’’
Advocating collective action against the oppressive system holding sway in the country, the priest said, “A caste system has emerged in our country. It has consolidated its hold and blunted the cutting edge of all institutions.’’
Kukah, who is known for his vitriolic preachment against bad governance, expressed concern about the regression under the Buhari regime, insisting that the nation was worse off than it was before the President took office.
‘’We keep asking questions in seminars, conferences and committees as to why we are unable to progress, but nothing ever happens. Why has progress eluded us?
‘’Who would have imagined, after listening to the campaign speeches ahead of the 2015 elections, the new President’s inaugural speech, that we will be so worse off than we were? Yet, it could get even worse if we do not pause and pause very seriously,’’ he warned.
Recalling his 2021 Easter message in which he drew attention to the urgent need for Nigerians to reclaim their glory which was slipping away, Kukah lamented that the notion of patriotism was becoming alien as the country was falling to the pressures of ethno-religious nationalism, noting that “before our eyes, a dubious jihadist culture has held our nation to ransom with the government simply looking away.’’
The Christian leader also responded to criticisms from the Presidency, arguing that they could not quarrel with the facts he expressed regarding the poverty in the country, security crisis, mounting debts, Nigeria’s declining global influence and the dying sports sector.
In almost every department and with all indicators, Kukah affirmed that the country has become a tale of two cities with a raging war between the rich and the poor, men and women, across generations, along party lines, social classes, religion, ethnicity and so on.
He added, ‘’Who will quarrel with the fact that our glory has departed as a country? Where is our voice respected today even within the African continent which looks up to us for leadership? Unless we count lining up behind others for handshakes across Europe and America as achievements, we will be remiss not to worry about our declining global influence.
‘’Is being the poverty capital of the world and one of the most violent states in the world an achievement? And our suffocating internal and international debts? And you do not think our glory has departed?
‘’We failed to qualify for the World Cup, our Falcons lost their title, our seemingly invincible champions, Anthony Joshua, Kamuru Usman and Israel Adesanya have all lost their titles. Our citadels of learning lie prostrate. When will glory return to us?’’
Fixing the country, he stressed, required courage, honesty, truth, humility, trust and firm commitment, adding that lies and blackmail are no substitute.
He, therefore, appealed to all Nigerians who have been given custody of the public trust and commonwealth to rise up to the duties for which they have been so handsomely rewarded.
While urging members of the political class to demonstrate their grasp of the enormity of the nation’s problems, Kukah pleaded with them to co-operate and collaborate with the Independent National Electoral Commission, security agencies, the National Peace Committee, civil society organisations, Nigerians and agencies tasked with the successful conduct of the 2023 elections.
He warned them against fanning the embers of hatred and divisions and also admonished them to create a vision that can unite the country and learn from the mistakes of the past, especially in the areas of managing diversity and designing an effective mechanism for power sharing.
Concluding his 22-paragraph homily on a jocular note, Kukah promised to visit Buhari in his Daura country home at the end of his tenure ‘’to catch up on outstanding tithes and other duties you owe your Diocese.’’
PDP backs Kukah
Commenting on Kukah’s message, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said, “What Bishop Kukah said is what our spiritual leaders should be doing. What the man of God said is not different from what we have been saying in the past seven and a half years.
“Nigerians are in sorrow because the government they elected twice has failed. The government of the day has no clue on how to tackle governance challenges. As a result, there is hunger, frustration and lack in the land.
“In 2015, a bag of rice was N7,000. Today, it is about N50, 000. That staple food affordable to every Nigerian is no longer on their table even at Christmas. Security has collapsed, contrary to the promise by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) that he would lead from the front.’’
“We agree with the revered Bishop that Nigerians should pause and reflect as they head to the polling units to cast their votes. The pains APC brought to bear on our people must be addressed by a leader who has seen it all. This is our message to Nigerians,” he added.
The ruling All Progressives Congress on Sunday night reacted to emotional Christmas message of the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, describing it as an ‘ungodly’ criticism of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
In his reaction, the Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, in an interview with The PUNCH said, “I hold him (Kukah) in high esteem and respect him because he is a senior brother to a friend.
“Secondly, he is a man of God. But I am sorry to say that sometimes his speeches are ungodly. Ungodly in the sense that he does not seem to be objective at times.
“If you are going to be objective or speak with fairness, you cannot but give credit to Buhari for the way and manner he handles this country.
“When we talk about healthcare, if Kukah is insinuating that Buhari has used public office or his position to access better healthcare, I think he has not been fair to him. All the medical attention the President has been getting has been abroad and at no cost to the government. He has been seeing the same set of doctors he was seeing in the last 40 years. This is not a new hospital he visits. It is the same facility and doctors he uses for years in London long before he became the military head of state.
APC defends Buhari
“Buhari has not taken advantage of Nigerian healthcare to the betterment of his own health. Kukah himself knows that very well because we have discussed it in the past.
“Also, when he said there were a number of students or children still in the forest, I don’t know if he’s talking about the Chibok girls or the ones that were taken recently. If you look at the ones taken under the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, look at the speed and efforts made to recover them within a short period of time. I think we must give kudos to the president.
“In the time when Chibok girls were taken, the government even refused to admit they were taken. That was how the lexicon ‘There is God’ came into our dictionary. They did not even admit that such a thing happened let alone acted to set them free. But this government came and within a short period sprang into action and some of these children were released even if it was in piecemeal. At least, we are still getting them.
“All the passengers on the Kaduna-Abuja train who were abducted had been freed without casualties. If you look at the speed and the rate of bombardment by the Air Force, you will agree with me that they are hitting these people hard so much that many of them are surrendering and giving up.
“You will not say this government is not doing well at securing and getting people freed from captivity. Gone are the days when Boko Haram attacked in a ruthless manner that they used to do, you don’t get to see that anymore because they have been decimated and no longer have the capacity for any spectacular attack anymore.
“So when a man of God speaks in an ungodly manner, I tend to feel uncomfortable. As I said earlier, he is not a man I will want to join issue with. I still respect him as a senior brother and hold him in high esteem. But I will want him every time he talks to do so in consultation with his conscience.”
Reacting to APC’s description of the sermon as ungodly, Ologunagba stated, “if punishing Nigerians is godly, then the sermon is ungodly. If pushing Nigerians into poverty with growing unemployment statistics is godly, then the sermon is godly. If bad is godly, then the sermon is ungodly.”
Speaking with The PUNCH, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Ibrahim Abdullahi, asked, “was there anything this government got right? There is unison in the fact that everything Buhari did was wrong. After eight years, what we have is an uncommon hardship that Nigerians have been visited within the past seven and a half years. It is now a state policy because no one is frightened again to hear that a whole village is ransacked by bandits, maybe because these people are from his ethnic group.”