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2012, Nov 29
The present spate of persecution of Christians in Nigeria should not be perceived in the context of what is obtained in the Arab world and other Islamized parts of the world, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah has declared.

Bishop Kukah’s position was contained in his lecture delivered recently at a conference on Contemporary Christian Martyrs “Seed of the Church”, Notre Dame, USA. The topic for his lecture was Persecution of Christians in Africa: Contexts, Contents and Opportunities.

Outlining the fundamental issues responsible for Christian persecution, the bishop noted that the subject matter must be addressed along with other forms of persecution and assault on the dignity of the human person, especially in the developing world. Using Nigeria as the principal focus of his presentation, Bishop Kukah who is also the Nigerian Bishops Conference Episcopal Chairman on Interreligious Dialogue, spoke on the origins of religious persecution and the historical circumstances that have led to this sufferings by Christians, especially in Africa. Speaking on the Nigeria situation, the bishop remarked: “While I believe there is persecution of Christians around the world, I notice that Nigeria ranks as one of the countries where Christians are being persecuted. It is my view that we need to clarify the issues around what we face in Nigeria....”

Using some incidents of the Boko Haram induced bomb attacks of Christian churches, particularly in the Northern part of the country Bishop Kukah said: “We must not confuse the visible manifestations of the severe weakness of a failing state, shown visibly in its incapacity to restrain and punish the criminal aggressor and then use it to measure the relation between Christians and Muslims as is often stated in the case of Nigeria. The bishop continued: “With the Nigerian President being a practicing Christian with some 22 out of his 36 Governors being Christians (10 are Catholics), with the Security Chiefs almost all being Christians, it is difficult to speak about the persecution of Christians as if they were merely vulnerable, defenceless and weak part of the society.

Pointing out that the form of Christian persecution in Northern Nigeria can be remedied through honest dialogue, Bishop Kukah stated further; “In August this year, the Governors of the 19 Northern States which are largely the theatre for the violence setup a committee of persons drawn from the different states to examine the issues of the crises in the Northern states and to proffer solutions.’

He added: “It is for me instructive that I, a Catholic Bishop, have been appointed by the Governor of Sokoto State, the seat of the Caliphate as the Muslims like to say to represent Sokoto State at the said committee. Throughout the entire crisis, all the Catholic Bishops in the affected areas have been unanimous in both condemning the violence but also stating clearly that the violence is not about religion.”

Summarizing the Nigerian situation, Bishop Kukah said: “I personally have serious reservations as to whether we can classify what is happening in Nigeria as the persecution of Christians in the way and manner that this conference frames the issues. Furthermore, the claims and attribution of martyrdom to the victims seems to be too hasty and does not do justice to the theology of martyrdom as we understand it.”

He added: “To appreciate the Nigerian situation, it is important to note the nature of the configuration and balkanization of the Nigerian state from colonial times to the present. We must appreciate the context of the convulsion and the violence that has become part and parcel of life in Nigeria. We must see it as part of the process of development and growth, though avoidable and unacceptable as the violence is.”

The lack of political will to end impunity and enthrone the rule of law, a corrupt judiciary and balkanization by Europe and America have been identified as some of the causes of the persecution of Christians in Africa.

This assertion was made by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Most Rev. Hassan Kukah in his lecture delivered recently at a conference on Contemporary Christian Martyrs “Seed of the Church”, Notre Dame, USA. The topic for his lecture was Persecution of Christians in Africa: Contexts, Contents and Opportunities.

Using the Nigerian situation as his main reference, Bishop Kukah who outlined the various types of persecutions experienced by Christians in different parts of the continent as well as other forms of persecution that impugn of the human dignity and respect, however offered recipe for the amelioration of the situation. He identified four major steps that can be taken in this direction. These include entrenchment of true democracy influenced by the good tenets and virtues of religion and the political to enthrone Constitutionalism in most African countries.

On the institutionalizing of democracy the lecturer said: “Democracy and its culture of accommodation and collaboration, consensus building and trust is at its infancy in many African countries. Corruption continues to deepen poverty and misery in the midst of plenty and various forms of violence continue to hunt our people. Despite all this, democracy offers us the best chance of fully creating a harmonious, just and peaceful society.”

He continued: “Political parties, when they project themselves beyond the limits of religion, region or ethnic group, can serve as a rallying point for men and women of good will in a plural society such as ours. We must therefore continue to encourage our politicians to bring the strength of their religious convictions to the political space and to avoid the constant manipulation of religion for ephemeral political ends.”

Regretting the absence of the manifestation of the ethos of rule of law, due process and respect for human dignity in the Nigerian nation, Bishop Kukah said: “We have sunk deeper into crisis and violence, falsely pitching Christians and Muslims when in reality, what we face is the fact of a country living below the radar of Constitutionalism. Our democracies in Africa have been weakened by the corruption in the judiciary and the lack of the political will to end impunity and enthrone the rule of law rather than the rule of men which was encapsulated in its long history of the oppression of big chiefs and military series of dictatorships.”

Pointing the way out of this predicament, the local ordinary of Sokoto Diocese stated: “A robust and honest judiciary will punish criminals for their crimes no matter what they claim to be the reasons for their violence against other human beings or their properties. This is the only way to heal the festering wounds that have strained the relationship between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.”

Bishop Kukah also called on America and Europe to “re-examine their roles in Africa, with a view of resolving the irony that surrounds the pursuit of its geographical and economic interest and how these lead to the sufferings and persecution of Christians. The Christian community in the United States will have to bring its moral authority to bear and explore the prospects of deepening its concern for the fate of Christians in areas within the purview of its strategic interest.”

He regretted that successive American governments have “often shown too much concern with feeding the greed of its citizens at great expense to the poor and weak people of the developing and resource endowed countries of the world.”

Speaking on the role of the Church, Bishop Kukah urged the vigorous pursuit of the culture of dialogue with Islam, noting however that: “As human beings, dialogue between Muslims and Christians has its challenges.”

While condemning vengeance by Christians, the bishop noted: “I believe that if we are faithful to Scripture, then we need to rethink our assumption about seeing the persecution of Christians and Christianity as an evil wind that is blowing over us. At the risk of sounding insensitive, the truth is, as I have pointed out, that persecution is in our DNA as Christians. By virtue of this faith and the logic of the cross, Christianity has given us a new set of eyes to see almost every human event in a way that is sometimes completely different to the ways of the world, since the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. The crucifixion of Jesus was the zenith and the fullest expression of this given especially that He was like an innocent lamb, led to the slaughter.”


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