In a sermon on Friday, 15 January, 2021, Abubakar Malami, an Islamic cleric based in Sokoto, threatened to kill the Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, by ensuring that “he will be crucified” if he challenges government, warning that they “will not listen to anybody when we are crucifying him.”
These statements are contain in a press statement signed by House of Justice, HoJ, and 30 other Civil Society Organisations and Human Right Activists.
The group further stated: On Tuesday, 12 January, an unknown group calling itself the “Muslim Solidarity Forum” issued an ultimatum requiring Bishop Kukah to “quickly and quietly leave” his seat in Sokoto, in north-west Nigeria.
In response to the statement by the Muslim Solidarity Forum, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, on 13 January, issued a statement in which it accused Bishop Kukah deliberately of “anti-islamic rhetoric.”
Adding that, Bishop Kukah is the latest independent voice that the regime has moved to silence through targeted intimidation, based on invented, sectarian distortion of his Christmas Day 2020 Message. This is designed deliberately to incite deadly physical harm against him in a region characterized by indiscriminate violence.
It is notable that the text of the message contains no reference to Muslims.
In response to the violent threats against Bishop Kukah, the regime has chosen to take no steps but have to the contrary, issued a statement that implicitly lends backing to those who have threatened on sectarian grounds to liquidate Bishop Kukah or run him out of his seat in Sokoto.
Nigeria’s constitution guarantees a right to freedom of movement within the country to all citizens. Bishop Kukah is a full-blooded citizen of Nigeria. He is also un-armed.
The conduct of the regime and its spokespersons and supporters is in keeping with a pattern of attacks, intimidation and persecution of voices who have sought to speak truth to the regime in exercise of civic and constitutional rights and duties.
On New Year’s Day, officers of Nigeria’s security services severely assaulted and injured peaceful citizens, including the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, exercising their right to symbolic protest as their act of cross-over into the New Year. They were released after 12 days in detention.
To be clear, citizens have a right and a duty to demand accountability from their government.
Section 15 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice and confers sovereignty upon the people of Nigeria from whom government through the Constitution derives all its power and authority.
Section 17(2)(c) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution requires that “governmental actions shall be humane”. Bishop Kukah’s Christmas message invited the government to take this charge seriously. Rather than do that, the regime has launched a campaign of dog whistle against him in a pattern consistent with the escalating efforts to shut down Nigeria’s civic space.
The Nigerian state must be built on the ideals of freedom, equality and justice that can secure every Nigerian equal significance in the affairs of the country.
The campaign against Bishop Kukah confirms the fear that the regime is reluctant to conform to basic constitutional standards. The regime can end these fears by taking immediate action to bring those threatening Bishop Kukah to justice. As long as it fails to do so, Nigerians and the international community must hold the regime responsible for any harm that befalls Bishop Kukah or any member of Nigeria’s civic community.