Nigeria not solving Christian-Muslim divide, bishop says
Attacks on Christians, especially Catholics, are on the rise in this African country
Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu points to blood on the ground after an attack by gunmen at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo town, southwestern Nigeria, on June 5. (Photo: AFP)
While the Catholic Church continues to play its role in helping Nigerians, the policies of the current government are obstructing a clear path to peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto has said.
Addressing a virtual conference on peacebuilding, organized by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Bishop Kukah said the rise in banditry and violence in Nigeria “took over and consumed a lot of the gains we made.”
“Just to let you know how little progress we have made, we still have a military general as chairman. And therefore, it is no wonder that this trip has proven to be a challenge and a source of great difficulty for our people,” he said on June 20.
Attacks against Christians, especially Catholics, have increased in the country. On June 5, gunmen entered St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, killing at least 50 people and injuring dozens.
More recently, gunmen attacked worshipers on June 20 at St. Moses Catholic Church as well as a nearby Baptist church in the northern state of Kaduna, killing three people and kidnapping 40.
Bishop Kukah said Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s “military background and lack of disposition towards the principles of democracy and democratization” has eroded the gains of Christian-Muslim reconciliation, and “the country is far more divided than he never was.”
“It is a difficult journey, but our churches still have the moral authority to continue to lead our people to a land where freedom, justice and equity can take root”
“Because our Muslim president has never developed a sense of fairness – in terms of sharing power and developing an inclusive system – we are much worse off in terms of relationships than before the end of the war. military dictatorship,” the bishop said.
Many Nigerians, he explained, believed that the end of military rule “was going to mean freedom. And freedom was going to come with more food on the table”.
Instead, “people became quite desperate and discouraged” while others resorted to violence and kidnappings for ransom to make ends meet.
Buhari seized power in a military coup in December 1983 and ruled until 1985. The retired general won elections in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019.
“As I speak to you, two of my priests are being held captive,” Bishop Kukah said. “They have been in the hands of bandits for three weeks, along with two lay people. These are the realities the Church is facing, so it is increasingly difficult to confront these problems.”
Despite the challenges, Bishop Kukah said the Catholic Church plays a vital role in bringing hope to Nigerians and encourages them to continue to believe “there is no alternative to democracy.”
“It is a difficult journey, but our churches still have the moral authority to continue to lead our people to a land where freedom, justice and equity can take root,” the Bishop said.
“In truth, there is no substitute for commitment, there is no other way. Everyone in the history of mankind has found themselves around a table,” he said .