Reflections on life, meaning and purpose

Outspoken Nigerian bishop says he is ‘fine’, amid reports he was called in for questioning by state police

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto addresses a dinner of ADF International, “The Crisis of Religious Freedom in Nigeria,” at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C. / International Religious Freedom Summit 2021

Denver Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Following Nigerian media reports over the weekend that a Catholic bishop had been summoned for questioning by a state security agency, the bishop in question says he is “fine” and that “the matter [has] actually passed.”

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah told CNA in a Jan. 11 email that “For now, [I] am very fine and have been in my village for a week now.”

Kukah, who leads the Sokoto diocese in Nigeria’s northwestern corner, criticized Nigeria’s government for complicity in the face of kidnappings and other persecution of the country’s Christians in a 2021 Christmas message. 

Reports surfaced in Nigerian media last weekend that the State Security Service, a federal secret police force, reportedly took notice of Kukah’s remarks and ordered him to present himself for questioning, according to an unnamed source cited by the People’s Gazette. 

Kukah’s email to CNA comes amid a number of Nigerian media reports from Monday, which reported that Kukah has yet to receive any communication from the SSS, citing a Sokoto diocesan spokesperson. CNA asked Kukah for clarification on this point and is awaiting a response.

Kukah said in his original email that “The matter had actually passed but now we are handling the matter through other channels,” but did not elaborate. 

In his Christmas message, Kukah said the Nigerian government, led by president Muhammadu Buhari, seems to have left the fate of Nigerians in the hands of “evil men.”

Kukah decried the fact that over 100 girls abducted by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram have yet to be found, as well as “hundreds of other children whose captures were less dramatic,” ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner, reported Dec. 28. 

“Now, we are fully in the grip of evil. Today, a feeling of vindication only saddens me as I have watched the north break into a cacophony of quarrelsome blame games over our tragic situation,” Bishop Kukah wrote. 

He continued, “A catalogue of unprecedented cruelty has been unleashed on innocent citizens across the Northern states. In their sleep, on their farmlands, in their markets, or even on the highway, innocent citizens have been mowed down and turned into burnt offerings to gods of evil.”

In Nigeria as a whole, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades. An estimated 3,462 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, or 17 per day, according to a new study.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamist extremist groups.

Part of the problem, Nigerian Christians have told CNA, is that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

Fulani herdsmen, most of whom are Muslim, have been responsible for the most killings as of late, having murdered an estimated 1,909 Christians in the first 200 days of 2021.

“The silence of the federal government only feeds the ugly beast of complicity in the deeds of these evil people who have suspended the future of entire generations  of our children,” Kukah wrote in his Christmas message. 

“Every day, we hear of failure of intelligence, yet, those experts who provide intelligence claim that they have always done their duty diligently and efficiently. Does the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not believe that he owes parents and citizens answers as to where our children are and when they are coming home? Does the President of Nigeria not owe us an explanation and answers as to when the abductions, kidnappings, brutality, senseless, and endless massacres of our citizens will end?”

In February 2020, Kukah celebrated Mass for the funeral of Michael Nnadi, an 18-year-old seminarian who was kidnapped, held for ransom, and killed by Muslim gunmen. According to one of his kidnappers, Nnadi was not afraid to proclaim his Catholic faith to them, and would not stop telling the kidnappers that they needed to repent of their evil ways.

During Nnadi’s funeral, Kukah decried the insecurity and violence that has taken place under Buhari, and expressed the hope that Michael’s death would become a turning point for Christian persecution in Africa’s most populous nation.

He said he hopes Michael’s example, and his martyrdom, will inspire an army of young people to follow in his footsteps. 

Kukah said at the time: “We will march on with the cross of Christ entrusted to us, not in agony or pain, because our salvation lies in your cross. We have no vengeance or bitterness in our hearts. We have no drop of sorrow inside us. We are honored that our son has been summoned to receive the crown of martyrdom at the infancy of his journey to the priesthood.”