The Presidency has said Matthew Kukah, the Bishop of the Catholic Sokoto Diocese, must be allowed to practice his faith and politics freely in the country.
The Presidency said this in a statement issued by Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, on Wednesday in response to the comments made by a group, Muslim Solidarity Forum.
The Sokoto-based Muslim Solidarity Forum had at a press conference on Tuesday called to “ender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over his recent “callous statements” against Islam or “quietly leave the Caliphate (Sokoto State)”.
The group’s demand may not be unconnected to Kukah’s now popular remark on 2020 Christmas day.
Kukah in his Christmas day message had accused President Buhari of nepotism by promoting a northern hegemony, adding that a non-Muslim president would have been removed in a coup if such individual did a fraction of the current president’s action.
However, the Presidency rejected the call, saying that such demand is not in line with the 1999 constitution (as amended).
According to the statement, the Presidency insisted that the constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression, as well as religion, adding that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure so.
“Nigeria’s strength lies in its diversity. The right for all religions to co-exist is enshrined in the country’s constitution.
“The duty of this government, more so, this democratic government, is to ensure that the Constitution is respected,” the statement read.
The Presidency stated that while all Nigerians are expected to respect the rights and sensitives of their fellow citizens, it claimed that Kukah “has greatly offended many with his controversial remarks against the government and the person of the president”.
It noted that while Kukah has also been accused of anti-Islamic rhetoric, knee-jerk reactions by prominent individuals and groups will not only fray enduring relationships but will cause heated division in Sokoto State, which it described as the headquarters of the Muslim community in Nigeria.
It explained that Sokoto State has always been a beacon of pluralism and tolerance, which “is why Father Kukah was received on his arrival in Sokoto with friendship and tolerance”.
The Presidency said no individual or group has the right to unilaterally issue quit notices, adding that all residents in the country must respect the country’s religious diversity and guard their utterances at all times.
“Under our laws, groups or factions must not give notices, neither should they unilaterally sanction any perceived breaches. Where they occur, it is the courts of law that should adjudicate. Unilateral action is not the way to go.
“Groups such as the Muslim Solidarity Forum must be seen to share and uphold the country’s multi-religious principles. And individuals like Father Kukah must respect the feelings of his fellow Nigerians in his private and public utterances,” the statement read.