For years, Christians in Nigeria have lived under “severe stress”, the Catholic Bishop of the country’s Sokoto Diocese has said.
In his address at the National Inter-Religious Conference that was held in Kano State in northern Nigeria, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah said that in some parts of the country where religious extremism is high, Christians feel “merely tolerated.”
“Christians in northern Nigeria are under severe stress and this has been so from the beginning. It is often not easy for those who are in power and have privileges to understand how the perceived victims feel,” Bishop Kukah said during the December 1 event.
He added, “Christians do not feel a sense of belonging despite their enormous contribution in the areas of business, education, and so on. Whether this is true or false is not the issue, it is that this is how they feel. Beyond Kano, Christians feel merely tolerated and their freedoms compromised.”
The Nigerian Catholic Bishop found it baffling that in the West African nation, people in minorities in given situations of injustice are often accused of being ungrateful and that they do not appreciate the generosity of their hosts.
“We are in one country, no one should be treated as a stranger anywhere nor should anyone claim to be host to anyone. The government must make the laws that guarantee that we all obey such laws,” he said during the event that was organized under the theme, “Harnessing Nigeria’s Religious Diversity for Sustainable Peace and National Development”.
The Catholic bishop known for delivering prophetic messages noted that in Nigeria, especially in the northern parts of the country, Christians continue to endure unimaginable suffering.
“How do we explain the fact that Churches are seen but not accepted as part of our heritage in our cities? Why is the burning of Churches tolerated? Why and how can a citizen take the life of another on the grounds of religion and nothing happens? How is it that across the northern states, you can find land to build a restaurant, a hotel, a cinema house, and so on with no problem, but there is no land to build a Church?” he posed.
Bishop Kukah added, “Governments in the North for example, often say that Christians should seek written permission from those around where they want to build a Church. How and what is it about Christianity that makes so many ordinary Muslims in northern Nigeria uncomfortable? What makes some Christians uncomfortable about Islam?”
According to the Catholic bishop who has been lauded for being vocal in advocating for good governance, Christians in Nigeria are being denied their “legitimate inheritance” and the right to belong.
“We all claim to be descendants of Abraham which means we have a common parentage. So why are we being denied our legitimate inheritance?” he posed, and continued, “Muslims make the same claims but the solution is not an exchange of excuses, but a determination to build harmony. The answer is to create an opportunity to hear out one another in forums such as these.”
There is a need to protect the rights of all faiths in Nigeria, the member of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development since his appointment in January 2021 said, and added, “The rights to practise our faiths should be adequately protected.”
“Christians feel quite insulted when, as we have here in Kano, land allocation forms that say that the land cannot be used for a Church or a brothel! This is not only an insult, but humiliating to Christians,” he said, adding, “We should openly show these wounds so they can are washed and treated.”
Bishop Kukah said that in the teachings of Islam, there is no compulsion in religion.
“If God had wanted us to worship him in one way only, he would have made us one. So, who are those standing in the way of God today by denying other people their rights based on religion?” he posed.
He added, “We are not asking you to give us your mosques, but by God, give us land to build our Churches, rebuild them when they are burnt, and do not merely say that the criminals are merely miscreants. These miscreants are not spirits; they have parents and they have addresses even if they are on the streets.”
“Our Governors should lead by example and do the right thing,” Bishop Kukah said, and added, “Wherever a place of worship is desecrated, anywhere and any religion, we human beings are diminished and God is not pleased by this no matter where and when it happens.”