YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A leading Nigerian bishop says religious leaders in the country are “as divided as the people” and “seduced by the power of politicians.”
Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto said in his Easter message that clergy are allowing “politics to corrupt the sacred spaces of religion.”
“Thus, we have lost our voices and no longer seem to have the capacity to interrogate power, as we are called to do,” the bishop said.
Kukah said religious leaders in the African country – which is almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims – have been using their churches and mosques as partisan platforms.
Federal elections are scheduled for February 2019 and will decide both the president and members of the National Assembly.
Kukah called on all religious leaders to avoid “the temptation of being seduced by filthy lucre and power for personal or any other gain.”
“We must seek the collective welfare of our people and develop a culture of neutrality that can inspire the confidence in our people in the power of religion to change society so that the common good is always sought and promoted,” he said.
The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, has faced criticism from religious leaders – especially Christian ones – for failing to live up to his campaign promises to fight corruption, defeat the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency, and improve security throughout the country.
“Mr. President, you are too distant from your people. There is a sad feeling that you do not share in the pain and suffering of your people,” Kukah said in his Easter Message. “For now, before your eyes and in your hands, our country, our communities, our people are all in a state of stupor.”
The president has drawn criticism from Christians for his handling of attacks by Muslim Fulani herdsmen on Christian farmers, as well as other points of conflict in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” – where the Muslim north meets the Christian south.
“We have never felt so alienated from one another. The bogeyman of religion, region and ethnicity, which we thought we had overcome by the sheer nature of your support base, has come back with a vengeance to haunt and threaten the very foundation of our existence,” the bishop added, calling on Buhari to “quickly find a way of connecting with your people.”
Kukah also used his Easter message to rebuke Nigerian state governors, legislators, senators, and other politicians for engaging in “the culture of cronyism … and primitive accumulation” which has led to the decline of the Nigerian nation.
The bishop called on political parties to do better in fulfilling their manifestoes and fighting corruption in the country.
“Political parties ought to provide the vital foundation stones and building blocks for institutions through which political actors must graduate. It is here that new entrants learn the fine moral principles and ideologies that underpin the parties,” Kukah said.
In the face of all these troubles, the bishop called on all Nigerians to stand up for their rights.
“Defend your dignity as human beings and children of God,” he said, and called on all Nigerians to avoid dividing the country along ethnic and religious lines.
“You are poor, homeless, have no road, no water, and your children are sick and illiterate, not because you are Christian or Muslim or from this tribe or the other, but simply because you are poor,” Kukah said.
“Do not allow the rich and powerful, who are rich because you are poor, to divide you. They have light and water in their high fenced houses not because they are Muslims or Christians or that they are from this or that or the other tribe but simply because they are rich.”
The former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, is also worried about the corruption of the clergy in the country.
“There is no doubt that all our institutions have been tarnished by the brush of corruption,” Obasanjo said in a recent speech on the role of the Church in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
“If the Church, as an institution, does not take bribes or get involved in other corrupt practice, the behavior of some of our men of God leaves much to be desired,” he said.
The former president, who led the country from 199-2007, said there are church leaders who “not only celebrate but venerate those whose sources of wealth are questionable. They accept gifts … from just anybody without asking questions. This gives the impression that anything is acceptable in the house of God.”