Monday, May 29

Insecurity in Nigeria, Christians on the Rope

Archbishop Matthew Kukah is no stranger to Nigeria’s intellectual public space. To an average Nigerian elite, especially of the Christian stock, Kukah is Nigeria’s version of the Adolfo Romeros of this world. But to equate him with the Adolfo Romeros of this world is to exaggerate his strength as he is not of the same tradition as the Liberation Theologians, whom Adolfo Romero shared a space with. For the Catholics in Nigeria, he is their brightest star, and the recent state of insurgency in Nigeria, with the claim by the Nigerian Christians that they are at the receiving end from combined forces of Jihadism, Matthew Kukah did not disappoint in this article about the persecution of the Christians in Nigeria.

Arcb. Matthew Kukah                                                                                    © Richard Akinwunmi
Arcb. Matthew Kukah © Richard Akinwunmi

Homily at the Funeral Mass of Seminarian Michael Nnadi

1. We have gathered around the remains of Michael in supplication but  also as solemn witnesses to the penetrating darkness that hovers over our country. I have the rare honour of being considered the principal  mourner in this ugly tragedy. It is not an honour that I am worthy of  receiving. The honour belongs to God Almighty who created Michael and  marked out this moment and pathway for him. The greater honour goes to  his immediate family whose devotion as Catholics laid the foundation for  his faith and vocation. To his grandmother, Mrs. Eunice Nwokocha, a  most simple, beautiful and devout Catholic woman whose devotion and  dedication saw Michael and his siblings, Chukwuebuka, Francis, Augustine  and Raphael brought up in all the fine principles and disciplines of  the Catholic faith.

2. The way that Mama and her grandchildren handled this family  tragedy has shown clearly the depth of their faith. I got to know Mama  only after the sudden death of her daughter, Caroline, who had been a  devoted Lector in our Cathedral. On the day we learnt that Michael and  the other Seminarians were kidnapped, breaking the news to Mama and the  children was not an easy task. She took the news with equanimity and we  focused on praying for their release. She and the grandchildren lived  through the torments of the brutal, harsh and senseless haranguing of  the kidnappers who are totally empty of any show of human emotions.

3. When the worst finally happened, breaking the news to her and the  grandchildren proved to be one of the most emotionally challenging  moments for me. She had called me three days earlier to say that the  kidnappers had told her that they had killed Michael. I dismissed it by  telling her that first, I had discouraged her from taking their calls,  and secondly that this was part of the psychological warfare by these  evil men. On Wednesday 29th, Peter Paul, the brave young man who had  served as the main negotiator with the kidnappers, had already told us  that they had gone to the village where the kidnappers said they had  dumped the bodies of both Michael and Mrs. Ataga but found no corpses.  This was the thread of consolation we held on to as a means of solace  that Michael was still alive.

4. When we concluded the negotiations with the kidnappers on Thursday  evening, I was in the Seminary to receive the three Seminarians and,  although we received only two, I was still confident that Michael was  still alive. We were simply going to sit and wait out for the next call  and the agonizing round of negotiations again. I left for Abuja that  same evening to continue my trip to Sokoto the next day. It was on my  way to the airport to catch a flight back to Sokoto on that Saturday  morning that Fr Daboh called to tell me that the corpse of Mrs. Ataga  had been found and that there was a second unidentified corpse which  they were being asked to come and identify if it was Michael. My heart  sank.

5. After the call, I switched off my phone in denial, but hoping for  some reprieve to enable me board my flight with some sanity. I arrived  Sokoto and refused to switch on my phone for some time. When I finally  did, I refused to read the text messages, but then, Fr Habila’s call  came through at about 1pm with the news that, sadly, they had identified  the corpse as that of Michael. I did not know where to start and how to  break the news to Mama. Happily, two of our senior Parishioners, Sir  Julius Dike and Mathews Otalike, were on hand and I summoned them to my  house. It took us the better part of seven hours to negotiate how to  break the news because, first, Mama was in the market and I felt she  should at least finish the day’s business in peace. Finally breaking the  news opened a different chapter in this ugly, painful but memorable  tragedy. Like the death of Lazarus, it would become clear to me that  Michael’s death would bring glory to God.

6. Later that evening as I sat down to try and console Mama, she  looked up at me and said tearfully, “My Lord, you said Michael was still  alive. Is he really dead?” Before I could say anything, she provided a  moving answer: “My Lord, but Michael entered Seminary with all his heart  and body, all”, she said with finality. From that evening, I watched  her regain her composure and right up to Saturday, the evening before I  left Sokoto, she had become a consoler and an inspiration to others.

7. The depth and impact of this tragedy belongs first, to the three  surviving colleagues of Michael, the entire Seminary community led by  the Rector, Fr. Habila Daboh, his team of formators and entire family of  Good Shepherd Seminary. All have lived through almost two months of  trauma, agony, pain and despair. They have been held together by the  glue of deep faith, hope and family solidarity. I commend all the  Formators for standing together and guiding the Seminarians through this  dark tunnel of emotional pain in the days that turned to weeks, and  weeks that turned to months. The entire Catholic community in the  Province, led by our Metropolitan, Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso, all  shared in this burden. His Grace and the Rector will both speak to us at  the end of the Mass.

8. The third layer of pain has been borne by the entire country and  the Catholic world. The national and international reactions to the  death of this young man have made me step back and ask what message God  has for our country. Michael is the first Seminarian to carry the mark  of this brutality and wickedness. Priests have died in the hands of  these wicked human beings. Michael was only a Seminarian in his first  year of training. I had seen him in his cassock which he wore in my  presence, not with pride but with dignity. Why would the tragic death of  a young man such as him elicit such an unprecedented level of emotions  here and around the world?

9. Maria Lozano, a staff of the Aid to the Church In Need, an  organisation dedicated to the cause of the persecution of Christians  around the world, called me frantically immediately after the news of  the kidnapping of the Seminarians went out. The next day, she sent me an  emotional voice message to say that she heard that Michael was an  orphan and that since the kidnappers will be looking for money might his  life be in danger if they realise that he is an orphan? Could she  mobilise especially mothers to become parents for him, to keep him and  others in their hearts and to continue to pray for him? Maria remained  with us emotionally and requested for information about the burial.

10. When the Archbishop approved the date of the burial, I passed the  information to her immediately. By the next day, February 5th, she sent  me a message to say that when she asked people around the world to  light a candle for Michael on the date of his burial, 2, 436 persons  from Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States of America, Mexico, Venezuela,  Colombia, Madagascar, South Africa, Congo, Mali, Spain, Turkey, Saudi  Arabia responded. Germany alone had a total of 3,305 persons in a matter  of hours. In the light of this, I wondered, who are we to mourn? Who  are we to refuse this crown of honour and glory? We ceased to mourn for  Michael thereon.

11. Your Grace, my brother Bishops, Rev Fathers, Rev. Sisters, and  all the good people of God, I therefore bring you only greetings and  praise to God from all of us in Sokoto Diocese. This is a solemn moment  for the body of Christ. This is for us the moment of decision. This is  the moment that separates darkness from light, good from evil. Our  nation is like a ship stranded on the high seas, rudderless and with  broken navigational aids. Today, our years of hypocrisy, duplicity,  fabricated integrity, false piety, empty morality, fraud and Pharisaism  have caught up with us. Nigeria is on the crossroads and its future  hangs precariously in a balance. This is a wakeup call for us. As St.  Paul reminds us; The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.  Therefore, let us cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour  of light (Rom. 13:12). It is time to confront and dispel the clouds of  evil that hover over us.

12. Nigeria is at a point where we must call for a verdict. There  must be something that a man, nay, a nation should be ready to die for.  Sadly, or even tragically, today, Nigeria, does not possess that set of  goals or values for which any sane citizen is prepared to die for her.  Perhaps, I should correct myself and say that the average office holder  is ready to die to protect his office but not for the nation that has  given him or her that office. The Yorubas say that if it takes you 25  years to practice madness, how much time would you have to put it into  real life? We have practiced madness for too long. Our attempt to build a  nation has become like the agony of Sisyphus who angered the gods and  had to endure the frustration of rolling a stone up the mountain. Each  time he got near the top, the gods would tip the stone back and he would  go back to start all over again. What has befallen our nation?

13. Nigeria needs to pause for a moment and think. No one more than  the President of Nigeria, Major General Muhammadu Buhari who was voted  for in 2015 on the grounds of his own promises to rout Boko Haram and  place the country on an even keel. In an address at the prestigious  Policy Think Tank, Chatham House in London, just before the elections,  Major General Buhari told his audience: “I as a retired General and a  former Head of State have always known about our soldiers. They are  capable and they are well trained, patriotic, brave and always ready to  do their duty. If am elected President, the world will have no reason to  worry about Nigeria. Nigeria will return to its stabilizing role in  West Africa. We will pay sufficient attention to the welfare of our  soldiers in and out of service. We will develop adequate and modern arms  and ammunition. We will improve intelligence gathering and border  patrols to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels. We will  be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a  comprehensive economic development and promoting infrastructural  development…we will always act on time and not allow problems to  irresponsibly fester. And I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the  front.”

14. There is no need to make any further comments on this claim. No  one in that hall or anywhere in Nigeria doubted the President who ran  his campaign on a tank supposedly full of the fuel of integrity and  moral probity. No one could have imagined that in winning the  Presidency, General Buhari would bring nepotism and clannishness into  the military and the ancillary Security Agencies, that his government  would be marked by supremacist and divisive policies that would push our  country to the brink. This President has displayed the greatest degree  of insensitivity in managing our country’s rich diversity. He has  subordinated the larger interests of the country to the hegemonic  interests of his co-religionists and clansmen and women. The impression  created now is that, to hold a key and strategic position in Nigeria  today, it is more important to be a northern Muslim than a Nigerian.

15. Today, in Nigeria, the noble religion of Islam has convulsed. It  has become associated with some of worst fears among our people. Muslim  scholars, traditional rulers and intellectuals have continued to cry out  helplessly, asking for their religion and region to be freed from this  chokehold. This is because, in all of this, neither Islam nor the north  can identify any real benefits from these years that have been consumed  by the locusts that this government has unleashed on our country. The  Fulani, his innocent kinsmen, have become the subject of opprobrium,  ridicule, defamation, calumny and obloquy. His north has become one  large grave yard, a valley of dry bones, the nastiest and the most  brutish part of our dear country.

16. Why have the gods rejected this offering? Despite running the  most nepotistic and narcissistic government in known history, there are  no answers to the millions of young children on the streets in northern  Nigeria, the north still has the worst indices of poverty, insecurity,  stunting, squalor and destitution. His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto,  and the Emir of Kano are the two most powerful traditional and moral  leaders in Islam today. None of them is happy and they have said so loud  and clear. The Sultan recently lamented the tragic consequences of  power being in the wrong hands. Every day, Muslim clerics are posting  tales of lamentation about their fate. Now, the Northern Elders, who in  2015 believed that General Buhari had come to redeem the north have now  turned against the President.

17. We are being told that this situation has nothing to do with  Religion. Really? It is what happens when politicians use religion to  extend the frontiers of their ambition and power. Are we to believe that  simply because Boko Haram kills Muslims too, they wear no religious  garb? Are we to deny the evidence before us, of kidnappers separating  Muslims from infidels or compelling Christians to convert or die? If  your son steals from me, do you solve the problem by saying he also  steals from you? Again, the Sultan got it right: let the northern  political elite who have surrendered the space claim it back  immediately.

18. The persecution of Christians in northern Nigeria is as old as  the modern Nigerian state. Their experiences and fears of northern,  Islamic domination are documented in the Willinks Commission Report way  back in 1956. It was also the reason why they formed a political  platform called, the Non-Muslim League. All of us must confess in all  honesty that in the years that have passed, the northern Muslim elite  has not developed a moral basis for adequate power sharing with their  Christian co-regionalists. We deny at our own expense. By denying  Christians lands for places of worship across most of the northern  states, ignoring the systematic destruction of churches all these years,  denying Christians adequate recruitment, representation and promotions  in the State civil services, denying their indigenous children  scholarships, marrying Christian women or converting Christians while  threatening Muslim women and prospective converts with death, they make  building a harmonious community impossible. Nation building cannot  happen without adequate representation and a deliberate effort at  creating for all members a sense, a feeling, of belonging, and freedom  to make their contributions. This is the window that the killers of Boko  Haram have exploited and turned into a door to death. It is why killing  Christians and destroying Christianity is seen as one of their key  missions.

19. On our part, I believe that this is a defining moment for  Christians and Christianity in Nigeria. We Christians must be honest  enough to accept that we have taken so much for granted and made so much  sacrifice in the name of nation building. We accepted President Buhari  when he came with General Idiagbon, two Muslims and two northerners. We  accepted Abiola and Kingibe, thinking that we had crossed the path of  religion, but we were grossly mistaken. When Jonathan became President,  and Senator David Mark remained Senate President while Patricia Ette was  chosen by the South West became a Speaker. The Muslim members revolted  and forced her resignation with lies and forgery. The same House would  shamelessly say that they had no records of her indictment. Today, we  are living with a Senate whose entire leadership is in the hands of  Muslims. Christians have continued to support them. For how long shall  we continue on this road with different ambitions? Christians must rise  up and defend their faith with all the moral weapons they have. We must  become more robust in presenting the values of Christianity especially  our message of love and non-violence to a violent society. Among the  wolves of the world, we must become more politically alert, wise as the  serpent and humble as the dove (Mt. 10:16).

20. Every Religion has the seeds of its own redemption or  destruction. It is a choice between Caesar and God. We cannot borrow the  crown of Caesar without consequences. The boundaries between faith and  reason are delicate but they are fundamental to how a society builds a  moral code. Faith without reason breeds the fanatic, the demagogue who  genuinely but wrongly believes that he has heard the voice of a god  ordering him to kill another. Reason without faith produces the  ideologues who will also kill because the ideology of the state orders  him to do so. Societies can only survive when a Constitutional basis has  been established to create a balance between both extremes and to place  our common humanity at the centre of every pursuit.

21. My dear brothers and sisters, Anger, the quest for Vengeance, are  a legitimate inheritance of the condition of unredeemed human being.  Both have appeal. Through Violence, you can murder the murderer, but you  cannot murder Murder. Through violence, you can kill the Liar, but you  cannot kill Lies or install truth. Through Violence, you can murder the  Terrorist, but you cannot end Terrorism. Through Violence, you can  murder the Violent, but you cannot end Violence. Through Violence, you  can murder the Hater, but you cannot end Hatred. Unredeemed man sees  vengeance as power, strength and the best means to teach the offender a  lesson. These are the ways of the flesh.

22. Christianity parts ways with other Religions when it comes to  what to do with the enemy. Here, we must admit, Christianity stands  alone. This is the challenge for us as Christians. Others believe in an  eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or that one can take either blood  money or make some form of reparation one way or the other. However, for  us Christians, Jesus stands right in the middle with a message that is  the opposite of all that is sensible to us as human beings. Put back  your sword (Mt. 26: 52). Turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:38). Pray for your  enemy (Mt. 5: 44). Give the thief your cloak (Lk. 6:29). None of these  makes sense to the human mind without faith. This is why Jesus said the  only solution is for us to be born again (Jn. 3:3). The challenge before  us is to behold the face of Jesus and ask the question, Are we Born  against hatred, anger, violence and vengeance?

23. There is hope, my dear friends. Are we angry? Yes, we are. Are we  sad? Of course, we are. Are we tempted to vengeance? Indeed, we are. Do  we feel betrayed? You bet. Do we know what to do? Definitely. Do we know  when to do it? Why not? Do we know how? Absolutely. Are we in a war?  Yes. But what would Christ have us do? The only way He has pointed out  to us is the non-violent way. It is the road less travelled, but it is  the only way.

24. How and why does God choose these young persons as our models?  Leah Sharibu and now Michael, all teenagers when they confronted evil  and became martyrs. In a recent report in Daily Trust on February 2,  2020, I read the story of one of the Dapchi girls and their incredible  show of bravery in the face of fire. They were asked by their ferocious  captors to point out the Christians among them or they would all face  death. In response, they said in unison that they were all Muslims.  Then, she continued, “when they intensified their threat to kill us,  Leah stood up and said that she was a Christian. She said they could go  ahead and kill her instead of killing all of us. So, they separated her  from us…before we were rescued, they told us that if Leah would convert  to Islam, they would free us, so we tried as much as possible to  convince her but she refused saying she would never renounce her  religion for fear of death.”

25. We have no evidence of what transpired between Michael and his  killers. However, for us Christians, this death is a metaphor for the  fate of all Christians in Nigeria but especially northern Nigeria. For  us Christians, it would seem safe to say that we are all marked men and  women today. Yet, we must be ready to be washed in the blood of the  lamb. The testimony of the Dapchi girl above suggests that our country  has a future, a future based on the innocence of our youth who have seen  beyond religion. Leah Sharibu is a martyr for the faith and so is  Michael. St Paul has already said it well: We carry this treasure in  vessels of clay so that all this surpassing power may not be seen as  ours, but as God’s. Trials of every sort come our way, but we are not  discouraged. We are left without answers but we do not despair,  persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed. At any  moment, we carry in our person, the death of Jesus, so that in life,  Jesus may also be manifested in us (2 Cor. 4: 7-10).

26. Finally, we praise and thank God that Pius, Peter and Stephen are  alive and will continue to bear earthly testimony of this horror. May  God help them to all heal. We join the family of Michael in their act of  forgiveness while calling on God give these killers their own road to  Damascus experience deep in the forests and highways. For now, we in  Sokoto are at peace and feel mightily honoured that we have been chosen  for this task of being called upon to walk the footsteps of the passion  of Jesus Christ. We know that the Lord’s burden is never heavy. We are  humbled but not bowed. Although we are only a little flock, we are  pleased to offer from the little we have to the Master. Like the owner  of the donkey on which Jesus rode to Jerusalem, we are asking no  question because the Master has asked for Michael (Lk. 19:31). Like the  Galileans (Lk. 13:1), we surrender the blood of Michael to the vicious  Herods of today but we know we will one day rise to a new life. The  choice of our son Michael as a Simon of Cyrene is a remarkable gift that  we must embrace with both hands. We feel as if our son has been chosen  to represent us in the national team of martyrs. Without fear, we will  complete the journey he started because his memory will give us  strength.

27. We know that Michael’s strength will inspire an army of young  people to follow in his steps. 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 honoured that our son has been  summoned to receive the crown of martyrdom at the infancy of his journey  to the priesthood. We are grateful that even before he could ascend the  earthly altar, Jesus the high priest, called Him to stand by His  angels. He was a priest by desire but he is concelebrating the fullness  of the priesthood beside His Master. He was lifted up even before his  hands could lift up the sacred chalice. May the Lord place him beside  His bosom and may he intercede for us. If his blood can bring healing to  our nation, then his murderers will never have the final say. May God  give him eternal peace.

Copyright © Matthew Kukah.

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