There is a general consensus among human rights activists and public affairs commentators that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that should be protected at all cost. But the big question is: where does one begin to delineate boundaries between expressing oneself freely as part of one’s fundamental right and becoming a loose cannon that can set a society ablaze with insensitive diatribes?
The law itself recognizes that one’s freedom stops where an action can infringe on the rights of another. With the need to watch our lines in a country that is largely defined by ethnic and religious differences, where does that leave the sermon of the Reverend Father of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Reverend Mathew Kukah that seemed to have divided the country along two parallel lines, raising so much bitterness, accusations, and acrimony on its trail.
Kukah ‘s Christmas message titled “A Nation in Search of Vindication” was seen by many people as extremely critical of government. Going through the speech one can identify two major takeaways that generated the bulk of the raging controversies: the allegations of nepotism against the president and comments surrounding the protracted malaise of Boko Haram insurgency.
According to Kukah, there would have been a coup or war in the country if a non-Northern Muslim President had practiced a fraction of President Muhammadu Buhari’s nepotism. He also taunted the north by saying that in spite of Buhari’s sectional policies, the North still bore the brunt of under development, sufferings and killings in the country.
Several individuals and groups have nonetheless condemned the Christmas Day 2020 scathing comments on the Buhari’s presidency describing it as insensitive, particularly, his insinuations that the Northern hegemony was part and parcel of the Nigerian problem.
This has even warranted a Moslem group, Muslim Solidarity Forum (MSF), to demand that the cleric should either apologies or leave Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate. The group claimed his message was an attack on Muslims.
The response of various stakeholders underlines the awareness that issues bordering on ethnicity and religions must be delineated carefully with nifty balancing powers. For instance, comments from the presidency on the ultimatum given to Father Kukah commendably doused rising tension on the issue. Although the statement agreed that Kukah offended many with his scathing remarks, the presidency frowned at the quit notice, maintaining that groups must never give quit notice to anyone, but must learn to tolerate religious and ethnic differences as any Nigerian has the right to live anywhere in the country without any form of fear or molestation.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, also delved with wisdom into the issue of quit notice handed to the catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese. He described it as a contradiction to provisions of the constitution which accords all Nigerians the right to live freely in any part of the country.
The Benue State Governor however noted that such a response might tend to confirm Kukah’s allegations that Nigeria is being controlled by forces which are bent on setting the country ablaze if their interests are not guaranteed.
Speaking on the need for Kukah to align boundaries appropriately in his speeches, Ortom noted that the Holy Bible admonishes the people to pray for their leaders, while stressing that the crises in the country at the moment was beyond human comprehension and cannot be tackled by Buhari alone. He advised people who truly love Nigeria to desist from making sharp and inflammatory statements capable of heightening tensions and disintegrating the Nigerian polity.
A good number of Nigerians nonetheless believe Kukah had good intentions although some believe his comments could have been better garnished with better diplomacy. The Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo urged that the some of the comments and observations made by the reverend father should not be misconstrued.
The general consensus among dispassionate commentators on the issue is that every opinion leader must create boundaries around his comments to ensure that national peace and unity are reinforced. While people should be allowed to exercise religious freedom, every Nigerian should be mindful of political statements with capacity to split up a nation with numerous ethnic groups and religious differences.
Criticisms should be made without biting remarks that disparage or intend to vilify the subject of discourse. This way, finding faults can be separated from damaging criticism.
Although many commentators feel humanity must recognize that separation of religion and state affairs is absolutely necessary, they also state that religious leaders play a substantial role in guiding their followers on issues of political or moral significance. With this fact, to suggest that we can truly solve our national issues without collaborating with religious leaders would be a wild assumption.
Many thinkers globally believe that separation of religion and the State will never be absolute. This is because the worthwhile laws of man are influenced by the eternal laws of the Almighty.
But for those who find it challenging to navigate the thin line, the advice is that it is best to let politicians take care of political issues while religious leaders handle the spiritual ones.
The consensus seems to be that religious leaders should serve as unifiers working diligently to bring about solutions in peaceful methods and not inflame existing situations. They should push for the primary purpose of helping mankind understand the importance of “Live and Let Live”.
The role religious leaders should play in politics, if any at all, is that of peacemakers. When politics give way to hot heads and unrest, it should be the religious leaders that put forth efforts to cool the heads and usurp the unrest with peace.