Outspoken Nigerian Bishop Says He Is ‘Fine’ Amid Reports He Was Called in for Questioning by State Police

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah spoke with CNA via a Jan. 11 email.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto addresses a dinner of ADF International, with the theme ‘The Crisis of Religious Freedom in Nigeria,’ at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto addresses a dinner of ADF International, with the theme ‘The Crisis of Religious Freedom in Nigeria,’ at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C. (photo: International Religious Freedom Summit 2021 / International Religious Freedom Summit 2021)

Following Nigerian media reports over the weekend that a Catholic bishop had been summoned for questioning by a state security agency, the bishop in question says he is “fine” and that “the matter [has] actually passed.” 

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah told CNA in a Jan. 11 email, “For now, [I] am very fine and have been in my village for a week now.”

Bishop Kukah, who leads the Sokoto Diocese in Nigeria’s northwestern corner, criticized Nigeria’s government for complicity in the face of kidnappings and other persecution of the country’s Christians in a 2021 Christmas message. 

Reports surfaced in Nigerian media last weekend that the State Security Service (SSS), a federal secret police force, reportedly took notice of Bishop Kukah’s remarks and ordered him to present himself for questioning, according to an unnamed source cited by People’s Gazette. 

Bishop Kukah’s email to CNA comes amid a number of Nigerian media reports from Monday, which reported that Bishop Kukah has yet to receive any communication from the SSS, citing a Sokoto diocesan spokesperson. CNA asked Bishop Kukah for clarification on this point and is awaiting a response. 

Bishop Kukah said in his original email, “The matter had actually passed but now we are handling the matter through other channels,” but he did not elaborate. 

In his Christmas message, Bishop Kukah said the Nigerian government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, seems to have left the fate of Nigerians in the hands of “evil men.”

Bishop Kukah decried the fact that more than 100 girls abducted by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram have yet to be found, as well as “hundreds of other children whose captures were less dramatic,” ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner, reported Dec. 28. 

“Now, we are fully in the grip of evil. Today, a feeling of vindication only saddens me, as I have watched the north break into a cacophony of quarrelsome blame games over our tragic situation,” Bishop Kukah wrote. 

He continued, “A catalogue of unprecedented cruelty has been unleashed on innocent citizens across the northern states. In their sleep, on their farmlands, in their markets, or even on the highway, innocent citizens have been mowed down and turned into burnt offerings to gods of evil.”

In Nigeria as a whole, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades. An estimated 3,462 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, or 17 per day, according to a new study.

Nigeria is Africa‘s most populous nation, and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamist extremist groups.

Part of the problem, Nigerian Christians have told CNA, is that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

Fulani herdsmen, most of whom are Muslim, have been responsible for the most killings, as of late, having murdered an estimated 1,909 Christians in the first 200 days of 2021.

“The silence of the federal government only feeds the ugly beast of complicity in the deeds of these evil people who have suspended the future of entire generations  of our children,” Bishop Kukah wrote in his Christmas message. 

“Every day, we hear of failure of intelligence, yet those experts who provide intelligence claim that they have always done their duty diligently and efficiently. Does the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not believe that he owes parents and citizens answers as to where our children are and when they are coming home? Does the president of Nigeria not owe us an explanation and answers as to when the abductions, kidnappings, brutality, senseless and endless massacres of our citizens will end?”

In February 2020, Bishop Kukah celebrated Mass for the funeral of Michael Nnadi, an 18-year-old seminarian who was kidnapped, held for ransom and killed by Muslim gunmen. According to one of his kidnappers, Nnadi was not afraid to proclaim his Catholic faith to them and would not stop telling the kidnappers that they needed to repent of their evil ways.

During Nnadi’s funeral, Bishop Kukah decried the insecurity and violence that has taken place under Buhari and expressed the hope that Michael’s death would become a turning point for Christian persecution there.

He said he hopes Nnadi’s example, and his martyrdom, will inspire an army of young people to follow in his footsteps. 

Bishop Kukah said at the time: “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 honored that our son has been summoned to receive the crown of martyrdom at the infancy of his journey to the priesthood.”