Despite heading a diocese in a region of northern Nigeria known as a Boko Haram stronghold, Bishop Matthew Kukah insists that there is no real Muslim/Christian divide in his country, and that clashes perceived as religious are generally a ‘cover’ for the government’s failure to foster a genuine democracy in the country.
ROME – One of the Catholic world’s most experienced prelates in terms of living cheek-by-jowl with Muslims insists that there is no real divide between Christians and Muslims in Africa, above all in his home country of Nigeria, and that clashes perceived as religious are generally an index of the failure to build a genuinely democratic state.
“There isn’t really a Christian-Muslim conflict in Nigeria, that’s a cover for something else,” said Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria, an overwhelmingly Muslim area in the country’s far north which has been a stronghold for the radical Boko Haram movement.
“What people call Christian-Muslim conflict, there’s nothing inevitable about it,” Kukah said. “I think the Western media has constructed it, and it’s very popular. And it’s also very popular in Nigeria, but I have said over a 30-year period, there’s no real conflict between Christians and Muslims.
“The same Muslims and Christians work together in the bureaucracy. They serve together in the army and in other arms of government. What we call violence between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria is really the failure of law and order,” he said.
Kukah spoke to Crux on March 24 during a summit on the African church sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and held at the university’s Global Gateway center in Rome.
Despite heading a tiny diocese and being fairly diminutive in stature himself, Kukah has an outsized presence in Nigerian public life. Holding a Ph.D. from the University of London, he’s one of the most trusted and admired religious leaders in the country, having served on a national commission for political reform, and having led negotiations to end a conflict between the Shell corporation and the Ogoni ethnic group over oil operations in the Niger Delta.