Nigerian Catholics shocked by public admission of religious discrimination in Kaduna

In a video, the former governor of Kaduna state, Nigeria, admits religious discrimination while his party benefits Muslim communities and does not need the Christian vote. Angered by this stance of discrimination, Catholic priests have demanded that the current governor distance himself from his predecessor.

Christians in Nigeria have expressed dismay and shock over a video of the former governor of Kaduna State admitting that his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), routinely practices religious discrimination.

The video shows Nasir El-Rufai, who ran the state for eight years, speaking to a group of Muslim clerics, with the current governor, Uba Sani, sitting beside him. During his speech, El-Rufai explains to the clerics why he did not include Christians in the local government.

“Those that are not Muslims don’t vote for our party. Most of them. So, why should I give them the deputy position? I did my calculation, and I knew we could win the election without giving them the deputy governor.”

He then goes on at length about how his party has always treated Muslims and Christians fairly, although he seems to equate this with non-oppression of Christians, since he openly admits to favouring Muslim constituencies. “Of course, Kubau [a Muslim area] voted for us the most, so I’ll add something to Kubau because they voted for us. What I’ll give Jaba [a Christian area], I’ll increase it for Kubau because Jaba didn’t vote for us.”

Religious discrimination in Nigeria

El-Rufai tells the assembled Muslim clerics, who eagerly applaud him throughout, that this is the concept that he learned from them. “What you Imams and Ulamas taught us is that leadership in Islam is all about justice”, he says, adding “nobody can say he was oppressed for not being a Muslim. But you’ll prefer the ones who support you.”

The former governor then urges his audience to ensure that Muslims will continue to dominate local politics in the future. “So, after Uba Sani finishes his tenure and gets re-elected again, that’ll be sixteen years”, says El-Rufai, who served eight years himself before passing the baton to the current leader. “Then we’ll have another tenure which will make it 24 years. That is when everyone will understand and say ‘Okay, we understand, we know our status’ and ‘We know the Muslims will not oppress us.’ That’s it. And you’ll see that there will be peace. I swear to God, this has been our plan from the first day we started APC in the state”.

“Divisive, bigoted and hateful”

In a reaction to these statements, which was also sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a group of Catholic priests wrote to the current governor, demanding that he distance himself from El-Rufai. Representatives from the Catholic Diocesan Priests Association in Kaduna, Nigeria, Zaria and Kafanchan, which are all within the borders of Kaduna state, labelled the comments a “divisive, bigoted, hateful and completely unstatesmanlike declaration of Islamic political supremacism in Kaduna State and Nigeria”.

Far from feeling that they are treated equitably, the priests say that “we and our congregations have prominently been at the receiving end of the terrors of ineffective governance, especially in the last 8 years”, and that as priests, specifically, “our association almost lost count of our members who were steadily being targeted, kidnapped and killed”.

According to figures collected by ACN, eleven priests were kidnapped in Kaduna State, Nigeria, over the past year and a half, the latest of whom on Sunday 11 June. Three of them were murdered; two of the kidnapped priests are still unaccounted for.

religious discrimination Nigeria
Funeral Mass of Seminarian Michael Nnadi

“This is apart from the several other pastors of other Christian denominations and countless whole Christian communities that are being steadily raided, ransacked, burnt down and their inhabitants either taken for ransom or slaughtered without any of the perpetrators brought to book, nor any support for the survivors from the State Emergency Management Agency, or the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), nor from any other government agency. The only response that would usually come their way from government has been bizarre and inhumane accusations that they provoked their killers, tagging the atrocities as justified revenge killings, with punitive curfews and proscription of socio-cultural and developmental associations of some socio-cultural communities”, the priests complain.

“Mr. Governor, this, to every discerning mind, is not only evidence of religious discrimination and the provocation that most Christian communities and individuals have endured in our state, especially during the reign of former Governor Nasir El-Rufai. It is also an explanation for the many unjust policies of his administration, uneven distribution of state resources, the wanton killings and kidnappings that afflicted the Christian dominated areas, and the nonchalance and sometimes scornful response of the government to the distress calls of victims”.

The priests also express their dismay with the fact that those applauding El-Rufai “are the same clerics with whom we have been in constant dialogue and discussion on how to help embed harmony, peace and mutual respect for our different faith-persuasions. They are the same clerics we have called friends and partners in inter-religious dialogue, and now they seem to stab their friends in the back”.

Nonetheless, the Catholic signatories to this letter against religious discrimination insist that they wish to give the current governor the benefit of the doubt. “We are writing you because we want you to succeed. Religion should occupy the place given it under the Constitution and should never be used as a cover up for incompetence and failure. The peace and progress of our state should never be traded for some atrocious political expediency. We assure you of our unrelenting support and prayers, trusting that God will give you the wisdom to govern and give Kaduna State an enviable reputation among other States”, write the priests.

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