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• How Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah trained a Muslim Fulani boy to a varsity level at Usman DanFodio University, Sokoto

From Noah Ebije, Kaduna

Prompted by the continuing communal crisis between Fulani herdsmen and Christian communities in Southern Kaduna in which more than 300 are said to  have lost their lives, Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, in a bid to show the kind of relationship that should exist between Christians and Muslims not only in Kaduna but in Nigeria, told the story of how he sponsored, to a university level, the education of a Fulani boy, whom he did not know his parents from Adam.

Though he refused to mention the name of the boy, whom he calls “my son”, he said the boy graduated recently from Usman DanFodio University, Sokoto (UDUS) – formerly University of Sokoto. The outspoken Bishop who hails from Southern Kaduna, from Ikulu Chiefdom in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of the state, revealed this recently in Kaduna while speaking on a topic, ‘Who is a role model religious leader?’, at a lecture organised by GIABA, a nongovernmental Organisation (NGO).

Expounding on the subject, Bishop Kukah said every religious leader should be able to develop the habit of helping people, irrespective of their religious affiliaton and tribal differences. “You know, all these crises happening in Southern Kaduna, I don’t want to comment on it, but I went home in December.  I celebrated my 40th year anniversary in the missionary.

“As I was leaving the village, I saw people gathered by the roadside, and I said, what is happening? They said my cousin built a new house and they were opening the house. So I went into the house. I was dressed in my bishop attire, and as I was waiting to greet my cousin, there were some Fulani women, they were all dressed in their Hijabs. Then one of them, all of a sudden, rushed at me and held me by my right hand. Her ‘second’ who was standing by also came in her Hijab and held my left hand. So, I was standing between two Muslim women wearing Hijab.

“The question is: what was happening? I didn’t know but as I was later made to understand, the woman who held me on the right hand is the mother of the young Fulani  man whom I considered to be my son,  whose fees I paid till he graduated from Usman Danfodio University,  Sokoto.  He is a Fulani boy. I have never met his parents. I never asked him who his parents are, but this woman is his mother, and she was greeting me for the first time, and the second woman is his stepmother, so they all rushed to greet me in their Hijabs,  and at this particular point,  everybody was in joyous mood irrespective of our tribal and religious differences.

“Every religious leader has the capacity to shock, and that shock means doing things for people, not necessarily because you know them or they belong to your fold. The point I am making is that religious leaders must speak the language that transcends the people of the constituency where he or she lives. And that is why in a society such as ours, in times of crisis and conflict we tend to think that most of the problems we have are between Christians and Muslims, but in reality most of the things we call religious issues are not religious.

“But we are having a crisis. Christians would expect that a good Christian leader must take a position on the side of Christians, and likewise, Muslims would expect that a good Muslim leader must take position on the side of Muslims. Now, where will that lead our society because it is important to understand that Christians will not have their own polling booths during election, neither will Muslim. So in the final analysis, the question will be that what is the truth, and usually, what the truth is, is always being complicated.

“Several times, lawyers will say that if you want to hear the truth, you must hear both sides. But very often both sides may not be telling the truth,  and that is why  it is said that hear this side, hear that side, and you will arrive at the truth,  and sometimes his truth  may not  be your  truth. The truth may  be tucked  in somewhere.

“The point I am making is, in the moment of crisis, it is important that religious leaders should stand on a particular level of honesty because our responsibility is to deal with human beings. We understand that religious affiliation is a category, but it is not enough. Tolerance is highly needed as we relate with others. You may have been born into a Muslim family. But there are people who were born Muslims, who are today Christians. And there are people who were born in Christian family who are now Muslims and who became one voluntarily, without being coerced. This only goes to show the brotherhood of man.

“We thank God for the office of leadership and so on. There are no model religious leaders, we are all struggling like anybody else.  Therefore, I am appealing to you to be patience with us. And, please, pray for your leaders.”

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