The Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, has apologised to Catholic bishops for criticising them over their comments about the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari and the disenchantment of Nigerians over his (Buhari) governance style.
The clergymen who visited Mr. Buhari recently under the banner of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) warned the president to take ‘urgent steps’ to win back the hearts of the people whom they said were groaning under heavy socio-economic and social burdens.
Reacting to the position of the clergymen, Mr. Bello had dismissed their warnings saying they (Bishops) were angry that they could no longer get paid tithes again from corrupt politicians and civil servants who had been crippled financially by the current anti-graft war of Mr. Buhari. Tithes are 10 per cent of income made by Christian faithful and paid to their local parishes and churches.
The governor, who reacted after observing Ju’mat prayer at the presidential villa on Friday, said since the Buhari administration had blocked avenues through which funds were looted, ”the corrupt can no longer pay tithes to churches.”
His comment had opened up a floodgate of heated debate and condemnation across the social media.
Reacting to the controversy his comments generated, Mr. Bello in a statement signed on his behalf by his Director General of Media and Publicity, Kingsley Fanwo said he ”could never insult men of God as he had tremendous respect for the Catholic Community.”
He said he would not do anything to belittle any religious organisation.
He said reports that he disrespected the Catholic Community and its leaders was “another low by my detractors in their desperation to portray me as an irresponsible leader.”
Mr. Bello said ”he knows genuine religious leaders of all faith are united in Buhari’s fight against corruption, and no good religion condoles corruption and corrupt people.”
“My statements to the press were misconstrued and misrepresented but I take full responsibility, for this as I tender my unreserved apology to the Catholic bishops and by extension my Christian brothers and sisters who are displeased with my statement on tithing.
“I recognise the enormous contributions of the Catholic Church to entrenching a social order which is devoid of corruption, oppression and in the promotion of socio-economic justice.
“The Catholic Church has done very well in promoting literacy and health care. I am quite familiar with a good number of Catholic priests and I know their stance on the issue of corruption. Every church and religion must fight corruption because corruption oppresses the poor and destroy justice and fairness,” the statement said.
The Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN), prominent Catholic bishops, two Catholic groups, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, the Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA, Archdiocese Emeritus (Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan), Alaba Job, and the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Hassan Kukah, had earlier condemned the comments by the Kogi state governor.