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Nigerian Christian, Muslim Groups at Odds Over Catholic's Sermon 

FILE - The Rev. Matthew Kukah is pictured at the inaugural session of the Nigerian Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, Oct. 23, 2000, in Abuja, Nigeria.

Muslim groups in Nigeria are calling for the resignation of a Catholic clergyman who sternly criticized President Muhammadu Buhari over continued insecurity in the country. But Nigerian Christian groups have backed the priest, noting that his views represent the position of the broader Christian public.

Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has condemned Bishop Matthew Kukah's comments about the government, saying he portrayed Islam as a violent religion and implied that Buhari should be overthrown.

The group also moved for Kukah's removal from the country’s National Peace Committee, where he is secretary.

Ishaq Akintola, director of MURIC, said, "Anyone can criticize [the] government in a democracy. What we object to is his call for [a] military coup. That is treason. We also took him up on his reference to Islam as a violent religion. He has no right to do that. We believe such an explosive statement is un-Christian and inconsistent with the spirit of Christmas."

In a Christmas Day sermon, Kukah accused the president of favoring fellow Muslims, adding that "President Buhari's acts of nepotism could have led to a coup if he was a non-northern Muslim.”

His sermon also talked about the Nigerian government's inability to address insecurity in the country.

Truth to power

Christian groups support his stance, saying the statement was apolitical and represented the position of most citizens.

Mike Umoh, spokesperson at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), said the bishop only spoke truth to power.

"There are people who seem to have problem with truths, truths as obvious as the troubles and pains in Nigeria," Umoh said. "Look at the level of poverty, insecurities, corruption. Some people as usual have tried to twist the message in order to make it appear to have religious or tribal colorations.”

The National Peacekeeping Committee has yet to respond to calls for Kukah's resignation.

But Abdullahi Otaki with the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), a northern political group contesting the statement, says supporting the priest could lead to violence.

"Their backing him can cause more harm than the original statement, to be honest," Otaki said. "As a religious group, you should always think of the peaceful coexistence of your followers first."

Nigeria strikes a delicate balance between its Christian and Muslim populations, which each make up roughly half of the total population. But Christian groups often say they're prime targets of violent clashes, especially in the country's north.

This month, the United States added Nigeria to a list of countries violating religious freedom.