2012-05-10 Vatican RadioDuring the dry season the harmattan wind blows here from the Sahara desert bringing dust and disease into the ocre coloured savanna, coating over the occasional baobab tree.
Until the rainy season sweeps all the dust and disease away and the fertile land is suddenly green again overnight.
This is Sokoto once one of the largest empires in Africa. Here lay the centre of politics and economics of what is now the North western region of Nigeria. At its height it extended over 1,000 miles from current day Burkina Faso to Northern Cameroon
A Sultanate founded in 1804 by Uthman dan Fodio, which began to disintegrate by the 1890s. First Internal rivalry brought civil war and then in 1903 Sokoto fell to the French and British colonial armies. Under indirect colonial administration, Great Britain, which assumed control over 80% of the Empire, allowed the Sultan to remain as ruler and ally.
And a sultanate is still in place in Sokoto today, where a centre of Islamic studies thrives and where the current Sultan Alhaji Mohammed Sa'ad Abubakar III is to this day spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims . A man who works closely with the Catholic Church in an effort to put an end to the current dramatic situation in his nation, voicing his condemnation of all violence be it Muslim or Christian. While the Islamist 'Boko Haram' sect continues to kill.
But what exactly is this ‘Boko Haram’ often described as a sect and which the Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Kukah recently described in an article in a German magazine as a platform for different groups instead.
In an effort to find out more Jesuit Father Bernd Hagenkord who heads Vatican Radio's German Programme decided to interview Bishop Kukah and began by putting that question to him.
The Bishop of Sokoto replied he personally doesn't believe a central organization under the control of a single individual exists. Adding how there have been reports of infighting within 'Boko Haram' leading to the emergence of splinter groups with different criminal agendas.
Among the root causes for this violence the Bishop identifies a cross section of reasons: from the moral and political to the more basic squabbles surrounding issues such as boundary disputes or theft of cattle.
Asked by Father Bernd what he believes the ‘Boko Haram’ wish to achieve , the Bishop explained how the criminal group actions are that of a people who have no understanding of statehood and use violence as a means to obtain power.
More specifically when asked about the recent attacks aimed at Christians the Bishop of Sokoto was adamant in highlighting how the scenario is not one of Christians versus Muslims. For, he says, while there exist groups that wish to draw Nigeria into a much broader religious conflagration, there are also prominent religious leaders within Islam such as the Sultan of Sokoto who voice condemnation of all violence.
Listen to Jesuit Father Bernd Hagenkord’s full interview with Nigerian Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Kukah: