Bishop Matthew Kukah has a penchant for speaking truth to power. His recent Easter message on the state of the nation has, however, incurred the wrath of the current administration who accused him of playing politics with his interventions. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah is not a run-ofthe- mill cleric.
Unlike some clerics who take pleasure in kissing powers that be for morsels of bread, he usually intervenes and makes his voice counts as a deliberate conscience of the nation. He is one cleric that can be classified as a man of many parts as he has proved himself to be a social crusader and erudite scholar. To his credit are several published works, comprising of books, projects, and articles.
At the national level, he has asserted himself as both a committed and uncompromising citizen, hence, the critical assignments and committees he has been part of in the past in the country.
Among such national assignments include serving as Secretary to the National Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission popularly referred to as Oputa Panel; National Political Reforms Conference; Ogoni/ Shell Mediation Initiative and the Electoral Reform Committee.
Kukah’s contributions to the work of these committees caused many to express the fear that the nation would lose his services when he was elevated to the position of a bishop in 2011. General Muhammadu Buhari (now president) captured the sentiment in his congratulatory message to the cleric at that time.
He expressed the fear that the cleric would no longer be available for public engagements. But Kukah allayed his fears, saying: “No need to fear, General. Of late, the role played by the National Peace Committee on 2015 elections convened by the Kukah Centre for Faith and Leadership Research, and which he was a member, has been a reference point in the narrative of Nigeria’s democratic history.
The committee led by a former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, ensured full compliance with the Abuja Peace Accord signed by the key contenders in the presidential election – then President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Buhari of All Progressives Congress (APC).
Despite being part of those who midwives a seamless transition in 2015, the outspoken cleric refused to be cowed as he continues to speak truth to power, a development that continues to angst the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration.
On February 11, 2020, during the burial of an 18-year-old seminarian, Michael Nnadi, who was kidnapped at Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna State by armed men and later found dead. Kukah did not only accuse Buhari of “relegating national interest to the background,” but said the President has “brought nepotism and clannishness” into the military and the ancillary security agencies.
His words: “No one could have imagined that in winning the presidency, General Buhari would bring nepotism and clannishness into the military and the ancillary security agencies, that his government would be marked by supremacist and divisive policies that would push our country to the brink.”
During the 2020 Christmas, Bishop Kukah gave a damning verdict on the APC-led Buhari administration by saying that Nigeria is at a crossroads and its future hung precariously in the balance. Asexpected, theseinterventionsdidnotgo downwellwiththeAPC-ledadministrationas the party, not only urged Kukah to keep his counsel, butnoted thathisadvicewasas aplot to blackmail the Buhari government.
The warning prompted many to express the fear at the time that Kukah would be cowed by the APC administration, but that has not been.
Rather, the cleric remains outspoken as ever and has continued to speak truth to power.
The outspoken cleric stirred the hornets’ nest again few days ago in his Easter message titled: ‘Nigeria: Before Our Glory Departs’, which was made available to journalists by the National Director, Social Communications, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Padre Mike Umoh, in Abuja
The bishop blamed the government of Muhammadu Buhari for incessant cases of banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and armed robbery across states in the country. “Traumatised citizens are tortured daily by bandits. The nation has since become a massivekillingfield, asbothgovernmentand the governed look on helplessly,” Kukah said.
He noted that there was now a collective fear in Nigeria as to whether the glory of the country was about to depart due to the killings by the Boko Haram terrorist group, kidnappers and ‘other merchants of death.’
Kook stated that the government was ‘mysteriously investing billions of Naira in rehabilitating Boko Haram repentant members’ believing they would turn a new leaf.
According to him, banditry and kidnapping were increasing because those in power paid more attention to rehabilitating bandits and kidnappers than the victims.
“These criminals have waged war against their country, murdered thousands of citizens, destroyed infrastructure and rendered entire families permanently displaced and dislocated.
“Why should rehabilitating the perpetrator be more important than bringing succour to the victims? “When kidnapped or killed, victims and their families are left to their wits.
They cry alone, bury their loved ones alone,” Kukah lamented. Further criticising the rehabilitation of Boko Haram members called Operation Safe Corridor, Kukah said he had never heard of a rehabilitation programme for thousands of schoolchildren who had been abducted and rescued.
“With some chance, we might pull through this, but it is getting tougher each passing day. Does anyone remember where westartedandhowwegothere? OnMay29, 2015, PresidentMuhammaduBuhari, athis swearing-in as President of Nigeria, said: Boko Haram is a typical case of small fires causing large fires. Now, before his watch, the fires are consuming the nation, and in many instances, they indeed start small.
“Therumblingsover thewearingof ahijab in Kwara State suggest that we have not seen the end of individuals sacrificing national cohesion to feed their personal ambitions by starting small fires.
Most politicians hardly think through the long-term effects of these pyrrhic victories of using religion. What started as a small fire with adoption of Sharia in Zamfara in 1999, spread across the northern states. Ordinary people broke into ecstatic joy.
Today, what has become of the north? What are the lessons?” But in a full-throated reaction, to the bishop’s comment, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said, “All citizens have their individual ideologies, even their own versions of truth.
“But if you profess to being a man of God, as Father Mathew Hassan Kukah does, ideology should not stand in the way of facts and fairness. “Father Kukah has said some things that are inexplicable in his Easter message.
“But, in saying that the Boko Haram terrorism is worse than it was in 2015, he did not speak like a man of God. Kukah should go to Borno or Adamawa to ask the citizens there the difference between 2014 and 2021.
Furthermore, the Hijab issue in Kwara State on which he dwelt is a state matter which the courts of the land have adjudicated. They are matters that have appeared in several states as far back as the Obasanjo administration. In all of that, when and where did the name of President Buhari feature?
“He is playing partisan politics by dragging the President into it. An administration that has created a whole Ministry, for the first time in the country’s history, appropriating enormous resources to it, to deal with issues of internally displaced persons cannot, in all rightfulness be accused of not caring for them,” the Presidency said.
But differing with the Presidency, Emeritus, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, said nobody can stop Bishop Kukah from speaking against bad governance in the country. Onaiyekan, who appeared as a guest on AIT’s breakfast show, Kakaaki, said he believed that genuine religious leaders had a role to play in politics.
He said: “With all due respect to whoever is speaking for the Presidency, he has a wrong idea of politics. Maybe, for him, politics have been just a game they play in the middle of the night.
“Does that mean that whenever we (religious leaders) tell the truth and work to make our country better, we should shut up because we are playing politics? No, we refuse. We will continue to talk. “In the whole project of nation-building and good governance, people, have different roles to play.
The role of Mr. President is, of course, the most important in terms of organizing everything. “But the role of religious leaders, if you are a genuine one, should be to be able to speak in the name of God.
So, let no one stop Kukah and other religious leaders from speaking from their hearts.
They cannot force you (the government) anyways. “Kukah is not preparing a coup against Buhari. He is only concerned about the people he sees every day. Kukah is speaking for so many who do not have a voice.
“What we expected from the Presidency was to hear what Kukah had to say, and take the issues one-by-one; maybe give explanations, if there is a need for such, and hopefully consider considering his message in its future plans.’’
With his antecedent, the outspoken cleric may not be quickly dissuaded from contributing to national discourse as he views it, however, the perception of the government of the day to his interventions will determine how his admonitions will contribute to the reshaping of the country’s fortune.