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Kukah: Voice of the voiceless or agent provocateur?

Bishop Matthew Kukah has endlessly spoken truth to power unlike some clerics who choose to ferment prejudice. However, his interventions on nation issues have always pitted him against the authorities. FELIX NWANERI reports on the recent spat between the cleric and the Federal Government over his Easter message

 

The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah is not just a cleric. He is a man of many parts; a social crusader and erudite scholar. Perhaps, his uncompromising stand on national issues, explains the critical national assignments he has been part of in the past.

 

Among such tasks include serving as Secretary to the National Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission; member of the National Political Reforms Conference, Ogoni/ Shell Mediation Initiative and Electoral Reform Committee. He is also the spokesperson of the National Peace Committee, led by a former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

The peace committee is convened by the Kukah Centre for Faith and Leadership Research, and the role it played during the 2015 presidential election ensured that then President Goodluck Jonathan accepted the outcome of the poll against the wishes of some of his aides, thereby saving the country from crisis.

 

Whereas the committee’s action was in line with the Abuja Peace Accord signed by the key contenders in the presidential election, the group did not go to sleep after the 2015 polls. It faulted Buhari move to probe the Jonathan-led administration shortly after its inauguration. The group met with Buhari and appealed to him to focus more on governance rather than the probe of his predecessor.

 

Kukah then explained that the committee believe that while it was clear that no Nigerian supports corruption, the concern was that that since the country is no longer under military rule, every accused person should be presumed innocent until found guilty by competent courts.

 

No doubt, the admonition was not out of place given the belief then that there was much work to do by the Buhari administration, but some people accused the group of advancing an ulterior motive given the shocking revelations on the activities of the Jonathan government.

 

However, the Catholic bishop came out to dismiss the claim that the Peace Committee’s meeting with the President was at the behest of his predecessor. He also reiterated the committee’s position that Buhari should concentrate more on governance than probe.

 

As expected, the Peace Committee’s counsel did not go down well with the APC. The party, not only urged Kukah to keep his counsel, but noted that his advice was as a plot to blackmail the Buhari government for trying to prosecute those it said, destroyed the nation’s economy.

 

The party did not stop at that; it warned leaders of the group not to interface for those who looted the national treasury irrespective of party or tribe, as nothing but the total recovery of funds looted by officials of the former government would be acceptable to all patriotic Nigerians.

 

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 the case. Rather, he remains outspoken as ever and has continued to speak truth to power. Kukah at a time raised the fear that the behaviour and attitude of President Buhari were causing tension and anxiety in the country.

 

The height of his assessment of the Buhari administration was on February 11, 2020, during the burial of an 18-year-old Catholic 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,” he said the President has “brought nepotism and clannishness” into the military and the ancillary security agencies.

 

While it has always been repudiation from the presidency each time Kukah faults  Buhari’s leadership style, the outspoken cleric also used his 2020 Christmas message to further slam the APC administration. In a speech entitled “A nation in search of vindication,” Kukah railed at what he described as Buhari’s unparalleled nepotism and policy of northern hegemony, while reducing other parts of the country to second class status.

 

He said there could have been a coup or war in the country if a non- Northern Muslim President had practiced a fraction of President Buhari’s nepotism. The Federal Government, in its response, faulted Kukah’s use of the Christmas, which according to it, is a season of peace to stoke the embers of hatred, sectarian strife and national disunity.

 

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who spoke on behalf of the government, said while religious leaders have a responsibility to speak truth to power; such truth must not come wrapped in anger, hatred, disunity and religious disharmony.

 

The minister added that instigating regime change outside the ballot box is not only unconstitutional but also an open call to anarchy. Kukah, who dismissed government’s claim that he called for a coup, urged Nigerians to get the accurate statement rather than relying on lies being peddled about in his name.

According to him, the message was based on his love for the country and had no political or ulterior motive. He described those calling on him to drop his priesthood cassock and join the political fray as being ignorant of elementary politics and ignorant of the role of a priest.

 

While many see Kukah as the conscience of the people and voice of the voiceless, to those in the corridor of power, his positions are informed by his aversion for the APC administration.

 

But given the fact that religion should be a vehicle to fight for the poor and down trodden, there is no doubt that the Bishop like other citizens, is worthy  to enjoy political expression. In his Easter Message penultimate Sunday, titled, “To mend a broken nation:

 

The Easter metaphor,” Kukah, who again criticised Buhari over insecurity, corruption and division in Nigeria, said every aspect of life in Nigeria has been destroyed while corruption is enthroned. His words: “Our dear country, Nigeria, still totters and wobbles as we screech towards a dangerous and avoidable canyon of dry bones.

 

One would be tempted to ask, what is there to say about our tragic situation today that has not been said? Who is there to speak that has not spoken? Like the friends of Job, we stare at an imponderable tragedy as the nation unravels from all sides.

 

The government has slid into hibernation mode. “It is hard to know whether the problem is that those in power do not hear, see, feel, know, or just don’t care. Either way, from this crossroads, we must make a choice, to go forward, turn left or right or return home. Noneof thesechoicesiseasy, yet, guidedbythe light of the risen Christ, we can reclaim our country from its impending slide to anarchy.”

 

In a swift response, the presidency, in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Buhari, Mallam Garba Shehu, accused Kukah of spreading hate among Nigerians and challenged him to join politics and prove his worth.

 

He said: “For a man who has been spreading hate for decades, there was nothing new in the homily, except for the fact that while millions of Christians were remembering the Lord’s crucifixion on Friday, His descent on Saturday, His resurrection on Sunday, and subsequent appearance to his disciples, Bishop Matthew Kukah was playing politics.

 

“This is not a time for religious leaders to play politics, or politicians to play religion. It is a time, as in Titus 3:9 to ‘avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.’ Yet Bishop Kukah used his sermon purposefully to make dissensions and quarrels about the law.

 

 

His accusatory list against the government revealed only his hatred for them.” The presidential spokesperson, who reiterated government’s belief that Kukah’s criticism of Buhari is based on prejudice, advised him to put away his clerical garb, join partisan politics and see how far he can go.

 

Apparently responding to the challenge for him to join politics, Kukah dared the trio of Minister of Information and Culture (Mohammed), Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity (Shehu) and Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity (Femi Adesina) to a debate on national issues.

 

The bishop, who spoke in a television interview, said: “Let me simply say that I have made an offer to them and still make the offer that they can choose the venue, choose the time and just let me know. I would like to sit down with the three of them.

 

Let us sit down together and talk about Nigeria. I’m ready. I will pay my way. I still repeat that offer to them.”

 

No doubt, Bishop Kukah has always maintained that his intervention in politics is spurred by the quest to make a difference for the people, however, it is left to be seen whether the President’s media handlers will accept his challenge and prove him wrong.

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