New Telegraph

Matthew Kukah: Salute to a clergy of distinction @70

O n August 31, this year, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto, Most Reverend Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah turned 70. Congratulatory messages poured in from all over the world rejoicing with him and also thanking God for his seven decades on earth. New Telegraph joins wellwishers to rejoice with Dr. Kukah for his long life while praying to God to continue to endow him with more years of quality health and continued useful service to humanity. Born in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Bishop Kukah attended Saint Fidelis Primary School, Zangon, before gaining admission into Saint Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Zaria, also in Kaduna State. He continued his studies at Saint Augustine’s Major Seminary Jos, Plateau State, where he studied Philosophy and Theology and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Divinity from the Pontifical Urban University Rome, Italy in 1976. He also attended the University of Ibadan, where earned a Diploma in Religious Studies.

He earned a Master’s Degree in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, United Kingdom, (UK) in 1980, after which he earned a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in 1990. Ordained a Catholic priest on December 17, 1976, shortly after his Bachelor’s Degree from the Pontifical Urban University, Dr. Kukah has served humanity in different capacities. It was while serving as the Secretary-General at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), Lagos that he became visibly noticed not only as a clergyman but as an extraordinary intellectual. From his position as Secretary-General of the CSN, he analysed and dissected societal issues in oral and written communication that were difficult to ignore.

The CSN became a place of interest for journalists, scholars, and other discerning members of the society. Bishop Kukah is unlike some clergymen who could be likened to preachers of prosperity gospel thereby giving their congregation and others the impression that human beings do not necessarily need to work hard but only look up to the sky for manna to fall from above. But for Dr. Kukah this is a misinterpretation of the Word of God. He could be said to be a firm believer in the immortal words of Saint Ignatius that: “A person should pray hard as if everything depends on God but work hard as if everything depends on him or her.”

It is probably for this reason that the celebrant, reinforced by his vast learning, preaches what, at best, could be referred to as liberation theology. Realising that the few privileged ones in different human sectors have subjected the multitude of less privileged individuals to deprivations of monumental proportions, Bishop Kukah has deployed his energy and intellect to constantly speak truth to power proffering solutions for the march forward of the society. T he services of the celebrant are exceedingly sought by stakeholders within and outside the precincts of the Catholic Church. Some years ago, he was invited by the Newswatch Communications Limited to be one of its esteemed external columnists among who were Professors Pat Utomi, Adebayo Williams and Niyi Osundare.

Each outing of Dr Kukah as a Newswatch columnist was a display of irresistible scholarship common at the delivery of an inaugural lecture at a citadel of learning. Many from far and near looked forward to his scholarly offerings in the Newswatch Magazine. He was also the Secretary- General of the National Political Conference during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

He was also a member of the National Human Rights Investigation Commission popularly known as the ‘Oputa Panel’. He was also the Chairman of Ogoni/Shell KK Committee setup during the tenure of President Obasanjo to resolve the misunderstanding between the oil company and the people of Ogoni. For many years, Bishop Kukah has been the Secretary of the National Peace Committee, whose Chairman is the former Head of State, General Abdul Salam Abubakar.

He was appointed into the Dicastery for the Promotion of Human Integral Development by Pope Francis in 2020.The fact that Dr. Kukah’s name has remained a recurring feature in the referred committees and other assignments, both religious and secular, could be likened to a vote of confidence on his person and attributes of competence, fairness, uprightness and sense of justice. It was a fitting tribute to this clergyman and scholar of distinction when his denomination, the Catholic Church, elevated him to the post of the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto in 2011. Even as a Bishop, Dr. Kukah’s trademark scholarship has remained undiminished.

From time to time, his down-to-earth analyses and dissections with regard to societal happenings do not go down well with the privileged few to whom the celebrant has deemed fit to challenge to debate. A particular instance was the invitation to a debate extended to the presidential aides by Dr. Kukah. Acceptance to the debate by the presidential aides is not yet in the public domain. We wish Dr. Kukah, a theologian, clergyman, social crusader, humanist and scholar of distinction, a happy 70th birthday and more years of stable health and uplifting service to humanity.

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