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Not in defence of Bishop Kukah


Matthew Kukah

The dust Bishop Hassan Kukah raised in his Christmas 2020 sermon has somewhat settled down. At least, I cannot feel it swirling around anymore and inviting sycophantic reactions from the barely informed, the totally uninformed and men who make a good living from dedicated sycophancy. We have to look under the carpet now to see the weighty issues he raised hiding in plain sight.

Kukah is not afraid of controversies. His courage in speaking truth to power is legendary. It irks some and it delights others. It is fuelled by his patriotism and by the burden placed on him by his calling to always speak the truth and put the devil to shame. If he sees evil, he must denounce evil; if he hears evil, he must denounce it. A tough task that does not elicit my envy. The bishop is a commander in the army of the lord in permanent battle with the horned one. So, he speaks the truth that cuts both ways – it pleases those who have tongues but cannot speak and it infuriates those in power and their acolytes who believe, verily, that political power insulates them against the common human errors of both the head and the heart, and are, therefore, beyond the criticisms of lesser men and women. It has always been so; it will always be so.


This piece is not in defence of Bishop Kukah. The scholarly cleric needs no one to defend him. He is, to use a common phrase, more than equal to the task. He usually does not defend himself. So, when, naturally, the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, chided him and told him that “While religious leaders have a responsibility to speak truth to power, such truth must not come wrapped in anger, hatred, disunity and religious disharmony,” Kukah kept his lips padlocked, but irked, I would imagine, by this and other immediate responses that ignored the thrust of his message and chose to see truth as a watered down lie and our national inclination live a lie by putting the rouge on the face of our political leaders, none of whom was imposed on us by the horned one.

Witness Mohammed’s tendentious claim that the bishop called “..for a violent overthrow of a democratically-elected government..” He did not. In any case, the minister would not be too young not to know that on January 15, 1966 and December 31, 1983, democratically-elected governments were overthrown by the five majors and his own principal respectively. Military rule is no longer an attractive alternative to a democratic rule, warts and all. No one, least of all Kukah, would champion a dead cause. I think the decision of the National Directorate of Social Communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, to come to Kukah’s aid because “..the agents of evil have gathered to attack the person of the bishop and to discredit the simple obvious truth of the message….” was gratuitous. Kukah has always been careful to speak as a Nigerian, at the pulpit and at other forums, who is worried about the wrongful policies and the direction and the fate of our country. He is worried about the fact that “as our country drifts almost rudderless, we seem like people travelling without maps, without destination and with neither captain nor crew.” This was what prompted his Christmas 2020 sermon. Trenchant and robust, yes but true and worrisome.


I am entering the fray because I think it should be possible for us to discard the sycophancy and the unholy defence of the barely defensible and elevate Kukah’s sermon to a greater height as a call to a national dialogue on our major fault lines and the issues that agitated us before and are increasingly exacerbated 60 years after independence. We are allergic to talking to one another because no one drives our national dialogue. What often pass for national discourses are threats and counter-threats that becloud reasons.

The core of his sermon boils down to this important question: Are we being led aright in a manner that gives us hope that as Nigerians with equal stakes in the survival and development of the nation, our tortuous and weary trek along the path of squandered riches and opportunities would eventually take us to the ultimate as a great nation, united by mutual respect for our diverse tongues and religious faiths? The question should be of more than passing interest to all of us as citizens of this potentially great country systematically reduced to a poor, beggar nation, playing second fiddle to other African countries. If we dialogue over it, we would identify what and where the problems that hobble us are. We would find that our national problems are not impossible but that they have proved this difficult to solve because we approach them with a large dollop of insincerity. The alternative, of course, is to leave well alone because what is, serves entrenched interests – ethnic, religious and sectional. It is a wrong attitude made attractive by despair. We cannot pull the nation back from the brink and prevent this nation from falling by choosing to live in denial.

To begin with, none of the assertions made by the bishop and the issues he threw up is new. His re-stating them does not make them so. It only forces us to confront what we have taken for granted as we watch our nation lurch in the stormy waters of our duplicity. Kukah talked of nepotism and asserted that “President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status.”

If you are old enough when Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and his fellow majors struck on January 15, 1966, you would recall that one of the reasons they cited for their coup was nepotism. Various administrative and legal steps were taken by the various military administrations to cure the nation of that disease because it fences us in and fences them out of the feeding trough. The proper management of our diversity has been critical to our determination to unite the country with every part and every tribe being given its due in a rainbow collection of equal people in a nation in which no tribe or religious faith is marginalised. In pursuit of this, the General Yakubu Gowon regime introduced the quota system. Obasanjo as a military ruler, institutionalised it in the federal character commission and the constitutional provisions stipulating that the composition of the federal government and state governments shall respect and reflect this diversity. No one should be left in the political cold or wilderness.


But in Buhari’s first term in office, he did not do too well on this score. Dr Junaid Mohammed pointed this out and gave a list of his nepotistic appointments. I cannot remember anyone challenging him. It has gotten worse, of course. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo put it differently sometime last year when he said that Buhari was mismanaging our diversity. It follows, as Kukah pointed out that in his cynical mismanagement of our diversity, Buhari “has pursued this self-defeating and alienating policy at the expense of greater national cohesion. Every honest Nigerian knows that there is no way any non-Northern Muslim President could have done a fraction of what President Buhari has done by his nepotism and gotten away with it.” He noted that “..beyond the pall of politics, very prominent northerners with a conscience have raised the red flag, pointing out the consequences of President Buhari’s nepotism on national cohesion and trust.” Think about that.

No sane Nigerian, no matter how truly sycophantic, can dispute the fact that our country has never had it so bad. This is not about speaking ill of the president. It is about telling the truth about our country. The truth is quite often hidden from the president by those who have taken it upon themselves the unproductive labour of protecting him from hearing evil and seeing evil to make him feel good about his leadership.

Criminals such as kidnappers, armed robbers, hired killers and the Boko Haram insurgency rule our country. We live in permanent fear. Our country is the poverty capital of the world with 100 million of its estimated 206 million population at the bottom of the pile as extremely poor. Corruption is still undefeated. We achieved most of this unenviable feat under Buhari’s watch. The road ahead has become foggy for most of us today. Where are we and where are we going? Bishop Kukah said that “This government owes the nation an explanation as to where it is headed as we seem to journey into darkness.” Trust Buhari. He will say nothing. Wailing becomes therapeutic for the rest of us wallowing in confusion and despair.

No sane Nigerian, no matter how truly sycophantic, can dispute the fact that our country has never had it so bad. This is not about speaking ill of the president. It is about telling the truth about our country. The truth is quite often hidden from the president by those who have taken it upon themselves the unproductive labour of protecting him from hearing evil and seeing evil to make him feel good about his leadership.


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Hassan Kukah
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