The mistake of 2015
Shortly before his painful demise some ten years ago, the incomparable Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) sports reporter, Yinka Craig, had sent Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah a quaint e-mail. It read: ”The Reverend Father Matthew Kukah….” At first blush, this message was cryptic, reminiscent of the famously inaudible Oracle at Delphi or a code deployed by one agent to the other in the cloak-and-dagger world of espionage.
On second examination, however, especially for those who know the Bishop or have keenly followed his storied career, Craig’s message spoke volumes. For Bishop Kukah is a transcendental and magnetic person. He lights up the room when he enters it. He is quick to make friends across the board and across religious divides. He is quick to inspire people to achieve loftily and he is quick to chastise underachievers.
A paragon of excellence, the Bishop is always striving to improve himself and to spur others around him to excel and to give muscular expression to their God-given talents. From a first degree, he proceeded to acquire a PhD. From his engaging Mustard Seed column in the New Nigerian some 40 years ago, he has authored cerebral articles and homilies which address the Nigerian, and by extrapolation, the human condition. From his PhD dissertation, which was published into a book(Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria), he has published, to wide acclaim, books such as: Democracy And Civil Society in Nigeria, Witness To Justice: An Insider’s Account Of Nigeria’s Truth Commission, Whistling In The Dark etc. He has had a Fellowship at Oxford University and a Senior Fellowship at Harvard University.
If he has consistently upgraded himself intellectually, his messages have always been lucid and constant. They have been insistent against injustice, impunity and misrule. Besides, he has, for the past 40 years, been unrelenting in speaking truth to power. In doing so, he has deployed his bully pulpit, churning out homilies that radiate brilliance and exude integrity and hope. He has also drawn the ire of our “leaders”.
Beyond his gift of speech and his mastery of the art and craft of writing, he has also deployed his immense goodwill to the service of humanity and democracy. He is an arrow-to- ploughshare man in the true sense: If he is not mediating one dispute or the other, he is papering over a crack. If he is not exhorting warring factions to cease fire, he is joining hands with other patriots to convene summits that engender peace or enthrone democracy.
It is against this salubrious background that in spite of the allegedly incendiary comment issued by a presidential candidate threatening brimstone and fire if he did not win the election in 2015 that Bishop Kukah and others pacified the country. Thereafter, he joined hands with General Abdulsalami Abubakar and other respected Nigerians to establish the National Peace Committee (NPC), which insisted that the two major gladiators in the 2015 general elections, and indeed subsequent elections, must commit themselves and their followers to peaceful conduct and refrain from issuing inflammatory comments.
Given the aforementioned, it will not be a hyperbole to say that Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah has earned a place in our annals as a statesman, a humanist, an intellectual and a moral lodestar. What is remarkable is that in these capacities, the Bishop has continued to pitch his tent with Nigeria’s downtrodden and deprived. He has continued to call attention to the failings of governments, particularly the President Muhammadu administration, which has failed spectacularly to deliver good governance and to secure the lives of Nigerians.
Latching onto his bully pulpit and high moral pedestal, the Bishop recently warned Nigerians to avoid deceptive politicians and not to repeat “the mistake of 2015”. Delivering a lecture on National Cohesion for Growth and Progress – The Nigerian Dilemma” at the Inaugural Lecture and Gold Prize organized by Nigeria Media Limited at the Yar’Adua Centre recently, Bishop Kukah regretted that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had grossly failed to deliver on its promises to the Nigerian people.
Bishop Kukah’s warning is apt and propitious for several reasons. In about another 14 months, Nigeria should be conducting another set of General Elections. And unless we put the candidates under the microscope, devoid of ethnic and religious sentiments, we are doomed to repeating our mistakes and coming to greater grief. George Santayana once warned: ”Those who cannot remember their past are condemned to repeat it.”
The past six and half years instruct us poignantly that:
1) The President Muhammadu Buhari administration, even though a beneficiary of credible elections and the introduction of technology to the electoral process, pays scant attention to electoral reforms that it had solemnly pledged to Nigerians.
2) The Buhari administration lays little or no premium on the lives of Nigerians. This is adjudged by its indifference towards the insecurity that pervades the country. Some seven years ago, depending on your faith, all you needed to do when you intended to travel was to recite Psalm 23 or Falaq and Nas. These days the security situation, particularly in the North and South East, have so worsened that you need to constantly recite Psalm 91 or Al qunut ziwarel even in the “comfort” of your home.
3) The fight against terrorism, banditry, kidnapping rather than gain traction and be over with (as solemnly pledged) is being lost in spite of the yeoman’s efforts of our armed forces. The bottom was knocked out of the propaganda that the terrorists had been defeated when last week they specially welcomed the President to Maiduguri by lobbing rockets at the precincts of the airport.
4) Never in our annals has the country been so divided or whole sections excluded from the country’s governance. 5) Never in our history has rank incompetence and nepotism afflicted and asphyxiated our governance system.
Permit me to quote APC Senator Isa Misau: “So many incompetent people are holding so many positions. Fifty percent of the ministers are not performing. Since the President assumed office, he has not taken any decision to move this country. So many appointments in this government are not on merit. ”
One is encouraged by the fact that my colleagues in the media, informed by this grim and daunting picture, and cognizant of their constitutional duty to hold government accountable to the people have been steadfast in pointing at the several breaches and acute failings of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Even publications, which were once laid back and thought to be sympathetic or proximate to the administration have been unsparing of its excesses.
Civil Society must support and reinforce the untiring efforts of the media in holding this government to account. This writer notes with delight the effort of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) which very early in the life of the Buhari administration inaugurated a “Buharimeter” project, with the support of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) designed to track the election pledges of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Other Non-governmental organizations must join the CDD in this noble endeavour and they should do so in a sustained, empirical and transparent manner. We cannot deepen democracy or expect good governance if we give up on the important task of subjecting power welders to scrutiny. As Thomas Paine once argued, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”
We must extend this scrutiny and vigilance beyond the President Buhari administration, which is in its lame duck period. All candidates vying for office in the next dispensation must be vigorously scrutinized and be put under the microscope for how they conducted themselves in the past and the pronouncements they had issued. Probably if we had done that, devoid of sentiment, of President Buhari’s previous stewardships as military head of state and chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), we would have had an inkling of the dreadful circumstances in which we find ourselves today.
Thus when Bishop Kukah charges us to “choose credible leaders” and henceforth to “look before we leap” to avoid “another disastrous outcome”, he is enjoining us, as Thomas Paine once told his compatriots, that: ”We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in. In such a case, we are sure that we are right; and we leave to you the despairing reflection of being the tool of a miserable tyrant.”
Dazang is the immediate past Director of Media and Public Enlightenment of INEC.