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‘Incompetent political elites are using religion to cover their incompetence’


Mathew Hassan Kukah

Catholic Bishop Of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah in this interview spoke on the herdsmen/farmers’ clash, Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari and other topical issues

Considering the persistence of the herdsmen and farmers’ clash in the country, especially in Benue State, do you think the federal government has done or is doing enough to tackle the challenges?
Well, I do not think the issue is whether they have done enough. Rather, we must accept that they have done their best from Chibok girls to the issues of security. Sadly, all our talks about security have focused on guns and military operations.

We have done absolutely nothing to address the soft issues of building a humane society. The herdsmen/farmers’ clash is a watermark in our politics of identity. So far, the government has left so much to be desired and I am not sure whether it is that they are just overwhelmed and that the problems are well beyond their capacity. Else, I do not know how else a government can preside over such a massive slaughter of its citizens and remain almost unmoved.

What is your reaction to the proposed cattle colonies by Federal Government, considering the fact that cattle rearing is a private business that has nothing to do with government’s involvement?
It is a bit of a pity that the argument has become more politics than economics. And I think in a more rational environment, we should separate the two. Sadly, this government is not famous for engagement with ordinary people. So, now, we are not sure what these colonies are because no effective communication has taken place, nor are we sure what the impact is. And, as you know in Nigeria, when we argue, there are only two sides: you are either with them or against them. The fine issues often get lost and that is what we are facing now.

There have been these fears and insinuations in some quarters that the Buhari government is shielding the killer herdsmen in attempt to Islamise Nigeria?
I am not sure what to make of this but there is not much sense to that. For a government of law and order, I think the main concern is how and why is it that no one is standing trial today. The language of Islamisation remains in precise but it is a tragedy that a government that enjoyed such massive support across the faiths has become a hostage in a barricade it has built by its policy choices and appointments.

Recall that the Chairman of this Party and the Director of the Campaigns are both Catholics. How else could Christians have shown that they wanted to see beyond religion? Now, no one can confidently say they know what is on the cards. I feel quite sad about this because, if you make the kind of appointments that this government has made and you ignore the complaints of people, you leave yourself open to these avoidable accusations. But rather than listen, the government tends to simple compare notes with President Jonathan’s administration.

Do you think or feel that it is easy as being peddled by some people to Islamise Nigeria?
We are not talking about Islamisation here in terms of direct conversions or that we are dealing with people who genuinely are concerned about religion as such. We are dealing with people, who are concerned about holding on to power by appealing to these base sentiments. However, if you make appointments on these lines, you leave people with no choice, but to become conscious of certain identities. There is no doubt of the fact that today, Muslims need to save their religion from the clutches of politicians, whose manipulation has neither improved the life of Muslims nor has it given Islam a good face as we all know.

If those who want to Islamise Nigeria are serious, should we not see a sign from the states that are predominantly Muslim, where an attempt has been made to create an Islamic State? Zamfara was supposed to be the poster child of an Islamic state, but today, it is the theatre of the worst violence in Nigeria and the worst social development indices, with the highest national poverty levels leveling at over 90%. The Emir of Kano spoke to these issues most eloquently.

If this is what their Islamic state will look like, then I do not believe the Muslims themselves will want it. After all, as the beggar in northern Nigeria says, if Friday will be good (that is, if he will receive alms), then he will see evidence by Thursday. I have said it repeatedly and I am not worried that people feel angry, but I have always preferred that they provide better data rather than simply saying, oh, Bishop Kukah is insulting Islam. The Northern Muslim elite squarely face the fact that it is important that they offer to other children all the good things their children have come to take for granted. It is this hypocrisy that Boko Haram has exploited and so, again, the devastated landscape left behind by Boko Haram is indicative of what the Islamic state would look like, since Shekau and his people said this is what they want to do.

What is your view on the recent letter from Obasanjo and Babangida to Buhari asking him not to seek reelection in 2019?
No one can stop any citizen from exercising his rights, but na dem, dem. They have chopped together and they are still chopping together. We can only look on. How will I worry about people who are earning double pensions as ex-ministers Heads of State and governors? Let them decide what they want to do with Nigeria, but God dey o.

Do you think that the content of the letter and the writer will negatively affect Buhari’s chances in 2019, if he decides to seek reelection?
How do I know? The choice belongs to Nigerians and Obasanjo wrote to Buhari not Nigerians.

Don’t you think it is time for Obasanjo and other ex-leaders to take a bow and leave the leadership responsibility for the younger generation?
It is the non-chalance and the compliant attitude of the Nigerian youth and all of us that has kept these gerontocrats in circulation and reduced them to spectators. Younger politicians with the requisite qualifications continue to seek anointing by godfathers and reject the hard work and discipline that lead to the generation of fresh ideas.

As students of Political Science, 101 know, Gerontocracy (a government by old men and women) has been identified as one of the major obstacles to democracy. We will never get out of this cesspool as long as we do not develop the courage to change the rules of engagement. No one should govern this country unless they can answer our questions as to how they will meet their plans for us.

Why do you think the former president has been in the habit of writing letters and speaking against successive governments in the country, even after not doing too well in office as president?
Ask him. You are a journalist and that is your job.

You recently said in an event that it would take more than a God-fearing man to fix Nigeria, are you saying that our leaders are not God-fearing or that men of God have also failed the country?
Religion has been co-opted by a very incompetent political elite, who continued to use it to cover up the potholes of their illegitimacy. Did you ever see Mandela in any Church throughout his term as President? Where in the world is all this god-talk so prevalent as we see in Nigeria? We are shamelessly
worshipping China now, where are their Churches and Mosques? All these grand larceny going on, are the thieves not in the Mosques and Churches every Friday and Sunday?

Recently the El-Rufai-led Committee of APC on Restructuring presented its report, do you see the report being implemented to address the structural challenges bedeviling the country?
I have no time to read the report. It is the least of my worry now because I have heard all the angles of the debate, which has become rather sterile.

Do you think Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigeria Movement is a better platform for Nigeria to get its leadership right in 2019?
No idea. Let those who wish to join do so in fulfillment of our right to free association. But, those who lead and love Nigerians learn honesty: why will they bamboozle us, steal and manipulate elections, watch people die in the name of elections and force their candidates on us, while manipulating the electoral system and then turn around to suggest that we should turn a different direction?

I think the first thing that General Obasanjo should have done is to at least tell Nigerians how sorry he is, admit that he was a victim of very poor judgment and beg those who voted for forgiveness. After we have forgiven him, then we can at least ask what evidence he has that we should trust his judgment now? Or we should just be stupid and wait for the next letter again in three years?

Do you agree with some people that the present government is a failure?
That is for the people of Nigeria to decide. As I said, I think in all honesty, President Buhari has done his best. Judge him on that because this is what he can offer. I would like to say that he has tried with the Chibok girls, he has tried with Boko Haram, he has tried with Fulani herdsmen and farmers and this is his best. In judging a public officer, elections give power to the voter to use his marker to decide whether the best was not good enough, whether passed or got weak pass as we say in Nigeria.

In this article:
Matthew Kukah
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