‘Nigeria is literally like a tinderbox now’
Catholic Bishop Of Sokoto Diocese, Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s one year in office, the way forward for the country and other sundry issues.
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari government’s performance in the areas of economy, anti-graft fight, security and others in the past one year?
I do not have the competence to assess his economic policy, but it would seem that there are serious ideological issues, concerning the role of the state in the management of the economy. The President seems to hold on to some positions that should be subjected to further interrogation given that after 50 years of over-centralised state control, the obsequies of socialism were conducted nearly 20 or so years ago. The signals are pretty confusing especially given the pauperization that we are facing is in conflict with the goal of welfarism and we do not seem to have an idea of the location of the finishing posts and when the good times might begin to roll.
I have always been suspicious of the words-fighting corruption-because it does not suggest that we properly understand what we call corruption. How do you engage in a fight when the enemy has not been clearly defined, when the army has not been mobilised, when we do not see a clear strategy nor are we clear about whether we are fighting a disease or a symptom.
We seem to assume that fighting corruption, so called, is about fighting those who have stolen money. Even if this were the case, the focus on political office holders alone assumes wrongly that this is the only area of theft or corruption. Perhaps with greater thinking and planning, a strategy for dealing with corruption can be worked out, short, medium and long term.
But corruption has become a way of life not because Nigerians are bad people. It has been so because it has been part of the efforts by ordinary citizens to survive in an environment of executive perfidy and lawlessness, where those who govern have lacked the capacity to provide ground rules in keeping with the Constitution they swore to uphold as far as the essence of government is concerned. And, so far, this war against corruption seems to be war against corruption in the PDP and what happened at the last elections. What is going to become of the bureaucracy, the conveyor belt of corruption, what of corruption in the private sector and public life? Is corruption in the military corruption tied only to the war against Boko Haram? Had enough homework been done, the government would not have left itself open to the accusations that now fly in the war.
For example, what tools are we using to fight this battle? So far, it seems as if the EFCC is the magician. And yet, after some 15 years, does the EFCC not need re-tooling to meet the exigencies of the moment? Could the seeming cold war between the government, the Judiciary and the Nigeria Bar Association not have been avoided and greater confidence built? Nearly one year later, all we hear is that trials have been stalled. And these were some of the issues some of us raised earlier in this game.
What is your view on the government’s handling of the herdsmen’s menace, Boko Haram insurgency and agitation by members of the Biafra group?
I think the challenge now is for the President to develop a more democratic reflex in managing differences and tensions within the society. The problem with these military Presidents is that most things are largely seen as targets, guns, bullets and firepower. We are in a democracy. The key ingredients are, debate, negotiation, persuasion and consensus. It is not enough for the President to be impatient with the process. He does not have a choice.
In the end, what lasts is ideas not physical force. We are in a war, but a physical war is the result of a failure of the war of ideas, the breakdown of talking and conversation. So, the advisers of the President must persuade him to be more amenable to dialogue and seeking consensus. We all love this country and sometimes those in power think that they love the nation more than the rest of us.
Herdsmen, Biafrans, Boko Haram extremists, Presidents, Senators, market men and women, farmers and everyone, we are all Nigerians and the challenge of leadership is the need to create a tent that ensures that there is space for every citizen. If the behaviour of some people suggests that they do not love the country, then those who lead must offer reasons to convince them that they are mistaken. They need to be led home by better arguments not force. Those who fall foul or threaten the safety of the tent should be punished if they are guilty, but that must be through a process that all of us can relate with. Criminals do not become less of citizens or a nation in the same way that sinners do not become any less God’s children unless they fail to mend their ways. Sanctions are important but repentance is even more so.
Looking at the 2016 budget that was just signed by President Buhari, do you think it will make much-desired impact in the lives of Nigerians?
I am not an economist. The size of budget will never guarantee the welfare of citizens if those who administer the budget do not change their ways. As you can see from what has gone before, this budget has been trailed by fraud and insincerity on the side of those who have been used to the old ways. What has happened in the National Assembly exposes the illusion that things have changed. To bend the system away from the gargantuan and selfish appetite of those in power who believe that the resources of this country belong to them and their families, will always remain the challenge. There has never been a correlation between the size of budget and citizen welfare where there is no political will to do good.
How will you assess APC as ruling political party in the last one year?
What can I say? Clearly. APC came to the party without its dancing shoes. It is taking too long for them to find the right shoe size to light up the party they invited us to. The American consultants showed them how to win, but they did not teach them how to govern.
Now we know the difference between helping the Democrats win elections in the USA and helping APC stumble to victory. On their own admission, and given the realities on the ground, the real challenge for the APC is to attain internal cohesion and develop an ideological vision to rally its people and contain their personal ambitions and egos.
Clearly, the three tendencies within the APC seem to be heading in different directions and until they are able to harmonise their vision, they have a long way to go. My grandmother used to say, if the lips do not come together, it is impossible to whistle. Sadly, spelling the C word has become a real problem for the party. But, we live in hope and APC has some really good minds. They must quickly get their navigational aids before they get into stormy weather.
What will you like President Buhari’s government to do different from now?
I am not sure how you want me to answer your question. However, I think that the President should develop a strategy for internal national cohesion, to regain the lost momentum, to give a sense of direction and a clear road map.
When I said that national stability was the most important and urgent project, some miniature fascists went into overdrive, accusing me of defending corruption. Now where are we today and how is it that the momentum, the goodwill seems to have been depleted? Look at where we are internally, as if we are preparing for a civil war.
The President should visit southern Nigeria much more and in a way and manner that aims at achieving clear results instilling confidence in our people so that no one feels left out. He is from the North and does not really have to worry about visiting the North. The nation is literally like a tinderbox now and the President should close his ears to some newborn ideologues who believe in fire power and tough talk, it will only heat the polity and create further alienation. He must take back the loyalty of citizens from the forces of centrifugalism who are chipping away at our sense of unity.
With the pace Buhari government is moving, do you think it can achieve much in the next three years?
Slow and steady wins the race. Some of you called him Baba Go Slow. Nigerians like speed and theatrics, but excessive speed kills as road safety will tell you. I believe the President means well, but there is a growing disconnect that is calling all the good intentions into question. There is no clear idea of where we are going and when citizens’ welfare will become a priority. Increasingly, there is no evidence that citizens, their welfare and security are a priority part of this conversation. This is where the problem lies.
Citizens are very angry and frustrated. The nation is severely threatened again. What the President needs to communicate to citizens and raise their hopes by stating clearly, short, medium and long term plans as to where we might be next year and the year after. In this way, you will be keeping faith alive.
Are you at home with government’s recent decision to remove fuel subsidy and peg fuel price at N145?
What can I say? The rigmarole has started all over again. Price hike, so-called negotiations, deals are cut and then things return to normal. I think the greatest problem has been very poor communication with citizens. For such an important policy issue, the President should have been in the country, address the nation and lay out very clearly how this will impact in the lives of people and what sacrifices.
How do you explain the fact that our country has been sold to the dogs all these years in the name of governance? By focusing on PDP, the APC government has not helped to contextualize the historical evolution and diminution of the Nigerian state by governments. The salacious figures that are bandied do not bring us any closer to the criminal enterprise that has been called governance in Nigeria. As you can see, we are again being led through a route of uncertainty. Prices go up, the government knows that it wants to do, it co-opts a few elites within the labour movement and then we hear of negotiations and finally, the government and its negotiators sell a dummy to Nigerians.
Labour will claim that it has fought for the masses and made government climb down. The government will then pretend that it has succumbed to the pressure due to love for the people. The people are caught in a web. Both government and labour are a tag team of syncronised swimmers playing on our sensibilities. We hope for the best.
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