It is common knowledge now that Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of Catholic Archdiocese of Sokoto, is the lone voice against bad governance in Nigeria. The cleric does all alone, what the civil rights group like Campaign for Democracy, Civil Liberty Organizations, etc, used to do during the last 16 years of military rule in the country.
In that dictatorial era, lawyers and civil rights activists like the late fiery lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, late Dr. Beko Kuti, Olisa Agbakoba, late Chima Ubani, late Arthur Nwankwo, late Dr. Fredrick Fasheun, Pa Abraham Adesanya and Femi Falana battled the military despots to standstill.
Individually and collectively, they looked the army leaders’ eye ball to eyeball and urged them to retreat to the barracks by conducting a general election that would usher in a democratic government. The activists organized groundswell of protests across the country, particularly in the south, to press home their demands of a successful return to civilian rule. In the process, most of them died tragically.
Questions are being asked: ”where are the activists? If Nigerians could muster the temerity to confront the military on the masses on what they regarded as gross violations of human rights as well as constitutional abuses, why then is there what has been termed as a conspiracy of silence in this democracy dispensation? Despite all the brilliant lawyers in town, acclaimed human rights crusaders and even high flying journalists scattered all over the country today, not much energy is being directed at the direction of the government of the day in terms of tailored criticisms and constructive dialogues.
The present federal government has been taking billions of dollars of loan from China, using Nigerian resources to build roads, railways and petro- chemical stations in Niger Republic even as the current Buhari –led APC government is tagged the ”most nepotism inclined” regime ever.
Comrade Lewis Obi, a veteran journalist and a well known commentator on national and international issues, said: ”Nigeria is a federating country with 36 states, 774 local councils, 360 federal constituencies, 109 senatorial zones and about 300 tribes.
The Founding Fathers anchored the country’s survival in unity in diversity yet the present government has almost all the security chiefs drawn from the north, the president from the north, the senate president from the north, the speaker of the house from the north, the chairman of the ruling party from the north, and almost all the juicy positions are held by northerners”. The above submission is an indication that things are terribly wrong with the present administration.
This is exactly what has played up the emergence of Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah into the polity as the lone voice of the masses against bad governance. Through his letters to Buhari, to APC and to other arms of government, Kukah has courageously and painstakingly criticized poor governance as witnessed in insecurity, lack of infrastructure, nepotism, gross failure in policy implementation and visionless on the part of the executive and recklessness on the side of the lawmakers.
In his 2020 Christmas message to Nigerians, Kukah lamented the poverty poke and high rate of insecurity disturbing Nigerians at the season. According to him: ”against the backdrop of our endless woes, ours has become a nation wrapped in desolation. The prospects of a failed state stare us in the face: endless bloodletting, a collapsing economy, social anomie, domestic and community violence, kidnappings, armed robberies etc. Ours has become a house of horror with fear stalking our homes, highways, cities, hamlets and entire communities. The middle grounds of optimism have continued to shift and many genuinely ask, what have we done to the gods? Does Nigeria have a future? Where can we find hope? Like the Psalmist, we ask; from where shall come our help? (Ps.121:1).
”The roads to the graveyards are busier than those to the farms. Amidst the wails and laments, I hear the congregants saying; the world is coming to an end, it has never been so bad. Yes, people are dying, but they are not dying more now than they did in recent years. It is the social media and its connectivity that has given us a sense of greater urgency and added to our seeming despair with the way things are. The social media is value neutral. It depends on what we make of it. Its instantaneous impact is often times dizzyingly traumatic, but the other benefits more than compensate. In a way, the choices we make will help us decide whether this year is our annus mirabilis or annus horribilis”.
He added thus: ”When Isaac Newton, at the age of 23, made the spectacular discoveries in the areas of Calculus, Motion, Optics, and Gravitation, the year of those discoveries, 1666, was referred to as, annus mirabilis, the year of joy. On the other hand, in 1992, when the marriages of three of her children collapsed, Queen Elizabeth in her Christmas address referred to that year as her annus horribilis, the year of horror. As such, notwithstanding all the earth shaking impact of the Covid-19, our own individual, communal and national tragedies, it is not just a choice between annus mirabilis and annus horribilis.
”At various levels, there have been grey areas of hope, flickers of light, achievement and so on. It is to these flickers of hope that we must cling tenaciously. For our son, Anthony Joshua, the loss of his title to Andy Ruiz on June 1, 2019 after 25 fights without a loss, that year was his annus horribilis. When he pummeled Kubrat Pulev, this year became his annus mirabilis. Things change and, joy or sorrow, we must know that nothing lasts forever. What matters is how we handle failure”.
Describing Nigeria as a place of doom, Kukah, fearless and bold, said, ”Not unexpectedly, this Christmas is again coming against a backdrop of so much pain, sorrow and uncertainty in our land. We all seem to have become sedated and inured to pain. Tragedy has been standing as our gate keeper. For over ten years now, at almost each Christmas, a dark pall of horror, sorrow and death has consistently hung in our horizon threatening to eclipse the promises of the joy of Christmas. Recall the bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla on Christmas day in 2011.
In the wake of the Christmas day bombing, I issued a statement titled, An Appeal to Nigerians. In the statement which enjoyed a wide circulation, I stated: All of this should cause us to pause and ponder about the nature of the force of evil that is in our midst and appreciate the fact that contrary to popular thinking, we are not faced with a crisis or conflict between Christians and Muslims. Rather, like the friends of Job, we need to humbly appreciate the limits of our human understanding. Terror is a product of hate, but while hate tries to divide us, terror and death should pull us together”.
With this highly demanding and curious question, Kukah really got the heart of most Nigerians. ”Is government in suspended animation? As our country drifts almost rudderless, we seem like people travelling without maps, without destination and with neither Captain nor Crew. Citizens have nowhere to turn to. After he assumed power, a delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference had an audience with President Buhari. In the course of our discussion, the President shared with us his frustration over the state of decay and rut that he had met.
In frustration, I vividly recalled him saying that, from the decay and neglect, it seemed as if preceding governments had been doing nothing but just eating and going to the toilet! Looking back, one might conclude that those were happy times because at least there was food to eat and people could go to the toilet. Now, a journey to the toilet is considered by the poor an extra luxury. Our country’s inability to feed itself is one of the most dangerous signs of state failure and a trigger to violence”.
In the message, Kukah talked about ”Breaking the Ice: From Chibok through Dapchi to Kankara” He spoke about ”A Nation in Search of Vindication. This government owes the nation an explanation as to where it is headed as we seem to journey into darkness. The spilling of this blood must be related to a more sinister plot that is beyond our comprehension. Are we going to remain hogtied by these evil men or are they gradually becoming part of a larger plot to seal the fate of our country?
”President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalize northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status. He 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.
”There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war. The President may have concluded that Christians will do nothing and will live with these actions. He may be right and we Christians cannot feel sorry that we have no pool of violence to draw from or threaten our country. However, God does not sleep. We can see from the inexplicable dilemma of his North”.
Of course, Kukah noted about nepotism in government. He said, ”It is curious that President Buhari’s partisanship and commitment to reinforcing the foundations of northern hegemony have had the opposite consequences. For a long time, 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. With time, as hunger, poverty, insecurity engulfed the north, the President’s own supporters began to despair and lament about the state of their collective degradation.
”Was this not supposed to be their song? The north that the President sought to privilege has become a cauldron of pain and a valley of dry bones. Today, the north itself is crying the most and why not? No one has suffered as much as they have and continue to. The helplessness is palpable and the logic is incomprehensible”.
In this 2021, Kukah, following the life threatening messages he was receiving from various northern Muslim groups in the wake of his Christmas Day message, had also written to the late former Northern Nigeria leader, Alhaji Ahmed Bello, complaining about the poor situation in the North and Nigeria. According to him, ”For us, growing up as children in my little and very remote village in Sokoto registered in our memories only because your great stature served as a beckon that pulled the city nearer to us. Yet, looking back, how could I have imagined that I would not only visit Sokoto, but also become a citizen of this state? I deliberately drove to Rabah just to have a feel of where you grew up and where your father had served as a District Head”.
He added, ”at a time when there was no technology and no structures, you developed them from scratch. You built such institutions as the Ahmadu Bello University, Institute of Administration, Kaduna Polytechnic, Colleges of Education, Government Secondary Schools, etc. You set up the Northern Nigerian Development Corporation, Northern Nigeria Investment Limited, Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Broadcasting Corporation of Nigeria, New Nigerian Newspapers, Textiles Factories such as Kaduna Textile Mills, Zamfara Textiles, Cement Company of Northern Nigeria, Northern Oil Processing Mill, Sword Branch Bottling Company, Nigerian Breweries Ltd, Hamdala Hotel, Kano Ground nut pyramids, Central Hotel, Bank of the North, Northern Nigeria Radio Corporation and many others etc.
”With this legacy, should every son and daughter of northern Nigeria not walk like a prince or princess? Yet, today, all these institutions have been killed and buried by your successors who refused to develop a professional style of managing these great institutions. They were seen as extensions of a feudal system and today, rather than administer them; your successors presided over their funerals. What is left now are their carcasses”.
Lastly, in his homily at the funeral mass of seminarian Michael Nnadi of Good Shepherd Seminary, Kaduna (Sokoto Diocese), on February 11, 2020
Kukah, deliberately but promptly repeating himself,
” We have gathered around the remains of Michael in supplication but also as solemn witnesses to the penetrating darkness that hovers over our country. I have the rare honour of being considered the principal mourner in this ugly tragedy. It is not an honour that I am worthy of receiving. The honour belongs to God Almighty who created Michael and marked out this moment and pathway for him.
”The greater honour goes to his immediate family whose devotion as Catholics laid the foundation for his faith and vocation. To his grandmother, Mrs. Eunice Nwokocha, a most simple, beautiful and devout Catholic woman whose devotion and dedication saw Michael and his siblings, Chukwuebuka, Francis, Augustine and Raphael brought up in all the fine principles and disciplines of the Catholic faith.
” The third layer of pain has been borne by the entire country and the Catholic world. The national and international reactions to the death of this young man have made me step back and ask what message God has for our country. Michael is the first Seminarian to carry the mark of this brutality and wickedness. Priests have died in the hands of these wicked human beings. Michael was only a Seminarian in his first year of training. I had seen him in his cassock which he wore in my presence, not with pride but with dignity. Why would the tragic death of a young man such as him elicit such an unprecedented level of emotions here and around the world?”
He concluded thus: ”Nigeria is at a point where we must call for a verdict. There must be something that a man, nay, a nation should be ready to die for. Sadly, or even tragically, today, Nigeria, does not possess that set of goals or values for which any sane citizen is prepared to die for her. Perhaps, I should correct myself and say that the average office holder is ready to die to protect his office but not for the nation that has given him or her that office.
‘The Yorubas say that if it takes you 25 years to practice madness, how much time would you have to put it into real life? We have practiced madness for too long. Our attempt to build a nation has become like the agony of Sisyphus who angered the gods and had to endure the frustration of rolling a stone up the mountain. Each time he got near the top, the gods would tip the stone back and he would go back to start all over again. What has befallen our nation?”
Taken together, Kukah has been the lonely voice in the wilderness.
He has been defending the masses of Nigeria. He has been keeping the APC national government at its toes. For now, he is the conscience of the nation. He is the face of freedom fighters and human rights activists. Kukah is the new Gani Fawehinmi. As a matter of fact, he deserves to be given the award of Senior Advocate of the Masses, SAM, an award given by the oppressed people of Nigeria to one they think is walking with them and working for them.