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Confab: There is nothing to talk about — Kukah

No report can surpass 2005 conference report
President has no business convoking dialogue
FG shouldn’t fund ethnic groups, warlords’ participation
Jonathan’s perceived weakness not responsible for Boko Haram

BISHOP Matthew Hassan Kukah is  a sad man. His sadness is not related to the enormity of his episcopal responsibilities or being weighed down by the challenges that come with being an intellectually robust cleric and socio-political activist. Kukah is angry that every new Nigerian leader disregards past agreements on how to build a nation. This is why he is embarrassed that President Goodluck Jonathan is embarking on another talk on the future of Nigeria. In this exclusive interview , the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto  marshals his arguments  in a no holds barred fashion. Excerpts:

By CHARLES KUMOLU

Given that you were the secretary of the National Political Reform Conference in 2005, what is your take on the forthcoming National Conference ?
I am quite sad because it is an evidence of a country that lacks the discipline to appreciate that building a nation is not a single man’s job or a job of a generation. To design something requires energy and time. When I participated in 2005, I was quite enthusiastic even though I protested to General Obasanjo that I was not a lawyer and didn’t see the capacity in which I could contribute to the conference. It was for me a wonderful learning opportunity.
The fact is that this country lacks a collective sense of memory and it is part of the tragedy we are facing as a country.

Oputa panel
When I participated at the Oputa Panel, I was anxious to do it because I wanted to make sure that I brought in my personal prejudices in my own little way. And I have been prejudiced in favour of history. And let me immodestly say that Justice Oputa gave me the latitude to achieve that. To that extent, I consider Oputa Panel as an opportunity to assemble all the stories of Nigeria for the sake of the generations to come.

That is why I have said severally that there has never been a process that was as documented as Oputa panel was.
And I don’t want to hit my chest and claim credit but because I was so interested in that process, I found the resources to do that even when the Federal Government of Nigeria was not interested . Ford Foundation came to our assistance.

The result then was that in that panel we had transcripts, video, audio of everything that happened. In fact we had a problem when we wanted to handover the report because we needed a lorry to carry the materials.
That was why the event took place at the International Conference Centre rather than the Villa. It was also informed by some security reasons. The Director General of the National Archives was there, I don’t know what they did with their own materials that they received.

But my hope was that every university in Nigeria will have a copy or some copies of the process. It was not because of the story but because the collective narrative was important. For me, it was a major contribution towards shaping the history of our nation.

But if you ask anybody now, nobody can tell you where the report is. This is a country where huge resources are budgeted for things of this nature but you cannot find a decent piece of paper in this country where things are documented. It is amazing. It is staggering and frustrating for someone, especially for me that is particularly interested in how we can correct the mistakes of the past.

Confab-cartoonAnd this is why we are  just stumbling and fumbling without a collective narrative and a clear vision of where we are heading to. Every President comes with his own ideas about what he is going to do.

You can not have a transformation agenda without having an idea about where you are heading to. What are you transforming? What are you transforming when you don’t have a deposit of history to enable you figure out what was done well and does not need to be done again, what was done badly and what really needs to be transformed. And when we transform ourselves, what exactly are we going to look like? These are some of the issues that need to be reflected upon. But Nigerians think that governance is all about conducting elections, awarding contracts. Really, this what Nigerians think governance is all about. And you cannot build a nation with this kind of architecture.

What happened to the report of the National Political Reform Conference?
Well, you just asked me. But how do I know? The greatest tragedy is that the Secretary to the Government of Nigeria cannot tell you where the report is. The President of Nigeria cannot tell you where the report is. The Head of Service cannot tell you where the report is. The Cabinet Office cannot tell you where the report is. This is why I keep saying that Nigeria is like a pilot flying without a black box.

You cannot run a nation without a sense of memory. When we did Oputa Panel, one of the things I realised in my own little way as a student of history because I cannot claim to be a historian was that I realised that it is impossible to build a nation by just assembling good people. You cannot build a nation without sense of history. Even if it is about how other people have done their own.

The greatest tragedy is that we don’t really know where the dustbins are. It is a measure of small mindedness that passes for leadership in Nigeria. It  is sad that anybody  coming comes with a new set of builders. It is not the way to build a nation. For me, it says a lot about our inclination to define principles of democracy and nation building and our inability to learn from mistakes of the past.

It shows very clearly that even after 50 years of independence, we have not been able to distinguish between individuals and how institutions are built. The notion in Nigeria is that every President and governor has to come and do something different. Everybody has to come with his own pet project. Given the high mortality rate of leaders, I will say that it is troubling because I have looked at how other nations tried to build their own processes, and I don’t think that there is anywhere in the world where people are doing the kind of things that Nigeria is doing.

With your status, one would think that the President consulted you before coming up with the idea of a National Conference…
This is one of the sad things I feel. And I am not putting myself forward. The problem in Nigeria is that everything that happens is a project. And people are going to assemble and are thinking about money to be made. Now, I am not the one to say that I am important and that someone should have consulted me. But If I were in that position, I would at least ask a few people. I don’t think Justice Niki Tobi is physically in a state of mind to speak to anyone.

Political reform conference
But Sule Katagun is back to his home town and he was the Vice to Tobi. Next to him is myself and subsequently my co secretary, Prof Oloyede. I don’t know whether anyone spoke with him. Senator Okurounmu was a member of the panel. If I were taking a process of that nature, first I probably will allow someone to call a small round-table. It does not have to be the President because he has too many other things to do.

But at least, someone would say lets find a key member of the previous one and what exactly happened. The person is also expected to ask if there was something that was not done well that we really need to work on again. I can tell you this, and it is not because I participated in that conference, it is going to be really hard-put to come up with the kind of report that will surpass the report that we produced at that National Political Reform Conference. I am saying this in every sense of the word. I did not write the report and it was not my singular work.

But I am saying this as the secretary of the conference, who was on top of his job at the conference. So, I have an idea of what I am talking about. If we really were a serious country, what the President would probably have needed to do is to have someone suggesting for a review of what happened against the backdrop of a few other initiatives that have been undertaken, whether it was with Abacha or whatever the case may be.

The suggestion would also have focused on seeing where the chaff is and where the grain is and what exactly it is that we need to do. And the President could easily have done that without even talking to anybody or convoking a conference. But how much of this is politics and how much of it is other things?

But tragically, it is at the expense of the nation because now we are all being worked up. And typically like us Nigerians, we will all be foaming in our mouths with anger and frustration. Eventually, we will all go there and shout. At the end of the day nobody knows what is going to happen.

I find it very painful because given where we are now, the promises and the possibilities, these are not the kind of conversations we should be having. That is my conviction because we should not be talking about all the nonsense I hear. People are saying should we stay together, should we not stay together? what exactly are we going to do among other questions? For God’s sake, we have a National Assembly.

We have got a Revenue and Fiscal Mobilisation Commission. We have people who are tinkering with how revenue is to be allocated. We have many state governments. We have many state governments that are extremely doing well. Whether it is Rivers, Lagos, Sokoto, Kano or Katsina does not matter. The basic truth is that people are generating revenue.

Critical question
The critical question is to cut off the waste that is governance in Nigeria. It is not true for any governor to say that all he needs is more money because people have not demonstrated very clearly the level of their faithfulness with the resources that are available to them.

And if people live a less wasteful lifestyle and spend less resources by becoming more accountable, we will have enough resources in addition to what is given to them. A governor confessed to me that if we are honest with ourselves, we will have enough money. And this governor is from one of the poorest states in the North. If we are going to continue to service profligacy then that should not be the subject of a conference. So, there is nothing I see on the agenda that warrants our coming together to talk.

The rest of the world must be laughing at us. This is not how to run a country. Most of the things we are talking about are things that research, institutions, the university community and a much more serious intellectual community should be dealing with and be servicing agencies of government. You are bringing people together, whose only credentials are political connections.

You are also bringing together others who are redundant with the intention of servicing them and making them relevant. You are making them to add to their curriculum vitae so that they can show-off that they served in a conference. I have said it severally that the Bible and the Quran are sacred documents.

And supposedly we are the most religious country in the world. None of these two documents have stopped us, including myself from sinning. We read them every day but you have to be determined to commit yourself. I was just reading a document by the Holy Father, Pope Francis where he said something that jolted me. He said if you are reading the Bible, please remember that it is a document that was written over 3000 years ago. For me it was a staggering thought. It means that this is not a document that someone just sat in his bedroom to write.

Despite the sacredness of those texts, our rascality and irresponsibility have not been reduced. That is because these are moral instruments. But in a society where you have clear instruments of restraints such as judicial processes, the Police and the courts, we are still not heading to anywhere. We have been unable to prosecute any criminal in Nigeria. Those are not the issues of a conference.

The real issues is how we can implement some of the things that we are signatory to. And I have said severally that you can shut down the National Assembly or  tell the lawmakers to forget about any other job and sit down to review all the laws we have in Nigeria.

For instance, when you decide to pass a law on same sex marriage and people question the rationale for that when there is already a law that defines what marriage is. They will question why you are embarking on a superfluous exercise.

The point I am making here is that from the A-Z of survival in Nigeria, everything has literally been provided for in law. The question is how did we end up with encyclopedia of laws that nobody is interested in? How did we end up living in a country with one of the biggest constitutions as a document that nobody is accountable to?

You talked about shutting down the National Assembly, could you expantiate on this?
When I said shutting down the National Assembly, I meant shutting it down for making new laws. The fact is that everybody is benefiting from this rot. Whether it is the media, the church, labour groups, we are all in this mess together.
And I have often said that we should stop talking about corruption. Perhaps, it sounds provocative but we have to stop that because there is nothing to talk about corruption.

Spelling of corruption
We have not agreed on the spelling of corruption. And clearly nobody has the passion or commitment to fight corruption in this country. I have not seen that person. We talk about it but clearly at a particular point, we become ridiculous. About 33 to 34 governors were said to be undergoing EFCC investigations since 2007 but no conviction has been secured. The matter has gone and people have recycled themselves. From being EFCC guests they are back as Senators, ministers or whatever.

You are right if you question why the NASS should be involved in the process. They cannot of course be responsible for committing suicide. This is why I said that the best we can do with what we have on ground is not necessarily to contemplate any change. You cannot write the rules. We went into this process and that’s why we must return to the scene of the crime if we want to deal with this problem. That is to ask how we got to where we are now.

How we got to where we are
We got to where we are now because we woke up one day and was told that Abacha had died and we have not had the discipline to find out how Abacha died. We should have  asked why he died and how he died. We have closed that page in that manner tragic as it may sound. We ran through a transition but it was a transition that the military knew they wanted Obasanjo to be the President. Everything else became a matter of details.

For instance, the PDP was largely funded from government purse, just as a trojan horse to bring Obasanjo to power. Amid all these chaos and confusion we did not have a constitution, we did not agree on rules of engagement. And the appetite for greed of the Nigerian political elite was such that whatever it is, lets get these guys out of there so we could have a piece of the action. Are there rules? ‘No, we will make the rules when we get in.’ This is why we have this mess that is going on.

You are talking about the National Assembly, in Burma Aung San Suu Kyi since 1990 was in detention till two years ago. But remember that when she was freed to contest election, they had to draft a constitution and they were asked to sign the constitution. She and the members of her party refused to sign because there was something intrinsically problematic about a section of the law which was ‘pledging allegiance to..’ Literally it was a single word.

That is where principle comes in and where one says whatever it is, I don’t want it at all cost. If a young lady feels that she needs a husband at all cost and anything that passes in trousers should be her husband, the person can be sure that she is not going to have a happy marriage.

What I am saying is that the so called political elites were a bunch of contractors, who will do business with anyone. The result is that these are the kind of people that presented themselves as politicians and these are the people we had to choose from. The kind of freshness that you require from a transition never happened in Nigeria. And this is why we are still some of the key players in politics today.

They are in their eighties, some are way beyond their eighties, they are still the key players and actors on the political scene. Clearly, in basic political science, one of the obstacles to democracy is military rule, another obstacle is gerontocracy, that is the presence of too many old people in a democracy.

Gerontocracy scuttles democracy especially in Africa where we think that age is synonymous with wisdom. How we get past all that is beyond the saying that we are going to have a conference or saying that we are going to have a national Assembly to do things differently. Even at the National Assembly we have a problem.

Can you be explicit on the problem the nation has at the level of the National Assembly?
The National Assembly has a very high mortality rate. That of course induces a certain kind of volatility because of the absence of institutional memory. I was reading one of President Obama’s book and it was interesting to hear him say some things about getting into the Senate and how some of the people have been there for almost 50 years. He also talked about all the areas in the Senate that had become sacred places.

Zoning controversies
Now, how many senators or members of the House of Representatives have been there since 1999? Part of the problem is not about people losing elections, it is also about the consequences of disagreeing with a governor and zoning controversies. Also too many people are getting into the National Assembly without prerequisite qualifications. They don’t know the constitution, they don’t know law.

I am not saying that the place should be populated with lawyers. But the mental discipline that is required to be a lawmaker is not the prerequisite of getting into the National Assembly in Nigeria.
And the way we are going now, in the next 10 years, about  90 percent of the Senate is going to be made up of former governors for whom the Senate is gradually becoming a place of abode.

What all that means for the project of democracy should be questioned. And the issue of how to resolve it is not just about having people gather for a national conference. The problem of gathering for the conference is that the people are not coming because of their expertise. Almost every body going for the conference is going as patronage.

If the President is not your patron, the governor is your patron, if the governor is not your patron, maybe your traditional ruler or somebody else is your patron. There is nothing on the card to suggest the minimum level of capacity that is required to get into the place.

We tried to manage 490 people. It will be problematic because you really don have the kind of conversation that is required.
People will just stand up to talk because it is their turn to talk, they may not have prepared what they want to say. Even how you manage that chaos is a problem.
That is why I am saying that since we already have a system on the ground, we just require a painstaking review that does not have to amount to any grandstanding about how you can make corrections.

All those things are things that with a robust and energetic civil society, people can continue to bang on the door of those in power.

Apparently the idea of the conference is in conflict with your beliefs on how to build a nation, what is your advice on the way forward?
Nobody needs my advice. The conference is going to take place and there is nothing anybody can do about it. We just pray for the best. We pray that it offers the necessary reprieve. But frankly, I remain very concerned because February has ended  and we have not started.  Because when government sets up this thing and tells you there is money you are going to have difficulties accessing the money. So you will require about two weeks to set up a secretariat.

I have been at some of the conferences and I know what I am telling you. I was at Oputa Panel, Justice Uwais Electoral Reforms Panel and Niki Tobi’s National Political Reforms Conference . We had the same same problem. Even at the level of my one man Committee on Ogoni land, I had same challenges. You have to start running around to know whether the responsibility of funding is under the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation or another office.

However, it could be avoided depending on the kind of connection that the secretary of the conference has. It depends on the kind of traction that the chairman has. It boils down to whether he can run around or have easy access to the President. When you finally get started, you will need like a month before you get to know most people.

I remember my friend Fola Adeola, who accosted me to ask what was the problem. He said he kept greeting me and I didn’t respond. I had never met him but that shows how huge the enormity of the task of the secretary is. I remember also the present governor of Katsina State, who said same thing. But there were so many people.

What is your road map for  a paradigm shift from this defeatist cries that have remained timelessly on the lips of Nigerians?
Here in Nigeria, we are suffering from mental arthritis because this is a country that has refused to think. I have said it repeatedly that the soldiers told us that they did not want long grammar. This whole talk about long grammar was to diminish the universities and the intellect. Since we have come down frown the ivory tower to the gutter were we are looking for something to eat, that is how the country will remain unless we do the right thing.

Countries are built by philosophers. The whole concept of a philosopher king is not about resources. It is about ideas. Ideas rule the world. And ideas are as a result of fertile imagination that is far from all the rubble and rustle that is the reality of every day life in Nigeria.

So, we must begin to think more clearly. There has to be a vision about what the country will look like. In our usual pretentious manner we said we were celebrating Mandela. But Mandela had a sense of what he wanted to be. For example, the Soweto riots were over the fact that children were being forced to learn Afrikaans(West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia). But Mandela decided to learn the language while in prison. That was the language of the enemy. So, my ability to speak Yoruba will mean that if I  land anywhere in Yoruba land, I will be welcomed.

Therefore, what is missing in Nigeria is that there is nobody that I have seen who is thinking about how we can build a country that is not here yet, but a country that we should have in another 50 years. These are not things you leave to chance. The very fact that Nigeria is experiencing a serious retrogression to the extent that we have traditional rulers competing in a democracy, shows the depth of the mess in the country.

In the 21st century where ideas rule the world, every political leader has to prefix himself by being chief this or that shows that somehow we have lowered the standards. People talk about India and China. The Chinese used ideology to get to where they are today.

There is no organisation in this world that has the type of intellectuals that the Chinese communist party has. So they are not just a bunch of people. They are clear in their minds as to the direction the country was headed to.

Where China is today happened almost 100 years ago. Now, because we are Nigerians, you can see that the greatest preoccupation in Nigeria now is that no one is wondering what the country will be like in the next 20 years. Everybody’s preoccupation and energy is channelled to 2015. These are not the kind of people that build lasting nations.

So if you talk about how to solve the Nigerian situation, you should talk about having a privileged intellect. I have set up the Kukah Centre. It was actually what I wanted to do before the Bishop thing came from no where. My interest is to find a bunch of intellects. You can’t throw a stone in this country without hitting the head of an extra ordinarily brilliant person.

But we seem to lack the ability to create confidence in ourselves and everything has become politics. So that is why I always ask myself if it will not be possible for us to create a Nigeria that is not here. When Nigeria turned 50 I was asked to do an article by one editor. Then I was in England. I asked him what I should write, he said just anything.

I told him that I did not want to write about what the nation has achieved in the last 50 years. I decided to write about Nigeria in the next 50 years. I remember asking him the number of pages he needed but he said as much as I could write. That paper has 1000 words as their standard. So, when I got to 3000 words, I told him that I had surpassed their style. He said I should keep writing.

When I got to 5000 I told him and he said I should continue. I think I ended up writing 5000 words or more. It was an exciting engagement because I was now trying to ask myself about what will happen to many Nigerian kids scattered all over the world tomorrow. Because clearly, we may be claiming to conserve culture  but sooner than later there will be no culture to conserve in another 30 years.

That is why you see people occupying positions which they are not qualified for. It is because of the poor leadership recruitment that you find a minster resigning because he wants to contest for governorship. The question now is where did a public officer who held office for three years get the money he will use to contest? So for me we cannot be repeating the same thing and imagine that the outcome will be different.

Do you really think there is a nexus between the tensed mood in the country and 2015?
Let us not deceive ourselves that there is no empirical evidence that suggests that if Jonathan drops dead today( God forbid), the temperature of the polity will cool-off. And also if Jonathan suddenly woke and decide to head for the monastery, that the polity will cool-off. It is people’s ambition that is overheating the polity. It is people stampeding and insisting that they want to break the rules at all cost and they want to be President at all cost.

All the guys who want to be President are legitimately entitled.
But they should please avoid sacrificing the nation for the purpose of their ambition. How does it feel like if they become President tomorrow and they are being haunted and hounded the way they are hounding the President. We have to agree that it is what is happening.

I do not see how anyone can claim to be a democrat and a president and governor are in power, all you are doing is to constantly diminish their offices. And you think others are not listening? The fact is that you have to create certain kind of sacredness and aura.

Like I said, I am convinced that If I, Matthew, were the President, I can do better than Jonathan. I also believe that if you were the President you could actually do better than Jonathan. But God has not decided to make Matthew President. And until God decides to make Matthew President, Jonathan remains the President. If I had my way he may not be President. If you had your way he may not be President, but today God did not make it so.

I believe that if you want to sit on that seat, you must respect and shepherd whoever is there in the way and manner you will want to be treated. If he does anything that diminishes the office, there are processes and procedures for getting across to him. Will you ever become President simply by abusing Jonathan or will you ever be rewarded with electoral victory simply because the only card you have is that you abused the President successfully. Why not tell us what you are going to do.

Are indicting the opposition?
I always tell my friends on the opposition to leave Jonathan alone. Tell us what you want to do differently because for me, I am convinced that you will not be better than Jonathan. I cannot take your word for it until I see it. So, to suggest that Jonathan’s perceived continuation decision is responsible for the heat in the polity is baseless. Why are they bringing the matter to us? If they thought that we Nigerians are important why didn’t they show us the agreement that was signed?

We were not there when they had their deal. Within the PDP, there should be an institutional mechanism to throw Jonathan out if he no longer serves the interest of the party. But as I am sitting here as the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, there is nothing I can do about whether Jonathan contests election or not.

The only thing is that I may decide not to vote for him if I don’t want him and if the PDP presents him. But I cannot stop PDP from presenting him nor can I stop him from presenting himself as a candidate. It is left for the party to decide whether to present him as the candidate. So, this should not be a subject of blackmail.


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