By Abdullah El-Kurebe
Matthew Hassan Kukah is the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, comprising Kebbi, Zamfara and Katsina states. He speaks on the controversial fuel subsidy, among other issues.
On the alleged plan by Muslims to take over Nigeria
Everybody is aware of the problems of Nigeria. If there is any anxiety about Islam or about Boko Haram, Sokoto should be the centre. But I remember the Sultan said something when we were discussing one time. He said, “People keep talking about a plot by Muslims to take over Nigeria. But if there is anything like that, I should be in possession of the documents since I am the head of the Muslims in Nigeria.”
My ordination and installation came unbelievably peaceful even though the circumstances that we were in was such that you would never know what would happen where, when and how.
I have tried to explain to people the reason I am here. Primarily I am here as a Nigerian, not as a Christian. I feel more gratified by the way Sokoto people received me; people I don’t even know but whom I met at the airport and people who soundes as if I have been sent to the whole community not to the community of Christians. And I think I consider this as one of the strength of my presence here.
We have our own challenges. As I said at the Arewa Consultative Forum that many Christians have a lot of anxiety the same way that many Muslims outside areas where some religious groups are predominant have anxieties and these anxieties are mutual.
It is our responsibility to fight for fairness and equity; whether about women without the voice; disabled people without the voice; or Muslims without the voice; or Christians without the voice. I know that a lot of these things are not deliberate policies… this is why democracy is about exchange of information. So, I hope that we can continue to explore some of the areas of strength that we collectively have in order to have find out how best we can build a very strong and united country.
I think that at the heart of our problem is really the question of what to do, what to say and how and whether we can confidently find the word to define corruption. Because, in my view, everything that is wrong with Nigeria today, literally, today can be traced to corruption.
And in my view it is like drinking from a poison well. There is no way that you will drink poision from a well and not have… The result then is all of us are finding ourselves unable to hold our heads high. As a priest, corruption has crept into the church; as a Journalist, corruption has crept into the media; as a military, the bureaucracy… there no single area of our national life that is not being wildly consumed by corruption, including family life.
On the US prediction of Nigeria’s disintegration in 2015
First of all, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories. But a Hausa man says, “in ka ga gemun ka ya kama da wuta, to ka shafa wa naka ruwa” (if you see your friend’s beard catch fire, you should rub water on yours).
Let’s ask ourselves, what will make a state disintegrate? I read the report by America that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015 and about 90% of those who talk about that report never saw or read it. If they read it at all, they simply read that somebody wants Nigeria disintegrate.
This was a report that was published in the US and it is a routine thing that Americans do. It is a pity if we, Nigerians don’t do such things. I give an example. I published an article in the Financial Times of London on 23 November (2011) and, by the 26th or thereabout, I can’t remember, a think-tank in London that does work for the British MP released the report about the state of Nigeria and it was able to quote that article. All they tried to do was to let every MP know the problems of Nigeria.
So, if you are a member of the British parliament for example, this information goes to every MP. You don’t have to go to Nigeria to get it. The point I am making is that every serious country in the world is constantly looking at its interests. And there are people who are spending endless days and nights creating scenarios.
So, the report you are talking about is a report that was written by a group of scholars for the Americans who were trying to point to Americans about the problems of Nigeria . It was not written by the American government.
These are the things the rest of the world does because every major political party in the world has a think tank. The business of the think tank is to continue to generate new ideas. Politicians just borrow from the things articulated by the think tank.
The point I am making is that whether anybody prophesies that Nigeria will collapse in 2030 or 2050 or 2010, all that those people were doing is to tell Nigerians that if you continue with what you are doing, you won’t reach where you are going.
Look at the way America responded to September 11. It is not the same way we are responding to Boko Haram.
On fuel subsidy
Frankly, I don’t know what to say because I am writing an article. It is just to say as usual, we didn’t frame this argument very well. Now, if I say that you are suffering from malaria, what is the use of going to the doctor?
Because I heard the president say this several times in the last one or two months. “We are going to remove fuel subsidy.” Now, as the heat began to gather and people began to raise questions, it is now being said, “No, it is not removal of fuel subsidy, it is deregulation.” If we didn’t design our map well before leaving home, I am not sure I can understand how we are going to reach our destination.
Clearly, there is only one way to do this. I don’t think that, philosophically, I am against fuel subsidy removal. The only thing I am against, ignoring the advice, which the Hausa man gives, ‘Don tuwon gobe ake wanke tukunya,’ meaning ‘We wash food pot today because of tomorrow’s food.’
That means, you cooked with a pot today but you did not wash it; tomorrow you cook with and you don’t wash it… What we are saying is that this country is infested with bandits.
The evidence is there. That is why we are not growing. We are saying this is the only country that I know where there isn’t a single public official that has stood and is standing trial for theft of resources or for anything that has the ingredients of corruption, none. I am saying that this is the only country in the world that the only reason why everybody goes to government is almost deliberately to do well for themselves.
I am saying that this is the only country in the world that you can go into government and even though you are serving, don’t expect you to do anything but to steal and help yourself.
Now, the question that nobody has been able to answer sufficiently to convince me is that I don’t believe that this money we would save from fuel subsidy removal would not be stolen the same way that excess crude and any other money has been stolen. And government is only saying, “No, we are going to appoint credible people Nigerians to manage the proceeds from the removal.” I don’t know how to define credibility in Nigeria. I can’t spell it because my own yardsticks of spelling credibility in the Nigeria are not the same with what is in Nigerian dictionary.
There were credible people who were appointed into the NDDC; credible appointed to run NNPC; credible people were appointed to run the MDGs; credible people are running ETF; credible people are running UBEC and so on.
But the Minister for Education has said publicly that over 70% of our children cannot pass their examination. Secondly, I still question, I am not impugning anybody’s reputation but to me, If government is serious and all the A-team that government has assembled to argue this case has refused to answer the question….. No one has answered the question about where are those famous cabal that have been benefiting from fuel subsidy? Have they vanished to the heaven or where? Because if nobody is on trial; if we have no process of restitution, then I do not see how you can talk about… I mean.
If you don’t square that circle, I don’t see how you can expect me to believe that some how, this country that has a lot of money in its foreign reserve; all that has been depleted and I should just trust, when after forty years of trust, I have got nothing to show for it.
Actually, my cynism arises from the fact that I am convinced that the debate about removal of fuel subsidy may make economic sense, it may make political sense but, in my view, it does not make moral sense.