By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Bishop Kukah is gradually and steadily sliding into the opposition and that is heart warming. It doesn’t matter that he would prefer a different tag. Listen to what perhaps justifies his metamorphosis:
“So, the President requires other men and women outside his formal choir of party members who can help him think, men and women who are unencumbered by the vagaries of the sweet juices of political power and office, men and women who are not seduced by popular approval, men and women who live for tomorrow, men and women who have ideas about how nations are built, men and women who do not see public trust as a vehicle for vengeance, men and women who live by the law of live and let live, men and women who do not see the exigencies of the moment as our turn to eat.” Some saints in quasi opposition?
And he hints at it again :”What the President needs is an army of non-partisan patriots committed to supporting him, but looking well beyond him and his party and focusing on the nation and its future.”Hmmmm , sounds like the peace council is headed elsewhere.
Many who want President Buhari to succeed know that he will not succeed if he is not helped by a vibrant and articulate opposition keeping him not just in check but informed. But the best opposition is the one that resides in an opposition party because it offers electoral choice.
The civil society can play formidable oppositional roles but that may ultimately yield too little in the absence of electable alternatives. There should be a practical contest of ideas to be decided by the ballot. One party rule and sycophancy is the reason African democracy yields neither freedom nor progress for Africans.
So any opposition is good but more energy should be spent invigorating and repositioning the opposition party. But isn’t Bishop Kukah supposed to be the peace maker? Kukah may not have chosen the opposition. His conviction that the country would only make true progress after a process of reconciliation and national healing followed by conscious determined efforts at cultural changes chose it for him.
His antagonists maintain that his peace efforts are geared towards leniency or amnesty for looters in the name of national reconciliation. And since any such unpopular but courageous position in Nigeria must be allocated a sinister motive, they suggest that he is eager to shield looters of the treasury as a recompense to some of his erstwhile benefactors.
Some others utter the profanity that the Bishop has been bought by thieving politicians. Kukah has a moral cause. In an article on this column titled :Buhari, Bishop Kukah and the imperatives of peace and justice , I called not just for caution but for understanding. Peace making is not about agitation for punitive just deserts.
Kukah has reasons for seeing any inflexible preoccupation with coercion as remedy for corruption now as hollow and unhelpful. Kukah has invited those who are baying for blood to check history and report where that alleviate-dour chronic corruption endemic or anywhere else where that formed the basis of a new beginning.
But what is the morality of Kukah’s argument? Kukah suggests that any preoccupation with punitiveness and severe anti corruption measures rather than the underlying general moral decadence is a massive distraction and is perhaps blatantly hypocritical. Why? The country has a political culture inevitably steeped in corruption because the societal moral fabric is worn.
And he illustrated by saying that if the worst and most corrupt Nigerian leader is made the president of America he would not be able to steal money. Partly because the attraction and pressure to steal will be lacking, prohibited by the systems and culture in place.
And to throw the moral picture into bold relief , he claimed that if an American or British leader is brought to lead Nigeria he would inevitably be involved in corrupt practices. Is that a bit far fetched? I don’t think so.
Take the general elections in Nigeria. The parties routinely flout electoral rules on campaign finance and nearly all engage in rigging and thuggery. Most of the officials engaged in electoral duties expect to be settled. No leader of any political party can claim total ignorance of these crimes. None can win without substantial lawlessness. With a little sense of history, he suggests, we should know that probes alone won’t work.
He wondered aloud :” if corruption is so evil, why are we so cool with it ?” If Kukah is right and he is to some extent, then how can any group be so pharisaical that it appropriates saintliness and portrays others as moral lepers?
Hypocrisy,Kukah believes, is the choice garment of Nigerian politicians. And how can such perfidious effrontery, such elaborate and conspicuous foolery, be believed by the people? If it isn’t euphoria and hysteria complicated by amnesia , how can any people , even if made gullible by utter desperation , believe these sanctimonious politicians?
How can recycled wastes thrown by the conveyor belts of circumstance and greed between ends called parties retain any substantive dissimilarity, let alone distinctive purity ?
A couple of weeks ago he was skewered by cyber bullies for calling for peace , for suggesting that Jonathan’s noble concession was worthy of the foundation on which forbearance needed for true national healing and a rebirth can be built.
Last week he was trending on twitter for the eloquence he exhibited at a lecture (the Platform). He hates illusions and he detests the idea of a messiah , the indolence it can engender by seducing the people into docility, the undue expectations it can generate.
Besides eloquence he wanted to feed his audience with a double portion of reality. He feels that many have levitated , lost touch with reality and are living euphoric lives propelled by the supposed arrival of a messiah.
There is no such messiah, he proclaimed. And how can people who are not just intellectually lazy but who place no premiums on leadership or on leaders long for messiahs whom they know not how he would look like, Kukah asked?
The Bishop thinks Nigeria has no political leaders because it is one thing to be an office holder and it’s entirely another to be a leader. And the pretense by people who find them selves in offices but who have no visions, who cant be identified by any set of values, beliefs and principles can only be sustained in a land crippled by ignorance and amnesia.
Kukah had to dwell on coup plotters and their messages to bring those suffering from lingering euphoria and hysteria back to earth . All the promises and circumstances they came to relieve are familiar, he says.
They come to exterminate corruption and pay backlog of owed salaries but they always leave the stage worse than they met it. We are back to it again, he suggests, it’s a déjà vu. It think such references are cautionary but can be read as cynical.
Kukah the peace maker has every justification to plead for understanding and to prioritize peace over justice. And a peacemaker can rightly shift positions and show some bias for the perceived under dog to achieve peace.
So one may understand why Kukah had to employ harsh words in containing the apparent intransigence of this administration. He once declared that this is not a military regime,a veiled reference to some supposed inflexibility and severity in style. He went on to warn that there has been a drift in governance.
Kukah’s statements can be reasonably cautionary but are they perhaps so cautionary that they border on pessimism? That conclusion is plausible, tenable . For what kukah perceives as euphoria and hysteria could be positive energy. The ordinary people have suffered from chronic poor governance.
It is true that they have put faith in people who came and plundered and didn’t help them. Consequently they became apathetic and receded into paralytic cynicism. No effort geared towards a rebirth can succeed without mass participation and widespread public support or fervor.
Since Kukah has conceded that a wonderful opportunity has presented why then isn’t he a bit more circumspect in disparaging those who have chosen to forget previous disappointments and mishaps to believe again? Why has Kukah, hitherto fairly quiet, taking on this government so early? Is it a bit hasty to talk about a drift?
Why would Kukah repeatedly dwell on coup speeches, military regimes and their failings?Buhari is no longer a military dictator, he has just won a popular mandate and it helps no one to dwell on the atrocities of the past and their associations. If Kukah insists that we cling to the past how then can we embrace hope .
It is true some suffered the mindlessness excitement and over dramatization and rode bikes dangerously to their deaths celebrating Buhari’s victory but that is not to suggest that euphoria cannot be positively channeled. If myths are necessary for nation building then any wide acceptance of Buhari as a rescuer or messiah should not be a farce that must be punctured.
Didn’t he say that strong men are needed to build strong institutions? Why is it impossible that the current probes will not kick-start a culture of accountability and institution building? So why is faith in Buhari not a good thing?
When stripped of equivocations,Kukah’s tale is decidedly a single story. And the tragedy is that he accused those supposedly suffering from hysteria and amnesia of telling a single story of corruption. Buhari cannot be reduced to an inflexible dictator, impervious to counsel, bent on incarcerating opponents to the detriment of good governance.
History should counsel but must not bind. It is good to engineer nation building by reconciliation, by not emphasizing investigations and probes. Because had Jonathan stayed put, sat tight, the nation would have suffered much more.
And since Jonathan left graciously , sit tight syndrome, that affliction ravaging African societies, may have been cured by the marker he laid down. Shouldn’t we then let other leaders know that they can leave and live in peace, without being hounded with probes? But can such an arrangement not be an amnesty, given in advance, to potential looters? Are we to tell leaders that they would not be held accountable for their actions?
What sort of precedent should we set for future looters? Do we seek stability that condemns to the servitude of a political class who would steal and live happily forever?
Kukah would say that he is not against prosecution of thieves. What then is he really against? Equivocation allows him to straddle both sides of the argument while throwing innuendos that clearly reveal his preference. He wants the South African example.
I agree that corruption is only a symptom of our collective moral decadence and lack of institutions and processes. I agree that patience is needed to bring about change that is not mere hollow sloganeering. I agree we must not yield to the seduction of deceitful propaganda as we did in the past.
I agree that citizens must have active deliberate individual roles to play to create a positive shift in cultural practices in order to check corruption in earnest. I do not agree we have anything within the moral or political proximity of the post apartheid South African situation.