Bishop Matthew Kukah

By Dr Ugoji Egbujo

Bishop Kukah has a  great reputation. He is  seen as honest and perhaps fearless. He often  comes to the pulpit and national discourses with perspicacity.  Many of his sermons are theses. And being an outspoken philosophical  catholic Bishop,  from the predominantly Muslim north, he has become a factor in national politics.

Many bishops are politically docile. But Bishop Kukah has been on the front-lines.

When he cautions the South against demonisation of the North he speaks as an insightful  northerner. When he cautions the North against marginalization of its minorities he speaks from a heart of  victim-hood. When he cautions the North against backwardness and retrogressive cultures he speaks like a troubled insider. Most other times, he is busy warning a teetering  nation against drifting into chaos.

When the nation feared  political turbulence in 2014/2015, Bishop Kukah helped found a national  peace committee that helped soothe nerves during that transition. And that committee, chaired by General Abdulsalaam Abubakar, has since  become a national political institution.

Being a northerner who is a  politically active Christian  Catholic Bishop, Kukah is a national bridge over the north-Muslim  south-Christian divide.

Kukah, is meek but not fearful of controversies.

When Buhari won in 2015, Kukah urged Jonathan to hand over. And when Buhari’s victory was greeted with euphoria, he dismissed the euphoria as naivety.  Bishop Kukah did not share in the optimism that greeted Buhari’s victory. I had hoped he was warning the president not to be carried away. After all he knew Buhari more than most of us.

All through the first term of Buhari, the Bishop who was the founder of the national peace committee, retained his pessimism and spoke aloud his skepticism.  I must concede that Buhari scored many own goals. But there was something about the tone of the bishop that betrayed animosity rather than just mere political vigilantism of a steadfast civil society pillar.

In 2018, Bishop Kukah  brought Atiku to Obasanjo. A reconciliation happened in Ota and what took place afterwards was a literal river Jordan cleansing of political leprosy. Kukah denied being privy to any political calculations of the ceremony that followed that reconciliation. I guess as a founder of the national peace committee he knew he had to be seen as political neutral to some extent. He blamed Obasanjo for making a ‘spiritual exercise’ of reconciliation a political summit.

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Many believed  Bishop Kukah, like Obasanjo, wanted Buhari voted out. So he helped arrange the only formidable opponent in the horizon to contest against the president.  When I saw the pictures from Ota,  I prayed that Kukah remained in his role as a peacemaker because in the build  to 2019, many national statesmen  removed their masks and took sides, and left the nation bereft of neutrals who could be trusted by all sides if trouble broke out.

And that was why Kukah’s homily a couple of days ago grieved me. With that homily that literally described this administration as the worst we have ever  had, Kukah has chosen a side.

Let me be frank , the security situation is appalling. Massacres are  rife and rampant. Boko haram is not technically defeated. Our military strategies appear stale . A Bishop who lost a seminarian to Islamic insurgents has a right to be angry. He has a right to fury if the president has refused to take any drastic visible  steps to check a deteriorating situation. But I had expected temperance from Kukah.

Kukah  said we must not compare evils. I agree with him. But in suggesting that  this is the worst we have been through he was already breaking his own rule and comparing evils. It must be said that Kukah perhaps in his anger exaggerated a few important  things. The northeast was in a worse situation before Buhari came in. We have not forgotten. The military has tried.  We have lost many young soldiers. But the military has much more to do. And perhaps the military needs fresh ideas. There is no way we can eliminate Boko haram by the current tactics that have  those at the gates of Maiduguri exposed to the insurgents once the gates are locked in the evening.

We cannot continue this war indefinitely!

I agree  with Kukah that no christian is consoled by the argument that Boko haram has killed more Muslims than Christians. That argument is insensitive. Boko haram may be satanic but it  is  still an islamic insurgency.  Nevertheless,  I had  not expected  a catholic Bishop let alone Father  Kukah to make some of the inflammatory comments he inserted in his funeral homily.

Buhari may be nepotistic, but there are Christians occupying strategic positions in the country. I would wish Kukah had left many of the  outlandish  fiery statements  in that speech for a certain former aviation minister or some bishop in Ota to make. If we heard such  from that bishop we wouldn’t  raise eyebrows because we know that  the tone of fire, brimstone and gates of hell is his preferred style.  But a  bishop who is a founder  of the national peace committee must use seasoned words and speak in measured tones, always.

Igbos say when you don’t know how to tell a king some truths, you can cover your head with a basket and shout, and then  run. Perhaps that was what Kukah did. But some exaggerations in that speech must be left for beer parlors because they do not dignify the pulpit.  That cannot be justified by anger.

It is true  that a bishop in the far north would have seen so much evil in these last years? And sometimes righteousness lies in being vocal against evil. But since peacemakers are so scarce in the country, peacemakers like Father Kukah  must restrain themselves for joining the fray in the interest of the nation.

The president should read Kukah’s funeral homily and sift the grains from the chaff.  I know he has improved the situation of the northeast but we voted him to restore complete order. I had not imagined that Boko haram would last four years under his watch. Many like me had expected so much more from him. Nobody, not even his opponents who thought him lifeless, had imagined that banditry would mushroom under him. Kukah said the president has supervised the injection of nepotism and mediocrity into the military and the security agencies.  I don’t agree with Kukah.

But I will ask the president to count his teeth with his tongue. And ask Kukah to bite his words with his teeth when next he preaches  a national homily.


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