It is sometimes said that we should look at the message and not the messenger. But in journalism, we look at the two. For us practitioners, the credibility of the source is very important in determining the veracity of the story.
If your source has proven to be credible over time, then you can go to bed with his information no matter how weighty or incredulous it seems. If not, then you crosscheck and crosscheck…In commenting therefore on Bishop Hassan Mathew Kukah’s Christmas homily which seemed to have ruffled some executive, religious and ethnic feathers, I would like to first comment on the messenger – his credibility or lack of it- before commenting on the message – its relevance or lack of it.
I had known of Bishop Kukah long before I met him – he had been a generous contributor to the print media on social and religious issues for over three and a half decades at least. I first noticed – as I usually do with good writers – his use of words and turn of phrases. Then I became an admirer of his intellect, logical reasoning and pragmatic, everyday approach to issues in his writings – the same approach that makes his homilies interesting and relevant. I was pleased to know when we eventually met that the feeling was mutual. He had read me at the Punch and was almost as eager to meet me as I was to meet him.
We got on almost immediately and soon made requests of each other. I wanted him to write regularly for my publication at the time believing he would pull a crowd. He on the other hand wondered why I wasn’t going to church and wanted to make a better Christian of me. He succeeded with his request. I didn’t succeed with mine. Mainly because a regular column could not fit into his schedule. With hindsight, I thank him for his intervention at a critical junction in my religious life.
In trying to let readers understand this messenger better, I recall a statement or two he made some years back. We had just finished a game of squash and were chatting leisurely while trying to gain some composure. The first statement was ‘we often ask of God what we should ask of the State – like justice and security. For example, we cover our cars and houses with ‘the blood of Jesus’ because we feel defenceless and vulnerable. It’s the State’s responsibility to provide security’. ‘Or we hand over a case to God when justice has been denied us’.
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The second statement was even more profound. ‘We are often so quick to judge sin in others. It is possible that the things we regard as sin might not be what God regards as sin’. These two statements were made over two decades ago and I don’t know if he will stands by them today. But they still resonate with me and give a reflection of the liberal mind of this man of God. I occasionally think of the statements anytime I think of the Bishop whom I still stubbornly address as ‘Fr Kukah’ despite his elevation many years ago.
So, this is the messenger that I see. Listening to his homilies as I have on many occasions, you cannot describe Fr Kukah as rigid. Or as a man with a tunnel vision on issues – secular or spiritual. More to the point, his homily last Christmas was consistent with what many have known him for. This is not to say that this messenger is always on all fours with me. I feel for example that he is too close to many of the powerful people who helped in bringing this country to its knees. I wonder if he tells them in private what we believe of them in public. I was particularly uncomfortable with his relationships with the two Christian Presidents. I feel he flew too close to the sun on these two occasions. He could easily have been burnt.
Now to the message. I believe it has been so widely dissected, so widely analysed by proponents and opponents that it is hardly worth rehashing again except if I want to make some people in government more uncomfortable with a repeat of the self-evident truths in the homily. What the government defenders should do is hold a mirror to themselves and ask if what this government has done with what it has at its disposal is the best any Nigerian leader can do.
They should tell themselves if they are running an inclusive government. Or if they are playing with the country’s second eleven or even third eleven. It is easy to attack a messenger when you lack the wherewithal to attack the message. But it is lazy and unintellectual and people can easily see through the smokescreen.
What they should do is fact check the allegations and come forward with indisputable facts and figures. It is also fraudulent and actionable to deliberately or mischievously misinterpret a writer’s copy. To say Dr Kukah was calling for a coup was disingenuous at best. I read the homily at least twice and nowhere did he call for a coup. Nowhere did he disparage any religion or group for that matter. And the language used to tarnish him were inelegant in places and downright rude in places. Unfortunately it also revealed the shallowness of the accusers.
I don’t know how many people, including those along the corridors of power, who are satisfied with the way the country is being run. They are doing the country a disservice if they choose to keep quiet, or worse, if they choose to shout critics down. For a king not dance naked into the market place, someone has to be bold enough to tell him he is shorn of clothes to his underpants. That is what critics do. That is what well -wishers do. Only court jesters frown at it.
That said, Bishop Kukah didn’t need to come out in a show of defiance to defend himself. His accusers took the case to the court of public opinion where individuals and groups rose up to defend him. He should have moved on – until the next homily. After all, it is said that ‘the moving finger writes; and haven written, moves on’. But then, would that be consistent with his profile? There is a bit of the activist in Bishop Kukah.