By Kiikpoye K. Aaron
THE Christmas Day homily by the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Dr. Mathew Hassan Kukah, has generated a lot of reactions from government and sectarian circles. Some of the reactions, particularly those by Muslim groups, are so harsh that one wonders if a fatwa is not about to be pronounced on his head.
Expectedly, Christian groups have risen in defence of him. Mr. Lai Mohammed, the Minister for Information was the first to fire the salvo. In his attack, which in my opinion is borne out of a deliberate obfuscation of facts in the service of defending the indefensible, Mohammed, speaking on behalf of the Federal Government, accused Bishop Kukah of stoking the embers of disunity, sectarian strife and calling for violent regime change of a democratically elected government.
He warned religious leaders to ‘refrain from stigmatising the leader they never supported anyway, using well-worn and disapproved allegations of nepotism or whatever.’ Similarly, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, President of the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, interprets Bishop Kukah comments as reckless, inflammatory, unguarded, a denigration of Islam as a violent religion and call for a coup.
The Coalition of Northern Group threatened to drag Kukah to the International Criminal Court, ICC, stating that his sermon amounted to inciting hatred against Northern Muslims. A calm reading of Bishop Kukah’s message and the reactions thereof leads me to wonder whether and why Bishop Kukah deserves to be crucified.
Although Bishop Kukah’s homily has received wide circulation and, therefore, somewhat superfluous to restate it here, it is nonetheless necessary so to do, if not for anything else, at least to place my argument in its proper perspective.
Against the background of conditions strikingly symptomatic of a failed state, namely: a generalised sense of insecurity, leading to unwarranted loss of lives, livelihoods and property, a collapsing economy, social anomie and much else, Bishop Kukah, in his message aptly tiled ‘A Nation in Search of Vindication’ called on the priesthood to stand before the ‘mercy seat of God and plead the cause of our great country.’
He encouraged the congregants, and by extension, Nigerians to not despair in spite of conditions that inspire hopelessness. In other words, the real essence of the Christmas Day message was to rekindle hope among a people whose circumstances bespeak hopelessness. But simply invoking hope was not enough. Bishop Kukah needed to attempt a diagnosis of how we got here.
In his characteristic broadmindedness, Bishop Kukah did not say that violence at Christmas began with the Buhari administration. He traced it to the Christmas day bombing at Madalla, that is to say when President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, was at the helm of affairs in the country. But of course, things have got worse under Buhari, a fact that may be traceable to the pathologies that define the Buhari administration.
Among such pathologies are corruption, which in his words, has ‘metastasised’; nepotism, which has led to placing Northern Muslims in all sensitive positions with the intent to ‘reinforce the foundations of Northern hegemony which has produced the opposite consequences.’ These Northern Muslims in sensitive positions have been retained in the same positions for so long in spite of their manifest under-performance in those positions.
Even worse, he further points out that government appears to be in ‘suspended animation’, without direction, much like a ship without a rudder. He observed that there would have been a coup or civil war if a non-Muslim President had done a fraction of what Buhari has done and gotten away by his nepotism. This is the summary of the content of Bishop Kukah’s homily that has generated the reactions set out in the opening paragraph of this article.
To return to the posers raised earlier, why the furore over Bishop Kukah’s message? Does he deserve the tirade of abuses and threats that have come his way? What has he said that is exactly novel? More to the point, what has he said that has not been said by other Muslim men of conscience from the Northern half of the country? Is there anything in the content of that homily that does not reflect the lived experience of Nigerians or is it simply the usual case of the truth hurting?
In my considered opinion, there is nothing in the content of Bishop Kukah’s message that is untrue or substantially new that Nigerians have not been lamenting for so long. Since Buhari came to power, a time-tested principle of ‘Federal Character’ found under the Third Schedule of the Constitution has long been jettisoned.
The Federal Character dictates that in the filling of positions in the public service, conscious efforts must be made to reflect the diversity that defines us. His first attempt at composition of cabinet in his first term showed a high level of lop-sidedness: North West 13 (43per cent), North East 6 (20 per cent), North Central 3 (10 per cent), South-South 5(17 per cent) South West 3 (10) and South East 0 (0 per cent).
Key cabinet positions are occupied by people related to the president by blood, marriage or by faith. There was a time that the National Security Council was almost Hausa-Fulani that it was even doubtful if taking minutes in that meeting needed to be done in the English language and not Fulfulde.
Further, this administration has presided over the recruitment into the Directorate of State Service that was overwhelmingly lopsided in favour of the North. More specifically, of over 1300 cadets recruited in September 2020, only 97 were from the South. The same has been reported of recruitment and posting in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and indeed any Federal agency for that matter.
Quite sadly, there is no attempt to replace these largely incompetent appointees even when it is obvious to the blind that they have been best at doing their jobs poorly well. The case of the recently removed security chiefs is quite telling here. Almost all of them are Muslim Northerners. They have been there for a reasonable time enough to succeed or fail. It is clear that they have failed woefully as far as the war on terror is concerned. In spite of their manifest failures, no one deems it fit to replace them even as the North is gradually becoming a graveyard of dry bones.
All we hear is a Lai Mohammed, a Femi Adesina, or a Garba Shehu or a Lauretta Onochie, issuing a statement expressing shock in the aftermath of every mayhem unleashed on hapless citizens by Boko Haram or herdsmen or bandits or hoodlums. Away from recruitment, how does a government justify double standard as state policy? I make this point with reference to government’s policy on gold mining in the North side by side the extant law on natural resource extraction in Nigeria as epitomised by the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Initiative, PAGMI, by the Buhari administration.
This policy prepares artisans in the North to mine its gold and sell it to the Central Bank of Nigeria at international prices. This is happening in the same country that artisanal refineries in the Niger Delta are regularly set ablaze and the environment, degraded because it is illegal for artisans to refine oil in the Niger Delta. The idea is to prosper the North while the Niger Delta remains poor in the midst of a resource that generates the wealth of the nation.
It is these pathologies that define the Buhari administration which Bishop Kukah spoke of in his message to congregants. And he is not alone nor the first to speak out. Colonel Abukakar Dangiwa Umar (retd), a man I have had deep admiration for his forthrightness and courage to speak truth to power, was the first man of conscience from the North to point out the self-defeating consequences of nepotism. In his letter to Buhari, aptly titled, ‘Mr President, Please Belong to All of Us,’ Col. Umar quite poignantly made the point that his skewed appointments in favour of the a section of the country will destroy Nigeria.
Similarly, the sad security situation in the North has been of concern to important voices of the North. Until Umar spoke last May, the North probably thought what Buhari was doing was protecting their collective interest. That stage has long passed as insecurity is no respecter of persons, faith, gender or status.
Christian clerics have been killed as are Muslim’s, emirs and army generals. Girls have been abducted as are boys. One needs to deposit a copy of one’s will with the lawyer before embarking on a journey by road on the Abuja-Kaduna road.
Farmers cannot harvest what they have planted and when they are hacked to death, a presidential spokesman would ask why they did not obtain permission before going to farm. As for Borno, headquarters of Boko Haram, the state is deserted although the state can still be counted upon to produce wonderful electoral votes when it matters.
And whenever the bandits, herdsmen, hoodlums or Boko Haram strike, all we hear is a written press release expressing shock by a media aide to the President. That is the lived experiences of people in the North. Yet all the security services are headed by the people of Northern extraction. To be sure, the chicken has indeed come home to roost.
Apart from Umar, the Sultan of Sokoto and spiritual head of Muslims in Nigeria, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar has decried the security situation in the North. Following the Zarmalari killings, the NEF called for the resignation of the President. The Emir of Katsina, home state of President Buhari, in reference to the precarious security situation in the North has long declared ‘nobody is safe. How do we live like animals.’ Radical Islamic cleric, Sheik Abukakar Gumi substantially agrees with what Bishop Kukah.
According to him, he would support any call for the resignation of President Buhari in the light of the unending security challenge, which in his view has been ‘made possible by the lop-sidedness of appointments in these sensitive security positions.’
Where then did Kukah go wrong? His message has been twisted to mean he is advocating for a violent take-over of government. Far from it. If that was what Kukah had in mind, he would have had the courage to say so. What baffles me is the uncanny knack for government spokespersons to deny what is obvious even for the blind to see. Is there overwhelming lop-sidedness in political appointments by this administration?
Look to the DSS recruitment, redeployment in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and other key Federal Government Ministries, Department and Agencies, MDAs, for the answer. Has corruption ‘metastasised’ as Kukah claims? A look at Magu, until recently, the nation’s anti-corruption czar, the scandals at the Niger Delta Development Commision, NDDC, will provide a sufficient guide.
Or is it the Ministry of Petroleum Affairs, headed by the President, which is nothing else but a cesspool of corruption? Or is it the school feeding programme, with a daily cost of N679,000,000 which Mr. President decreed must continue during the nationwide lockdown in spite of the closure of schools? Kukah, clearly, does not deserve to be crucified. That Christmas Day homily merely captured the lived experiences of Nigerians. Perhaps his offence is that he called a spade a spade instead of an agricultural implement.
In my view, it is a call for deep soul searching. We should ask: if almost all the security outfits are headed by northern Muslims yet the security situation is worsening in the region, how might we do things differently? How might we rejig the national security architecture to produce the desired results?
We should ask: if there is a wide gap between efforts and outcomes in the war on corruption, how might we do things differently? To be sure, we cannot keep doing things the same way and expect different results; for to do so, as Albert Einstein concluded is another definition of insanity.
Prof. Aaron teaches Political Science at the University of Port Harcourt.