By Nick Dazang
SONALA Olumhense, nimble-minded and surefooted, has been unsparing of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. Either out of journalistic fairness, statesmanship or confidence in his treatises, the syndicated columnist, for quite a while, has been accompanying his columns with a footnote inviting the government to rebut them if it cared. It is instructive that in spite of their scathing and stinging nature, none of President Buhari’s zealous handlers has responded to the columns, not to talk of rebutting them.
Contrast this defeaning silence with any commentary or homily issued by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah. Even before the Bishop has finished delivering his usually cogent preachments, the President’s enablers have responded with an alacrity and a zeal that verges on the catholic.
It is either the Bishop draws their ire or he throws them into a fit. It would seem, as is widely speculated, that there is a standing order at the Presidency, not only to respond to Bishop Kukah’s well reasoned homilies, but to do so in the crudest fashion.
Following last Easter’s homily in which Bishop Kukah asserted that the country was broken, Bishop Kukah was not only dismissed as a “divisive” figure, but was later accused of the heinous offence of delaying the supply of Super Tucanos to the Nigerian military, all thanks to his alleged lobbying of the United States Congress and supplying a quote to a book by John Campbell, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria. Ambassador Campbell is said to have presented doomsday scenarios in his books: Nigeria: Dancing On The Brink and Nigeria:What Everyone Needs To Know.
Ordinary folks, like this writer, must wonder why the Presidency’s dander gets up whenever Bishop Kukah speaks. For in the course of the said Easter, not less than six Bishops across the country and across denominations, castigated the Buhari administration. And before then, the Sultan, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, and the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, were more scathing of the government.
Also, not a few students of Bishop Kukah’s storied career would have observed his propensity for speaking truth to power and siding with the downtrodden. This he has done over a period of four decades. On these he has been as consistent and constant as the Northern Star.
And he has not spared even his friend, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. For evidence, readers should read the copy of a letter he once addressed to the former president on page 501 of Kukah’s book, Witness To Power: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission.
If Bishop Kukah has been unsparing of our leaders, including his friends, it is remarkable to note that try as they could, President Buhari’s defenders have failed, disastrously, to fault the Bishop’s criticisms or prognoses about the sordid Nigerian condition.
This is because his criticisms are always valid. They reflect reality on the ground. Besides, he speaks from the position of moral strength because his crusade for justice is not informed by the quest for filthy lucre or material gain.
These explain why his positions resonate with ordinary folks who see him as their staunch champion. In respect of the Super Tucanos, which supply the Bishop is alleged to have delayed, let me say this, and with the highest sense of responsibility: Long before the advent of the Buhari administration, former President Goodluck Jonathan had serious challenges with procuring desperately needed American military hardware, including the Super Tucanos, to wage war on Boko Haram terrorists.
Even though the U.S. government was keen to support Nigeria in its war effort, it nonetheless harboured reservations as to how its equipment were going to be deployed.
At a meeting in 2014 with senior United States officials and our security chiefs and sundry other officials, including the then Foreign Affairs Minister, Aminu Bashir Wali, at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Abuja, the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield (now U.S. Ambassador to the UN) disclosed that her country was always guided by the (Senator Patrick) Leahy Laws which prohibit the U.S. from providing military assistance to foreign security units that violate human rights with impunity. This meeting (which I was privileged to attend on behalf of INEC), coincided with a video which went viral and which suggested the alleged ill-treatment of Boko Haram terrorists who were in detention.
Ambassador Greenfield who had traced her ancestry to Nigeria, insisted that the U.S. could only be forthcoming if Nigeria cleaned up its act. She insisted that U.S. military equipment would not be deployed to perpetrate human rights abuses. This back and forth between the U.S. and Nigerian governments continued until the advent of President Buhari.
It is, therefore, uncharitable and incorrect to allege that these equipment were delayed by either Bishop Kukah’s pronouncements or his lobbying. As to Bishop Kukah’s alleged supply of a quote to one of Ambassador Campbell’s books, nothing can be more laughable or ludicrous.
Individuals worth their intellectual salt or who are authorities and are reckoned with in their areas of specialty are often quoted or interviewed to lend credence to positions canvassed in books, journals or articles. This is a time-honoured scholarly practice.
Campbell, like other scholars who work with think-tanks, thrives by creating/simulating scenarios about other countries. This standard practice is attested to by Barbara F. Walter, author of How Civil Wars Start. So when does being quoted in a book amount to treason or betrayal of one’s country as is being suggested by the presidency?
Come to think of it, how would the Buhari administration view such prominent writers and journalists like Chinua Achebe, Sully Abu, etc., who were once extensively interviewed by Karl Maier for his unflattering book, This House Has Fallen: Nigeria In Crisis?
Rather than needlessly dissipate energy or choke at each statement Bishop Kukah issues, the Presidency should squarely address our concerns of heightened insecurity and other challenges crying for attention. Thankfully, the Super Tucanos have long been supplied. And for good measure, we have received a number of Cobra Helicopters.
This is the time for government to decimate the terrorists who recklessly menace this country and maim its good people. Bishop Kukah is a weak hook on which this government can hang an excuse for its resounding failures.
*Dazang, a former director in INEC, wrote via: [email protected]