By Tonnie Iredia
For every event in Nigeria, the priority of most planners is to ensure that the big names in the country are pulled to the event. Politically exposed personalities such as president and governors are the most sought after in this regard. For me, there is some risk in relying on the big guys in town to make one’s event successful.
This is because they often come late and disorganize the otherwise well-laid out plans for the day. Along the line, those tired of waiting begin to disperse, forcing the organizers to pick emergency chair/other actors in place of those originally empaneled.
While much of this did not occur in last Wednesday’s celebrations of the 70th birthday anniversary of the Most Reverend Mathew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, ample attention still shifted from the celebrant to the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, his colleague of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his Vice, Kashim Shettima as well as a number of state governors.
It was probably impossible to prevent the event from turning into a political jamboree because it was held at a time of the year when persons seeking elective positions dutifully attend virtually all major functions to score some points ahead of a forthcoming general election. However, the presence of such highly placed politicians should not be taken to mean that they were on the same philosophical page as the day’s celebrant.
For example, while the fight for peace, justice and the rule of law are real to Kukah, they are mere slogans to many public office seekers. Whereas the politicians are looking forward to winning elections and exclusively appropriating the nation’s wealth, Kukah is bothered that many Nigerian politicians end up as accidental leaders, ill-prepared for public office. This is why he is proposing to use his foundation to build a N200million centre to provide leadership tools for accidental leaders and politicians in Nigeria.
When completed the centre will have a main office complex; a school of government; halls, library, classrooms and offices; accommodation and lodging; an art gallery and studio. It will also focus its activities around interfaith dialogue, knowledge promotion and memory preservation.
It is worthy of note that President Muhammadu Buhari sent a goodwill message to the celebrating cleric, notwithstanding the general belief that Kukah is a not a friend of the present administration in view of his deep criticisms of its activities. In truth though, the Bishop does not appear ready to be a friend to any government for as long as the dwindling fortunes of Nigerians which have accumulated over the years are not redressed.
Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State who chaired the anniversary celebration virtually confirmed this in his opening address when he said, “Kukah’s writings over the years have become controversial and have drawn the ire of powers that be, but what is not in doubt is his undying love for Nigeria and Nigerians, and his belief in the possibility of a new Nigeria where justice and equity reigns.”
Other messages followed the same thinking, with the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum NGF, Kayode Fayemi concluding that Bishop Mathew Kukah’s love for ruffling the feathers of political leaders is essentially for the purpose of steering the country from the precipice.
Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP made about the same point when he described Kukah as ‘a remarkable public intellectual and formidable advocate for good governance whose contributions to Nigeria’s democracy are immeasurable and unquantifiable.’ Like President Buhari, Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima of the APC showed broadmindedness in celebrating their major critic at his point of glory.
By describing the Tinubu/Shettima, Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC as an unacceptable set-back for national integration, Kukah’s attack may have been quite frontal. Although many other leaders and citizens had made the same point, the Bishop’s eloquence and opinion-moulder status may have aggravated his own comments. The point must however be made that the numerous centrifugal forces in Nigeria’s heterogeneous polity would, any day, greatly support an attack on a same faith presidential ticket
Many Nigerian critics of old, comrades and political activists have since joined the ruling class and forgotten the oppressed mases, but will Bishop Kukah at 70 also take a break? It is unlikely because he has continued to make many bold comments expected of a moral teacher and spiritual reformer after the anniversary celebration. We can hardly blame the Bishop as too many negatives have refused to leave Nigeria.
For instance, in spite of the passing of the Electoral Act 2022 and the recent vow by our president that the federal government will not allow anyone to misuse public institutions for the 2023 general elections, there are fresh and embarrassing allegations that well-placed politicians are at the verge of capturing an otherwise Independent National Electoral Commission INEC. Already, some opposition politicians are becoming scarred of the alleged nomination of politically tainted citizens to serve as Resident Electoral Commissioners. Should Kukah or any other patriot be quiet on this?
A Convocation Lecture titled, ‘Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Elusive Quest for National Cohesion’ delivered in June 2018 at the University of Jos had revealed too many negatives. Today, such things rather ceasing are becoming more worrisome. One of them in the words of Bishop Kukah is that “recruitment and promotion in almost all sectors of the public service from the local governments through the state to the Federal Government depend on whom you know and not what you know.”
If so, how can the nation make progress when its policies are not piloted by its first eleven team? It would therefore be unreasonable for the next set of political leaders to expect that age 70 would stop Bishop Kukah from putting them under the same searchlight that their predecessors witnessed. In fact, that he will continue to serve as the conscience of human society is evidenced by his recent appointment by Pope Francis as a Member of the ‘Dicastery’ set up to advise and promote the Pope’s concerns on issues of justice and peace, human rights, torture, human trafficking, care of creation and other issues related to the promotion of human dignity and development.
Beyond a few critics, the unending socio-economic and political misfortunes of our people should at this point pull-up all citizens to take their destinies in their own hands and fix Nigeria. Many years back, Bishop Kukah had called on Nigerians to stop thinking that anti-corruption crusades directed at only top public office holders is all that is needed to fix the country.
It is irrational according to the Bishop for our citizens to continue to line up all kinds of scapegoats among us whom they believe are responsible for our woes in Nigeria. While believing that the big people who steal huge sums are the ones that should flee with our sins into the desert so that our country can prosper, we often overlook the small people who cheat the bus conductor by not paying just as election rigging is seen as bad only when perpetuated by our opponents.
Again, we cannot scratch the surface of a problem and conclude that all is well that ends well. At the Bishop’s birthday event last week, former president Goodluck Jonathan spoke glowingly of how he resolved a four-month old ASUU strike one night. If he did so, why is ASUU still on strike over the same complaints? Why is the problem of ASUU still hinged on an official breach of a 2009 agreement?
One of the matters arising now is for Nigerians to jointly beg the party to the agreement that did not play its part and not ASUU to reopen our universities. Secondly, should Bishop Kukah and his colleagues in the National Peace Committee continue to ask politicians to sign peace accords they do not believe in, while INEC officials especially the Ad hoc ones sourced from other bodies and some members of the judiciary continue to collude to render our elections incredible? While welcoming Bishop Mathew Kukah to the 7th floor of life, all citizens should work to resolve Nigeria’s outstanding matters.