In his 2020 Christmas message to Nigerians, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, spoke truth to power and consequently stirred the hornets’ nest. He, among other things, accused President Muhammadu Buhari of nepotism. Unfortunately, rather than ruminate on the message of the cleric and seek ways to correct the anomalies, those sympathetic to the government have left the message to attack the messenger.
In a veiled reference to the sermon, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, warned religious leaders to refrain from fanning the embers of disunity. According to him, “while religious leaders have a responsibility to speak truth to power, such truth must not come wrapped in anger, hatred, disunity and religious disharmony.” However, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) spoke in defence of Kukah.
Kukah had in the message noted: “Ours has become a nation wrapped in desolation. The prospects of a failed state stare us in the face: endless bloodletting, a collapsing economy, social anomie, domestic and communal violence, kidnappings, armed robberies etc. Ours has become a house of horror with fear stalking our homes, highways, cities, hamlets and entire communities.”
Kukah added that “there is no way any non-northern Muslim President could have done a fraction of what President Buhari has done by his nepotism and gotten away with it. There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war.” This is what appears to have riled Kukah’s critics.
But have prominent northern elite not said the same thing in different ways? The other day, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, expressed worry over the spate of insecurity in the North. Lamenting the killing of over 76 persons in one day in a community in Borno, the Sultan noted that the North was the worst place to be in Nigeria because “bandits go round in the villages, households and markets with AK 47 and nobody is challenging them.”
Other northern leaders have said similar things. The National Assembly has also expressed worry over the state of the nation. The Senate, for instance, told the President recently that he was in breach of Section 14 (2) (b) of the constitution over his inability to perform his primary duty of securing life and property of the citizens. Even the Northern Elders Forum recently noted that life had lost its value under the present administration in Nigeria and asked the President to resign.
Truly, life has lost its value in Nigeria. The recent abduction of over 300 schoolboys from the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara in Katsina State was a sad reminder of similar incidents in Chibok, Borno State in 2014 and Dapchi, Yobe State in 2018. Late last year, Boko Haram insurgents invaded a farm at Zabarmari village in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State and slaughtered scores of farm workers. In 10 years, the Boko Haram terrorists have reportedly killed over 40, 000 people and rendered over 2.5 million others homeless.
The critics should not ignore the significance of Kukah’s message. During the EndSARS protests, some northern elite claimed sadly that it was a plot to overthrow Buhari. But as Kukah noted, “we are not faced with a crisis or conflict between Christians and Muslims…Terror is a product of hate, but while hate tries to divide us, terror and death should pull us together.”
The government should critically examine the issues raised by Kukah and stop seeing critics as enemies of the state. Those in government should be tolerant of opposing views. The beauty of democracy is that it accommodates plurality of views. We already have a lot of challenges at hand. One of the ways to navigate through the situation is for the government to open itself up to constructive criticisms. Kukah and others with good intentions should not be silenced. Freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution and nothing should be done to vitiate it.
Nigerians must always tell the government the truth. Looking at issues from ethnic or religious standpoint will not help the country. We believe that what Kukah said was the home truth. There is no doubt that Bishop Kukah spoke the minds of many Nigerians. He should not be vilified. The issues before us today are not what the perceived friends of the government can handle alone. The government needs admonitions from people like Kukah to remain focussed.