By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Divisive designs are all the rage across the country today. Pulling together is neither here nor there in higher places and on the lower fronts. It is as though the nation is at war with itself. Nigerians appear to have totally missed the essence and fallen in love with the accident.
Against this dire background, one cannot but heave a heavy sigh of relief when the vista of hope is seen in certain circumstances. The picture staring back at me from the newspaper on my table as I write now shows Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah bringing together in peace the erstwhile warring duo of Prof Pat Utomi and Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan. It is indeed in the Kukah character of peacemaking given that he was back in 2005 appointed by the Federal Government to serve as Chairman of the Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation.
As the Good Book states in the seventh verse of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Many may not want to read much into Bishop Kukah’s brokering of peace between Utomi and Uduaghan, but it is very instructive that leaders do have followers who may escalate fiendishly any unresolved schisms involving their principals. The art of nipping trouble in the bud can never ever be praised highly enough. For instance, if the mutual suspicions that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo had been stopped in time the First World War would not have happened.
Nigerian leaders need to emulate Bishop Kukah in striving after peace instead of the unnecessary display of raw power all the time. The common touch of Kukah comes with no airs whatsoever. I can bear witness to that. When my mother died, a cousin of mine close to the bishop, Dr Arthur-Martins Aginam, divulged the news to the revered prelate, and I was shocked out of my skin when my phone rang and the soft voice introduced himself as Bishop Kukah. He gently rendered his consolations, prayers and condolences, and when he was done I felt unimaginable elation.
Words can indeed heal and uplift. I somehow believed that my dear mother, an esteemed Catholic organizer in her days, also heard Bishop Kukah’s prayers even in her repose!
It is little wonder that everybody wants a piece of Bishop Kukah who the respected Africanist Richard Dowden describes as “Nigeria’s spiritual guide and confessor”. A prominent Northern Muslim once complained that Kukah should not just be addressed as the “Catholic” Bishop of Sokoto because that title excluded non-Catholics like him! Even as a Muslim, the man stressed that Kukah was his Bishop too! Given our ethno-religious suspicions in Nigeria, the example of Bishop Kukah should be given pride of place in the country’s scheme of things.
The talk of marginalization in Nigeria places Bishop Kukah’s homestead of Anchuna in Ikulu chiefdom of Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area, Kaduna State, at the most extreme of the margins. When he served at the Catholic Secretariat in Lagos, Kukah had cause to celebrate that a second person from his home place had secured a job in Lagos – as a cook! Even so, he does not bear the badge of marginalization but continues to work for the growth of a nation where no man or woman would be oppressed or denied justice based on primordial sentiments.
Born on August 31, 1952, Bishop Kukah has since being ordained a priest on December 19, 1976 packed so much work into this life as though having many lifetimes jammed together as one. After serving as a member of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of the Federal Government of Nigeria, otherwise known as the Oputa Panel, which looked into the many violations in the locust years of military rule, Bishop Kukah authored the epochal book Witness to Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission.
Let’s take a quote from the book to illustrate the Kukah essence: “Here in Nigeria and at international forums, despite my protestations and clarifications through media interviews, many masters of ceremonies at public events continue to introduce me as the former Secretary of Oputa Panel! I am not exactly sure why and how this came about but it may perhaps not be unconnected with the fact that I was the only member of the Commission that carried a micro laptop on him during the entire public sittings. What is more, it was much later that I realized from public comments that many individuals said they often had to pay special attention whenever I took up the microphone to make a comment in the course of the public sittings.
In addition, the Chairman (who always insisted I sat beside him), and I were in consultation during the public sittings especially when there was a need to clarify an issue. Indeed, retired Col Belo Fadile, who had earlier appeared as a petitioner but later recycled as a lawyer to both General Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar made a sensational and an exaggerated claim by stating that the Final Report of the Commission should better be called Father Kukah’s Report.”
Of course the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo chickened out of formally releasing to the Nigerian public the monumental report of the Oputa Panel but Bishop Kukah feels gratified nonetheless – true to his eternal theme of the promotion of peace – that the Commission engendered reconciliation and embraces from erstwhile sworn enemies.
In forging the way forward for Nigeria, Bishop Kukah founded The Kukah Centre (TKC), a policy research institute based in Abuja. Very noteworthy is that a centre founded by a devoted Christian has initiated groundbreaking initiatives toward training the Almajiri on vocations.
That is the way to go. Bishop Kukah is a reason to believe on the workability of the pan-Nigerian project.
Uzoatu writes from Lagos