Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah may quite well become Nigeria’s Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez popularly known as Oscar Romero. He was canonized on October 14, 2018 and is venerated by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutherans. Not many people out here know him. But he was assassinated for speaking truth to power.
Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of El Salvador and presided over the church at a time of deep social injustice, poverty, assassination, state-sponsored terrorism, insecurity and government policies that annihilated the people from life and made refugees of a free people. As a leader, he saw the people of El Salvador crushed, impoverished and emasculated by the powers that be, right and left wing, at San Salvador. He knew that keeping quiet was consent. He spoke out. Archbishop Romero spoke out from the pulpit, against poverty, social injustice, insecurity, assassinations and torture caused by a growing war between left-wing and right-wing government forces. San Salvador could not contain his little but strong voice. Right wing and left wing forces that fought to control El Salvador could not hold back their disgust at his courage as even his priests were made victims of such terrorism. They became very uncomfortable. Attempts were made severally to gag him. He refused to be gaged. Solution? To perpetually silence him. He was assassinated while celebrating the mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence. Even from his grave, St. Romero, today, still speaks truth to power.
At his beatification, Pope Francis said “his ministry was distinguished by his particular attention to the most poor and marginalized.” On February 3, 2015, Pope Francis declared him a martyr. Yes, he was. Before that in 2010, the United Nations General Assembly honoured him for his role in the defence of human rights by proclaiming March 24 as the “International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims”. Many believe that his life was as aspect of liberation theology which lays much emphasis on using the gospel of Jesus Christ as a tool to express social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples.
Liberation Theology is not as popular in our part of the world. The theology of prosperity is. The irony is no one prospers in an environment of fear, intimidation, poverty, hunger and insecurity. No one enjoys prosperity in a governmental system where the majority of the people are chastised and excluded from the living by governmental policies that seek to make a mendicant of almost everyone. It is delusional to preach prosperity in a polity where many citizens have become refugees in their homelands because of the refusal, or failure, of government to give life to the basic constitutional mandate of the welfare and security of the people being the basic reasons for existence of government.
We may not have the developers of liberation theology walking our streets in cassocks like they did in Latin America at a time similar to our present reality, but we have clerics, of the orthodox and non-orthodox churches, who are ready to stand up to their vocations and speak truth to power regardless of the consequences. There are also Nigerians of reasonable comfort, who are uncomfortable with the state of their country, equally speaking truth to power. All of them serve the same purpose –to conscientize the government and call its attention to its failings. I believe that central message in every religion, is liberation of the people from evil. That evil is not in outer space and not in Nollywood.
Bishop Kukah does the Oscar Romero thing regularly. The Sultan, His Eminence Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, Sheik Gumi, countless Imams and Emirs had also voiced out their concerns against governance failure. Unfortunately, there seems to be an army of the uninformed recruited and readily armed, to ‘fight’ Bishop Kukah each time he calls attention to the systematic destruction of Nigeria, especially, Northern Nigeria, by the acts -commission and omission- of government. Perhaps, Kukah is a soft target. Unfortunately too, these recruits fail to understand that Bishop Kukah is a Nigerian of Northern Nigeria extraction. He feels the pain that the voiceless feel. He experiences the daily reality of insecurity and the growing worthlessness of life in a country that is abundantly blessed with human and material resources. He feels the impact of poverty occasioned by failed government policies which has effectively ranked the country as the poverty capital of the world. But his vocation makes him different. He sees the pain of the people like a father would, watching helplessly as his children starve to death. Kukah wouldn’t shut up, as many would want him to, because he is a priest, not a politician.
As a priest, he is a shepherd. A good shepherd takes care of his flock. He leads them to places where the pasture is green. That is the same thing the Fulani herdsman does. He leads his cattle to green fields. When his herd is sick, he is also sick. It is therefore not expected that a priest should keep quiet and walk away in the face of injustice, suppression of rights and voices, systematic annihilation through terrorism and banditry against the people. That is not his vocation. His is to do as Christ did –tell the uncomfortable truth to rulers of the world and end it with that eternal line –he, who has ears, let him hear. A priest expects to be rejected and crucified like Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the reactions generated by Kukah’s Christmas message are not unexpected. However, they are products of uninformed minds. Like the Sultan, Sheik Gumi, countless Imams and Emirs, Kukah’s message is generalized about the state of Nigeria, but it was more focused on the situation in the north where citizens wake without a guarantee of returning home alive, or access their farms only after obtaining permission from the either the military or criminals. I am not saying that the situation is any better down south. The first indicator here is the reality that almost every state of the federation is creating its own army in the guise of vigilante. This, in itself, is a testimonial on state failure to guarantee ‘the security of the people’. This reality is forcing state governors to fund vigilante groups at the perils of development funding.
So, it is crass idiocy to suggest that Kukah, or any other Nigerian that had expressed concern over the state of the nation, and still does, does so because they hate the President. The suggestion here is that to show how much one loves or likes or supports Buhari and his government, one must keep quiet and applaud every ill that befalls Nigeria under his watch. That is rather hatred for him. Those who consistently call attention of the President to the failures of his administration and urge him to change gear are his actual friends. They are the ones that love him. They are the ones that want him to succeed. His success is Nigeria’s glory.
Those who keep quiet in the face of all the failings of government are, to a large extent, beneficiaries of the rot. They are the middlemen, the daredevils who, for what comes to them from the rot, prefer to still keep the milk pot even if it breaks into a pit latrine. These characters don’t mind the complete annihilation of Nigeria, and Nigerians, in so far as their milk pots remain warm. It beats logic that same characters will reprimand, or correct, their spouses and children, as a show of spousal or parental love, not hatred; but publicly argue that calling attention to governance failures, and proffering solutions, is hatred, not love. Tragic! In Igboland, we say it is abomination (aru, alu) for elders to watch while a goat gives birth on its tethers.
It is therefore expected that when citizens, senior and junior, point to the governance mistakes in Nigeria, those in charge ought to take notes and seek to correct such mistakes. This yields a better society for all because criticisms bring out the best in any soul that wants to become better. It is also patriotically democratic to critic the leadership because governance ought to be participatory. The people participate in their governance by expressing their opinions on how they are governed. That is not hatred. It is democracy.