By Stephen Klanzama
“The sickening stench of threats and insults hurled at him may not be enough reasons why he should be silent. And it seems that his life and comfort do not matter in this just clamor and advocacy for the common good.”
As one who is approaching 70, a Nigerian like Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah should have been comfortably sitting in his house enjoying his share of the ‘national cake’ as reward for accepting to be silent in favour of the political overlords in Nigeria. Alternatively, he should have backed off from this seemingly endless pursuit of peace, justice and good governance because of the threats and insults thrown at him each time he raised issue-based truths addressing the general cynicism and sheer hopelessness of Nigerians. Glady, there is the other side of the divide that has praised and encouraged the clergyman to keep the fire of objective criticism burning.
In the mixed rumbles emanating from the Kukah-effect, one wonders when the bishop’s confrontation will lie low. But while wondering about that, it is important to diagnose the role he plays in Nigeria with an objective lens of criticism. This will suggest whether he needs to be silent, or why he should reinforce this noble but risky commitment.
It is crystally clear that Nigeria is in her turbulent moments. The rapid currents of insecurity, epileptic economy, dysfunctional leadership, and the politics of ethno-religiosity are rolling the country into deep depths of hopelessness and misery. And for a clergyman like Bishop Kukah who is morally sound, spiritually active, and politically inclined, it will be almost impossible to keep quiet in the face of these challenges.
Wole Soyinka’s description of a writer in his work “The Writer in an African State” fits the personality of Bishop Kukah considering his antecedents, leading up to his present unique personality as a Catholic Bishop with an active political consciousness. In the writeup, the Noble laureate projects the writer as one who denies himself comfort to become the social commentator of his society. Like this ideal African writer, Bishop Kukah has “directed his energies to…re-affirming his identification with the aspiration of nationalism and the stabilization of the state” (p16, The Writer in Modern Africa). He is that sense of the society that projects a moral voice in the wilderness of a flawed democracy. Despite Nigeria’s predicament, he sees it as a nation with great potential. His heightened perceptions filter the tendencies of bias to settle for an honest examination of what has been the problem with Nigeria. To say the least, Bishop Kukah has tirelessly walked on the trails of justly pursuing truth, peace, development, and justice in Nigeria as a moral cum spiritual third force.
From the days of military regimes to the inception of democracy in 1999, and in the 23 years of Nigeria’s democracy, Bishop Kukah has played significant roles in promoting the unity, peace, and progress of Nigeria. Peter Cunliffe-Jones, the author of My Nigeria – Five Decades of Independence, describes Bishop Kukah as one who “had an eagle’s eye view of what went on in Nigeria under more than 30 years of military rule.” This eagle eye, though choked with vilification, still watches what is playing out in Nigeria with an intention to correct the wrongs and reject what needs to be changed.
Bishop Kukah is an example of the pidgin expression ‘one head wey wear many cap.’ He has served as a member of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of the Federal Government of Nigeria from 1999 to 2002. He was the Secretary of the National Political Reform Conference in 2005 and the Chairman of the Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation, to mention a few. He is currently the Convener of the National Peace Committee – saddled with the moral and civil obligations of ensuring peaceful election conducts and outcomes, and a smooth transition of power. He is also a member of the Council for Human Integral Development of the Holy See whose responsibilities, among other things, are the promotion of inter-religious dialogue for human development and integration.
He is a privileged, extraordinary Nigerian who has sustained the conversation of building a better Nigeria as far back as the 1960s during Nigeria’s Civil War. His confrontations with past and current governments are usually infused with selfless zeal, civility and a high sense of realistic intellectualism. He is a ‘prophet’ of social justice who is so much concerned about the socio-economic wellbeing of the common Nigerian. The multiple roles he played has made him well-equipped for the job. As one who understands the complexity of what it means to be Nigerian, he copiously draws inspiration from this experience and the Biblical parable that concludes with a lesson for humanity: “whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do it for me”. He has umpteenth times demonstrated that his episcopal function is not confined within the walls of the Church alone but for the common good. In one of his talks – ‘The Folly of Ethnic Compartmentalization’ – he categorically mentioned that he cannot be a priest and not be concerned with the social realities of the moments.
Interestingly but rather disturbingly, settling for this unpaid job has spurred a lot of reactions among many in Nigeria and around the globe. The most recent was his Easter message wherein truth was served to the government of the day without recourse to prejudices or censorship. Modesty was somewhat needless in the issue-based message calling on the government to sit up to its responsibilities of securing lives and properties of Nigerians, and in reviving Nigeria’s crippled economy. As usual, this fearless call on the presidency was considered treasonable by a set of Nigerians who thinks that the current government’s failure should not be subjected to such honest and fearless confrontation. Nonetheless, it was an expression of many Nigerians who are over-burdened with consequences of corruption and bad leadership.
Many Nigerians are dissatisfied with the current situation in the country. Unfortunately, these subalterns cannot be heard even when the speak. Aware of this idiosyncrasy, Bishop Kukah functions as bridge that tries to close the gap existing between political leaders and the marginalized – this resolve has tested deep waters. The sickening stench of threats and insults hurled at him are enough reasons he should be silent. And it seems that his life and comfort do matter in this just clamor and advocacy for the common good. He is a metaphor of the socio-economic and political confrontation that rejects under-development, bad governance, cronyism, impunity, favoritism, and injustices. He projects the grievances of many Nigerians silenced by a wallowing, deplorable conditions of living. How can Bishop Kukah come this far only to be silent?
Writer and Independent Consultant based in Abuja. +2347067652590 (WhatsApp only)