I presented the following book review at the Arewa House, Kaduna, on the 26th of May, 2017. I had started by observing all protocols to their excellencies, spiritual fathers, traditional rulers, the 4th estate of the realm and the crown of ladies and gentlemen present. I lectured: Never for a very long time have I witnessed such intellectual masturbation (permit this apparently vulgar word, my spiritual fathers; I mean no harm), as the tons of ink verbiage spilled on cerebral Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah’s graveside elegy, during the burial of the late Governor Sir Patrick Yakowa, at St. Paul’s Parish, Fadan, Kagoma, on 20th of December, 2012.
Yakowa, the bridge builder, the first ever minister, first Permanent Secretary, first unbroken two – time deputy governor and first Governor of Kaduna State from Southern Kaduna extraction, had died in an helicopter crash on his return from the burial obsequies of Oronto Douglas’ father (both are now late), in Bayelsa State, on 15th of December, 2012. Not only did Yakowa score these “firsts”, he scored, perhaps, the biggest “first”, by becoming the first ever Christian to become Governor of Kaduna State, a state that had been continuously ruled by only Moslems. His ascendancy to the Sir Kashim Ibrahim Government House in Kaduna undoubtedly dealt an imperishable blow on and smothered into smitheereens, ethno-centric warlords, religious bigots and ethno-religious fanatics and irredentists.
But, inexorable fate has a way of playing cruel jokes. It ensured Yakowa’s reign was as brief as a fading meteor, dimming the bright spectre of bloom and hope his governorship had given to the deprived people of Southern Kaduna.
Fiery Bishop Kukah, ever in his elements, was obviously at pains to know how to strike a delicate balance between the need to comfort the grieving and bereaved ethnic nationality of which he is one (without being accused of tribalism) and urgent the desire to speak truth to authority, interrogate the status quo and point the way forward for inter-ethnic harmony.
It is this “sermon by the grave of Yakowa” by the activist cleric that gave birth to a flurry of furious, acerbic written and verbal attacks on this anointed man of God, whose fearlessness, doggedness, courage and pro-masses agitations are legendary.
The raging inferno caused by Kukah’s homily was immediately conflagrated with the petrol of political, ethno-religious and tribal sentiments from various actors, including Adamu Adamu, Mohammed Haruna, Aniebo Nwamu, Abubakar Gimba, John Justice Dyikuk, Emmanuel Lar, Dr. Sylva Manti Ngu, Issa Aremu, Prof. Steve Nkom and the author of this book himself, Francis Ulal Damina.
Damina, a scion of Shinge Ikulu, in Zagon Kataf LGA of Kaduna State, and a two degrees’ alumnus of Pontifical Urban University in Rome, and a specialist in Christian Religious Studies, literature-in-English, philosophy, theology and inter-religious harmony, had an eye on history. He resolved that the high wired discourse by these egg heads of the society should not perish and be interred in the cold graves of daily newspapers. He did the needful: He compiled them into this 103 page slim, book of 13 paragraphs. Each paragraph deals with the incisive view of each of the above mentioned writers.
Kukah not just for the pulpit
Bishop Kukah, the fiery clergy cannot simply be consigned to the elevated pulpit alone, with flowing cassocks, a mitre cap on his head, the crucifix dangling on his neck; and ready to listen to worshippers’ confessions and administer the Blessed Sacrament. He comes across more in the mould of an activist cleric, a Martin Luther King Jnr, Desmond Tutu, Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, etc.
My kidnap and kukah’s intervention
When I was abducted and kept in the gulag for 21 days by fierce, gun-wielding kidnappers on 22nd of August, 2013, who gruesomely murdered four policemen that came for my rescue, Bishop Kukah sent a heart-rending appeal to my kidnappers, vide Sahara Reporters, and the entire media, outlining the irony of my kidnap and calling for my immediate and unconditional release. He wrote with great erudition:
“The news of the kidnapping of my good friend, Mike Ozekhome, has come to me with as much shock, as it has been received by other Nigerians. On the surface, it is tempting to say that he has been received by other Nigerians. On the surface, it is tempting to say that he has joined a growing club of unfortunate and innocent citizens, who are daily preyed upon by a hapless generation of conscionable young citizens of our dear country.
“Sure, these are sad times for our country, but the kidnapping of Mr. Ozekhome carries a distinctive ironic ring to it. Here is a fine gentleman in every sense of the word, a hard working professional, who has worked assiduously with his bare hands right up to the top of his profession. His patriotism and deep commitment to justice saw him at the forefront of the fight against tyranny and dictatorship in the darkest days of our country. He sacrificed his life, family and career and was a victim of some of the ugliest phases of the brutality of those in power. He did all these to give our country in particular and a new generation of young Nigerians a better future. His humble beginnings and his hard work should be seen by the young generation as ideals to be emulated.
“His country through the legal profession recognised his contribution by elevating him to the enviable position of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN. The recognition only renewed his commitment to justice and the cause of the poor. It was early this year that he pleaded with me to join a Foundation he was setting up for the cause of the poor. I was quite happy to oblige him because I have believed in his cause for the downtrodden. He has made all these sacrifices for the future of these same tragic youth, who are now his captors.
“Coming at the dawn of the democracy and freedom he struggled for, this is at worst, a second crucifixion for a great patriot. True, no citizen deserves to be denied of his freedom in a democracy except those who have broken the law. Nothing, therefore, could be more ironic than for this great son of our country to be forcefully snatched from the highway in a democracy. In the name of God and all that is noble, I call on his captors to release him unconditionally and immediately. I call on our young people to renounce this violent, ungodly and evil act.
“I believe the future of our youth does not depend on the blood money that comes from kidnapping, popular and commonplace as this ignoble cause has become. Our youth must embrace the future with hope, believing that tomorrow is theirs to build. I believe that this blood money can only erect a house of cards for now. They should renounce this criminality and turn to pursuing legacies they can proudly hand over to their children tomorrow. I beg for God’s mercies and peace for the souls of those gallant police officers, who surrendered their lives and continue to pray for our securities agencies. May Mike regain his freedom soon.”
My kidnappers were rattled and tormented by the lashing spiritual bulala of this powerful man of God’s voice. They could not sleep thereafter. Like Macbeth, they had murdered sleep. I was released, unhurt. Praise God.
Likewise, in Yakowa’s elegy, Kukah unapologetically posited that the “northern ruling class”, by policy, appeared to have elected an invisible sign that read: “No Christians Need Apply”, to what would later be called Kashim Ibrahim House; or represent this state at the highest levels”. He berated the political system that never allowed Kaduna State, like Sokoto State, to be governed by non-moslems, arguing that this “policy of exclusion against non-moslems turned Kaduna State into a political Mecca and laid the foundation for the unnecessary and sad religious tensions that have continued to clog the State”. Pouring profuse encomiums on Yakowa, Kukah noted that “his death has robbed our country of one of the finest human beings who brought respectability and nobility to politics, a man who has demonstrated how faith could influence politics and that; indeed, politics can serve as a means of building bridge.
Abubakar Gimba fires the first salvo
Abubakar Gimba, former Pro-Chancellor of IBB University, Lapai, Niger State, fired the first salvo. He accused Kukah of singling out and denigrating Moslems, with such phrases as “religious bigots”, “dubious religious manipulations”; “members of the nefarious mafia whose selfishness hindered the development of Kaduna State in particular and the North in general; “those who have projected Islam as a basis for power… and created the condition that now threatens the foundation of our society”; and “one of the worst shows of selfishness by an unproductive and selfish cabal who have deployed religion to hide their goal.”
While declaring his utmost admiration for the Bishop, Gimba in his response titled, “Et tu, Monsignor Kukah?”, accused Kukah of yielding to the “unconscious dance to the drumbeats of dual heroism, a seductive heroism that is of spiritual and temporal nature in his speech”. While conceding that the Bishop’s anger “may have stemmed from anger over past injustices and unfair deals”, Gimba, however, argued that “a man of his ecclesiastic standing and honour must not succumb to temptations of prejudice that could breed communal hatred even in the face of injustice; never yield to anger that could spell a widespread loss of blood even in the face of provocation.” He believed that the Bishop, having chosen the “super highway to the celestial dominion as a clerical vanguard”, Kukah must “have the temperament and tolerance to understand the multitude of the laity… Have the persuasive tongue to talk them into changing to his super highway…”
Gimba concluded that Yakowa was a political leader, not a religious or ethnic representative, a stance that earned him the sobriquet “Yakowa Na Kowa”, whilst he was alive. Notwithstanding Gimba’s unhappiness that Kukah tended to diminish Yakowa from his high status of a “bridge builder”, he still believes Kukah possesses the “quality of the needed savvy for promoting inter-religious harmony for a more united North a peaceful Nigeria.”
Author Francis Ulal Damina comes to Kukah’s rescue
The author of the book rose up immediately in arms against Gimba’s postulations, wondering why Gimba would invite others to join him in declaring Bishop Kukah an “anathema”, for having the guts to make “heretical statements” to the disfavour of “those who have kidnapped our progress and unity, as a people in the cobwebs of their selfishness”. Damina believes that by speaking in the way he did, Bishop Kukah was “merely joining other patriots to condemn, in his native tongue, the enemies of nationhood”.
Damina sees Gimba’s challenges as arising from lack of understanding of certain basic concepts used by Kukah. He wondered how Gimba could relate the terms used by Kukah (which he felt were derogatory), to Muslims alone. Damina reasoned that:
“For those who are abreast with the Bishop’s antecedents as a straight talker, he was simply speaking against those wicked men of imperialist and primordial descent, who, having grown up in an environment of slavery and slave trade by their merchant fathers, have used and continue to use our noble religions to perpetuate their selfishness at the expense of our unity and peace. This was something Dr. Bala Usman (beataememoriae) and other patriots stood against even unto death. Or, has Gimba not read Dr. Usman’s book, The manipulation of Religion? For me, the Bishop was merely singing an old song whose stanzas were composed by compatriots of yesteryears.”
Damina believed that Gimba’s allegation that Kukah failed to concentrate on theology alone demonstrates his “crumbs of ideas”; since theology within a homily is simply a “systematic analysis, interpretation and application, based on faith and reason, of God has to say to his people in the different moments of their lives and in view of their eschatological end.”
Damina drew the final blood when he said:
“In the face of social contradictions, the theologian or priest is expected to develop the discerning sophistication to deploy the theology that is relevant to his flock’s experience. South Africans employed the three types of doing theology to bring apartheid to its knees. This was also what the Latin Americans did. With the problems of hunger, inequality, unemployment, violence and political exclusion, the only theology that can ring a bell in the ears of our people is that theological style that places high premium on not adoration or academic gymnastics, but on JUSTICE.”
Thought for the week
“While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its liabilities. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticising ideas that are now patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive. – Sam Harris
To be continued