africa

Kukah: The sermon that rattled Buhari’s men


More than a week after the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, delivered his Christmas Day message on the state of the nation, the controversy it has generated has refused to die down. JOHN ALECHENU writes

The Christmas Day message by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, undoubtedly ruffled a lot of political feathers. In the message titled, ‘Another Christmas with Dark Clouds of Death’, Kukah accused the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), of many forms of misbehaviour such as unbridled nepotism and institutionalising northern hegemony.

Using words to paint a picture of the dire straits that has become the lot of most Nigerians, especially northerners, Kukah said, “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 community violence, kidnappings, armed robberies etc.

“Ours has become a house of horror with fear stalking our homes, highways, cities, hamlets and entire communities. The middle grounds of optimism have continued to shift and many genuinely ask, what have we done to the gods? Does Nigeria have a future? Where can we find hope?”

Kukah further stated, “It is curious that President Buhari’s partisanship and commitment to reinforcing the foundations of northern hegemony have had the opposite consequences.

“For a long time, beyond the pall of politics, very prominent northerners with a conscience have raised the red flag, pointing out the consequences of President Buhari’s nepotism on national cohesion and trust.

“With time, as hunger, poverty, insecurity engulfed the North, the President’s own supporters began to despair and lament about the state of their collective degradation. Was this not supposed to be their song? The North that the President sought to privilege has become a cauldron of pain and a valley of dry bones.

“Today, the North itself is crying the most and why not? No one has suffered as much as they have and continue to. The helplessness is palpable and the logic is incomprehensible.”

The cleric went on to express an opinion that there could have been a military coup if a non-northern Muslim President did a fraction of what the retired general was currently doing and getting away with.

The mere mention of a coup was all the regime’s enablers required to descend on the cleric, who has built a reputation of telling truth to power.

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For many of the enablers, the timing and the wording of Kukah’s message were designed to further draw public opprobrium to the President and the regime, which many have accused of doing a poor job of securing lives and property over the last six years.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in his statement on the Christmas Day message, urged Nigerian religious leaders to “refrain from stoking the embers of hatred and disunity.”

He also warned that “resorting to scorched-earth rhetoric at this time could trigger unintended consequences.”

While admitting that religious leaders have a responsibility to speak truth to power, he insisted that such truth must not come “wrapped in anger, hatred, disunity and religious disharmony.”

On the timing of the message, Mohammed said, “It is particularly graceless and impious for any religious leader to use the period of Christmas, which is a season of peace, to stoke the embers of hatred, sectarian strife and national disunity.

“Calling for a violent overthrow of a democratically-elected government, no matter how disguised such a call is, and casting a particular religion as violent is not what any religious leader should engage in, and certainly not in a season of peace.

“Instigating regime change outside the ballot box is not only unconstitutional, but also an open call to anarchy.

“While some religious leaders, being human, may not be able to disguise their national leadership preference, they should refrain from stigmatising the leader they have never supported anyway, using well-worn and disproved allegations of nepotism or whatever.”

The minister further argued that whatever challenges Nigeria might be going through at the moment could only be tackled when all leaders and indeed all Nigerians come together; not when some people “arrogantly” engage in name-calling and finger-pointing.

Speaking in a similar vein, the Chairman of the Buhari Media Organisation, Niyi Akinsiju, while echoing the position of the BMO, expressed disappointment that the Catholic bishop was using the pulpit to sow “division and discord and fuel an agenda for anarchy.”

He dismissed allegations of nepotism levelled against the President. Akinsiju argued that those pushing such narratives had been unable to provide credible evidence to back such claims.

However, apart from Kukah’s press conference in which he denied calling for a violent overthrow of the Buhari regime, several groups, including the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the Evangelical Church Winning All (formerly Evangelical Church of West Africa), several individuals and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, in separate statements rose in defence of the priest.

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Lending his voice to the controversy generated by Kukah’s intervention, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “This regime always wants to play the ostrich. Where in Bishop Kukah’s message did he say anything that is not already public knowledge?

“It is not true that the economy is worse than they inherited? What about kidnapping, armed robbery and the Boko Haram terrorists running riot in the North-East? Do we talk about the bandits in the North and the Middle Belt or the growing criminality across the country? This regime has nothing more to offer; Nigerians are tired and are simply waiting for an opportunity to do the needful, using the ballot box in 2023.”

A columnist with The PUNCH, Abimbola Adelakun, in an article titled: ‘Father Kukah: Men of God are supposed to be political’ published on December 30, noted that men of God were human and even the best of them could fall for the temptation of being compromised by pecuniary gains or blinded by their ethnic biases. This, she observed, made it imperative for readers or listeners to assess a message based on whose purpose it serves.

She, however, concluded that, “In the case of Kukah, what he provided was a critical analysis of the Nigerian situation. Yes, he has some sharp words for the Nigerian government that has become more or less sociopathic, but he also had some crucial observations in that message.”

This is not the first time Kukah’s comments about the depravity, which has become the reality the ordinary northerner has been forced to live with, has generated controversy.

Kukah, himself a northerner, drew the ire of a section of the northern Muslim elite after he delivered a keynote address at a conference with the theme, ‘The Muslim agenda for Nigeria: Challenges of development and good governance’, at a conference organised by the Islamic Welfare Foundation at the Fountain University, Osogbo, in November 2015.

The Catholic priest said, among other things, “We must locate the current crisis of Boko Haram within the context of the inability of the northern Muslim elite to live by their own dubious creed of being Muslims. They preach Sharia law but only for the poor. They preach a religion that encourages education, yet their own people are held in the bondage of ignorance.

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“They came to power on the basis of a democratic society, but they turned around and declared Sharia to generate a false consciousness among the poor that they want a theocracy. They did not wish to live by the same standards, so they decided to live their own Islam in the capitals of the world away from the prying eyes of their own people. Boko Haram began as a revolt against this mendacity, subterfuge and hypocrisy.”

A section of the Muslim community faulted his claims with some calling for him to be sanctioned.

A member of the House of Representatives, Tijani Yusuf, while speaking in support of Kukah’s latest intervention, expressed disgust over the negative reactions it elicited from a section of Nigeria’s ruling elite. He wondered if such persons took time to read the message in its proper context before jumping on the bandwagon of criticism. Yusuf pointed out that there was nowhere in the entire message where Kukah called for a regime change.

A public affairs commentator and Senior Lecturer at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Prof. Tunde Fatunde, faulted attempts by individuals to silence every voice that seeks to point out the failings of the Buhari regime.

Fatunde said, “Truth be told, Rev. Hassan Kukah is an intellectual, who has always spoken out. You cannot fault his prognosis of the current socio-economic malaise facing our nation.

“He is also from Southern Kaduna. He has relatives, communicants, friends and fellow human beings, who have been directly affected by the orgy of senseless killings and kidnappings not only in that area, but across the nation.

“He reserves the right to speak out and demand action; it is his calling and duty to do so. That said, the time to restructure this nation is now. With a restructured Nigeria, the brazen nepotism, which has sadly become the norm of this regime, will at least be reduced to the barest minimum.”

If Kukah’s message ignites the fire of a national conversation, which will lead to the demand for greater accountability from the government, it would have achieved its objectives.

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