Over the years, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Most Reverend Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, has demonstrated that he is a scholar of politics and lover of democracy. He has also succeeded in proving those who advocate that clergies should not get involved in politics wrong. If politics, especially in a democratic nation, is basically about making decisions that affect the citizenry, then why should anyone, including Kukah, not be an active participator of it?
On January 29, 2019, during the flag off of the 70th anniversary of the Nigerian Tribune in Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja, Lagos, Bishop Kukah shared his immeasurable wealth of political know-how and leadership prowess with Nigerians with his lecture titled ‘Electoral Integrity, Legitimacy of Democratic Institutions and Good Governance’. In his preamble, after stating that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the founder of the Tribune, was the best thing that has ever happened to Nigeria, added, “The levels and depths of his [Awolowo] preparedness for leadership present a combination of the visions of both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.”
In the course of the lecture, Kukah thoroughly covered three topical issues affecting the polity: the state of Nigeria nation, why democracy has not delivered to Nigerians, and electoral integrity. He emphasised that there are no bad leaders in Nigeria, that rather they are good patriots committed to changing the country. However, he noted that the problem is with their level of preparedness, adding that, right from independence, “I have not found people that I can say were really truly prepared for the positions they found themselves.”
Perhaps, the best places to understand the state of Nigeria nation are in Kukah’s book ‘Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria’ and the 2018 convocation lecture he delivered in Jos titled ‘Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Elusive Quest for National Cohesion’. In this segment, Kukah eloquently explained how Nigeria missed the road to the Promise Land and also how unnecessary conflicts have cleaved the country into different camps, adding that Nigerian history cannot be complete unless it finds a convergence.
He emphasised that there is a need for Nigerians to think clearly about the connection between politics, the political class and the governed. Furthermore, with liberal democracy and how Nigerians miraculously survived the 2015 elections, Kukah asked, “Should we be going into another election with so much fear worse than the one we had in the last elections?” The challenge, however, he stressed was: “How do we move forward?”
The second segment of the lecture is why democracy has not delivered to the Nigerian citizenry. Kukah noted that even though the country is ruled by people in Agbada, Nigerians are still under a military head of state. He stressed that democracy is about negotiation, persuasion, consensus and tradeoffs, adding that it is difficult for a military general to understand why he is talking and an opposition is talking too. “The military knows what to do with somebody of that nature,” he said, adding at some point that “some of the reflexes are beginning to manifest themselves as we go on in this clime.”
While speaking on the varies organisations that weigh governance, such as the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Transparency International, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, among others, he lamented that all of them have given Nigeria yellow card, in some cases almost a red card. On the major indices that encapsulate a democratic nation—how people feel about their rights, education, welfare, health, security; their feeling and capacity to participate in governance not just as spectators, but to truly participate—he stressed that in each of these indices Nigeria often comes out badly.
Furthermore, he stated that one of the problems of democracy, apart from poverty, is gerontocracy, emphasising that principles like rule of law, equality, and due process are strange to Africans, “because we are traditionalist with cultural norms that privilege age, status, and status differentials.”
Again, drawing inferences from the 2018 Afrobarometer report of various countries, with interest in Nigeria and corruption as the main focus, Kukah stated that virtual all government agencies are corrupt with the police, National Assembly, local government councils, government officials, judges, state assembles and governors scoring over fifty per cent on corruption scoreboard. According to the report, many of those that were interviewed said they had to pay bribes to avoid problems with the police, to receive official government documents, to access water, sanitation and medical services. The question, therefore, Kukah asked, “Was it what democracy was supposed to offer our people?”
The last segment of the lecture dealt with political parties, electoral integrity and electoral outcomes. Here, Bishop Kukah asked some fundamental questions such as: How much is integrity worth? Is it a measurable commodity? And when a man or woman claims to be a person of integrity, what does that mean? Then, he lamented, “One of the most critical things in Nigerian discuss is that we never debate.”
He noted that the question of electoral integrity is tied to the electoral processes Nigeria is dealing with, asking whether what we have in Nigeria pass for political parties. He stressed that political parties are about ideologies and convictions, frowning at politicians who defect from one party to the other. He also noted that integrity is not only about morality, honesty and piety.
“I am sorry, I am a priest and a bishop of the Catholic Church, but I need somebody, whether he goes to church or not, whether he goes to mosque or not, whether he prays or not, I just need somebody to help me press the switch and light will come, I need somebody that can fix the boreholes…” On the other hand, he added, “We need to get ourselves to the point in which people don’t tie all their hopes to politics.”
About protest, Kukah noted that Nigerians do not seem to understand that after elections the next most precious place to be treasured is the street where people could vent their anger, frustration and hope. “Protest is honourable. In 2011, Times Magazine awarded the person of the year to a protester,” he said. “We have the legacies of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King, of John Kennedy, of Mother Teresa, of Nelson Mandela… of Leah Sharibu…” As men and women of honour, we must come to a point in which there is something that is worth dying for, “because if we cannot die for something, we would end up dying for nothing.”
Before concluding his illumination lecture, bearing the looming elections in mind, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah urged Nigerians to do themselves a favour—that on the election day, before they vote, they should ask themselves: How do I look today? Do I look better fed than I was in the last elections? Do I look healthier? Do I feel more secure? What do I want for my family? Which candidate or party offers me the best opportunity to improve my condition and become a better person and a pride citizen of Nigeria?
“After you have asked these questions… stand at the crossroads, ask for the ancient path, ask where the true way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls,” Kukah concluded.
Kingsley Alumona is with the Nigerian Tribune