Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Christmas message, which called attention to the deepening depths of death and despair that Nigeria has been dangerously degenerating into in the last few years, attracted the commendations of critics of the Buhari regime and invited the condemnation of regime honchos and defenders.
The impassioned, partisan responses the bishop’s message provoked was predictable, which explained why I didn’t think it was worth commenting on even though several of my readers asked for my opinion.
However, Professor Jibrin “Jibo” Ibrahim’s January 1, 2021 Daily Trust column titled “Bishop Matthew Kukah: Can a Partisan Tell Truth to Power?” inspired this intervention. Ibrahim, who is a Christian (or at least a non-Muslim) from Kano (and an apologist for the Buhari regime, I should add), argued that Kukah’s criticism of Buhari’s incompetence isn’t disinterested since he not only didn’t criticize PDP governments that were headed by Christians, he also condemned people who did exactly what he is doing to Buhari now.
To back up his claim, Ibrahim reproduced a 2014 exculpatory and excusatory Kukah quote about the Goodluck Jonathan’s regime’s incompetence to secure the country that uncannily mirrors what Lai Mohammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu or any Buhari regime propagandist would say today in defense of Buhari’s own incompetence.
“Nigerians love to criticize their country perhaps far more than any nation I know of in the world,” Kukah was reported to have said during Professor Wole Soyinka’s 80th birthday lecture in 2014. “The President and the security agencies have become the objects of attacks and vilification and yet, there is very little that is being done to point at the way forward. I know that as day follows night, we shall pull out of this tragedy that we face as a nation. But the least we can do is to stand in the comforts of highways and homes that someone else constructed and throw stones at ourselves and our people simply because we are living off someone else’s sweat.”
In other words, when Kukah’s co-religionists are in power, he chafes at social criticism of governments, but when people he doesn’t share the same religious faith with are in power he not only countenances criticisms of governments, he actually uses his pulpit to censure them in the severest forms possible. That’s not disinterested criticism; it’s self-interested criticism.
Bishop Kukah is my friend, and I had always assumed that he was an equal-opportunity critic of all bad governments, but now that I think about it, I frankly don’t recall him being as severely censorious of Jonathan—or even Obasanjo— as he has been of Buhari even though Jonathan was the absolute worst president we had had until Buhari came to beat his record.
Was Bishop Kukah benign to Jonathan because he benefited from his government in either symbolic or material terms? I don’t know, but it’s entirely legitimate to be suspicious of the intent of his very accurate and unassailable assessment of the Buhari regime. If he wasn’t nearly as critical of Jonathan when he also supervised Nigeria’s descent into anarchy and precarity, which made Buhari’s emergence possible, his motivation can’t be attributed entirely to telling truth to power.
Anyone who defended—or, worse, still defends—Jonathan has no moral right to criticize Buhari and expect not to invite ridicule or a questioning of their motives.
Nothing in Goodluck Jonathan’s temperaments and comportment suggests that he is different from Buhari. Like Buhari, he fiddled and engaged in crackpot conspiracy ideations while the country burned. Boko Haram’s fury not only raged in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi, and so on, bombs periodically went off in places like Kano, Kaduna, and even the federal capital territory.
Instead of confronting the widening insecurity that engulfed the country, Jonathan sulked—and sucked. He said the insecurity was a plot by the elites of the North to get him out of power, a silly conspiracy ideation that has been undermined by the escalation of the same insecurity—and its intensification in the North— on the watch of a northerner.
“Some of them [Boko Haram members] are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary,” Jonathan said on January 8, 2012 at the interdenominational church service to mark Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Abuja. “Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house.”
That was an astonishingly astounding level of presidential cluelessness and irresponsibility that Kukah ignored, defended, or excused.
Recall that Jonathan also defended the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) when it carried out a terrorist attack in Abuja that it owned up to and even forewarned—similar to Buhari’s defense of Fulani murderers and mollycoddling of Boko Haram terrorists.
As I pointed out in my October 16, 2010 column titled “A MENDacious President!” MEND had bombed the venue of a two-day “post- amnesty” dialogue organized by Vanguard Newspapers in Warri and even Jonathan’s own home in his hometown of Otuoke on May 16, 2007 after he was appointed Vice President. Why did he insist they didn’t bomb Abuja on October 1, 2010 when they—and even British intelligence agencies—warned that they would strike?
Does anyone who either ignored or defended Jonathan’s disaster of an administration, which has been made only more tolerable in hindsight when compared with Buhari’s, deserve to be shielded from having their motive questioned when they criticize Buhari?
In other words, if Buhari’s successor turns out to be even worse than he is (the one thing no one can say with certainty about Nigeria’s leadership is that it won’t get worse than it is now), should people who ignored or defended Buhari be allowed to criticize his successor without having their motives questioned? I don’t think so.
Bishop Kukah’s defense of Jonathan in 2014 isn’t different from current Buhari apologists’ defense of Buhari’s incompetence. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with selective outrage.
The truth is that every previous administration often benefits from a kind of cognitive bias that psychologists call rosy retrospection, which is the tendency to remember past times more positively as they recede into distant memories. Even Buhari will benefit from rosy retrospection years after his tenure. Should people who defend or ignore him now be given a pass if they come down hard on his successor?
But Kukah is not alone. My good friend Sheikh Dr. Ali Isa Pantami is now the object of Twitter attacks by young educated northerners who remind him that his cold detachment from the horrors that afflict northern Muslims today is such a disconcerting contrast from his erstwhile persistent, shrill, and lachrymose attacks on former President Goodluck Jonathan from his pulpit.
In a widely circulated audio tape, he tearfully told Jonathan that, as president and commander-in-chief, he should take responsibility for the daily mass murders of Muslims in the North.
Today, more Northern Muslims are dying and being violently kidnapped than at any time in Nigeria’s entire history, but Sheikh Pantami hasn’t placed the blame for this on Buhari in whose government he served as DG of NITDA and serves as minister of Communication and Digital Economy.
Like Kukah, Pantami’s criticism of Jonathan wasn’t disinterested; it was self-interested. Although they have a right to their religiously tinged selective outrage against governments, those of us whose chronicling and censures of missteps in governance isn’t animated by partisan or primordial impulses also have an obligation to call them out.
Yes, Buhari is worse than Jonathan, but that doesn’t erase the fact that Jonathan was also a terrible president. No one who defended—or defends—Jonathan has moral superiority over current Buhari defenders.
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