The sin of Father Kukah

With the call last week by a group asking Father Matthew Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, to either apologise or leave the state as a result of his Christmas message, the issue of the clergyman’s sin has again come to the fore.

Since the release of that message, Kukah has attracted the wrath of the Federal Government, the presidency, friends of the government as well as some interest groups in the North. Not only has he been alleged of calling for a violent overthrow of government, he has also been accused of opposing the president due to lack of patronage.

Responding to Kukah’s message, Information and Culture minister, Lai Mohammed, said “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.”

Lauretta Onochie, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, while reacting to Kukah’s message in a tweet, said: “They’ve met more than once. So, what’s the problem? Baba no dey drop! He’s rebuilding a nation battered by greed, political and religious favours. Buying the support of traditional/religious/political leaders is no longer on the table. Rebuilding our nation is the main focus.”

The Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), in a statement by its National President, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, accused Kukah of attempting to “set the South against the North in order to destabilise our country and further complicate matters.”

But the question to really ponder over is what did Kukah say in his message that is not known to almost all Nigerians?

While making reference to kidnapping and the menace of Boko Haram insurgents, Kukah said, “The larger issues now are whether the federal government understands the evil web of intrigues into which Boko Haram has tied it. Will the federal government continue to reward and fund Boko Haram by playing its game? For how long can this cycle of deceit last, given that every kidnap merely strengthens their arsenal?”

What is the problem with this statement? Are those attacking Kukah saying this is not true? Haven’t state governments owned up to paying bandits? Is it not a well known fact that when terrorists need some money they stage a kidnap and force government to negotiate for the release of their captives? Why ask for the head of Kukah for stating the obvious?

Kukah also said, “The Almajiri is the poster child of the horrible and inhuman conditions of the northern child. It is a best kept secret that the region refuses to confront but it has now exposed its underbelly. Now, what next for the children of the north? In another ten or twenty years, these children will be leaders in their communities. What will they remember and how will they remember? Their fate and future are a dream deferred, a nightmare that will be ignited by the fire next time.”

How can anyone controvert or fight this statement? What manner of life are the majority of Northern children exposed to? What kind of education are they offered? What type of training do they get? A person cannot do what he does not know. If the Almajiri system has exposed many Northern children to poverty, ignorance and violence, what will they grow up with? What kind of adult will they make? What value can they bring to the country?

Part of Kukah’s message that probably gnawed and irked the government and its sympathizers the most is this: “President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony, by reducing others in public life to second-class status….Every honest Nigerian knows that there is no way any non-Northern Muslim President could have done a fraction of what President Buhari has done by his nepotism and got away with it. There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war.”

Father Kukah is right on point. All the President’s supporters may try as much as they can to fight this, but the belief of millions of Nigerians is that Buhari’s nepotism is unprecedented in the annals of this country. And he is unapologetic about this. He said during a presentation at the United States Institute of Peace in 2015, that “The constituents who gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.”

There is no doubt that there would have been a military coup had anyone from another part of the country tried a half of what President Buhari had done. The principal allegation the Northern military officers who planned the July 1966 coup and assassinated Major General Aguiyi Ironsi’s leveled against him was nepotism.

The only sin Father Matthew Kukah has committed as far as I can see is that he chose to speak truth to power. For this, he is being pilloried and attacked. But that is tragic. Rather than attack Bishop Kukah and portray him as Nigeria’s main enemy, the right thing to do is to dispassionately analyse his message and separate the chaff from the wheat, then take steps to right the wrongs. To see Kukah as an enemy is to miss the point. Only a friend can tell a ruler his foibles, hangers on one will praise him in his presence and mock him behind. President Buhari should begin to reflect on the kind of legacy he will leave behind. He should concern himself more about how he will be remembered after his tenure, not about trying to look good now.



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