Another look at the new Gospel according to St. Matthew Kukah
Let me begin by thanking the Almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth for His infinite kindness and mercifulness unto mankind, especially, to Nigerians and Nigeria. I am also sending the New Year felicitation to our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari and all those saddled with leadership responsibilities in our treasured country, Nigeria.
Specifically, I am posting this special New Year greeting to the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, His Lordship, Rev. Fr. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah. In the same spirit, I extend the same felicitation to all my compatriots in Nigeria for the Grace of our Lord to see a brand-New Year.
The Year 2020 has been a turbulent period for all of us – both for the leaders and the citizens. But it has fizzled out now. As the New Year dawns, we are expectant of emerging better, stronger and united as a nation. Once again, let us congratulate ourselves for this special privilege which God Almighty Has freely afforded us the luxury.
For nearly a week now, the Christmas day message to the leadership of Nigeria as symbolized by President Buhari and Nigerians, by My Lordship, Bishop Kukah has been trending and resonating with assorted sounds. The bevy of diverse reactions from Nigerians to its contents is indicative of its aversion in some quarters and, also, its approval by others. It is normal and the joy of all democracies is that the people postulate varied perceptions on any issue.
Personally, I hold deep veneration for Bishop Kukah for certain reasons. First, I consider him a personage who is an embodiment of three solid endowments, all packed in one soul. He is a great messenger of God and evangelist of great repute; Father Kukah is an outstanding administrator and by His Grace, Kukah is also, an advocate of the masses, a consistent voice for a better Nigeria. In other words, Kukah is a human trinity in invaluable leadership. I adore him!
But like many other Nigerians, I have cause to disagree some aspects of his Christmas day message, which he captioned, “A Nation in Search of Vindication,” particularly directed to Mr. President for twin reasons. Firstly, its intonation drapes with a strong voice of incitement, rather than reconciliation from a personality of his status. And secondly, the message is ill-timed and ill-motivated, which frowns at the basic tenets of his vocation as a preacher of the Gospel and seeker of peace.
I am the least person to delude myself that everything is smooth in Nigeria today or the nation has been completely lifted from the doldrums by President Buhari. But the problems of this nation have been deeply entrenched for decades. I dare say at the risk of being battered that the foundations of this decay are massively erected even in individual homes by people who are not prepared to let it go for whatever reasons. The overtime has really been deep!
In the Christmas day message, Father Kukah personally alluded to this mess only by a fraction with a recent example in these words; “For over ten years now, at almost each Christmas, a dark pall of horror, sorrow, and death has consistently hung in our horizon threatening to eclipse the promises of the joy of Christmas. Recall the bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla on Christmas day in 2011.”
I consider this reminiscence by My Lordship’s as his appreciation of extent of the tribulations with Nigeria before the Buhari Presidency. No doubt, these challenges have not completely eclipsed in this nation. However, where I could not grasp the thoughts of Bishop Kukah is the conscious refusal to admit that there have been some improvements under the incumbent administration. He failed to understand that the security challenges in our country cannot be exorcised in a day, not in five years or even in 10 years or more.
Joyfully, President Buhari has given Nigerians a glimmer of hope in the restoration of peace and security in the country as evidently captured by Kukah in the release of the abducted Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls as well as the recent Kankara and Mahuta schoolchildren. To me, this is a cheering flicker of hope.
Last Christmas was celebrated just yesterday, but I am not aware of any Christmas day bombing of a church in Nigeria, ditto a mosque in preceding Sallah celebrations. Formerly, these were auspicious times of horror and sorrows in Nigeria.
I don’t believe the narrative or insinuation by Kukah that the armed terror gangs wished Nigerians this break or respite. Our security agencies have taken conscious steps to tame the terrorists, the bandits and so on. This is worth the acknowledgment of everyone of us, to ginger our leaders to more actions because it is a collective battle and, not exclusively a Buhari affair.
We are persuaded to understand that leaders are also humans in 1 Timothy 2:1-2; “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our savior.” Therefore, I believe that even when a leader is believed to have faltered, it is the duty of everyone of us to embolden him to overcome the perceived shortcomings, but not chant songs of war or outright vilification as Bishop Kukah’s message barked loudly.
I am also piqued at Bishop Kukah’s condescension to our familiar national faultlines by his very bitter accusations or emphasis on nepotism and tribalism or the institutionalization of the Northern hegemony by the Buhari Presidency. These are issues which have come in the front burner of national discourses time and time again! And they have been variously trashed and proven with verifiable evidence as false alarms by disgruntled Nigerians desperate to sow the seed of discord and disunity against Buhari.
Truly, it is incitement of Christians against Muslims when Bishop Kukah became a vuvuzela or trumpeted that “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 gotten away with it. There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war. The President may have concluded that Christians will do nothing and will live with these actions.”
And it sparked instant revolting reactions from Nigerians and the Bishop can attest to it. The varied interpretations of this statement also included those who claimed he was calling for a Military coup to overthrow President Buhari; thereby putting him on the defensive in furious denials. I know, an agitation for a coup was far from his intentions in the expression; but the connotation of that statement unarguably draped and animated the spirit of incitement in Nigerians towards that direction.
How many of the clergy across religious faiths loudly lamenting over the state of the nation now, ever uttered a word, when the situation in our country was glaringly worse under the preceding administration? They were very silent! Perhaps, there is something hidden from the rest us.
I was astounded that Bishop Kukah transposed himself into the ridiculously feeble campaigns of the Nigerian opposition by sketching rhetorical posers; “Why did President Buhari hand over a majority of the plum jobs to Northern Muslims? Was it for efficacy and efficiency? What was the logic?”
So, I asked myself whether by the imagination of My Lordship, there are lesser or less attractive jobs in service to the nation reserved for certain regions peopled by Nigerians or members of a particular faith. Which aspect of national service is irrelevant or not an impactful component of the whole? The phrase “plum jobs” is a coinage by political lobbyists who perceive and fete national appointments as a means to self-glorification. It is perplexing for Bishop Kukah to have aligned with this narrative.
And it earned My Lordship the underserved public epaulet as a politician in Cassock. The exponents of this campaign argued fervently that Jesus Christ was never a friend of any politician in the land, but Bishop Kukah has deviated from this norm by such indulgence.
Let me end this New Year message to Bishop Kukah by saying, we all crave for a better country. We need peace, security and prosperity as a nation. But the work to be done in Nigeria is much, but the labourers are few. It’s impossible to expect a better Nigeria, without a correspondingly better citizen.
I have no iota of doubt that President Buhari is challenged by the enormity of the work; but I also know our President is not a faint-hearted leader. He has not faltered either. He gathers his strength and inspiration as implored in Proverbs 24:10; “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”
We owe our President and dear nation, the sacrosanct obligation to avoid public utterances likely to cause divisions, incite the masses and exacerbate the tension in the land. I was disappointed honestly, My Lord Bishop, that throughout your Christmas day message, there was no plea to incensed compatriots responsible for these organized armed criminalities against their country to lay down their arms, embrace and seek forgiveness from God. This counsel from a messenger of God is also very crucial in our expressions of despair.
Happy New Year, My Lord Bishop! Happy Prosperous New Year, Nigerians!
Garba is the National Coordinator, National Inter- Faith Organizations for Peace.