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Monday, 3 February 2014

National confab, not solution to Nigeria’s problem – Bishop Kukah

National confab, not solution to Nigeria’s problem – Bishop Kukah
Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah is the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese. In this interview with journalists including TUNDE OMOLEHIN in Sokoto, Kukah bares his mind on national confab, the potential of Nigeria as a great nation and the recent law banning same-sex marriage in the country, among other national issues. Excerpts:
What is your take on the proposed national confab?
I have always been a critic of any national conference. My reason was based on the fact that I participated in the last political reform conference and tragically, the politicians sank the findings of that committee. Subsequently, I was also convinced that the problems of Nigerians cannot to be resolved by the constitution, dialogue and so on, because we are dealing with issues of electricity, power, good roads, quality education and so on. Aside that, my own personal conviction is that Nigeria does not even need new laws for now. What we need is a review of existing laws, which covers virtually everything we are yearning for. But all those reports or laws have not been implemented.
On the recent confab, my own worry is that if the politicians are going to hand-pick the delegation, then, what we are going to have is a gathering of politicians. That has been the greatest undoing of all the similar initiatives we have had in the area of constitution making in the past. In fact, that was how my experience has been. If you have read some of the reports, you would understand my point now. Let me give an instance way back in 1976 when Nigeria was planning to return to democratic rule.  At the end of the day, a lot of prominent politicians and some of the noisiest members of the National Assembly always end up being the key people in politics. It is largely because they have seen the platform as an opportunity for grandstanding and that was why religion and regionalism suddenly became important issues in such discussion. Another worry is that, I do not see the national dialogue to be concluded in time before elections or within a short time frame for the contents to become a policy that could guide us. But, I will adopt the wait and see attitude on this issue.

Is the unity of this country being threatened in any way by politicians?
The unity of Nigeria is in the hands of Nigerians. It is not something that anybody is going to do for us. I think that one of the saddest things that has happened to us is that the over 30 years of military rule, even the experience we had with democracy, doesn’t seem to be the case that ordinary Nigerians have got the good value of governance. And these are some of the issues we are still battling with. The discussion of nation’s unity would not stop unless Nigerians see a qualitative change in leadership, in their lives. Nigerians want to see something positive about their security, standard of living and in their personal lives. Nigerians want to be sure that our country is safe, that there is job security. These are the issues that are so dear in the heart of every Nigerian. And the solution to all these would no longer let Nigerians ask questions about the unity of this country. Also, the continuous discussion of our religious and regional identity has continued to pull us back from the sense of nationhood. Nations are united not by constitution or political declarations but largely on infrastructure. The day a Nigerian can go from Sokoto to Aba on a decent railway lane or less threatening road, the day Nigerians can move in different directions, and the day we cease to take electricity for granted, then I can assure you that Nigeria must have achieved 80 to 90 per cent of unity.
At present, is Nigeria at a crossroads?
Well, the good thing about crossroads is that it tells you whether you are going to turn left, right or move forward. I guess the crossroad is a good way to explain our situations. But it is also important to say the choice about which direction we go is in our hands.

What about using regionalism and religion, as tools to win elections in Nigeria?
The issue is that, there is nothing you can say about politics and politicians, politicians would always appease to things that give them attention. It could be religion, ethnicity, and gender, whatever it could be. But as a Nigerian, our own responsibility is to be able to see beyond the grandstanding. This is where we who are not in politics must be very conscious. Politics is like a marriage, because if a married man is quarrelling with his wife, it does not mean they will separate tomorrow. A lot of public discourse or arguments in Nigeria today are as a result of the selfish reason of our greedy politicians. It is considerable now that people in PDP would still probably go to APC and those in APC would probably cross over to PDP and so on. For Nigerian politicians, it only depends on where food is easy to get. This is the reality when talking politics in Nigeria. That is why their grandstandings are always heating the polity. The issue of whether the President should have come from the North, whether Jonathan should go or stay, are all about personal interest and they use media to achieve such aim. Though, there may be nothing wrong with such opinions, the most important thing is to know who and who represent our aspirations. For us who are spectators, we need to learn not to cry more than the bereaved because when the politicians will solve their differences, you might still be in the dark.

What is your take on some religious leaders who are fond of making unguarded utterances?
I think there should be a law in the land to tackle that. This is not the question of what you are wearing. It is not by the size of your cross or turban. If you say things that the law considers not in keeping with the right of ordinary citizens or saying things that can wreak havoc, disturbance or disunity, I think the law of the land should always take its full course.

What is your view on political parties labelling one another a party of a particular religion?
As far as am concerned, the people in APC are more than able to defend themselves. On papers, you cannot stop politicians making such utterances. Let us take Sokoto for instance, if you are campaigning in the state, what you say about the religion of Islam is very important. It is not supposed to be the same if you are campaigning to become the President of Nigeria because at that level, you are not just talking about the religions. So, if APC, PDP want to have majority of women, men or a particular religion in their fold, let it be. There is strength in diversity. I think the people in such party should know enough to take note of that criticism or not as to adjust appropriately, otherwise Nigerians may vote based on what they consider to be things of great interest to them. It is all about calculation to win election by the politicians.

President Jonathan recently assented to the bill, outlawing same sex marriage. How do you see the development, especially the uproar from the international community?
We commended President Goodluck Jonathan for that but my worry is that, I wish the way the National Assembly passed this law quickly, such effort should be applied to pass the law against unemployment so quickly. Can you imagine that it took all better part of six months just to negotiate ASUU demands? But to say the least is that this is not a big issue as far as Gay business is concerned. But again, the most dangerous part of it is to make sure that this does not lead to homophobia. As far as am concerned, anybody who lives in Nigeria and most part of Africa knows that culturally, religiously and morally, it is not our life and culture.

What is your advice to both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria?
My advice is that people should be able to differentiate between a glorious religion of Christianity and Islam and what we as Christians and Muslims are struggling with. We are politicians, businessmen seeking promotion and so on but we should let the purity of our religions to always remain. And I think this is what we must try and uphold. And again, I always say that I do not buy the idea of Muslim and Christian prayers in an event because very soon, we will have women and men prayers, a prayer by tall people and another prayer for short people and so on. The more we continue talking like this, the more we recognize our differences. If a Christian prays, does that mean that such prayer is only for the Christians that are present at such an event? The same thing goes to Muslim prayer. Is it for only Muslim Ummah in the gathering?

What would you say about the relative peace being enjoyed in Sokoto State?
Two months ago, I was at the Vatican because I am a member of Political Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, the highest decision making body regarding matters on how the church wants to relate with Muslims across the world. So, coming from Nigeria, everybody would turn to hear from me. They want to know why our Christians are always fighting. They also want to know whether I am in danger or not. But people remained shocked when I tell them, ‘no, we do not have problem between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.’ Because if there is a problem between us, in Sokoto State for instance, it would not take about two hours before they will kill we the Christians in Sokoto.

Strange as it may sound, I am more secured in Sokoto than when I am outside Sokoto State. I cannot say what I did not experience. In Kebbi and Katsina, we have had no incident and in Zamfara State, we have had other incidents that have something to do with criminality but not religion. All these states are under my diocese. In Sokoto particularly, we have enjoyed the warmth of the good people. There are good men and women in Sokoto State.

Does Nigeria, as a nation, have the potential to be great?
Yes, of course. I just came back from a conference held in London. The organisers brought 65 scholars together around the world and I felt honoured to be invited. It is about what the world would be in 2040. That was what the round-table was about. And I felt embarrassed as a Nigerian because what the Nigerian government is still discussing and thinking of, is the year 2015.
The topic of the fora was related to who is having power today, which will have power tomorrow and by the year 2040, who will also have power? But jokingly, I said to them that as a Nigerian, if you ask me who will have power, I wouldn’t know because power is electricity in Nigeria and not the kind of thing you are talking about. But really, it was interesting to hear that constantly Nigeria keeps coming to the table. Not as a country with potential greatness but as a great country. Nigeria is constantly placed on the table. Most of the discussion about South Africa was centred on Mandela. Now, Mandela is gone. What will happen is that whether Nigeria likes it or not, the focus on our country would inevitably be much more. The international communities recognise our position as a powerful country on her own. They recognise that this is not just a country that has an enormous natural and human resources. It is a country that clearly should know where it is going. But we are constantly pulling ourselves back as Muslims, as Christians, as Northerners and Southerners, while the rest of the world is seeing us as one unified country.

What will be your appeal to the Nigerian media?
I just want to appeal to you that politics is here again. The joyful thing is that military rule has ended. And as I said at the Governors’ Forum retreat in Sokoto recently, that it is an interesting thing that in all things that happened- political crisis in the last four years or so when the military could have taken over, we never heard anything. Imagine the uncertainty and debate on whether Yar’Adua was alive or dead. There couldn’t have been a better opportunity to hijack power. Also, imagine all the discussion on whether Goodluck Jonathan should take over or not? All that vacuum, nothing happened and the recent insecurity issue like Boko Haram. But strange enough, not a single Nigerian newspaper or in a discussion on television or radio stations, mentioned anything about soldier. What this means for us is that our people are firmly committed to democracy. With all these problems, this is the way we have chosen to go. And it is like a man in marriage, you may fight or quarrel, but if you decide you are going to stay married, no matter what happened, then the problems that arrive, will only strengthen your union. I want to appeal to the Nigerian media that we should re-affirm our commitment to the unity of our dear country. It is not all about whether President Goodluck Jonathan is the President of Nigeria today. It is actually possible that I can be a better President than President Jonathan. It is also possible that any other person could be a better president. But for now, I have not been offered the President of Nigeria. And these things are beyond just an individual. We believe in the will of God, when it is convenient for us, and we question the will of God when it is not convenient for us. Beyond politics and individual, there have to be a Nigeria first, before people’s ambition can be realised. I am just calling on you in the media, especially those of you that have great influence on the public because you shape public opinions in the polity, let us not focus on the quarrels among the politicians. And like I often tell the politicians too, it is their responsibility to make politics noble. The media should focus on the bad behaviours of some politicians, especially those who are bringing politics to disrepute. Our responsibility is to dish out correct and accurate information for ordinary citizens to make up their minds.


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