Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah is not new to controversy. Back in his younger days in the 90s as a Reverend Father in Lagos, controversy appeared to be his second name. He courted it. But most often, he was known to speak for and on the side of the oppressed, the masses. He was thus loved. He was the young, audacious Father who dared speak truth to power. And in those days, military power!
Then one day, Father Kukah woke up and spoke without much of discretion in an interview he granted the press, such that this column, in its April 14 edition, concluded that the Father forgot to say his prayers before he began the interview.
Father Kukah had, in the eyes of most Yoruba, denigrated the entire ethnic group in his specious characterisation of the major ethnic groups in the country. Whilst describing the Igboman as “hard-working,” and the “Northerner” (the whole agglomeration of them) as imbued with special dignity, all Kukah saw the Yoruba people bringing to the national table was their “sense of extravagant celebration.” All hell was let loose on poor Kukah, a friend I’d known from way back in London when he was still accumulating priesthood learning.
Father Kukah got transferred to Sokoto not long after that gaffe and he also rose in rank to become a Bishop of the Catholic Church. A measure of Kukah’s national prominence and respectability was how often his name came up in intellectual circles, pre-2015 elections, as one such leader Nigerians should have as president.
Our Bishop resurfaced during the heat of the 2015 elections when Nigeria looked down the precipice of war and disintegration, and almost no one saw how such calamity could be averted. A number of distinguished Nigerians from different tongues and walks of life got themselves together, probably with the prodding and backing of powerful countries such as the USA and Britain, self-appointed themselves “National Peace Committee” (NPC) with the mission to broker peace between the two major contestants for president and secure assurances of both parties to “protection” of the victor and the loser — whichever way the pendulum swung.
Our Bishop Kukah is a member of that group of eminent Nigerians that include former military head of state, retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, Ayo Oritsejafor (president, Christian Association of Nigeria), clergymen John Onaiyekan and Nicholas Okoh.
Speculation is rife that at that point members of the committee, as well as important international community, knew one or two things. One, that in all probability, Buhari, with the new political arrangement masterminded by Tinubu, would emerge victorious.
Two, that with the way things were in the country and the depth of rottenness, it was not desirable for Jonathan to continue in power lest there soon would be no more country to “milk.”
It is further speculated that part of the “bargaining chip” with which the NPC was armed in wresting that “noble” act of conceding defeat from Jonathan was a full dossier of the extent of loot he and his cronies have stacked in foreign banks or invested in foreign lands and the NPC’s ability to wrest assurance of “immunity from prosecution” from a victorious Buhari.
Speculation goes further that whilst Jonathan gave his commitment to the deal, Buhari probably cleverly spoke in “generalisations” of readiness not to go after Jonathan but to observe “the rule of law.”
Further speculation is that whereas retired General Buhari had mere general notions of the level of rot in the system under Jonathan, the wanton extent of it now seeing since assuming the reins of power is maddening enough to force repudiation and make one jail anyone, even one’s mother!
This is the crux.
Infuriated that anyone, any Nigerian, could so much “hate” the country to commit the sort of atrocities tumbling out of the cupboard, and also backed by the mood of the people baying for blood regardless of whose ox is gored, President Buhari does not see himself bound by any “senseless” undertaking to “let sleeping dogs lie” – dogs that have swallowed the seeds to national prosperity.
In Buhari’s view, it is heart-wrenching enough to let the top dog lie, certainly not all the other dogs. But waking up all the other dogs would necessarily wake up the top dog. Wahala!
Former President Jonathan, it is speculated, is concerned that one side is about breaching the terms of the deal that saw him accepting electoral defeat and, unprecedentedly, congratulating the victor. The task of the NPC is an unpleasant one. They know the truth, or enough of it, yet have decided that a bargain is a bargain and whatever is now seen or not seen, the deal must be honoured, at all costs.
At all costs?
Yes, says Bishop Kukah, the spokesperson and reportedly the motivator of the eminent NPC group. And this is where Kukah has once again incurred the wrath of Nigerian masses. And he has done so in a manner that, perhaps, may do his reputation deep damage.
Hear him: “The singular decision that Jonathan took (of conceding defeat) is what has kept us as a nation. So, I think that even for that singular act alone, Nigerians must be appreciative of what President Jonathan did… even if he stole all the money in the world.”
Yes, you heard him right, “even if Jonathan (had stolen) all the money in the world.” What could inform this of our dear priest? The religious injunction that, “man must not live by bread alone?” Or that parable in which Jesus Christ ‘embraced’ the sinful prostitute and challenged anyone who had not sinned to cast the first stone? What, for Christ’s sake? Or is it the sheer knowledge that few Nigerians, even amongst his hallowed group, were cleaner than Jonathan who ever had such opportunity?
Right now, Nigerians are up in arms against Kukah and his now-turned-unwelcome group. In a rather unsparing Editorial, The PUNCH newspaper insists that Kukah’s position “also raises larger question about our values.”
To be sure, President Jonathan is not and could not have been “where the rain began to beat us,” as our late Chinua Achebe would put it. Jonathan is not the first or only living president or head of Nigerian state to have done great damage to our national coffers and psyche. Some would even argue that he may not be the worst. We would not know. But the country is at a juncture of change, of restitution, of rebirth. And as The PUNCH editorial avers: “Under Buhari, Nigeria has a rare opportunity to make a break with the oppressive yoke of corruption. And in waging the war, there should not be any sacred cow. There must be no room to tolerate crooked public officials and those who hope for windfalls from powerful friends in high places.
Matthew Hassan Kukah and his eminent NPC group have done well by bringing us peace, perhaps time to stay in their cassocks and give Nigeria the chance to reorder its existence, away from the impunity of the past into a brave new world of zero tolerance for corruption. This war cannot be waged, talk less won, without making examples by jailing those high and mighty, who by their inordinate greed and wanton recklessness, have brought the country to its knees.
And that’s saying it the way it is!