By Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam
“Government is too big and important to be left to the politicians.” – Chester Bowles
For over 44 years that Bishop Kukah has served as a Priest, till date, this would be the first time his Christmas homily has been so widely read and talked about nationwide. Perhaps globally, thanks or no thanks to social media. For all practical purposes, the Nigerian Presidency gave oxygen to Kukah’s homily! If I were Bishop Kukah, I would say, ‘thanks Mr. President for the publicity you have given to my homily in this remarkable unforgettable year 2020.’
Indeed, how could we forget 2020 so quickly? Not with COVID-19 still fresh on our minds. For Nigerians, the real question remains, should they be battling the COVID pandemic, worry about their personal safety on the roads and the confines of their homes or be worried about a President and his hangers-on who choose to go after them for ‘wailing’ over their travails and woes in a country which today is ranked among the most dangerous countries to live in the world and also the poverty capital of the world?
I have never been able to wrap my head around this fact. Each time well-meaning Nigerians cry out against the insecurity and insincerity of our leaders; the President’s spokespersons and sometimes security personnel start attacking and going after such decent citizens. All because they are honest to their conscience by speaking out for love of our country?
There is no doubt that Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah’s Christmas homily took a swipe at the glaring leadership deficits we all see in Nigeria under President Buhari’s government. But instead of listening and appreciating Bishop Kukah and others for having the courage to tell them the truth, the Presidents’ spokespersons are crying wolf against Kukah. They and other agents of confusion are now accusing Kukah of instigating a coup and dividing the nation by setting the South against the North, etc. Really? Was this the spirit of Kukah’s homily? Why is this government ALWAYS defending the indefensible?
They did not stop there, the Minister of Information and Culture went as far as calling Bishop Kukah graceless meaning ‘lacking grace, elegance, or charm.’ He also used the word impious meaning ‘showing a lack of respect for God or religion.’ It is incomprehensible that such words could be used to denigrate Bishop Kukah, a respected Bishop of the Catholic Church in Nigeria. This government is going too far. The Minister went further to say that “religious leaders have a responsibility to speak truth to power, such truth must not come wrapped in anger, hatred, disunity and religious disharmony.” Yet, the truth is that government cannot also afford to hold itself to lower standards of accountability. We must avoid a situation in which it is okay for government to lie while citizens are not encouraged to counter such with truth. Truth telling must be two sided.
The Minister went further to say that Bishop Kukah was “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.” Reading the same homily, the Minister read, I have real difficulties drawing the same conclusions. I found no place in the homily where Kukah called for a “violent overthrow of the State.” I noticed that this is the same convoluted and unfounded line of argument being advanced by MURIC and others. What is government trying to spin along with their spin merchants? Groups like MURIC and others attempting to speak in defense of government against Kukah are missing the fine points on the issues he sought to draw both ours and government’s attention to. Kukah was not just speaking to government only but also to Nigerians. The call by Bishop Kukah should be a cause for soul searching and change of approach in governance rather than the futile and infantile invectives and vituperations it is receiving from official quarters and their paid pipers.
I urge Bishop Kukah and other religious leaders: both Christian and Muslim clerics to continue with the responsibility of speaking truth to power. We must continue and never keep quiet, for to kowtow would be spiritual suicide. Prophetic voices must NEVER surrender at the altar of political expediency. Saving Nigeria should be our collective priority. Nigerians own Nigeria not the leaders. Our collective wisdom can save Nigeria, not the self-serving interest of some in power.
This government needs not respond negatively to what Nigerians say which they don’t agree with. Governments do not always have the monopoly of being the only ones who know everything about Nigeria and how to fix it. Government’s performance so far, shows a major need for improvement in their primary responsibility of protecting lives and properties. For example, when the Kankara boys in Katsina State were kidnapped, the initial reaction of government was to downplay the numbers when they suggested that only 10 students were taken. In the first place should the conversation be really about numbers or saving lives? The initial numbers provided by the Federal government was flat-out LIES. This portrayed the government as though they care less about human lives. They need to take additional concrete steps to practically end these killings!
If this government sees itself as democratic, why are they in the habit of unleashing the Police or DSS on people who demonstrate their fundamental rights to freedom of speech in speaking truth to power? Let’s get this straight, Kukah has spoken not only for himself but millions of Nigerians who harbour much pains, hurts; and are wailing deep inside their hearts. Our schools are not safe neither our markets, major roads (especially the notorious Abuja – Kaduna) are not safe. University lecturers are not safe in their homes, religious leaders both Muslims; but especially Christians are not safe in their homes or in their Churches. Our villages are not safe, may be the Government should explain why this is the case even after almost 6 years of their being in power. It seems to one that this government’s main attraction is the grandeur of power and its trappings and not the responsibility that comes with winning elections and governing responsibly.
Let it be known widely that this is not the first time the Presidency has sought to discredit and rubbish Kukah. They tried it in December 2019, and it failed. They tried it on Pastor Enoch Adeboye a few months back and they failed. Prof Ango Abdullahi of the Northern Elders forum was dismissed as a one-man band – why?
At the height of the killings in the Middlebelt, Femi Adesina, a Presidential spokesperson said it was better to give your land to a ‘foreigner’ then to be 6 feet underground. As if not to be left out in the competition of outdoing themselves, Garba Shehu, another Presidential spokesperson a couple of weeks back suggested that the mass slaughter of innocent Borno Zabarmari farmers stem from their not taking permission from the Army to go to the farm. What illogical reasoning!!!
Mr. President, a lot of people had confidence when you were voted into power back in 2015. Many believed things will change for the better. But the facts on ground have nullified such confidence. I urge your Government to recalibrate and commit more to protecting lives and property for all Nigerians. I encourage you to govern more inclusively. Nigerians are fed up with impunity in governance and in the country.
Make no mistake Mr. President, Bishop Kukah has spoken for millions of Christians and Muslims alike, North, South, Central, East and West. I implore you to listen to the spirit of that homily. I know Bishop Kukah personally. He is a man of peace and good conscience. His undying love for this country is real and out there in the open for all to see. Mr. President, you can still redeem your image by changing our national trajectory. Arresting Kukah as some overzealous loud mouths are suggesting could lead to cataclysmic consequences for your government. Listening to them would be a mistake and may trigger catalytic chain reactions. If I were you Mr. President, I would invite Bishop Kukah and other well-meaning Nigerians for further progressive interrogation of his ideas. Millions of Nigerians still want to see Nigeria work and for your Government to succeed; hence many are speaking out. What they say may appear as bitter political pills but such truth is needed today in Nigeria. This is what Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah has just done in his Christmas homily of 2020, in administering bitter pills (truth) to an ailing nation on the precipice. Let the end of December 2020 set the stage and tune for a brighter and promising New Year for Nigeria. Only truth can inspire hope, justice and peace.
▪︎ The Revd. Para-Mallam, Global Mission Leader, Social Justice and Peace Advocate is the President & CEO, The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation