By Sunny Awhefeada,
Men of courage stand up to be counted when it mattered. They do not succumb to the gains and comfort of complicity in moment of crisis. They courage range on the side of the people and their deeds are inscribed in the hearts of men long after they are gone. The clergy ought to be a calling for men of courage, men who minister to the overall good of society, men who can speak truth to power no matter what. The Bible and other religious books have in their leafy folds such men who spoke up in times of crises. Such men were vessels that brought messages to their time and clime. Society has always been one revolving scenario of injustice, misrule and imperfectability. The Bible has records of men that stood up to tyrants and also railed against injustice and the misrule it birthed. Those men were called prophets. Easily recalled names include those of Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, among others, who embodied the ideals of social justice and the benign design of God for humanity.
These men decried evil whenever Israel, the children of God, went astray. They also envisioned hope in anticipation of Israel returning to “the way”, apologies to Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons. But Israel strayed again and again and God being amazingly benevolent always forgave and restored it as recorded in the Bible.
Men of courage and conviction have become endangered and scarce in our contemporary world. Much of the clergy have become cash and carry every thinking of cozy comfort and unable to speak truth to power and rail against injustice and misrule. Many of our “prophets” have embraced the perpetrators of injustice and even justify and give fillip to misrule. But not so with a certain man of God, a priest and public intellectual known as Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. I have followed Bishop Kukah’s trajectory as a priest and pundit for about thirty years now. He is at home in the pulpit as on the podium. His cerebral offering speaks to both the spiritual and the secular. His astute eyes could sweep the essence of man and society from the primeval to the present. His mind throbs with disputations from Apostle Paul to Philosopher Plato. That area of inquisition in which Bishop Kukah is not schooled or versed is yet to be explored.
My earliest encounter with Bishop Kukah came through his refreshing, profoundly thought out and delicately written essays in The Guardian newspaper in the early 1990s. As young undergraduates looking for ideological and career direction in the 1990s, essays in The Guardian, Newswatch, Tell and other tabloids provided us diets that nourished our hungry souls and gave illumination to our core ambitions of becoming public intellectuals. Whether one was reading the opinion pages of The Guardian, African Guardian, National Concord, African Concord, Newswatch or Tell, one was often enthralled with the rigours of engagement, critical insight and lucidity of thoughts that public intellectuals brought to bear in their dialogue with our beloved Nigeria. Our impressionable minds yearned to read Niyi Osundare, Adebayo, Williams, Ogo Alubo, Ray Ekpu and Dan Agbese in Newswatch. Edwin Madunagu, G. G. Darah, Sina Odugbemi, Emevwo Biakolo, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Reuben Abati made us look forward to grabbing The Guardian. Ahmed Abdulahi (Patrick Wilmot) lit up African Concord, while Nosa Igiebor, Dare Babarinsa, Nick Dazang, made Tell magazine a delight.
Kukah together with the aforementioned wrote about Nigeria with great passion. The nation was in the cauldron of the June 12 crisis and these writers engaged the issues in a manner that elicited hope in readers that Nigeria will wake up onto a glorious dawn. The writers were not only passionate about Nigeria, but they were also courageous and spoke truth to power. The pen actually frightened the bayonet and for once the soldiers in power knew that the pen could be deadlier that AK47! The writers through their weekly columns were able to mobilize public opinion against military marauders whose sole drive was to leave Nigeria in ruins. As the writers pummeled the soldiers with words and pilloried misrule and corruption, we were enlivened thinking that national redemption was around the corner. We never anticipated further impediments as our hopes surged each time we read Kukah and co. Military rule was vanquished in 1999 and we thought that it was a very symbolic and convenient end of a century date to bury the evil of the past. How wrong we were not to know that there were mountains and valleys ahead of us.
Bishop Kukah didn’t recline in a parish mission house after the routing of the military adventurers. Quite early in this dispensation, he served as the Secretary of the National Human Rights Violation Commission (Oputa Panel) and it was around that time that the public aligned his name with his face. He was again on national call as Secretary of the National Political Reforms Conference in 2005. Unrelenting in questing for Nigeria’s good, he birthed the National Peace Committee to which Nigeria owes its post-2015 existence. Today, twenty and two years after the fall of military Goliaths we are struggling to surmount the mountains and valleys that have become obstacles to personal and national development. Chief among these are political ineptitude, social injustice, insecurity and corruption in all its ramifications. Nigeria is held down and badly bruised. It is this sad reality that Bishop Kukah spoke against during a Christmas homily. Instead of applause he is being criticized by an Islamic group that thrives in sectional cum religious bigotry, the kind of benighted fanaticism that violates reason no matter how common or plain. These Carthaginian horse-riders have accused Bishop Kukah of incitement against the government and Islam and for that he should apologize or leave Sokoto the seat of his Bishopric.
Every right thinking Nigerian should speak up in condemnation of the antics of those threatening Bishop Kukah. This is also a threat to our fragile unity and cohesion. Happily, the Federal Government has come out to warn Bishop Kukah’s antagonists to leave him alone. But like the gecko that mares its white excrement with a black one, bile spewing Garba Shehu says the Bishop offended the president. Clergy men of all faiths must borrow a leaf from Bishop Kukah and tell governments at all levels that Nigeria is sinking per minute. The clergy should cry out and let those who now run and ruin Nigeria know that the nation has become a vast killing field and that poverty, hunger, disease and destitution stalk the citizens. Let the clergy embrace liberation theology. The Sultan lamented the condition of the North two months ago. The lamentation must be holistic. There is no section of the country that enjoys respite. Bishop Kukah simply spoke the truth. He spoke for Nigeria and Nigerians must rise in his defence.