When on Tuesday August 31, 2021, the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, turned three scores and a half, less than a year, his footprints on the political sands of our nation stood him out as an excellent analytical mind that has remained inexorable in scouring Nigeria’s fathomless dark recesses on why the country is still stuck in the mud of underdevelopment despite nature’s vast endowments.
Unlike some who are quick to deploy their gift to service their unending greed, the Catholic Priest who hails from Anchuna in Ikulu Chiefdom, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State, has remained true to his ecclesiastical calling without following the footsteps of Prophet Balaam. Bishop Kukah has refused to be clothed in gold but has always resolved to stand for the truth and be counted on the side of justice. And because society hates the truth, those who hate the Bishop have turned themselves into enemies of the truth.
In a nation where many are bereft of integrity but in love with power dealers riding on the wings of the slightest opportunity to take advantage of the times, many have often accused the Bishop of playing the script written by some despicable members of Nigeria’s political class. Unknown to many that are opposed to this cerebral priest, the Bishop’s altruistic principles run deeper and his commitment to a just and fair society remains unblemished by the display of crass ignorance of those opposed to him.
I have had cause in the past to call His Lordship’s attention to some false quotes credited to him posted on social media platforms. His response has always been: “I have written and spoken on issues and anyone, who reads a contrived quote by some mischievous characters and still believes such, cannot be persuaded to let go of such an erroneous quote even if I issue a rebuttal.”
As someone who is not willing to trade off his conscience for worldly riches, he remains committed to the improvement of citizens’ lives through broadening the frontiers of discourse and reconciling warring groups in a nation that is at war with itself. Deploying his calling to serve God and humanity, the Bishop has come to symbolise a creative force in facilitating conversations on issues that have disturbed the peace of the nation. His status as the nation’s authoritative voice crying for justice and fair play has been made possible by not only intellectual depth, but also in his consistent participation in efforts deployed by past governments to understand Nigeria’s discordant voices in national development.
From the Oputa Panel to the National Political Conference convened by former President Olusegun Obasanjo; from chairing genuine efforts to clean up Ogoni oil spill to evolving strategies at combating some of the issues confronting the country and the North; Bishop Kukah has never left anyone in doubt on his unflinching commitment to serve his nation across religious and ethnic divide. He has refused to soil his conscience in aligning with forces that seek to deploy political power to rob the weak. In line with his avowed stance to always identify with the truth, Bishop Kukah’s reaction is devoid of the cheers of the public.
When at the turn of the century he wrote in defence of then Major General President Muhammadu Buhari (retd) over his comments calling on Muslims to only vote for Muslims, as reported by one of the nation’s dailies; His Lordship was then applauded by politicians who then were supporting Gen. Buhari for the presidential ticket of the then All Peoples Party (APP).
Many years after the inauguration of the Buhari presidency, Bishop Kukah has been consistently engaged in unveiling the inadequacies and failures of the man many citizens though had answers to all the nation’s problems. Arising from Kukah’s dressing-down criticisms of the present administration, those who once praised him in the past are now accusing him of spreading messages that are capable of foisting existential threats on Nigeria’s religious harmony.
In Bishop Kukah, we find hypocritical citizens not only praising a clerical leader when his criticisms serve their interest, but also turning themselves into a vicious mob of critics when such criticisms hurt them. For those who know the truth, the most embarrassing moment is when the truth hurts. In Nigeria, there have been many instances when those who know the truth decide to remain silent and watch in ignoble silence the temporal triumphing of falsehood over truth.
It is not so with this well-read cleric who has become the chief interrogator and tormentor of Nigeria’s conscience. Gifted with deep knowledge of our nation’s history and its many curves, Bishop Kukah is not only seen as a trouble shooter, but he is also a purveyor of troublesome national discourses. For a nation that hates truth and loves injustice, those who speak the truth are often seen as enemies of the state disturbing the peace of the land.
Since shooting into national limelight with his must-read column in New Nigeria newspapers called the ‘Mustard Seed’ in the 1980s, the Bishop has remained the nation’s consistent conveyor belt for igniting national debates for the good of the country. When in 2020 he delivered a Christmas Homily, he not only stirred the hornet’s nest, but also accused President Buhari of widening the gulf between adherents of Nigeria’s main religions through his nepotistic appointments. The debate over the Christmas Homily attracted hundreds of rejoinders from Nigerians. As if the major intention was to provoke conversation on the matter, the Bishop kept mute and moved on, undisturbed by the ranting of the ignorant. Only once in the past did he respond to a critical review of his article by Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. And when he did, it was evidently clear who held the aces.
Few weeks ago, the Bishop was one of the guest speakers at a US Congressional Hearing on Religious Freedom where he spoke on the persecution of Christians. Apart from lampooning the Buhari-led government of nepotistic tendencies, he also accused the current administration of driving a combustible wedge over the nation’s fragile unity by its incapacity to rein in the activities of terror gangs in various parts of the country.
There is hardly a time when His Lordship spoke and the nation remained silent. The storms that normally accompany Bishop Kukah’s appearance on any issue is always hinged on the fact that the cleric speaks with facts. It is expected that those who are fearful of being exposed will naturally come out smoking. His Lordship’s many appearances, both in and outside the country, have always ignited discourses that have contributed in no small way in lightening the burden of our nation’s darkness.
It is certain that when scholarly minds like Bishop Kukah speak, those whose stock in trade is propaganda always respond in anger and raise smokes of falsehood to cover up the issues. That explains why every article or speech by the Catholic Bishop has always attracted discordant tunes. Even those who disagree with Bishop Kukah are often convinced of his irrefutable facts but only resort to playing the Nicodemus’ role of agreeing with him in the secret.
Beyond the rancorous discourses and debates on how best to develop our country, the setting up of The Kukah Centre (TKC) by His Lordship remains the highlight of his commitment towards engaging political leadership and critical segments of Nigerian society in collaborative system aimed at birthing “multiple governance structures at various levels – individuals, households, small businesses, the organized private sector, NGOs and government.”
Though founded on the promotion of interfaith dialogue and facilitating conversations among Nigeria’s faith communities, TKC has been engaged in bringing warring parties to the table and at the same time assisting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in areas of conflict and violence. Aligning with the vision of its founder, TKC is concerned with building institutions and re-aligning forces for not only the growth of the individual but that of our nation.
After over 40 years of being in the forefront of advocating for a just and egalitarian society, the scholarly juggernaut behind TKC must have clearly understood how difficult it is to crawl out of our Plato’s cave of hopelessness made worse by the absence of conversation and strong institutions to protect the weak from the ravenous greed of the powerful and to avert the looming turmoil staring us in the face.
My Lord Bishop, as someone who has never put his hands on the plow and look back, there is no better time to commit you to divine powers than now and pray that the Almighty God will roll back the storm of our bleak future. My Bishop, as you hit a new milestone on Tuesday August 31 2021, may this day mark a new sunrise of reinvigorating hope for our nation across religious and ethnic divides.
My Lord, you look as if you have just hit 50. I am convinced that your best years are still ahead. Happy belated birthday wishes to our ecclesiastical father engaged in synergizing with other patriotic forces to end our distraught present for a prosperous future for our nation.
Simon Reef, a media practitioner, can be reached through: email@example.com and writes from Abuja