Monday, January 18, 2021 1:23 pm
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
It was meant to be a Yuletide message. A message of peace in honour of the Prince of Peace. Yet, in a land where there is no peace, where ‘blood toucheth blood’, a priest cannot, should not send vacuous messages in the name of peace. A true priest has an obligation both to God and man, no matter whose ox is gored. And to the State too even if the leaders squirm in discomfort when they hear the priest! Speaking truth to power is not a tea party. Those in power will feel uncomfortable. Those who speak truth will feel the burden is eased. It is the way the world is. It is the way it should be!
So, in exercise of his priestly duties to the good people of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Father Matthew Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, sent a Christmas message on December 25 last year. It turned out to be a properly guided missile, timeously aimed at the leadership cadre of this country at the federal level, fitting for the current unfortunate circumstances in the country. Insecurity. Hunger. Anger. Poverty. Dissatisfied and angry traditional rulers. Too many deaths of innocent people. Clannish and nepotic appointments. Insensitive nature of the government to the cries of the people. These are issues we are familiar with. A recurring decimal in the national equation. One of the punchlines of the message (there were indeed quite a number), hyperbolic and metaphorical though that sobered me to no end, was: ‘the roads to the graveyards are busier than those to the farms!
Of course, the State is often gored by the acerbic barbs of priests who speak truth to power. And some rulers do not take kindly to it. Archbishop of the Church of Uganda Janani Jakaliya Luwum tragically experienced under President Idi Amin Dada in 1977 when the former supposedly died in a car crash because he was a ‘leading voice in criticizing the excesses of the Idi Amin regime’. The word abroad was that he was killed before an accident scene was arranged! So, rulers have never been comfortable with clergymen, Christian or Muslim, who take exception to their policies. To be sure, this has not stopped some clergymen from speaking truth to power!
Narratives about conflicts between the State and religious leaders are archetypal. From ancient history through modern times, the state as represented by the king and religion by a priest, have remained in dissonance, kind of. Prophet Hosea was referred to as a ‘prophet of doom! Can you beat that? It is true that some bishops or priests have served as lapdogs to a powerful ruler or king. There was one bishop in Enugu who sucked it up to Candidate Buhari in the months before the 2015 general elections. He became the darling of the anti-Jonathan Movement in those days! The song today is different. He cannot give any ‘mumu’ prophecy these days because his words have not stood the test of time!
Yet the priest we remember positively are those who stood up to a despot or a failing king. Bible readers are familiar with Prophet Nathan telling King David: ‘Thou art the one’, after the king killed Naboth over his plot of land and took his wife Bathsheba. It took a lot of courage to confront the king. There is also the 1170 ideological encounter between King Henry 111 and Thomas Beckett Archbishop of Canterbury, resulting in the assassination of the latter. The archbishop stood his ground in maintaining the separation between the State and the Church.
Father Kukah’s ink had hardly dried before unrighteous umbrage took over especially from (expectedly) presidential aides and some Islamic/Muslim groups. Well, presidential aides are hired, paid, and mandated to defend the president in ALL circumstances. Even if their boss is camera-caught in terrible circumstances, they are obliged to concoct a defence, credible or otherwise. Sometimes, the job includes lying on behalf of the boss to make him look good. A tough job it is defending a political boss. The Donald Trump example is clear. So, no one should lose sleep if Femi Adesina or Shehu Garba enter the deep trenches to defend their boss.
The worrisome reactions came from so-called defenders of the Muslim faith. They immediately saw Kukah’s missile as an anti-Muslim diatribe. Come on! Nonsense of the highest degree. Any man who becomes president or governor has opened himself to public scrutiny. He is no longer a private person. He is open to attacks, fairly and unfairly. It is the way of the world. The direct attack on Buhari: ‘Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status’, should be examined in its own merit or demerit. Both Christians and Muslims are currently suffering the effects of insecurity. The north as Kukah asserts, is worst hit. Where, for example, is worse hit than Borno State? See what has happened in Katsina and Kaduna. Is anyone happy? Yet, all the security outfits are in the hands of northerners.
When Kukah asserts that ‘every honest Nigerian knows that there is no way any non-Northern Muslim President could have done a fraction of what President Buhari has done and gotten away with it. There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war’, it is left for us to objectively assess the points made whether they are true or false. This is where so-called religious leaders should be careful. For example, a Sokoto-based Islamic cleric Abubakar Malami has warned Kukah to desist from challenging the Nigerian government or risk being crucified! Such a man should be picked up by the Department of State Security for threatening the life of a fellow citizen, with such a volatile innuendo. The allusion to ‘crucifixion’ and its import on the Christian faith is not lost on anyone. This is unnecessary. Dangerous and unpatriotic. It is not a question of religion. Secretary-General of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, Khalid Abubakar Aliyu was mild when he described Kukah’s message as seditious. To be sure, he is free to categorize Kukah’s speech the way he likes.
Father Kukah expressed the minds of many, both Muslims and Christians. We have gone beyond religion and anyone who uses religion as a defence for incompetent leadership still lives in the Middle Ages. Modern Nigerian leaders should permanently discard the religious card. It is a loser in the modern state. Kukah’s message should be evaluated on its merit- the socio-economic and political conditions in the country are scary. Somebody should wake up and act. It has nothing to do with religion. It is a question of governing a modern state in a modern manner!
Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393 or email@example.com