By Uche Chris
The present ordeals of respected cleric and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, in the hands of the federal government of Nigeria, and some Islamic groups over his Christmas message, is indicative of the real malaise and trouble with the country. For such a great Nigerian to be so savaged and humiliated by his government and a section of the country is manifestation of the unfulfilled and unattainable aspirations and heights for the country.
Nigeria and Nigerians do not change, and it does appear cannot change; as it was in the beginning so it has been and sadly may remain. It is country divided against itself. It is so disheartening and dangerous that this whole fire was lit by government whose intolerance of criticisms and insensitivity to the feelings of Nigerians has reached critical juncture. It is therefore, such a hypocritical and belated wisdom for government to attempt a mitigation of the damage by seeming to caution his traducers, who are actually defenders of its cause.
It seems we are facing a situation reminiscent of the dark days of military rule when criticism of government was almost criminalized, and opposition of any kind a death sentence. Today, under a democratic regime Nigerians are increasingly being constrained from self expression about the operation of government for fear of official reprimand, rebuke and demonization, or even arrest and harassment.
Several opposition figures have been compromised, intimidated and cowered to create a false semblance of public acceptance and growing support for the government and party in power. Criticism of government has become a hazardous and dangerous endeavour under a democratic government in Nigeria. It is so frightening to observe that we still have over three years of this government to go and current events in the U.S. concerning President Trump is a pointer to how certain tendencies and attitudes in government can turn things on their head.
This government, like President Trump, is behaving as if there is no future and he is the last leader for the country, a typical attitude of dictatorships. It is astonishingly absurd that a leader could act with so much brazen indifference to history and the future of the country. Nigeria will not change if we continue to do things the same way which is what this government has insisted on doing, because it is setting a precedent that can embolden others to repeat old mistakes.
Bishop Kukah is one of Nigeria’s finest minds and though he is leading in the religious sector, his contributions to national cause since he first emerged in the 1980s under the military as Director of Communications, Catholic secretariat, and later Secretary, has been invaluable and indelible. Such is the desire of great nations and no nation can be great when it hounds and demonises its best people. The presidential system which we have so sheepishly copied is the product of the country’s best minds who challenged themselves to give the world something new and different, which has been the foundation of their greatness over the centuries.
That Kukah can still openly challenge the outrageous policies and governance structure of this administration is essentially because of his impeccable integrity and strength of character. But this has not insulated him from the caustic umbrage and reckless censure by government spokespeople, who for want of reasonable excuse to either attack him or defend government position, simply, deliberately twisted and distorted the message to malign him.
What is offensive in what Bishop Kukah said: Is it the fact that this government is pursuing a hegemonic agenda in favour of a certain section of the country, which bothers on nepotism? Col. Abubakar Umar and the Northern Elder Forum, NEF, have said so before. Is it that this government is incompetent and dysfunctional, and has largely mismanaged this country and economy? Most people are saying that on daily basis, including international agencies? Is it that there would be a coup had any other section done that? The evidence is clearly there?
Former President Jonathan’s sin for being crucified by the north, which he greatly favoured in appointments and projects, was for daring to aspire and re-contest for the presidency. Yet the Muslim north was prepared to wipe out all Igbo speaking people for supporting him. So what is the beef about? Is it that these things were not so, or that he should not be the one to say it? Where is the offense?
The point however, is that if government does not listen to criticisms and different opinions, how could it assess its scorecard? Government is not for itself, but for the interest of the people; so what the people say is so critical in gauging its performance.
It is expected of government to defend itself against unwarranted political attacks and falsehoods, but such defence should be factual, objective and civil. In any democracy, the people remain the sovereign, whether in theory or practice, and have right to call their leaders to order; the alternative is to resort to violence.
Bishop Kukah is neither a politician nor a rabble rouser. He is a responsible Nigerian and leader in his own right, and well respected across the nation. Although he is a religious leader, he spoke as a patriotic Nigerian, who is troubled and concerned about the events in the country, not on the basis of his belief or faith. It is absolutely wicked and unconscionable to insinuate and impute political and religious motives into what should have been a reminder of the moral and political failings of the government.
We are now living in a society where falsehood is being preferred to truth, and cowardice to courage; a situation where government romanticize people of questionable integrity and reputation; while men and women of honour, dignity and character are ridiculed, derided and demonized to ensure that concerned people remain silent about the ugly events being perpetrated by this leadership.
Those who have criticized his action and questioned his motive are only being mischievous, insensitive, selfish and callous to the interest of the generality of Nigerians who are bearing the brunt and burden of the chaotic governance of the administration. It is often said that what it takes for evil to prevail is for a few good people to keep quiet.
By speaking out, Bishop Kukah was only reminding us of the responsibility of leadership, the promises of government and where it has come short. It is a democratic right to exercise. Those criticizing him deliberately misread, misunderstood and misinterpreted his message to distract from the message, simply for self serving, bigoted, and sadistic interests.
The future of Nigeria is at stake because democracy can never thrive in such conditions of intolerance and insensitivity, where leaders are above public censure and freedom of personal expression is curtailed for any reason outside the law. Democracy is the future of the nation and any attack on it is a renunciation of the present contraption of a nation. Nigerians cannot be willing slaves in their own country under any guise.
Nigeria is not governed by Islam or Christianity; we have a secular democratic constitution that determines all political and social relations. A government that is not willing to submit to the constitution and follow its tenets has abintio forsaken the basis of its own legitimacy. Falsehood and intimidation can only prevail for a time, but truth will always overcome.
Our present challenges have been entrenched and sustained by the pervading atmosphere of angst and foreboding perpetuated by a culture of political chicanery and propaganda. No society can survive and progress on such selfish and irresponsible approach to governance.
Every well meaning Nigerian has at one time or the other faulted the nepotic disposition of this government by favouring his people, contrary to established legal framework for political appointments and ethnic relations. For a government to blatantly ignore the law in its appointments is a clear abuse of office.
The attitude of this government and some northern Muslim groups to the message of Bishop Kukah leaves only one conclusion: Nigeria, as presently constituted and configured, will not change and any hope of its greatness may be misplaced; so the hope merchants should go and think again.