Bishop Kukah

Adebayo Obajemu

Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese needs no introduction.

The scholarly Catholic priest has made a name for himself as one of the most significant speakers of truth to power; who never shied away from prickling the seared consciences of our rulers masquerading as leaders.

Over the years, Kukah as public intellectual has redefined and intellectualised the rarefied field of public discourse.

He also set the pace of intellectually weaponising the position of General Secretary of Catholic Secretariat; making it an important arsenal for defending worthy causes; condemning bad governance and picking up intellectual arm against reactionaries to open society, rule of law, constitutonalism and best practices.

His provocative well researched, scholarly book entitled : “Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria” (1992) is widely regarded as one of the most important works on power politics in Northern Nigeria in particular, and Nigeria in general.

Ever since the current administration of Muhammadu Buhari came to power In 2015, and began to define direction and trajectory; Kukah as before – the intellectual nemesis of bad governance- from time to time has raised his voice against its excesses and liberties it has been taking against public good; aiming his arsenal against what he sees as Buhari’ s non appareil parochialism and questioning his claim to statesmanship and natIona leadership in the face of unbridled acts of Northern jingoism , which many talking heads widely believed to be the touchstone of the current administration.

Professor Adewale Fadile says ” The Buhari administration is the most sectional in the history of Nigeria; and without any iota of doubt, we should be grateful to Kukah for reminding us of the need to end the culture of silence and speak against wrong order. Evil thrives when men of conscience keep silent, there is hovering darkness across the Nigerian landscape.”

Not one to let sleeping dog lies, as recently as the time of the burial of a seminarian, Michael Nnadi, early in the year, Kukah said in his homily sermon to the mourners:

“We have gathered around the remains of Michael in supplication but also as solemn witnesses to the penetrating darkness that hovers over our country.”

Bishop Kukah was speaking, in Kaduna, at the funeral of 18-year-old Nigerian seminarian, Michael Nnadi who was kidnapped along with three other seminarians on the night of 8 January. Gunmen attacked the Good Shepherd Seminary in Kakau, Kaduna state.

The homily, exactly typical of acidic Kukah, was a blistering and scorching indictment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Government and Nigeria’s governing elite.

“Our nation is like a ship stranded on the high seas, rudderless and with broken navigational aids. Today, our years of hypocrisy, duplicity, fabricated integrity, false piety, empty morality, fraud and Pharisaism have caught up with us. Nigeria is on the crossroads, and its future hangs precariously in a balance,” Bishop Kukah said.

“This President has displayed the greatest degree of insensitivity in managing our country’s rich diversity. He has subordinated the larger interests of the country to the hegemonic interests of his co-religionists and clansmen and women. The impression created now is that, to hold a key and strategic position in Nigeria today, it is more important to be a northern Muslim than a Nigerian,” he continued.

“Nigeria needs to pause for a moment and think. No one more than the President of Nigeria, Major General Muhammadu Buhari who was voted for in 2015 on the grounds of his own promises to rout Boko Haram and place the country on an even keel.

In an address at the prestigious Policy Think Tank, Chatham House, in London, just before the elections, Major General Buhari told his audience: “I, as a retired General and a former Head of State have always known about our soldiers …If am elected President; the world will have no reason to worry about Nigeria… We will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development and promoting infrastructural development…we will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester. And I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front,” Bishop Kukah reminisced.

In a final blow, Kukah said : “Northern Nigeria is not any better-off, neither Islam nor the north can identify any real benefits … Despite running the most nepotistic and narcissistic government in known history, there are no answers to the millions of young children on the streets in northern Nigeria, and the north still has the worst indices of poverty, insecurity, stunting, squalor and destitution. His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, and the Emir of Kano are the two most powerful traditional and moral leaders in Islam today. None of them is happy, and they have said so loud and clear.”

On the attitude of the administration to Christians he said : “The persecution of Christians in northern Nigeria is as old as the modern Nigerian state…By denying Christians lands for places of worship across most of the northern states, ignoring the systematic destruction of Churches all these years, denying Christians adequate recruitment, representation and promotions in the State civil services, denying their indigenous children scholarships, marrying Christian women or converting Christians while threatening Muslim women and prospective converts with death, they make building a harmonious community impossible. Nation-building cannot happen without adequate representation and a deliberate effort at creating for all members a sense, a feeling, of belonging, and freedom to make their contributions,” he said.

“Today, we are living with a Senate whose entire leadership is in the hands of Muslims. Christians have continued to support them. For how long shall we continue on this road with different ambitions? Christians must rise and defend their faith with all the moral weapons they have. We must become more robust in presenting the values of Christianity, especially our message of love and non-violence to a violent society,” Bishop Kukah asserted.

“We are being told that this situation has nothing to do with Religion. Really? It is what happens when politicians use religion to extend the frontiers of their ambition and power. Are we to believe that simply because Boko Haram kills Muslims too, they wear no religious garb? Are we to deny the evidence before us, of kidnappers separating Muslims from infidels or compelling Christians to convert or die? If your son steals from me, do you solve the problem by saying he also steals from you?”

His latest acidic criticism of Buhari has generated much interest not only because of its wide swoop, but also because it is the right thing to say now. All of us can not keep quiet, we must rescue our country from these jackals. Kukah has always been what he is, nemesis of enemies of our progress as a nation”, noted Professor Adekola Olufeagba, a political scientist.

In a blistering Christmas Message, Kukah once again slammed Buhari.

Kukah has used Christmas message as a speech and review on the state of the nation, slamming President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

In the acidic speech, dubbed “A Nation in search of Vindication”, the Bishop of Sokoto railed at Buhari’s unparalleled nepotism and policy of northern hegemony, while reducing other parts of the country to second class status.

He said there could have been a coup or war in the country if a non-Northern Muslim President had been acting the way Buhari has been doing since coming to power.

He said despite Buhari’s policy, the north has been the worst for it.

With terrorism, banditry and kidnapping ravaging Nigeria under Buhari’s watch, the bishop said, everybody is now wailing over the sad situation.

“The United Nations has wailed. The Pope has wailed. Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Pastors have wailed. Emirs have wailed. Politicians have wailed. The Sultan has wailed”, he said.

In the speech Kukah said, “Against the backdrop of our endless woes, ours has become a nation wrapped in desolation. The prospects of a failed state stare us in the face: endless bloodletting, a collapsing economy, social anomie, domestic and community violence, kidnappings, armed robberies etc. Ours has become a house of horror with fear stalking our homes, highways, cities, hamlets and entire communities. The middle grounds of optimism have continued to shift and many genuinely ask, what have we done to the gods? Does Nigeria have a future? Where can we find hope? Like the Psalmist, we ask; from where shall come our help? (Ps.121:1).

“Whatever the temptations to despair, we cannot to give up. When the Psalmist asked where help shall come from, he answered that it will come from the Lord. Therefore, like Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, we Priests must stand before the mercy seat of God and plead the cause of our great country(Lk. 1: 8). Like Abraham, we must plead for the Lord to save our nation because we have more than ten righteous men (Gen. 18: 16ff). Like Moses, we believe that as long as our hands are held up in prayer, the Lord will be on our side (Ex. 17:11). These are trying but life changing moments in the history of our nation. Politics and Economics alone will not resolve our problems. There is enough hate and bitterness to go around. We need to pause, reflect, pray, be honest and courageous in facing tomorrow.

“Yes, our dreams have been aborted. Yes, our commonwealth has been stolen. Yes, our cancer of corruption has metastasized. Yes, we have been guilty of patricide, fratricide and attempted even suicide. Yes, we are hungry, angry, thirsty and starving. Yet, we stand firmly with the unshaken belief that no matter the temptations, the world has known worst times. These may be the worst of times, but for men and women of faith, they could be the best of times. We must stand firm and resolute because, our redeemer liveth (Job 19:25).

“Annus Mirabilis or Annus Horribilis?
The roads to the grave yards are busier than those to the farms. Amidst the wails and laments, I hear the congregants saying; the world is coming to an end, it has never been so bad.Yes, people are dying, but they are not dying more now than they did in recent years. It is the social media and its connectivity that has given us a sense of greater urgency and added to our seeming despair with the way things are. The social media is value neutral.It depends on what we make of it. Its instantaneous impact is often times dizzyingly traumatic, but the other benefits more than compensate. In a way, the choices we make will help us decide whether this year is our annus mirabilis or annus horribilis.

“As our country drifts almost rudderless, we seem like people travelling without maps, without destination and with neither Captain nor Crew. Citizens have nowhere to turn to. After he assumed power, a delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference had audience with President Buhari. In the course of our discussion, the President shared with us his frustration over the state of decay and rut that he had met. In frustration, I vividly recalled him saying that, from the decay and neglect, it seemed as if preceding governments had been doing nothing but just eating and going to the toilet! Looking back, one might conclude that those were happy times because at least there was food to eat and people could go to the toilet. Now, a journey to the toilet is considered by the poor an extra luxury. Our country’s inability to feed itself is one of the most dangerous signs of state failure and a trigger to violence.

He believes The neglect of Northern youth is responsible for the current anomie in The North as the dispossessed fight back.

” The Almajiri is the poster child of the horrible and inhuman conditions of the northern child. It is a best kept secret that the region refuses to confront but it has now exposed its underbelly. Now, what next for the children of the north? In another ten or twenty years, these children will be leaders in their communities. What will they remember and how will they remember? Their fate and future are a dream deferred, a nightmare that will be ignited by the fire next time.

Kukah condemns kid gloves treatment of Boko Haram.
“Will the federal government continue to reward and fund Boko Haram by playing its game? How long can this circle of deceit last for given that every kidnap merely strengthens their arsenal? The men of darkness have shown far greater capacity to shock and awe a forlorn nation by constantly blindsiding us all. When will it all end?

Sharing widespread perception of Buhari as insensitive to geopolitical feelings, Kukah said,

“President 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. He has pursued this self-defeating and alienating policy at the expense of greater national cohesion. 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 by his nepotism and gotten away with it. There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war. The President may have concluded that Christians will do nothing and will live with these actions. He may be right and we Christians cannot feel sorry that we have no pool of violence to draw from or threaten our country. However, God does not sleep.We can see from the inexplicable dilemma of his North.

Then hinting on poetic justice kukah concluded that:

“It is curious that President Buhari’s partisanship and commitment to reinforcing the foundations of northern hegemony have had the opposite consequences. For a long time, beyond the pall of politics, very prominent northerners with a conscience have raised the red flag, pointing out the consequences of President Buhari’s nepotism on national cohesion and trust.

With time, as hunger, poverty, insecurity engulfed the north, the President’s own supporters began to despair and lament about the state of their collective degradation. Was this not supposed to be their song? The north that the President sought to privilege has become a cauldron of pain and a valley of dry bones. Today, the north itself is crying the most and why not? No one has suffered as much as they have and continue to. The helplessness is palpable and the logic is incomprehensible.

He says even his fellow Muslims are not happy with Buhari.

“One Northern Imam after the other have posted videos of lamentation on the social media asking why, with all the cards of power in the hands of northern Muslims, everything is bursting in the seams. How come our region has become a cesspool of blood and death? Why did President Buhari hand over a majority of the plum jobs to Northern Muslims? Was it for efficacy and efficiency? What was the logic? President Buhari must pause and turn around because his policy of nepotism has been rejected by the gods.

“During the EndSARS Protests, the north pretended that it was ensconced from the pain that was driving the protests and that they had nothing to complain about. The northern elites claimed that the protests were part of a plot by Christians to overthrow a northern, Muslim government. Their sentiments false, but understandable. However, it turned out to be the lull before the storm. The dam soon broke as the bandits tightened their grip on the region as the spiral of kidnappings, abductions and killings of innocent citizens intensified.
Many Nigerians have since aligned with Kukah’ s, as Southern and Middle Belt associations have supported his state of the nation review, even as Northern Elders Forum has disagreed with him.
The stormy petrel of the Nigerian public sphere has again moved the conscience of the nation as he is known to do.

Aged 68, Kukah remains one of the internationally respected priests in the country.

He is a member KAICIID Advisory Forum and the current Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto in northwestern Nigeria.

He was ordained priest on December 19, 1976. He was formerly the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria and Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Kaduna until he was ordained as Bishop on September 8, 2011.

Kukah has served in many presidential initiatives such as the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission, the Electoral Reform Committee and the National Political Reform Conference. He was the presidential facilitator who negotiated an end to the hostilities between Shell Petroleum Development Company and the Ogoni people. He also served on a Committee set up by the Northern Governors to examine the crisis of Boko Haram.

He is Chairman of the Interreligious Dialogue Committees for both the Bishops’ Conferences of Nigeria and West Africa and is a Member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City.

Kukah holds a Bachelor of Divinity from St. Augustine’s Seminary. He earned a Master’s Degree in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford (1980) and a Doctorate Degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies (1990). He was a Senior Rhodes scholar at St. Antony’s College (2001-2003), Oxford, and a Mason Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Public Policy.
He is also founder of the Kukah Centre, a Public Policy Think tank with focus on faith and public policy in Abuja and Kaduna, Nigeria.
Biography as at 19.10.17

His publications include, “Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria” (1992),
“Towards a Just, Democratic Nigeria (ed)(1995),

With Falola ” Religious Militancy and Self Assertion: Islam and Politic in Nigeria” (1996),

“Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria” (1998),
“Witness to Justice” (2011