By Dons Eze
Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, is not just a religious leader, he is also a social critic, and a moral crusader. Kukah is courageous, bold, fearless and outspoken. He is never given to semantics, nor to pretences. He tells truth to power, and says things as he sees them, without colouration, without painting of words, not minding whose ox is to be gored. Matthew Kukah is a stormy petrel, he is a Socratic gadfly.
For more than two decades, Kukah has been in the public space, pricking the conscience of Nigerians. In his sermons on the pulpits, in his several public lectures, his numerous interviews on radio and television, and articles on pages of newspapers and magazines, Matthew Kukah always bares his mind, attacking and criticizing the injustices in Nigerian society.
Kukah is never a respecter of persons, or institutions. He spares no one, both the mighty and the lowly, those in government and those outside of it. For most members of the present administration and their allies, Kukah has never been their fan, and they are afraid of him, always uncomfortable whenever he speaks or writes. Kukah is a boil in their throats.
During the last Christmas celebration, Bishop Kukah dropped a bombshell. In a message titled “A Nation in Search of Vindication”, Kukah accused the Muhammadu Buhari led-administration of incompetence, maladministration, and nepotism.
He wrote: “Against the backdrop of our endless woes, ours has become a nation wrapped in desolation. The prospects of a failed state stares 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),”.
Kukah further accused the Buhari government of nepotism and of institutionalising northern hegemony against national interests. “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”, he equivocally stated.
Then, hell was let loose. Virulent attacks were hauled on Kukah by Buhari loyalists and various Muslim groups, led by the presidential media team. They described Bishop Kukah’s Christmas message as “irresponsible and seditious”, “a poisoned arrow fired at the heart of Islam and Muslims in Nigeria.”
Matthew Kukah was told to tender unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over his message or leave Sokoto, where he presently serves as Bishop.
“How can the Muslims continue to be hospitable to the one who proves to be ingrate many times over? How can the Muslims be comfortable in associating with a bitterly vindictive person disguised in the garb of religious clergy?”, they queried.
One Islamic cleric, Abubakar Malami, even went to the extent of vowing to “crucify’ Bishop Kukah if he dared to challenge or to criticize the federal government again. If Kukah continues to challenge the government, he will be crucified and there will be no one to stop it.
“Not even the government will be able to stop us. Matthew Hassan Kukah is already cursed by Allah. Therefore, if Kukah challenges the government, he will be crucified. We will not listen to anybody when we are crucifying him, not the government, not even the Sultan of Sokoto”, he said.
But Matthew Kukah was not perturbed. He was not disturbed. He would not be intimidated. He would not budge. He would not equivocate. He refused to be cowed. A firm believer in the Burkean philosophy that “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”, Kukah said he would offer an apology or leave Sokoto only on condition that his accusers point to one thing he said that was not true.
He firmly stated that he would never close his mouth once there is injustice, once there is opression, once there is bad governance in the country.
Till date, nobody has come out to fault Kukah, to point at what he said that was not true in his Christmas message. All we hear were rantings by those who fear, or who are jittery that their many of their ills were being exposed, and those who still support the administration out of ignorance, sentiment, or myopia.
But many Nigerians with conscience are on the side of Bishop Kukah. They are solidly behind the man. While extolling the Kukah’s courage and forthrightness, they warned that nothing untoward should happen to him for simply saying the truth. They described Kukah as a true defender of truth and the downthrowdden, the fighter of injustice, and the promoter of people’s rights.
Reluctantly, the Presidency mafe a detour and began to queue behind the people. The Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, faulted the quit notice given to Kukah.
In a statement titled “Father Kukah must be allowed to practise his faith and politics,” Shehu said: “Under our constitution, every citizen has the right to, among others, freedom of speech and expression, the right to own property and reside in any part of the country, and the right to move freely without any inhibitions.
“Under our laws, groups or factions must not give quit notices, neither should they unilaterally sanction any perceived breaches. Where they occur, it is the courts of law that should adjudicate. Unilateral action is not the way to go.”
Bishop Matthew Kukah has indeed stirred the hornet’s nest. He said what many people were afraid of saying. He has therefore made some people become uncomfortable. That is why they were after him, threatening to deal with him, to silence him. But they will never succeed.
*Dr. Eze, KSJI, a veteran journalist and public affairs commentator, lives in Enugu.