he year 2018 was a year of self-examination for Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari, who had flown in on wings of change, had been in power for three years and the situation had just gotten a lot worse. When he arrived, the inflation rate was 9.01 percent, rising to 15.68 percent the following year and 16.52 percent in 2017.
Virtually all of the more than 165 integrated special schools established by his predecessor for the Almajiri children outside of school had been closed. The government had deliberately exacerbated the ethno-religious challenges in the country by appointing almost all security chiefs from one part of the country and one particular religion, violating the constitution and deepening the country’s divisions.
In September 2015, Buhari vowed to end the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency within three months. Three years later, however, he was virtually the only person who believed that the thriving Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” back in December 2015. The government advised citizens in the Benue Basin to hand over their ancestral homes to the terrorists rather than risk it to be killed.
With the country in retreat on many fronts, the populace under siege and Buhari threatening to fight for a second term, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, who has become part of the country’s conscience, held the convocation on June 22, 2018 the University of Jos from Lecture. It was titled Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Elusive Quest for National Cohesion.
In it, he came across three in his search for the truth: the narrator’s truth, the truth of the other side and “the” truth itself. Analyzing the Nigerian situation, Kukah regretted the following: “We are surrounded by walls of lies, half-truths and innuendos woven into the tapestry of our national history.” He regretted that Nigerians have had to live with “terrible leadership” since independence and “we have excused the villains” on the grounds that they are our fellow tribesmen or religious followers and that those who raise their voices against such villains as enemies of our religion or tribe.
Kukah said the British colonialists built Nigeria on three flawed foundations. First, the establishment of a regional system of government in favor of the North, with three-fourths of the country’s landmass allocated to the region. Second, that the British deliberately suppressed the voices of national minorities even in the face of their own inquiries such as the 1958 Willins Commission. Third, that the British would only accept the country’s independence on terms acceptable to the North.
He argued that during the cumulative 29 years of military misrule, the coup plotters “went telling tales to a naïve nation and citizens too dazed to see through the deception.”
Since returning to civilian rule in 1999, Kukah has pointed out that the democratic process has withstood three major threats. The first was the attempt in 2000, “when some disgruntled northern politicians took their hypocrisy to a very high level by declaring that they wanted the northern states to sign up to Islamic law.” The second was the period of uncertainty when it was not clear whether President Umaru Yar’Adua was alive or not, providing an opportunity for a coup. The third followed the 2015 general election, when many powerful forces did not want President Goodluck Jonathan to concede defeat.
Kukah regretted that in almost every branch of public service from local governments to the state to the federal government, recruitment and promotion “depend on who you know, not what you know.”
For him, the path to national cohesion should include a democratic understanding between the rulers and the ruled, conscious recruitment of leaders, and an open political system that produces the best and not one in which “only those in power know who they are going to manipulate and who power to cover their soiled footsteps.”
He also proposed restoring universities to their prominent position as strongholds of learning and culture, while fighting corruption rather than deodorizing it.
Looking to the future, the bishop advised: “The younger generation must learn from our terrible mistakes – the hypocrisy, the deception and the outright criminality – which have been passed on by the government.”
But he assured them: “Your certificate is more than a thousand armored tanks. One of you with a certificate is worth a thousand bandits, murderers and murderers, whatever their names are.”
Looking around and looking to the future, the bishop lamented that the country was in a moral free fall as no institution, including the security agencies, or administrative tools, including the constitution, seemed to have overarching allegiance. For him, institutions that demand loyalty elsewhere have become empty shells in Nigeria. With the decline in national cohesion, each community is now a nation with its own anthem and flag. Deploring the terrorization and neglect of history, he said, “Without history, a nation navigates without a compass and memory becomes subjective.”
Kukah posed a pertinent question: “So what should we say tomorrow when President Buhari is gone? The delusion of our messianic quest is part of our frustration.”
None of this stopped Buhari from winning the 2019 presidential election, pursuing his unhelpful policies and continuing the country’s slide into anarchism. Nor has it stopped Kukah from marching to war armed with the truth. This has predictably angered the Buhari presidency, which attacks the bishop at least once a year. When the presidency claimed in April 2021 that the bishop “speaks not like a man of God,” I responded in my column entitled “Bishop Kukah’s Voice Weeping in the Wilderness”: “Breaking the mirror that Kukah before the earth has put presidency does not matter. Even if the presidency breaks all the mirrors in the country or makes the possession of a mirror a treacherous crime, that would not change the true image of the Buhari government.”
That year, the presidency accused the bishop of being “unchristian” in his remarks and gave him two choices: either “leave government to the electors and the politicians they elect … or he should shed his clerical robe and join party politics and see how far he can go”. To which I responded in my column entitled, “Jesus Lost Elections, So Bishop Kukah Can Lose to Buhari.”
This Wednesday, August 31, Bishop Kukah will be 70 years old. He is coming to Abuja from his base in Sokoto, bringing with him his latest book, Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Elusive Quest for National Cohesion. Panzer, Kukah Center. Lovers of truth wish Bishop Kukah many more years of service to humanity.