Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah in this interview with Ankeli Emmanuel dissects the Nigerian journey since 1960. He notes that in spite of the many challenges so far, there is reason to celebrate
Nigeria was 60 years post independence yesterday, what is your take on the journey so far?
First of all, we celebrate death. And if you look at the fact that Nigeria is alive and Nigeria is kicking, we have a reason to celebrate albeit in a restrained manner.
I am sure that even those who govern us know that if they call us out for celebration, we will be very restrained because they know that in Nigeria now the center is no longer holding.
So we can only encourage our people to renew their faith beyond human feelings and human fragilities and seek far loftier goals than what now confronts us. But we are definitely facing a very serious dilemma and we are at critical point in the live of our nation.
We are far from the goal post that were set for us in 1960 to hold the promises and the vision. It seems that in 1960, the world was there for us to conquer. And we seem poised to do. But tragically, we are were we are now.
At 60, many believed Nigeria should be basking in it’s glory. But others felt the country is even more divided now than before. What is your thought on that?
Absolutely, and this is a natural process of human development. You know you came to see me the other day with your fine four lovely children. If I am to visit you at home now by 8pm or 9pm, the house will be quiet. But I am sure that in another 10 years, if I should visit you in your house your children would have turned 13, 15 there would still be noise at 8 or 9pm. And I am sure that as the children grow, they will become increasingly uncontrollable. One wants to watch cartoon, another one wants to watch sports, another one wants to read and all that. As of this point, one would have to understand that the volume of the noise is a welcome development and understandable.
However, the challange is that we have not been able to turn these diverse noises into an orchestra. So, unity is not in any superficial manner that we will think its not possible for us to think of unity in the way and manner that we conceived of. Ahead of 1960, we were united in wanting the British out. By 1995 through to 1998 we were united even before then in wanting the military out. The challange often is that being united against a thing is not the same as being untied for it. So, it is easy when there is a discernable enemy to be united against. So the challenge is what we do after the enemy is gone. So the real challange for us in Nigeria now has been the total inability to manage diversity. And, perhaps, more than any other government, this government has made it extremely difficult to celebrate diversity in Nigeria. And I think this accounts for most of the frustration that we are seeing now.
What’s your view of the security situation in the country 60 years after?
I was cast as an enemy of the government and I didn’t have to defend myself because I felt that I was convinced about what I was saying, and I didn’t need to be right. I was convinced. And there was no reason why some people shouldn’t have disagree with me.
But I didn’t think there was anything for us to play for. I just did not see in the reflexes and rhetorics that we had reset the template with enough seriousness to be able to achieve the things we are expected to achieve.
Not withstanding, after listening to the president inaugural speech, I was of two minds. One of the possibility that President Buhari could actually draw from his untested – and I used the word untest – claim of integrity, patriotism and so on. That he could draw from those instincts to actually affirm what some of us may have thought and those of us who might have reservations.
And my reservations were not based on lack of goodwill. My reservations were based on the fact that the Nigerian system – and it’s not only Buhari- , the media and all of us are complicit. We never want to hold the feet of those we have elected to the fire. And we always mistake and create all other forms of loyalty. And we mistake goodwill to mean capacity and ability to deliver.
Now when two people married just like you did. You hold the hand of your pride and you promised to love her until death. And she said the same thing to you. But, now it always never works out that way. But when you look at the promises you have made, you constantly renew that commitment despite the quarrels, despite the misunderstanding and so on and so forth. So, many of us that were a bit modest because even if you are modest on May 29, 2015, it was not good enough, because everybody was supposed to running on the same direction of ululation and approval. That we are were we are, I am thoroughly disappointed. But I am also one who believe that those who talk about capacity may not be totally mistaken. And I believe that you can give the president the benefit of doubt and say that his heart is in the right place. But does he understand the sophistication of aggregating different interest to achieve a goal?
You cannot be fighting a war and a general is not at the forefront. You cannot be Commander-In-Chief and outsource all those responsibilities and obligations to people whose capacity has proven to be questionable in the way people have responded. And that all you do is simply endorse what seems to many people as failure.
So, if you ask I am disappointed, the question you should be asking, is there anybody who is not disappointed? Is there anybody who is pleased with the way things are in present Nigeria?
What is your assement of the health sector?
There is no index. Not even one single index with which we, as a country, can hold a candle. Not one. Ok, primarily, even in the area of having a national unity and national vision, that has fallen into pieces. You go back and read Tafawa Balewa’s speech and you will see the kind of aspirations that he had.
So, if you pick on health, I don’t know what reason you have but there is no single institution that was left behind by the colonial adminstration that is not almost in total shamble. There is a serious embarrassment to those who were there at the starting blocks.
I recently spoke to the association of retired career ambassadors of Nigeria during the week and these were the points I was making. If you take foreign policy now, would the founding fathers of Nigeria recognise what we have now as the foreign policy that they had in mind?
If you take education, would anybody recognise the mess we are in now? The one institution that was often held, that was the one that was detribalised and had the symbol of Nigeria’s unity was the military. But today, the military as everybody know, is not as it should be. It is now ravaged by the same condradictions, of ethnicity, religion, poor motivation. What we have today is anything but a military that should be fighting a war and all you have to do is to look at the North East and the things that has been said and the things that are happening. And the constant attacks on the governor who is the immediate security officer of that state. It will be difficult for you to name one single instituion that was inherited or founded during the Independence that is still optimally performing such that those who set it up can give it a pass mark.
Haven’t we made some progress in the education sector?
That is what I am saying. You know we had universities that are federal and up till today, I can’t recall the exact number now, but I think they should be around 42. However, no single one of those universities one can say hasn’t become a little enclave of tribalism. We are in a country where vice chancellors and public officers are no longer chosen on the basis of their capacity and capability but that a circle of knowledge has been circumscribed. So the question is can a Mr James be a vice chancellor in Bayero University, Kano? Can a Mrs Theresa be a vice chancellor in Usman Danfodiyo University? Or can an Abubakar be a vice chancellor in University of Ibadan or in Nnamdi Azikiwe University?
So this is the situation we find ourselves. And yet knowledge is supposed to have no boundary. Even at the highest level of education, what we have now is the redefination or an appropriation of ethnicity and the same bigotry that should have really ordinarily no place in academia. Look at the statistics that was released last year by Professor Bogoro and see where the Nigerian Universities are. You cannot find any of them before the first one thousand.
So whether it is the bureaucracy or anything you pick, there has been nothing that has not been subjected to intense bastardisation that we cannot recognise ourselves in it.
The secondary school system is equally another mess. Somebody was telling the other day that he went to a secondary school and that the entire school has only one teacher. Many people involved in education mistake their love for education to cover only building classrooms. There is nothing being done to train teachers. Teaching now is the last profession that anybody would want to be proudly be associated with.
And without teaching and education, we have no hope of having a country. And this is why so many people with very little capacity and mental ability cannot appreciate the value of education. So now, we are back to a culture which we just recognise and we are operating a glorified feudalism.
So you get positions not because of what you know but because of who you know. Everything is literally a trade-off. And you can see now, where you come from in Nigeria, which Church or Mosque you go to determines what kind of opportunities are available to you.
Do you think we can ever get the fight against corruption right?
Frankly, I don’t know what you want me to say, because all of us are aware of where we are in Nigeria. Because corruption is not a one man thing. You can accuse this government or the other government but, truly, there are no two ways about it. And unfortunately for us, like I keep saying, one of the problems I have with President Muhammadu Buhari’s definition of corruption was that it focused on public officers stealing money.
Up till today, we are a little bit mentally retarded in our definition of what constitutes corruption, because we think it is only stealing of money. And stealing of that money as President Muhammadu Buhari felt in 1984 as if it’s something that only public officers do. And that is why even the president himself and larger Nigerian society cannot understand that nepotism is probably the worst form of corruption.
So you are not stealing money but you are opening the doors for only your nephews, your brothers and your sisters, members of your community, Mosque of Church to benefit from the largesse of state when it is clear to you that you have not closed the doors; close the windows on the incentives and what drives corruption.
Because everybody as you can see, to test the seriousness of this country or this goverment or any other one for instance, just look at when ever a public official is moving in a public see the kind of people that surrounds him or her. If you look at the kind of people that surrounds a federal minister in Nigeria today, you are not likely to find an outsider.
If the person is a northerner or Muslim, if he is moving around with 10 people, nine of those people are likely to be Muslims. And if the person is from the southern part of Nigeria, you may likely find out that nearly nine of the 10 people that surrounds him are likely to Christians.
So this is one of the worst part of manifestation of corruption and we do not seem to pay attention to that, instead we think that corruption is what people do by stealing or members of the bureaucracy do by hiding files and so forth. So it’s purely attitudinal and I have said it and I keep repeating it that fighting corruption is a science. It is not a subject of moral exaltation and it is not something that can only be done by people who quote and unquote, or who pretend or we present as persons who don’t steal. But if you don’t steal but you are riding cars whose owners are thieves or you are riding a plane whose owner you do not know how he got his money, or you have benefited from a certain process that you that was put together by proceeds of corruption, where are you going to get the moral authority to talk about corruption?
And you know things get more complicated when the criminal elements want to change their livestyle and become normal and they become normal by the kind of proxy politics that they play which either they become direct participants themselves or they sponsor people on their own terms. So for me, the greatest metaphor of all this and I keep saying it is that the gentleman from Anambra, Evans, who is still being tried for kidnapping, said he was gathering money to go and contest election in Anambra.
Also Alhaji Aliyu, former DIG he was a senator and made a confession when he was in the Senate. One of the things that shocked him was that when he got to the Senate, he was meeting people at the corridors that he had arrested and tried for drug trafficking when he was in charge of that department in the police force. He was meeting a good number of them in the Senate.
So, when politics criminalised enterprise, it is a bit of an oxymoron to talk about fighting corruption because we are not standing on any moral grounds to make that claim. If you are not stealing, somebody is stealing on your behalf because what is the benefit if I decide to give my nephew a job, I give another one a position and there is no evidence to suggest that they have gotten the job because they are better qualified but that their only qualification is that they are related to me.
You also know the nature of the field in which they are playing, that is the field of patronage in a field of theft. And you have not set any boundaries then what you are is that you are preparing the condition for corruption.
So my argument and conclusion is that please let’s move away from being stupid enough to think that corruption is all about people stealing money. Money is probably what you see as the final manifestation. But political corruption in all its ramification is far worse and it’s far more complex than other forms of corruption. And like I keep saying, let’s move away from being deceived into thinking that a righteous man or a man of integrity is the man we see in the Mosque every day or a man that can be measured by the number of Churches or Mosques he has built.