Before his appointment as senior presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu once presided over the affairs of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) as well as occupying the position of the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of the Kano-based Triumph newspapers. Our paths crossed many times when I worked at The Punch and later LEADERSHIP newspapers between 2003-2007, and beyond in my media career.
Having made his indelible footprints in the media profession, Mallam Shehu, knows the driving force of the media as expressed by the American reporter and political commentator, Walter Lippmann, who says, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil”. Many Nigerians, including this writer, have watched in stupefied horror at the manner this former editor has defended the presidency as shown in the flaring gulf of differences between his awful performance and unquestionable competence.
If the abuser of Nigerian Christian clerics and a rabid attack dog of President Muhammadu Buhari on social media platforms, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie, can be excused for her annoying and crass ignorance in observing the rules of engagement, Mallam Shehu, who once occupied the top echelon of Nigeria’s media practice and endowed with indisputable competence, has been a letdown for many. Not only has he shown complete and curious disregard to the rules of the game; his recourse to flaying critics of the government is inscrutable and numbingly incomprehensible.
The Kano-born newspaper’s editor seems to have been smitten with a strange disease that feeds on pathological hatred for Christian clerics from the North who dare to criticise the Buhari presidency. Each time the Bishop of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, speaks on the failures of the government, Mallam Shehu is always quick to scourge the personality of this towering Christian leader and consummate scholar of global recognition who is not a stranger in the struggle for justice and equity in Nigeria.
The recent submission of Bishop Kukah to the United States of America Congress Commission on Religious Freedom attracted, as usual, another distasteful response from the presidential spokesman. No one, including pecuniary airhead defenders of this government, can doubt the fact that our scourging dilemma has been made more hopeless by the government’s unashamed incapacity to stop the bloody carnage that has consumed thousands of lives and raised blood-curdling cynosure of a nation about to cave in to forces of annihilation.
That national leadership has continued to remain silent when over 300 school children are still languishing in the dens of their kidnappers reflects the tragedy Nigeria has found itself. More worrisome, that most of these abducted minors are from the North where Mallam Shehu hails from should make the presidential spokesman cover his face in shame.
In considering the challenges that have turned our country into an endless barbaric killing field, the fearless Bishop had, among other factors, accused President Buhari of blatantly pursuing a nepotistic vision based on the “preferences for men and women of his faith” for public appointments.
Yes, one can understand the quandary of the presidency each time the Bishop speaks. His submission on any matter is always fact-based. Instead of speaking on the issues raised by the Bishop, Mallam Shehu, like some uninformed and undiscerning minds bereft of elementary knowledge of issues, would always resort to either spewing out garbage or engaging in mischief in order to befuddle confused minds.
Bishop Kukah’s submission to the US Congress raises several issues. Apart from commenting on the impacts of banditry and insurgencies ripping across the nation, particularly the North, the submission calls for urgency in tackling the looming education crisis caused by destruction of schools by insurgents and bandits, with the attendant need to save the future of our country’s over 15 million street children who mostly hail from the North.
Out of the many serious concerns raised by the Bishop, Mallam Shehu only chose to comment on the nepotistic inclination of the Buhari-led administration. The presidential spokesman insists there is no bias in appointments “when the president is northern and Muslim, the vice president southern and Christian, and the cabinet equally balanced between the two religions. But neither is there anything in our Constitution to state that political posts must be apportioned according to ethnicity or faith.”
In the estimation of the former newspaper’s editor, Bishop Kukah is a ‘Churchman’ with “a warped frame of mind” who is riding on wings of ethnicity and religion. If the intention of Mallam Shehu’s statement is to repudiate the undeniable facts as contained in that submission to the US lawmakers, the spokesman only played the ostrich by attempting to hide behind a finger. Even the blind know that we have never had it more troubling with regards to rising and crippling ethnic and religious tensions. These threats have been made eviler through the government’s vindictive posturing and its woeful incapacity to deal with perpetrators of violent crimes.
The former military governor of old Kaduna State, Col Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (retd), recently lamented on Buhari’s dismal failure to manage our diversity just as he had warned the President in May 2020 that his penchant for appointing only persons from his zone could destroy the country. When Mallam Shehu asserts that President Buhari’s appointments are “equally balanced between the two religions”, the list of ministerial appointments in the North alone invalidates such a claim. Out of about 22 ministers from 19 states of the North, only two are Christians. In the nation’s 17 security agencies, less than three of them are headed by Southerners, while Northern Muslims head the remaining agencies. Contrary to what the presidential spokesman would want us to believe, the Nigerian Constitution provides for the observance of Federal Character in public appointments so that all groups in the Federation are given a sense of belonging.
As Mallam Shehu rightly noted, the Church would always stand up publicly for the truth. Bearers of the truth like Bishop Kukah have always embraced Mahatma Gandhi’s timeless lesson that “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”
The Catholic Bishop knows that standing for the truth comes with a great price. Those who bear the truth are always hated by peddlers of falsehood and beneficiaries of unjust systems. It is obvious even to undiscerning observers that Mallam Shehu suffers from selective amnesia as he is always quick to denounce Bishop Kukah’s truth, but becomes incredibly tightlipped when the same truth is expressed by clerics of his own faith.
Let’s agree that attacks by bandits are also targeted at Christians and Muslims and their worship centres. Does that justify the government’s incessant failure to confront these criminals that have turned our nation into flowing rivers of bloodshed? A careful perusal of Bishop Kukah’s submission reveals the incapacity of the Buhari-led government to deal with these merchants of violence. As a spokesman, one would have expected him to lace his response with irrefutable evidence. Sadly, in the absence of facts, this spokesman has often found it pleasurable to mug the personality of the globally respected cerebral cleric, including bringing irrelevant issues that were never raised in the submission.
The bitter fact is that the spokesman has resorted to falsehood in defending the presidency. That Buhari is the president today does not in any way immune him from being criticised. Nigeria will continue to bleed to death if Buhari refuses to confront headlong these blood-sucking monsters dragging our nation down the cascading and slippery slope of irreversible doom.
Kukah’s submission to the US Congress should be seen as an anxious and timely call on the government to wake up before it is too late. The crux of the Bishop’s message should not be lost in the smoke of falsehood and self-denials. Trying to denigrate the Bishop and his submission won’t terminate the annihilating carnage ripping our nation apart. The earlier President Buhari listened to Bishop Kukah, the brighter our chances in reversing Nigeria’s avoidable journey to the precipice.