By Tunde Oguntola, Abuja
The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, has said day by day, Nigeria drifts irreversibly into a dark tunnel.
Kukah, who disclosed this while delivering his Easter message on Sunday, said the nation has since become a massive killing field, as both government and the governed looked on helplessly.
Delivering his message entitled: “Nigeria: Before our Glory Departs”, Kukah lamented that traumatised citizens are tortured daily by bandits.
He said things are falling apart daily with unnerving rapidity because those who govern the country have only a pact to protect their interests.
The clergyman said when kidnapped or killed, victims and their families are left to their wits.
He lamented that they cry and bury their loved ones alone.
According to him, “Traumatised citizens are tortured daily by bandits. The nation has since become a massive killing field, as both government and the governed look on helplessly. A thick and suffocating cloud of desperation, despondency, desolation, gloom, and misery hangs in the hot air.
“We have no message and have no idea how long this will last. Our people seek solace and protection, but frustration and darkness threaten to drown them. Is their government on AWOL?,” he asked.
He added that while the government expects the citizens to be patriotic, the victims of violence need empathy, which is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of the other.
Kukah noted that a critical deficit of empathy on the side of the government makes healing almost impossible for the victims.
“We have not heard anything about a rehabilitation programme for the thousands of schoolchildren who have been victims of abduction.
“We seem to assume that their return to their schools is sufficient. Left unaddressed, the traumatic effect of their horrors will haunt them for a long time.
“Tomorrow’s parents, military Generals, top security men and women, governors, senators, and ministers will come from today’s pool of traumatised children. The security quandary is the greatest indictment of this government,” he said.
Quoting the World Happiness Report, which said the Nigeria was one of the unhappiest nations in the world, he said this wa unacceptable but understandable.
“Our clay-footed fight against corruption has not moved the needle of transparency forward.
“Of course, being the poverty capital of the world comes with its rewards such as banditry, violence, death, sorrow, blood, poverty, misery, and tears. Our cup of sorrow is permanently full; hence the exponential rise in the frustration curve across the country,” he said.
Sadly, he said human life is hemorrhaging so badly in the country.
He also berated the government for investing billions of naira in rehabilitating Boko Haram repentant members and their other partners in crime in the belief that they want to turn a new leaf.
He said these criminals have waged war against their country, murdered thousands of citizens, destroyed infrastructure and rendered entire families permanently displaced and dislocated.
He stated that why should rehabilitating the perpetrator (Boko Haram) be more important than bringing succour to the victims.
He said the greatest tragedy is the death of empathy from those in power.
“Mysteriously, the government is investing billions of naira in rehabilitating so-called Boko Haram repentant members and their other partners in crime in the belief that they want to turn a new leaf.
“These criminals have waged war against their country, murdered thousands of citizens, destroyed infrastructure and rendered entire families permanently displaced and dislocated. Why should rehabilitating the perpetrator be more important than bringing succour to the victims?” he asked.
He said when governments face legitimacy crises, they fall back on serving the sour broth of propaganda, half-truths, and outright lies.
Kukah said, “They manufacture consent by creating imaginary enemies, setting citizens against one another by deploying religion, ethnicity, region, and other platforms while appealing to the base emotions of patriotism.
“We forget the reality that without truth, the throne of power often turns into a cage, and the occupant is turned into a prisoner. In reality, the truth needs neither a judge nor a witness. The truth is its own judge and witness. Without the truth, as the old song says, all else is sinking sand.”
On insecurity, he said “Taunted by Boko Haram, ravaged by bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, and other merchants of death across the nation, there is collective fear as to whether Nigeria’s glory is about to depart! Retired military and intelligence officers lament over what has become of their glorious profession as they watch the humiliation of our military personnel.
He said in all, Nigeria’s troubles are growing by the day, but our hands must remain stretched out in supplication.
On the national Coat of Arms, he said it profess the nation’s motto: Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress, he asked that Is Nigeria united today? Do citizens still have faith in the country? Where are the signs of peace or progress?
“Today, before our very eyes, these words have been emptied of their flavour and have lost their resonance and capacity to summon our citizens to patriotism,” he said.
Kukah recalled that “with some chance, we might pull through this, but it is getting tougher each passing day. Does anyone remember where we started and how we got here? On May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, at his swearing-in as President of Nigeria, said: Boko Haram is a typical case of small fires causing large fires.
“Now, before his watch, the fires are consuming the nation, and in many instances, they indeed start small. The rumblings over the wearing of a hijab in Kwara State suggest that we have not seen the end of individuals sacrificing national cohesion to feed their personal ambitions by starting small fires. Most politicians hardly think through the long-term effects of these pyrrhic victories of using religion.
“What started as a small fire with the adoption of Sharia in Zamfara in 1999, spread across the northern states. Ordinary people broke into ecstatic joy. Today, what has become of the north? What are the lessons?”
Kukah said Nigeria’s current predicament reminds him of Israel’s situation that led to the death of Eli, the great High Priest of Israel whose defeat in the hands of the Philistines led to the death of 30,000 soldiers.
He said, “The two sons of the 98-year-old priest – Hophni and Phinehas – died in the battle. Eli’s two sons had foolishly carried the Ark of the Lord into the battlefield for protection, only for it to become a trophy for the victorious Philistines.
“The high priest, Eli, collapsed and died after hearing this horrible news. Elsewhere, on hearing about the death of her husband, her father-in-law, and the loss of the Ark, Eli’s daughter-in-law went into premature labour. She was delivered of a baby boy–a call for great celebration in Israel! Strangely, she responded by naming her newborn son “Ichabod,” meaning, The glory has departed!”
He said two weeks ago, he came across a video in which a very frustrated Muslim cleric, addressing a Muslim audience, lamented: “If you killed 200 chickens in the farm of any of the big farmers, you will be dealt with.
“But today, we are being killed. It is your fault. On the day of elections, you say, it is Jihad! Christians will take over Nigeria! Ok, the Christians did not take Nigeria. It has been left in the hands of those who sit and see us being killed. If we are killed, the head says, God forbid! He was not elected to say God forbid. This imaginary jihad won the elections now where are the jihadists? The lesson here is that politicians will use religion to mobilise for elections, but they cannot use it to govern.”
The clergyman said the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria weighed in with a strong statement on February 23, 2021, titled, ”We Must Pull Back from the Brink of Collapse.”
Quoting part of the statement, he said: “The very survival of the nation is at stake. The nation is pulling apart. Widespread serious insecurity for long unaddressed has left the sad and dangerous impressions that those who have assumed the duty and authority to secure the nation are either unable or worse, unwilling to take up the responsibilities to their office.
“Patience is running out. Sadly, all of these warnings are still falling on deaf ears,” he pointed out.
While he said it may sound strange for Christians, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ is the greatest assurance that all these will pass away.
“This is not a call for us to simply sit on our hands or believe we can pray our crises away. As pointed out above, the sufferings of Jesus and His Cross provide us with the perfect mirror of our hope. St. Paul reminds us: We are hard-pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed.
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Cor. 4:9). These are the hallmarks of our faith. We must remain steadfast,’ he said.
Kukah, however, appealed to Christians to continue in the spirit of the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“St. Paul says: Though He was God, he humbled himself, became man, and remained obedient up till death (Phil. 2:6ff). Following in His steps, we Christians have lived through the life of martyrdom. Jesus taught us how to pray for our enemies (Mt. 5:44).
“Although His teachings are hard (Jn. 6:60), it was not the guns of a powerful army that brought down the walls of Jericho. The prayers of the priests did (Jos. 6:20). Jesus defied the temptations of coming down from the Cross.
“He knew there was a higher truth deferred. It was fulfilled on Easter day,” he said.
Speaking further, he said no matter the provocation, Christians must arm themselves with the weapons of truth, the word, the spirit, and love.
He said at the heart of Christianity is the truth and love.
He added: “If a religious leader is afraid to say what is right, what else can his silence mean but that he has taken flight? Hiding behind a wall of silence is like taking flight at the approach of the wolf. Pope St. Gregory the Great (540–604 AD).”