By Wole Olaoye
I can’t have ill-will for the Buhari regime. I have never wished that any incumbent government come to grief. I made this clear in those heady days when we felt that President Jonathan could have done better. We criticised out of love for our land. If Jonathan succeeded, we succeeded. If he failed, we failed.
As I have said repeatedly, our destinies are tied to those of our leaders. That is why we must speak up to warn them when we feel they are operating on a faulty compass. Can a people succeed socially, politically and economically when their leaders fail? If my president does the right thing, the credit goes to him but the positive impact is enjoyed by the entire citizenry. That was why, in one of my articles in 2014, I declared, “If I seem to be criticising you, O King, it is not because I hate you but because I love my country more”.
I make this preamble because I live in Nigeria where demonisation is an industry; where pro-anything groups are available for hire at the drop of a hat; where we have institutionalised what, over the years, I have tagged ‘the Kabiyesi syndrome’ (a divine right of kings, sort of); where stomach infrastructure is a more potent political weapon than a million manifestoes; where the acceptability of a truth is hinged on who said it and what conspiracy theories we have weaved around his name; where elected officials become unaccountable as soon as they harvest our votes.
I have argued at several public fora that I consider it a duty for the elite to amplify the feelings of the people, even if doing so would be misinterpreted or even dangerous. If you have the benefit of education and a high level of intellect as Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah obviously does, you have no choice but to be a public intellectual so that both the government and the society at large can benefit from your intellection.
I don’t need to be reminded, too, that I run the risk myself of being deliberately misunderstood and vilified. It comes with the territory. However, every commentator must reach within the inner recesses of his being to find the decency to disagree agreeably. The kind of lowlife savagery exhibited by some commentators in the public space doesn’t do justice to their claim to civilisation of whatever hue.
What did Bishop Kukah say that was considered anathema? The sentence I have heard his traducers repeat ad nauseam is this: “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. There would have been a military coup a long time ago or we would have been at war.”
Kukah was expatiating on his contention that nepotism plays a major role in key appointments and decisions under the Buhari regime. I would probably have used a different set of words in saying the same thing, but that itself is no indictment. We all have our individual styles and there is no surefire writing template. A reader cannot stretch what a writer has said to imply what he has refrained from saying.
Is the allegation of nepotism in favour of the North and the president’s cronies true? Some of us had warned in the past that appointments to critical positions appeared skewed in favour of the North. Although I don’t have a history of playing up one section of the country against another, I can’t help noticing many of the complaints on social media by aggrieved sections of the country who feel completely marginalised. If you are an indigene of the Southeast, for example, you’re not likely to find the present skewed structure acceptable.
There is the feeling in the southern states that there is a deliberate policy to ‘northernise’ everything in sight. It may be a wrong perception as some government officials have claimed, but what does the evidence say? In this matter, it is not about what the government says but what it does. Surely, our diversity can be better managed?
Dr. Kukah is no less a northerner than many of those who arrogate to themselves the right to speak for the region. The fact that Kukah is able to rise above a narrow definition of humanity is actually a plus because it tends to douse the anger of the aggrieved in appreciation of the fellow-feeling demonstrated by ‘one northerner’. As a man of the cloth, Kukah’s life is governed by the injunction: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
In addition to feeling the pains of his southern Kaduna people whose problems are well documented in cybersphere, Kukah routinely empathises with other ethnic groups whenever there is cause to do so. When this same cleric spoke against some of the incompetencies of the Jonathan government about six years ago, he was a hero of the opposition.
Kukah has been consistent in speaking out against nepotism and the misuse of religion. In his sermon at the burial of Michael Nnadi, the seminarian killed by kidnappers last year, Kukah said: “We are being told that this situation has nothing to do with Religion. Really? …Are we to believe that simply because Boko Haram kills Muslims too, they wear no religious garb? Are we to deny the evidence before us, of kidnappers separating Muslims from infidels or compelling Christians to convert or die? If your son steals from me, do you solve the problem by saying he also steals from you?”
In the charged atmosphere of the time, it was the same Kukah who doused the embers of the congregation’s anger: “There is hope, my dear friends. Are we angry? Yes, we are. Are we sad? Of course, we are. Are we tempted to vengeance? Indeed, we are. Do we feel betrayed? You bet. Do we know what to do? Definitely. Do we know when to do it? Why not? Do we know how? Absolutely. Are we in a war? Yes. But what would Christ have us do? The only way He has pointed out to us is the non-violent way. It is the road less travelled, but it is the only way”.
That is not the talk of a war monger.
In our analogue past, the way government dealt with opposing views was to rent pro-government sympathisers. New names unknown to the corporate affairs commission suddenly spring up to vilify the perceived antagonist, and promptly disappear until the next contract shows up. I hope, to God, that we can say with honesty that we have passed that ignoble stage.
When the Sultan of Sokoto recently spoke up against the rising wave of insecurity in the country, it was clear that he was putting himself in the place of the victims. “Unfortunately, the common man is now caught in between two contending phenomena. When he goes to the farm, he gets killed and when he stays at home, he dies of hunger… For how long shall we continue to condemn acts of terrorism without any concerted effort in ending them?”
The sultan is both a temporal and spiritual head. When he speaks truth to power as he has done many times, no objective mind would accuse him of mischief. As I stated in this space a couple of weeks ago, “You can’t accuse the sultan of being a hired gun”.
Some of Kukah’s superiors in the Catholic church have trodden this path of controversy before. I recall that a certain Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Catholic Archbishop of Buenos Aires, regularly criticised the Argentinian government for neglecting the poor. The cleric was caught in the middle of a political storm between the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and a beleaguered opposition. An observer noted that, “There were scraps between Bergoglio and the Kirchner governments, to the point where Nestor Kirchner even said that Bergoglio was the head of the opposition.”
When Bergoglio became Pope Francis I, the Argentine president joined those falling over each other to congratulate the first Latin American pontiff. I find it remarkable that Kukah is being characterised as a voice of the opposition today. A prophet is not without honour except…
I am one of those fervently praying that Buhari completes his tenure in peace. Then history can give its verdict. Nobody in his right senses would prefer an unelected military government to democracy.
Of course, if you think Bishop Kukah’s intervention is all balderdash, I will spiritedly defend your right to so opine. But it is wrong, I think, for anyone to characterise Bishop Kukah as an enemy of the state. He is the kind of patriot every nation needs to make progress. If I had an enemy like him, I will sleep soundly. And snore to boot!