Between Bishop Kukah and the PDP
He is 43 years today as a priest. Blessed is the womb that bore this great man. I do not mean his Mother’s since, apart from having that blessed woman whose name should have been Maryamu as his biological mother, the Bishop is equally blessed to be the first fruit from the womb of Holy Family Parish, Gidan Bako, with his ordination as its first indigenous priest on 19th December 1976. Each time, like yesterday, I visit the Parish House, the silence of the vicinage reminds me of the many greats the parish had hatched: the Bishop himself, Rev. Fr. Prof. Joseph Mamman, the Reverend Peter Yakubu Of Minnesota State University, the fearless Fr. Andrew Dodo, the great teacher of journalism- Rev. Dr. Philip Gaiya, Lt. Col. (Fr.) Anthony Maimagani, Group Capt. (Rev. Fr.) Philip Kwasau, and my finest priest, late Rev. Fr. Paul Luka Danjuma, among a galaxy of very productive and fine priests and religious. But this tribute is not about all these names: it’s about the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto; Matthew Hassan Kukah. Though I had wanted writing about the Bishop and mentorship, it appears more urgent than I rather reflect on the relationship between His Lordship and the PDP owing to the accusation by my friends in the APC who, in defense of their daily bread, have cast the Bishop as being against the Buhari-led Government and the APC, especially on his involvement in reconciling Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Though the recently concluded elections in Bayelsa that circumstantially reunited former President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister of state for petroleum, Timipre Sylva, in defense of their political interest after years of seeming bitterness and needles crossing of sword, should have been enough caution/sermon for some us who want to knight for politicians, it is important that I ask: where were all these lovers of President Buhari when, in June 2002, he was adversarially reported as urging Muslims to vote for only Muslim candidates in the then-forthcoming 2003 elections?
Yes, where were they, including the Abba Kyaris, Shehu Garbas, Adesina’s, etc? Apart from faithful lieutenants like Ya’u Darazo in Buhari’s house that Adamu Adamu often asked me to meet, who, together with Malam Adamu himself, was so worried about the accusation, but unfortunately, by reason of their identity as Muslims, dared not defend the ‘General’. Only Bishop Kukah, I can remember, took the RISK. The fearless Bishop who, in his own words, is not intimidated by blackmail, said, “When I saw the screaming headline claiming that General Buhari had called on Muslims to vote only for fellow Muslims in the next elections, I could almost tell what the national reaction will be. My brethren within Christianity would react like wounded lions. There would be name-calling, bashing, brickbat throwing, saber-rattling and so on. The nature of the accusations would be predictable. I also knew that politicians from both sides, anxious for capital and advantage, would throw in their lot in any direction that favors them.” Expectedly, similar to the famous ‘Bishop Kukah in defense of President Jonathan’s scenario’, many Nigerians accused the Bishop of blindly defending the General. In fact, some went as far as saying he may have been ‘settled’ to defend him rather than standing with his own tribe and religion. But as he himself said: “Well, those familiar with me would already know my antecedents, namely: I love a good fight and do not bow to blackmail or intimidation. I bow to the truth as I see it until someone, no matter how small, shows me that there is a superior viewpoint.”
After the 2015 presidential election, I recall Femi Fani Kayode telling me how Bishop Kukah and the entire Catholic Bishops’ Conference gave General Buhari an edge over them particularly in the presidential election. The Bishop who appears to be the town crier of the Bishops’ Conference, had in November 18, 2012, in a lecture at the annual Founder’s Day Anniversary Of Providence Baptist Church in Lagos, titled “Church and the state in the Pursuit of the Common good”, accused the Pastor Ayo Orisejafor-led CAN of being the spiritual wing of the then ruling party – the PDP. He said:” CAN has become more visible in relation to national prayer sessions, pilgrimages, alliances with state power and so on. Unless we distance ourselves, we cannot speak the truth to power. We cannot hear the wails of the poor and the weak. We should not be seen as playing the praying wing of the party in power.” He was also not mute about the ostentatious lifestyle of those who talk to God on our behalf. He said: “The stories of corrupt men and women being given recognition by their Churches or Mosques as gallant sons and daughters and the embarrassing stories of pastors displaying conspicuous wealth as we hear from the purchases of private Jets and so on clearly diminish our moral voice.” Many newspapers then reported that this accusation is against the backdrop of the presentation of a private jet to the then National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Orisejafor, by members of his church during the celebration of his 40th anniversary in the ministry.
Pundits still believe that the above accusations give oxygen to the insinuation that Bishop Kukah, being the unparallel expert on the interface between Church and State in Nigeria, might, no doubt, be behind the temporary withdrawal of the Catholic bloc from the Christian Association of Nigeria which in a letter dated September 24, 2012, signed by Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria and addressed to Pastor Orisejafor, the Bishops said they were temporarily exiting “over some recent attitude, utterances and actions of the national leadership of CAN which in our opinion negate the concept of the foundation of the association and the desire of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Kaigama also said, “CAN is being dragged into partisan politics thereby compromising the ability to play its true role as the conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless.”
I had listened and can testify to, how highly placed politicians in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, complained about the Bishop who, despite his friendship and access to the president, often opted for public criticism of some government policies rather than approaching the President in private. The Bishop himself was to confirm this on The Platform; an initiative of the Christian Covenant Center. Again, a few months back, when His Lordship warned us about the criminalization of the Fulani race, those who often clap in praise of him, took exception arguing that it is immoral for the Bishop to absolve them as being responsible for our predicaments.
Before the presidential election in 2015, I had to, in a hurry, fly to Abuja to meet with Colonels Hameed Ali and MM Abdallah on how to manage Buhari’s image against the perception among Christians that he has an antipathy towards their religion. We immediately resorted to a first aid sort of treatment of the disease by publishing in large quantities, the piece in which His Lordship authored in defense of the General. With all these, I still wonder why anybody, out of convenience, and in defense of his or her daily bread, will accuse the Bishop of either being anti-Buhari or the APC simply because of the unpleasant things he often says aimed at keeping Government on course.
But how is the Bishop against Buhari and the APC? Well, knowing how Government appointees cry more than the bereaved in defense of their pockets, it may be needless to ask the question. This reminds me of what El-Rufai, in his “The Accidental Public Servant” said, namely that, when you are in office, your lieutenants hardly tell you the truth.
In October 21, 2015, I recall my benefactor, Mohammed Haruna, in a piece titled “Jonathan’s fair-weather friends”, writing and I quote: “Dr. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to former president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has been expressing great anger at Chief Edwin Clark, his principal’s self-appointed godfather, over the godfather’s apparent denunciation of his godson recently. In a well-publicized article last week, Abati said he couldn’t believe it when he first read remarks by Clark that Jonathan was a good man except that he seemed incapable of fighting corruption.” Haruna quoted Abati as saying: “I have,” he said in the opening sentence of his article, “tried delaying the writing of this piece in the honest expectation that someone probably misquoted Chief E.K. Clark when he reportedly publicly disowned former President Goodluck Jonathan. I had hoped that our dear father, E.K. Clark, would issue a counter statement and say the usual things politicians say: “they quoted me out of context!” “Jonathan is my son”.
Instead of a disclaimer by Clark, Haruna quoted Abati as saying, “the old man” has been joined by “some Ijaw voices” in denouncing a president they had “defended to the hilt” for all these years. “If,” he said, “President Jonathan had returned to power on May 29, 2015, these same persons would have remained in the corridors of power, displaying all forms of ethnic triumphalism.” This is why I think, all those in power, rather than listen to praise singers whose constituency is their pockets, and whose trade, makes the truth a scarce commodity, and who also, will abandon them when the sun of their reign sets, the likes of Bishop Kukah who are ever disposed to speak truth to power, in season and out of season, should be encouraged.
Here’s wishing the stiff-necked Bishop more grace as he marks his 43 years in service of truth for the betterment of our fatherland.