Life has an extraordinary way of molding mortals to define immortal moments. For such men, those immortal moments which define not only the course of individual lives but even the lives of nations, give them the opportunity to bring to bear their mastery of the mechanics of human existence.
In a world where the reality of courage without fleeting moments of cowardice has become a rarity, men cast in the mold of unflinching courage, who paint on the canvass of conviction, stand out for their refulgence.
In Nigeria, one of such men is Matthew Hassan Kukah, the catholic bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto in the North-west. As a man who has never failed to appear and speak up since Nigeria resumed what has been a tumultuous democratic journey twenty-three years ago prepares to embark on his journey as a septuagenarian, many Nigerians wish they can halt time completely, so that men like Bishop Kukah can live forever.
An undying flame.
Born on August 31, 2022, in Anchuna, Zangon Kataf Local Government Kaduna State,Bishop Kukah had his early education all within Kaduna State before a vocation to the catholic priesthood took him to St Augustine Major Seminary Jos in Plateau State where he studied Philosophy and Theology. He was ordained a catholic priest on December 19, 1976 and has since gone on to combine his pastoral assignments with academic pursuits which culminated with a PhD from Universiy of London`s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 1990.
Between 1999 and 2001, he was on the Nigerian Investigation Commission of Human Rights Violations as a member. He also participated in the National Political Reform Conference in 2005 as Secretary. Between 2007 and 2009, he worked in the committee for electoral reform set up by the Nigerian government.
Bishop Kukah has been the chief shepherd of the catholic diocese of Sokoto since 2011 amidst numerous other appointments within and outside Nigeria which have only helped to burnish his reputation as a humble man of extraordinary forthrightness and fortitude.
A shepherd who very much smells of his sheep, to hear him speak is to listen to someone who for long has approached Nigeria as a shepherd would approach a sheep, seeking to guide. But it is a sheep that is a pathological stray. That sheep has not been helped by the wolves who pose as shepherds and have found it difficult to do their jobs because they are themselves afflicted by wanderlust.
A voice crying in the wilderness.
The local church Bishop Kukah shepherds in found in Sokoto State, right in the heart of the Sultanate. But it transcends state-marked boundaries to cover Katsina, Kebbi and Zamfara States.
In a state where mounting religious bigotry continues to test interreligious ties, Bishop Kukah has worked tirelessly with other religious leaders to keeps the ferrets of religious fanaticism at bay. Indeed, when on May 12, 2022, a murderous mob burnt Ms. Deborah Samuel, a student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education Sokoto on flimsy excuses of blasphemy, an attempt was made to attack the bishop in the unrest that followed. Undoubtedly, the cowards who led the attempt saw an opportunity to get back at a man who has been a stumbling block to their message of hate and intolerance.
As Nigeria has run off into the wilderness of leadership failure in the last seven years, Bishop Kukah has abandoned the convenience of silence to follow the country. His biting criticisms of the federal government as Nigeria has descended into the doldrums of insecurity and poverty have proved as cleansing as they have been cathartic for Nigerians.
As Nigeria has become wedged between a rock and a hard place, many of those who had anything closely resembling a conscience have lost it. The siren calls of their bottomless bowels have since drowned out the gentle voice of conscience. These people are found everywhere. Some of them pretended they were on the side of Nigerians only for as long as it took for those responsible for Nigeria`s problems to dangle carrots before them. Today, they are found everywhere. Like crocodiles, they are not only cold-blooded, but make the blood run cold with their flippancy and hypocrisy.
Such men must cause Bishop Kukah to cringe. A man who has shown extraordinary consistency for many years now certainly knows a thing or two about what can be done to redeem Nigeria. Indefatigable, indomitable, impregnable and ingenious, the child who rose from the obscurity of Anchuna to become one of Nigeria`s most important voices has shown that there is no limits to the freedom that truth can bring especially when spoken to power.
At 70, and with Nigeria suffocating under the crushing ineptitude of those whose folly is highlighted by their mentality that wisdom necessarily follows old age, Bishop Kukah`s voice, like vintage wine, will continue to sustain the conversation about Nigeria until the country comes to redemption.
May one of Nigeria`s brightest lights burn forever!