The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah, has been in the news in recent days. Many of the reactions to his statements on behalf of the Nigerian Peace Commission were extremely furious and angry, with a few being apologetic on his behalf but hardly any out-rightly adulatory.
The main thrust of the disputations and rebuttals embarked upon by public commentators are two-fold, namely, that Bishop Kukah tended to be apologetic on behalf of former president Goodluck Jonathan and his government currently under close watch, if not totally being investigated for the massive corruption that took place during his aegis to the effect that the nation’s economy has virtually crumbled (with an allegation of an empty purse) and, secondly, the academic distinction that Bishop Kukah makes between combating the corruption scourge ravaging the nation and good governance: that the pursuit of the anti-corruption project of the Buhari government does not equate, if fact may impede, good governance. And many have seen this posture as amounting to a nudging at the government to abandon the anti-corruption war, which the populace definitely canvasses and vigorously support.
There are a number of perspectives from which the Bishop’s position has been knocked. There is the religious dimension and the ethnic dimension to the apprehension of the anti-corruption project of the government. My friend, Haruna Kudu Mohammed, a veteran journalist, with a good grasp of history, even though a student of political science, has promised to address both the ethnic and religious colourations of the negative reactions to Buhari’s anti-corruption policy next week. Indeed, many commentators have taken the battle against corruption as an expedient crusade toward national resurrection (or survival if the earlier word may evoke a religious image.)
Meanwhile, there is enough that is worrisome and one that requires deeper reflection and contemplation, in the responses to Bishop Kukah, a man of God who has, for quite some time now, doubled as a public intellectual with a moral duty-a pricker on individual, groupal and national conscience on numerous issues that tend to tense up the nation’s flesh and soul. This is besides his commendable duty and service in peace and security- seeking on behalf, mainly of the government and indirectly in line with his vocation as a preacher (seeking salvation and survival of his immediate and extended flocks within and outside the Roman Catholic Church). There are many people who are now very vociferous about what Bishop Kukah had said on the issues of corruption and good governance who did not listen to the television and who may have relied on ‘them say, them say’, just as much as there are those who were glued to the television and saw when the Chairman of the Peace Committee on elections now rechristened the national peace commission and former Head of State, retired General Abdusalami Abubakar motioned Bishop Kukah to take the air on behalf of the NPC. I understand that Bishop Kukah feels strong about being misinterpreted and is irate on that account. Most people who know the Bishop can hardly accuse him of rhetorical equivocation or, simply put, of double-speak. He does not play politics with his language as a man trained in public persuasion, both for God and for man. He would not normally resort to the well-known language of politics of calling a thief a light-fingered person. Neither would he normally take sides with the position of a perverse rogue and scoundrel to the detriment of rectitude, integrity and honesty. Why then are we in such a cross-road of perception, understanding and interpretation on this matter of his position on the fight against corruption and its relationship to or in contra-distinction with good governance?
These are testy times as the nation’s spirit and temper are both high in search of a saviour from the grips of a comatose economy and its major, perceived, sponsor, corruption. Any position or any argument that appears middle-road or tentative on this matters cannot expect to benefit from popular favour or discretion. This is not the conclusion of my reflection; it is a preamble to my understanding of the manifest anger of a discerning section of the critical mass who knows Bishop Kukah very well and his manner of delivery of his treatises and speeches, no matter how provocative. So what are the perspectives from which volleys are being fired at a man who has, many times, come down from his pulpit and away from his otherwise comfort zone, as it were, to line up on the side of the common and the under-privileged man in the streets?
There are individuals and institutions like Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the Nigerian Labour Congress (there used not to be a difference between the two and probably there is still not too much of a difference) who fear that Bishop Kukah and the National Peace Commission may be moving in the direction of obstructing the fight against corruption by the Buhari administration. Speaking on behalf of the NLC at the 8th quadrennial delegates Conference of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, its President, asked the NPC not to constitute itself as an obstacle to the battle against corruption and the drive to recover looted funds of Nigeria from public officers. In the same vein, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who is the Chairman of the National Economic Council charged by President Buhari to investigate revenue generating agencies in the country, came down harshly on the NPC and other well-placed Nigerians whose speeches and body language tend to be targeted at dissuading President Buhari from investigating President Goodluck Jonathan and his government in regard to his concession of defeat and probably on agreements allegedly reached as precondition for handing over. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole wondered if there was really an option for President Goodluck to vacating power, besides “ending up as former Ivoirian President Laurent Gbagbo in the Hague.”