The Prophetic Christmas message delivered by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese and cerebral social critic, Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah on December 25, 2020 at Holy Family Cathedral, Sokoto has lingered in the news for so many reasons. Perhaps an ignorable few who describe him as Divider-in-Chief have forgotten in a hurry that Nigeria’s influential Leadership Newspaper once described “the diminutive but outspoken” cleric as “a rabble-rouser for peace.”
Surprised? Well, the newspaper “compared his role in the country as an advocate of Catholic social teaching to that of St. John Paul II in Poland or Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador.” Others equate him with Rev. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul 11, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero and Helder Camara among other great leaders of the world. In that timeless Christmas message entitled “A Nation in Search of Vindication,” the Advocate of Peace emphatically stated: “Let us unite and seek the Lord in sincerity because the Lord will vindicate the righteous.”
Perhaps a post-mortem of that sermon is essential. He began with Another Christmas with Dark Clouds of Death by rightfully disclosing that “the prospects of a failed state stare us in the face: endless bloodletting, a collapsing economy, social anomie, domestic and community violence, kidnappings, armed robberies.” Relaying on the inspired word of God, he maintained that “we cannot give up.” The Orator revealed that we seem to be in a quandary between annus mirabilis, the year of joy or annus horribilis, the year of horror. In what he termed as Another Christmas in Cloud of Doom, the erudite preacher regretted that we seem to be “sedated and inured to pain” and opined that: “Terror is a product of hate, but while hate tries to divide us, terror and death should pull us together.”
In a country that apparently drifts rudderless and travels without maps, a destination and a Captain or Crew, he asks: “Is Government in suspended animation?” He laments that a government that came on the high horse of integrity and blamed past administrations in its parley with members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) is now faced with inability to feed the nation which is one of the most dangerous signs of a sinking state and a trigger for violence. Breaking the Ice: From Chibok through Dapchi to Kankara served as a launch-pad for chronicling the kidnapping of innocent school children without consequences for the perpetrators. Bishop Kukah decries that men of the underworld appear to show greater capacity to shock and awe a forlorn nation by always blindsiding the citizenry. Just a day after the sermon, on Sunday night 27 December 2020, armed men kidnapped the Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, Moses Chikwe and his driver.
The section that appears to be the kernel of the homily was where he condemned the nepotistic tendencies of the President in a subsection he titled A Nation in Search of Vindication adding that: “Every honest Nigerian knows that 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.” For a very long time, ethnicity and religion have been triggers for politics of brigandage leading to divide rule. Expectedly, amateur pundits are up in terms against the Bishop for laying bare the facts and not pretending that all is well. The prelate warned against Nepotism and the Worship of False Gods which was evident in the pretext of the north in the wake of the Endsars Protests but because karma is no respecter of person, the region has spurned into denouement. It was at that moment that elders of the region began to speak. But the saying goes, “it is too late to cry when the head is off.”
In his characteristic manner, the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese gave a flash of hope when he quoted the Prophet Isaiah, “A People that Walked in Darkness has Seen a Great Light” (Is. 9:2). He emphasized that “Nigeria has stumbled so much. It is time to for us to turn on the light of the torch. Each of us can make a change” and surmised by reminding those who speak for the powers that be that even if we are wailers, it is not a crime because evidence on the ground suggests that “Tears have become our bread” (Ps. 43:2).
Although he appears as a sign of contradiction, Bishop Kukah is indeed, An Ambassador of Peace. In 2000, a British journalist Karl Maier, who writes for The Independent, described Kukah as: “Gregarious yet serious, intellectual but down-to-earth, small and compact but bursting with enough energy for two men, [he] is somewhat of a phenomenon… He travels the world and is on good terms with the present and past heads of state; he is the local boy who made good, a symbol that it is possible for someone from this forgotten part of Nigeria to make a mark.”
He falls within the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevera, Fidel Castro, Solinitsyin, Sharansky, Vaclav Havel, Malcolm X, Chris Hani, Lech Walesa, Rosa Parks, Steve Biko, Ruth First etc. In a country where many contemporary prophets have lost their voices due to the allure of wealth (Cf.1 Timothy 3:3 ), craze for vain power or partisan politics, ethnicity and nepotism as well as fear for their lives, Kukah comes clean as a successor of the apostles who stands for the truth of the gospel.
To the dismay of the President’s Media Aides, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) and Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), it is widely reported that the Muslim Coalition, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) and other well meaning Nigerians at home and in the diaspora have all demonstrated support for the message and cautioned detractors to stay clear of attacking the man of God.
To be sure, Kukah is not an armchair critic who double speaks or is moved by mere whims and caprices. The accomplished author of the award winning book, Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria and Witness to Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission, studied at University of Bradford, UK where he obtained a Master in Peace Studies (1981). He has a Ph.D from London University (1990) and bagged a Masters in Public Policy at the JF Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (2004). He was a Senior Rhodes Fellow at the Oxford University (St. Anthony’s College) between 2001 and 2003.
He was a member of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of the Federal Government of Nigeria from 1999 to 2002, Secretary of the National Political Reform Conference from February to July 2005, Chairman of the Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation by Federal Government in 2005 and a member of the Electoral Reform Committee from 2007 to 2009. Without doubt, these responsibilities have prepared him well for any engagement as a public intellectual in addition to his primary duty as a Catholic Bishop.
Recall that during his sermon entitled “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Ps. 120:7) at the funeral of His Lordship, Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri of Kafanchan Diocese on Thursday, March 15, 2018, the Convener of The National Peace Committee (NPC) and The Kukah Centre (TKC) emphasized that: “Today, Christians are still faced with the challenges of proclaiming their Gospel in an environment that remains quite hostile to this Message. Yet, as St. Paul said to Timothy: ‘We must preach the Gospel, welcome or unwelcome’ (2 Tim. 4:2).” Rather than disparage Bishop Kukah, me thinks that like in the case of Joseph Ratzinger turned Pope Benedict XVI, the 68th year old fiery cleric and all he stands for constitute an entity, an institution, a colossus and a course that should be taught in Nigerian Universities. Happy a fabulous New Year!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.