– Dan Ugwu
MATHEW HASSAN KUKAH is scarcely someone you will do away with, with just the eye’s wink. Even though he had been withdrawn a little bit ever since he assumed the fullness of Catholic Priesthood; the bishopric, his involvement on social issues in Nigeria has quickly explained the Church’s resolve in confronting the social question, a duty which has been indicative right from time immemorial.
The Church’s prophetic role demands that when the status quo is not in the interest of men and society that she should stand as a condemning and corrective force. As such, she must point out to humanity and to nations the immoral ideologies and philosophies of life inimical to the moral, social and spiritual life. These should provoke the action of the people of God both as individuals and as an institution to the scandal of nursing oppression and exploitation as is mostly the case in Nigeria.
The situation in Nigeria today cannot leave any committed Christian, nay Muslim indifferent. The social and political concerns which are capable of snowballing into the Rwanda-type Carnage are here with us, and this is the backdrop against which the Sokoto Prelate pours his heart. Kukah spoke recently at a colloquium on fake news and hate speech organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African Studies; an arm of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).
In his lecture, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto; Hassan Kukah warned Nigerians especially people of the South against the blanket demonization of herdsmen, especially of the Fulani stock, warning that such actions could be a preamble to a breakout of violent confrontation against the Fulani people.
Among other things, the Bishop circled ‘hate speech’ as a strong precedence to any genocide experienced in history. In his words “Nigerians have to be very careful” before the situation degenerates beyond control. He likened the uproar and profiling of the Fulani to what happened to the Igbos leading up to the Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970. “If it is Fulani today, yesterday it was the Igbos,” he said.
Was that all? No. In a lecture of this sort, an activist cannot be confined to a single subject matter. You have to address pertinent issues eating up the Nigerian fabrics. That is what Pope John Paul II (now saint) called ‘Structures of Sin’ in the society or rather ‘Cloud of Evil’ in Africa by Pope Benedict XVI. Bishop Kukah also reacted to the recent controversy starring the use of picture of a herdsman on the Nigerian passport booklet.
Kukah said he was almost swayed by the fake news before he got a copy of the passport himself. The cleric displayed his passport to illustrate the content and debunked the insinuations that it carried only a picture of a herdsman. Hear him: “When I look at my passport, it has the coat of arm and map of Nigeria. Then right in front of the data page where all my information is, I have the Bini. I am not a Bini man, but I am eminently proud of this. I didn’t even know it was here, because I had to go through the passport page by page.
When I opened the passport the first thing I saw was Zuma Rock, then I see Tiv dancers. Who gave them permission to put Tiv dancers? Then I got to next page, before I came to this poor Fulani man who is standing with his cows. Suddenly, this is the only thing we have chosen. Why is it exciting? It is exciting because this is the time for us to ‘hate’, literally tag every Fulani as a herdsman. We are on a very dangerous precipice”.
Just like the Bishop noted, it is time for those in the position of leadership to tame the situation; leadership of government and leadership of the Church. This is so because when the Carnage begins, no person will be spared, not even those who will seek shelter in physical ‘Sanctuary of the Lord’. The situation can be so frustrating when these leaders fan the embers of discord.
I have even heard men of God preach openly in their Churches against a particular race, inducing their flock to rampage and campaign. I have listened to erudite scholars calling on high placed men of God like Fr Mbaka, Pastor Adeboye, CAN President, daring them to speak up against ‘fulanization’ or lose their friendship and patronage.
This only reminds me of Pilate’s worry of losing Caesar’s friendship before the Jews. The church’s hierarchy especially from the North have been trying to respond to this situation. Recall that Cardinal Onaiyekan, though diplomatically urged Nigerian Christians to douse tension and focus on their mission of bringing about a just society as no one is capable of Islamizing this nation by force.
This means that a Muslim can convincingly convert a weak Christian and a Christian is also free to Christianize a Muslim. So, rather than wage war against perceived Islamization, try your best to live up to your expectations of converting the whole world, perhaps with your lives. Unfortunately, Onaiyekan also met stiff criticisms for that explanation.
Nigeria is now at the crossroads of history. It has gotten to a point that being a Nigerian becomes abysmally frustrating and incredibly exciting with the pervasive feeling of betrayal and disenchantment sweeping across the crude nation. Church leaders cannot fold their arms and watch their flock wallow in ignorance.
We have to observe that social condition is not enough to define Christian salvation. Of course we have seen Jesus’ deep concern with the affairs of the world. We have seen also how the Church, following Jesus’ example has shown herself committed to bringing about of a just and peaceful society, which is the antecedent of the ‘kingdom to come’.
Even though partisan politics has taken a renewed form and shape among the clergy, leaders of the church and the society cannot contend with preaching hate, directly or indirectly. The media has also the duty to sieve through in choosing who to give audience to avoid persons who propagate hate and mischief. The Nigerian people must be vigilant and sensitive to persons who dare cash in on our precarious situation to wreck political havoc. We are living on a precipice.