THE CANDOUR IN KUKAH’S CANDID COUNSEL:
. . . and Entanglement In A Web of Selective Perception Syndrome
I have never loved any aphorism on human foibles more than the one from that 18th Century English writer, Caleb Colton. I also love Colton so passionately, not only because his rhythmic name is cast on alliteration, a figure of speech creative writers often harp on to embellish their art; Charles Caleb Colton’s aphorisms are often enveloped in philosophical depth, giving any perspicacious mind reasons to ponder before deciphering the underlining truth. To do this, the deep really need to cudgel up their brains to really heed the call of the deep. Hear the vintage Colton: “While the follies of the wise are known to himself but hidden from the world; the follies of the fool are known to the world, but are hidden from himself.” A lunatic who appears naked in the market place thinks he acts better than the onlookers. His insanity is seen and known to the world but hidden from himself. But each time the insane gains his momentary lucid hour, he realizes the oddity in himself. It is better for the foolish man to realize his indecorous state so that he can quickly adjust and keep his shortcomings from the glare of the world. A man that refuses to do periodic assessment of himself and lifestyle but remains in self-delusion and presumptuousness exposes his folly to the world. That explains Colton’s witticism.
Unarguably, one of the most revered high-ranking vociferous Bishops on Nigerian soil today is Reverend Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese of Nigeria. There are many reasons why scholars and avid writers would love the affable man with passion. Kukah’s candour while speaking on national issues is alluring. The cerebral Kukah is never cagey on any controversial discourse. A colourful, assertive and bold scholar with a highly cerebral mind, Father Kukah’s sweeping eloquence is enough to make a professor of motivational speaking cringe and green with envy. The likes of Kukah are often seen as a gift by any nation where human resources and God’s gifts in men are truly valued. Were Mathew Kukah a full time teacher in my university, I would readily switch to his domain or offer an elective course to learn from him the art of sophism, eloquence, erudition, logical thinking, intellection, extemporaneous speaking art and speech delivery. Kukah in his cassock and surplice is a human library and a trove of diverse knowledge and wisdom!
Every nation has her own think-tank men of honour as envoys, who quite often are found very useful for conflict resolution. They are often held in high esteem, and their advice found useful for national development. South Africa has the highly revered Bishop Desmond Tutu. America has her eloquent Reverend Jesse Jackson. Uganda once had her own in eloquent and vociferous Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum, who was critical of the then Idi Amin Dada, a brutal despot and self-styled “Life President” of Uganda between 1971 and 1979. In February 1977, he was arrested on phantom coup plot but died in a mysterious circumstance with others even before trial. Except perhaps to itself, to whom does this Buhari government listen? “Vox Populi Vox Dei”. The voice of the people is the voice of God. It doesn’t even listen to the people that can be seen. Buhari, who presides over a government dressed in a loose toga of pseudo democracy entangled in the web of militocracy and kleptocracy that has no respect for anybody except itself. The president listens to no one except to his apologists and hosanna chanters.
Bishop Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto, an urbane and level-headed personality with cavalier stance, has perhaps due to his conflict-resolution cameo been called upon several times to render useful services pro bono to many past governments. He had for many years alongside other notable Nigerian egg heads, partaken in major national conferences and resolution meetings. He was a member of the 1999 Justice Oputa-led Investigation Commission on Human Rights Violations, and was the secretary of the National Political Reform Conference in 2005. Since 2005 onwards he has served eminently as the chairman of the Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation Committee. Between 2007 and 2009, Kukah served on the Electoral Reform Committee set up by the Nigerian government. Aside from his roles in the Christendom, Kukah’s profile in the secular world and the list of his services to Nigeria is encyclopedic. His being appointed by the Vatican under the headship of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, (Pope Francis) as a member of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Human Integral Development must have been due to recognition of his cavalier traits.
No human is perfect. Yes! But the salient truth is that when the likes of Father Mathew Kukah speak, a nation benefits so much by listening well and pondering deep on their homilies before reacting. In his December 26, 2020 address for which he was subsequently condemned by the government, His Lordship Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, was as usual very blunt in his Christmas address. The immediate target audience was his congregation. Kukah described the 2020 Christmas as another one with “dark clouds of death”. Could the Bishop have described the gory state of affairs as pleasant when Nigerians wake up each day since the past 8 years to watch or listen to asphyxiating news about hundreds of innocent citizens either being massacred or kidnapped, raped or dismembered by the Boko Haram insurgents and bandits? Wasn’t the hitherto festive period enveloped by dark clouds of death when citizens are not safe anywhere whether in the farm, inside their houses, or on the roads? The cadence, candour and pungency of Kukah’s homily to the congregants were unmistakable. He went on: “Against the backdrop of our endless woes, ours has become a nation wrapped in desolation. 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 etc. Ours has become a house of horror with fear stalking our homes, highways, cities, hamlets and entire communities. The middle grounds of optimism have continued to shift and many genuinely ask; 'What have we done to the gods?' Does Nigeria have a future? Where can we find hope?”
Let’s pause here to ponder. Where lies falsehood or exaggeration in this obviously factual statement? Isn’t a country truly wrapped in desolation when mothers and fathers cry daily either for seeing their children kidnapped from the streets and schools and saddled with the agonizing pang of pain of burying their own children and grandchildren? Where lies the hope of a country whose leadership turns blind eyes and deaf ears to obvious truth but expects praises for disgraceful performances and commendation for condemnable governance? Buhari it was in September 2020 after attending a Sallah service in Abuja that said he had tried his best in ending Boko-Haram insurgency in North West and militancy in the South-South of Nigeria. Earlier on January 29, 2019 he had told the nation he had tried his best to fix the economy. In the midst of this obviously rising poverty, unbridled insecurity and dangerous movement to a brink of precipice, President Buhari on July 22, 2021 stressed repeatedly how he had put Nigeria in a better state, adding that he had done his best. “We have done our best and thank God for what we have been able to achieve with the available resources, otherwise we would have been in trouble.” He added that the state of insecurity had improved, even when the Aso Rock presidential abode was recently rummaged by criminals. He added a puncher, asking the historians to do the needful: “Intellectuals and historians should be fair to us so that those who are looking for leadership position will not exploit the political ignorance or lack of knowledge of the people.” Now, regardless of status, Nigerians cannot sleep peacefully anywhere due to the excruciating spate of insecurity. Famine is ravaging the land and even children cannot feed. I don’t know if a malnourished man, who also continually suffers insomnia is not already in trouble. Yet, our President has done his “best”.
Bishop Kukah reeled out more canonical messages from the Holy Book citing relevant verses: “Like the Psalmist, we ask; From where shall come our help? (Ps.121:1) . . . Whatever the temptations to despair, we cannot give up. When the Psalmist asked where help shall come from, he answered that it will come from the Lord. Therefore, like Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, we Priests must stand before the mercy seat of God and plead the cause of our great country (Lk. 1:8). Like Abraham, we must plead for the Lord to save our nation because we have more than ten righteous men (Gen. 18: 16ff)” Bishop Hassan Kukah asked a non-rhetorical question: “Is Government in Suspended Animation? . . . As our country drifts almost rudderless, we seem like people travelling without maps, without destination and with neither Captain nor Crew. Citizens have nowhere to turn to.”
What merited overflowing umbrage on honest assessors, especially by the presidency of a nation that has been rated as the 146th amongst 163 independent nations on Global Peace Index (GTI); and also the 8th least peaceful country in Africa after South Sudan, Somalia, DR Congo, Libya, Sudan, Mali and Central African Republic? Why launching a salvo of scurrilous tirades on groaning citizens of an unfortunate country being traumatized daily by the genocide killer herdsmen rated by the Global Terrorism Index as the 4th deadliest terror group in the world; but who ironically, in spite of daily attack and slaughtering of hapless citizens, the government back home, had not branded as a terrorist? Where does a nation look up to, when human rulership fails? What deserves utter condemnation in a blunt truth that “. . . the roads to the graveyards are busier than those to the farms."? If the government is not aware of this obvious fact and the gory situation in which the nation is enmeshed, as well as the grave danger it portends, how does solution come when problems are neither observed nor sincerely challenged?
Bishop Kukah related the crux of discussion while he met His Excellency much earlier. Hear him: “After he assumed power, a delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference had audience with President Buhari. In the course of our discussion, the President shared with us his frustration over the state of decay and rut that he had met. In frustration, I vividly recalled him saying that, from the decay and neglect, it seemed as if preceding governments had been doing nothing but just eating and going to the toilet! Looking back, one might conclude that those were happy times because at least there was food to eat and people could go to the toilet. Now, a journey to the toilet is considered by the poor an extra luxury. Our country’s inability to feed itself is one of the most dangerous signs of state failure and a trigger to violence.” What a good observation by the president who saw all this clearly before and shortly after assuming power. But why is His Excellency now living in denial of obvious facts, or deluding himself of the stark realities when he got to the saddle, and not seeing the real situation anymore? Is the situation any better or worse? If the President had repeatedly said he had done his best, should we expect anything better from a leader who has qualified his performances with this superlative adjective best?
Consequently, if Mr. President truly observed the horror of daily insecurity, why is His Excellency now serving as the chief advocate of open cattle grazing, which has bred rifts between herders and farmers, leading to mass deaths and thus making most farmers avoid their farms – a gory situation which has now thrown the entire nation into the scourge of famine? Kukah confirmed the popular viewpoint that the President and his presidency are impervious to suggestions but only listens to itself when he wrote: “On the sad situation in Nigeria, the United Nations has wailed. The Pope has wailed. Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Pastors have wailed. Emirs have wailed. Politicians have wailed. The Sultan has wailed. Surely, it is time for the Lord to hear the wailers as they have sung their redemption songs.” Why in a swift response on July 18, 2021 did the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity, Garba Shehu describe Kukah’s assertions as utter falsehood? Garba added his usual galling and quixotic gaffe: “Only this government has put forward the first and singular plan in nearly a century to address herder-farmer challenges.”
Again, Bishop Kukah with other prominent citizens of other countries, were invited on July 14, 2021 by a United States’ Human Rights’ Commission to speak on Nigeria’s contemporary issues during which time he, as usual laid bare his mind. Kukah, amongst other issues, bared his thoughts on the government’s nepotistic stance on key national appointments. In a nation whose Section 14 (3) of the Federal Constitution states that “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.” The President completely jettisoned the “Federal character” tenets. The composition of his government has been accused of being so lopsided and evidently tainted by religious and ethnic coloration. It is not worthy of highlighting here, but succinct enough to say that as at 2017, out of his 100 appointees, a whopping 81 are from the North. Same was with the appointment in the security arm as at year 2020 wherein top 8 appointments were alleged to have favored officers from the northern part of the country, while only 2 were from the south.
The blunt truth is that a government that is entangled in the web of “selective perception and exposure” may never satisfy the yearnings of the people. A theory in psychology and media communication stipulates that most audience to a message would only embrace what they want to hear which suits their existing predisposition, hence “Selective Perception” while ignoring opposing viewpoints or holding them repugnant or in derision. In similar vein, research in communication and psychology has also revealed that some audience have the tendency to favour information which reinforces their pre-existing viewpoints while selecting only specific aspects that please them, hence “Selective Exposure.” Except those of praise singers and self-serving apologists, no contrary viewpoints ever appeal to an impervious and self-opinionated government with closed and jaundiced mindset. Consequently, accusing Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of washing Nigeria’s linen in the eye of the world seems grandiose and misplaced.
Quoting Colton again in reverse order: “The follies of the fool are known to the world, but are hidden from himself; while the follies of the wise are known to himself but hidden from the world.” May we have the humility to re-assess ourselves and appreciate our folly early enough before the world points them out to us. Verbum Satis Sapienti.
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, author, biographer and audiovisual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2348033203115, +2348162124412)