Talking Straight

I stand firmly with Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Christmas message entitled “A Nation in Search of Vindication” in all its elements. Where else could I stand, given my conviction that the Bishop of Sokoto wrote it sincerely for the purpose of making Nigeria better. Ordinary Nigerians know that parts of our country today have become a true killing field. With daily news of the slaughter and massacre of innocent and not-so-innocent people in different corners, few people really feel safe anymore. No less a person than the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar and his Eminence John Cardinal Onayekan, catholic archbishop emeritus of Abuja, have loudly expressed this concern and they are not alone among their ilk. Or how can we forget the occasions on which the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has denounced the situation like other religious bodies have?

Honest Nigerians also know that the Federal Government especially is not doing half as much as it could to arrest the mayhem. Mired in propaganda, self-deceit, false steps and outright condoning of criminality, many officials and agencies of government have been caught in self-made, trust-deficit traps and are thus often compelled to dine with the devil. When a country descends to such a low, only true and honest diagnosis and action can help. This, I believe is what Bishop Kukah has offered.

Why twist the issues?

There does not seem to be too many honest Nigerians around anymore. A considerable number of Nigerians observe and live reality from the prism of self-interest and psycophancy. That seems to me why Bishop Kukah’s, message has provoked so many conflicting reactions. I opine so because I am yet to see any serious effort at disputing the facts which he outlined in that message about the situation of Northern Nigeria and the country as a whole. If we accept that truth is its own strongest witness and that facts are sacrosanct then we must simply ask the following. Has President Buhari fulfilled his campaign promises on security or on fairness to all? Has he demonstrated that he is truly for everybody and for nobody? Are government and its agencies trusted by Nigerians to give true information? Any honest attempt to answer these and such questions will simply throw up the obvious.

It seems that those who attack Bishop Kukah’s views deliberately target the messenger and refuse to address the message. Some government “commanders-in-mischief” have even twisted his message by trying to pin on him very serious crimes like treason and incitement for a coup, in an attempt to “call a dog a bad name in order to hang it”. For such people nothing is too far-fetched to propose in a bid to achieve their purpose. Even the information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has suggested that Kukah’s message was not an appropriate one for Christmas which is considered a season for peace. He obviously reads a different Bible and knows a different Jesus from everyone else. The truth is that such misrepresentations actually hurt Nigeria and posterity more than anything else because they deny all Nigerians of prospects of real change when they occur.

Is this the Nigeria we want?

Thank God however that there are just as many people who base their judgement on reality. The truth is that the nationwide insecurity and our government’s tame reaction to same has become nothing short of a monumental embarrassment. Everyday Nigerians hear and read: “President Buhari Mourns, the President mourns, The President Laments, the President decries….one tragedy after another, as if that is all he promised to do at his election. Surely presidents all over are elected for nobler tasks than that. This narrative needs to change and only the force of courage and truth can achieve that. Don’t we all want a President that can do far more for us than simply mourn and denounce the slaughter, kidnap and the destruction of lives and property in the country?

Fishbone in the Throat

I am convinced that it is really the truth in Bishop Kukah’s message that made his message sting so much for truth is often bitter and painful. What has made him a “fishbone in the throat” for government and its agencies” is the awareness that he knows what he is talking about, possessing both experiential and intellectual knowledge about Nigeria and its fault lines.

Few Nigerians can actually match him in that. What has really made him the target of so many vicious attacks, is that even the not-so-attentive public knows that Bishop Kukah has contributed his quota to the struggle of building a better Nigeria and commands attention when he comments on it. His moral voice, especially as a member of the celebrated Oputa panel and his role in the Peace committee for elections in Nigeria is strong enough to upset the complacency of those who wish to continue dirty business-as-usual in Nigerian politics. It is for that reason some think that he must be stopped.

Defend the freedom of expression

But the train already left the station. Along with the effort of the “EndSars Protests” and similar events, this Kukah saga is part of a groundswell movement for authentic change for a better Nigeria. For those same reasons that many want to suppress or twist Bishop Kukah’s message, many more must speak up to defend the truth in what he said. His freedom of expression and everyone else’s must be defended as a fundamental right. There is no reason whatsoever, why Bishop Kukah’s message, which in essence, decries the same situation as the Sultan’s should attract allegations of treason or subversion.

It had no clause in it calling for the head of the President or which set any religion against another. Or since when did challenging a president’s action amount to calling for his removal? His was a sincere outcry made in classy and pungent language which Nigeria needs to hear. Just like the “EndSars” protests it has attracted the support of Muslims, Christians and Traditional Religion adherents alike. Not everyone can agree with Bishop Kukah but we all can surely align with the truth wherever it is found. If we do, we shall be set free.

If we only can set aside our personal interests and animosities and stand for the truth, we all shall be beneficiaries of its outcome. We would, by doing so, be saving our own lives. Doing that would be a credible resolution for the new year 2021.

© + Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo

Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo is the Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese, Oyo State, Nigeria.