Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah yesterday said it was important for the political actors, particularly the 2023 presidential candidates to listen to the young people, understand their frustrations, and align their agenda toward assuaging their grievances.
Kukah said this was important because the passion that drove people during the 2015 elections had dissipated, and that the people had understood they were lied to “and we have all seen the consequences of religious manipulations.”Kukah, who spoke on Arise News, said: “The passion that drove people in 2015, those passions have been dissipated because people realised that they were lied to. We have videos of many Northern clerics who confessed tearfully that they deceived their people by saying that these elections in 2015 were a jihad, whatever that meant. Now, we’re seeing the consequences of religious manipulations.
“Those who used ethnicity have now paid the price. Beyond the thousands of people who have lost their lives, one positive thing from what we have experienced in the last eight years is that anybody with a sense of discernment will appreciate the fact that voting for any candidate because he tells you he’s going to establish an Islamic state or he’s going to establish a Christian state or privilege Christians, that should be your first sign of realising that this the worst fraud any politician can sell to you.
“Young people have become aware of that. I know hundreds, thousands of farmers who definitely have changed their perception of what Nigeria is and have an idea of whom they can trust. To hear ordinary Muslims in Northern Nigerians and other places lamenting and sounding nostalgic about President Jonathan’s frontal take on the Almajiri thing.
“And Jonathan not being a Muslim had the foresight to value education so much that he will spend billions of Naira building Almajiri schools and nothing came of that and that they have seen no critical effort by those who are Muslims themselves.”The Bishop continued: “I encourage the politicians to go to the nooks and crannies of Nigerians to sell their convictions. The energy in this coming election is tremendous and I am excited about the energy of the young people and their attention to the country’s election.“I believe that Nigerians are energised and they have a choice to make. But we must ensure we see through the candidates and choose right to get the desired outcome.”
He also gave an insight into the type of leaders, particularly the person that should be elected by Nigerians as the next president.He said it was important for Nigerians to move away from voting based on ethnic, religious, or political sentiments and vote for someone who is capable of tackling the perennial challenges facing the country. He said that though the frontline candidates are individually qualified to lead the country, it was important for Nigerians to see through them and choose wisely.
The cleric said the era of rhetoric must be put behind and that the electorates must sieve and interrogate the presidential candidates on their ideology, plans and governance style before making their choice.
“The people must interrogate their presidential candidates’ ability and capacity to govern by sheer brain and not bribe. The point is that even the whole idea of leadership is often exaggerated because we are confusing political officeholders with leaders.
“It is only in Nigeria that there is so much focus on the centre. Society can only grow when we extend the frontiers of knowledge and opportunities.
“Critical to all of these, we are looking for a president that has the understanding of the complexity of what is wrong with Nigeria. It is not just about people just aspiring without an understanding of the issues.
“My argument is that anybody who aspires to rule Nigeria and we have the opportunity to, we (Nigerians) must redesign the template of confrontation and you (presidential candidate) must be able to confront Nigerians and answer their questions.
“I am not and won’t be surprised if the candidates are moving up and down and convincing us by taking minimalist positions and telling us these and that are what they are going to do.
“I won’t also be surprised if the next president of Nigeria tells us he would tackle insecurity, increase power generation, and what have you.
“The critical question is that aspiring leaders must be subjected to a litmus test by the people. The people must ask questions like since you (presidential candidate) said you want to deal with insecurity, can we get a sense of how you want to do it and achieve success? Can you show us from your background how you will be able to do this?
“Fortunately for us, the frontline candidates have a track record and those track records must be what we must use to project the nature of the choice we have to make,” the cleric said.
He described Nigeria’s political structure “a glorified vanished form of feudalism.”
“In Nigeria we’re playing politics without political science. I set the tone for that conversation because politics is a science. All these hit and miss, stumble, fall and get up that we are running… What we are running in Nigeria is a glorified vanished form of feudalism that has not been able to move from mere prebendalism to the strictness of political science. Now, we set the tone for this conversation and with the quality of the debate was such that I felt vindicated. This is exactly why I decided to set up the Kukah Centre.”
He said before the symposium, he had a conversation with former president Jonathan and that “in the course of our discussion, one of the things I raised with him was that the process of team selection in Nigeria is so severely flawed because it cannot pass the test of what you might call political science in terms of governance.
“We, for example, have turned this whole thing into a process and a platform for distributing privilege, because every minister who serves the Federal Republic of Nigeria, serves on the basis of being sponsored by a friend, a traditional ruler, by somebody who has the closeness to power.”On the qualities he would like to see in the leaders of the future, particularly in the president that would emerge in 2023, Kukah said, “The concept of leadership is increasingly being redefined as a result of globalisation. The world is no longer focusing on who your father or mother is or what your town is. The world is now focussing on what is in your brain- your brain power – your ability, your capacity to govern the world by sheer brain not brawn. This is also the reality of politics in Africa.”
When asked to react to a statement by the Sokoto State Police Command that the real killers of Miss Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, were still at large months after the gruesome murder, Kukah said: “With the struggle to justice, you have to wear the shoes of a long-distance runner. Our responsibility as Priests is to comfort those who are victims of injustice. The Bible admonishes us to comfort the afflicted but I also argue that we also have the duty and responsibility as Priests to afflict the comfortable with the contradictions that stare us in the face.
“First point, Deborah didn’t die in vain. The first thing to say about the death of Deborah is for someone to say you’re a Christian and you die in the line of duty. No Christian who dies witnessing to Christ dies in vain, so she’s a Martyr, like Leah Sharibu and tens of other young people who have died because of their faith. That is what we are as Christians.”
The next point, he said was that Nigeria is running a political system that is a combination of theocracy, a combination of feudalism, it is a system that is so complex and convoluting, it cannot pass the test of democracy.
“Now, the killers of Deborah proudly showed off the matches on television. The Sultan (of Sokoto) spoke eloquently, the governor spoke and I also added my voice, but in each of the interventions, we called for justice.
“Subsequently, the governor said we are going to try all these people and a group of people gathered themselves that this trial cannot take place because what has been done is in keeping with the principles of the Koran and the principles of Islam. There are millions of Muslims who are ambivalent about all of this, but the only answer to that question is we are not in a Theocratic state.
“Nigeria cannot be governed on the principles of any religion. The faith that we profess, the cultures that we profess can be sources for feeding the Nigerian constitution, but the greatest of any governor or any president or any operator of the constitution is the extent to which the constitution is a mirror by which every citizen, no matter your position, has to gauge himself or herself. Do you pass this test?
“Here we are, the president said nothing about the killing of Deborah, contrast that with the killing of (George) Floyd and contrast that with the picture of President Joe Biden, circulated in social media, kneeling in front of Floyd’s young son, and saying I’m appologising because America failed you.
“Sokoto mob “entered our church, they destroyed windows, we’re lucky that some of the youths in our cathedral were able to repel them before the police arrived. They went to our pastoral centre and burnt vehicles, they went to one of our churches and burnt down part of the building. That is not part of the popular narrative. It is assumed that churches have been burnt in Northern Nigeria for the last 30 or 40 years.
“As a Priest, my church can be burnt, my members can be killed. This is the only where people kill you in the name of religion, whether it is Christian or Muslim and the federal government and the state have nothing to say, you rebuild your church, you rebuild your mosque on your own and we’re supposed to be in a country. ‘The challenge for us is that there are certain distortions in the constitution and we have a National Assembly that has not even contemplated coming close to some of the issues or even understanding the pose we must put together to talk about justice. “So, injustice persists and will continue in Nigeria because we’re just pretending to be in a democracy. We have a democratic scaffold because it appropriates resources. It has not been tested and allowed to function.
“This is the only country where you can kill 50 people, 60 people, a hundred people and nobody cares.”
Regardless, he said they would encourage their people to vote, “but many Nigerians are legitimate to ask ‘vote for what and vote for who. There will be no need to have a government if justice is not in the centre of it all. Nigeria is an unequal society, an unjust society, and an unfair society. This is why we continue to confront these bastions of injustice, because until there is justice for everyone there can never be justice for anyone.”