Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order —in short, of government.
Mad scientist Albert Einstein said that over a century ago. He was a pacifist. It doesn’t matter his Relativity Theory pioneered research on atomic energy, the ground work for military industrial complex now developed into weapons that can nuke the entire planet in a twinkle of an eye.
Sokoto Diocese Archbishop Matthew Hassan Kukah is no scientist. But as Catholic priest and public intellectual in African history, he stands in a class of his own. With the Kukah Centre and his membership of the retired General Abdusalam Abubkar-led National Peace Committee, Kukah comes across as a pacifist, too.
He might not have crafted a Guinness-book-of-record worthy quotes. But in his 40 years of priesthood and activism, he too has said a bunch—mostly contradictory of his profession as a peace builder.
It seems a sure path many of those who claim their life’s purpose is to build peace must take.
Kukah’s case is worsened thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari and Boko Haram—both Islamic terrorists targeting Nigerian Christians, according to the priest in one of his pyrogenic keynote speeches. The latest was a graveside homily he rendered, Mark Anthony-style, during the burial of Michael Nnadi, a seminarian kidnappers murdered recently in Kaduna, under Kukah’s Sokoto bishopric.
The hurt the murder inflicted was enormous, no doubt. Kukah, however, has been venting bellyfuls of spleen, especially in his public interventions in religious issues since 2015. Yet he trots around the country making peace efforts wherever Islam, Christianity, and politics conflict.
The government and Muslim bodies like Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) and the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) consider the bishop a loose cannon, dangerous to peaceful co-existence. “We are disappointed that a highly respected Bishop flourishing in his faith along with his adherents at the seat of the caliphate in Sokoto can descend to the level of creating unnecessary division and tension in the country,” said the BMO in statement Wednesday
To the Buharists, it’s a wicked irony—that one of the three midwives of the historic 2015 peaceful transition suddenly became a dangerous valve threatening to trigger a blow-out of penned up ethnic and religious bitterness.
But Kukah and his admirers will insist it’s all about justice, freedom, and accountability. And for these, he answers to no one—not even Papal Vatican. “I think it is important to understand that the church can only caution me on matters of theological heresy,” he once told The Interview. “On the social question, my convictions and those of the Pope don’t have to be the same.”
That’s still part of the contradiction—trying to enjoy the best of both worlds—or trying to eat your cake and have it. Kukah joined the holy order yet he lives preoccupied with fixing governance, politics, and changing the world. It’s a life far removed from his oath of seclusion and heavenly call.
In his quest to change the world, it seems the world is changing Kukah now. He has taken a lots of back-flips while striving at political correctness in amping up his convictions about religious conflicts, ethnicity, and, lately, Buhari with the APC government.
Those convictions of his bubble with recklessness and hostilities, reaching new highs since 2015 when Buhari came to office. That was when the peace committee advised the then president-elect to ditch the idea of probing his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan—just for conceding defeat calmly in that year’s election. But Buhari would not accept the recommendation.
Kukah had his opinions of past government, too. For instance, he saw no reason why some people he called political eunuchs should be bellyaching when former President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted a third term, after a job well done in eight years. Jonathan, too, according to Kukah in his 2011 speech entitled The Patience of Jonathan, was some kind of miracle. “Nigeria may not witness that in the next 200 years,” he stated.
On Buhari’s government, here are some of Kukah’s convictions, laced with vitriol, and their contradictions over time.
The more I look at this country, I’m more hopeful than many are–from The interview in 2017.
“Sadly, or even tragically, today, Nigeria, does not possess that set of goals or values for which any sane citizen is prepared to die for her,” he wrote in his homily in Kaduna on February 11.
“In 2007, when I wrote an article to clarify what Gen. Buhari was alleged to have said about Muslims voting for Muslims, I had reactions. Some Muslims abused me and accused me of having deceived and misled Gen. Buhari; some Christians accused me of breaking ranks and making a case for a man who ought to have been tried and jailed,’ he said in August 2015
“This President has displayed the greatest degree of insensitivity in managing our country’s rich diversity. He has subordinated the larger interests of the country to the hegemonic interests of his co-religionists and clansmen and women,” Kukah said on February 11
The blanket and continued hate speeches against the Fulani herdsmen as being currently done on the social media, constitute a threat to the unity and peace of Nigeria—from his a speech on fake news in Abuja in 2019.
The ultimate goal of this Bill is not to punish those who offend, but those who offend the government… If the government gets away with it (Social Media Bill), we have no idea what else will be on the table– from a press release to Vatican News on the proposed social media bill in Nigeria
Islam must have an honest look at the mirror and have an internal discussion—from a speech he delivered in Osogbo in 2016.
Today, in Nigeria, the noble religion of Islam has convulsed. It has become associated with some of the worst fears among our people—from the February 11 homily.
These, and more, credited to a man of peace, in a region as volatile as the north of a nation in the throes of Islamic extremism—it should bother many. Ideally, that is. Somehow, the Buhari government seems the only one agitated now. Most Nigerians aren’t surprised.
The peace committee which Kukah belongs is sensitive enough to know when opinion leaders like him are going too far. But they must have watched, on sufferance, the revered bishop long enough they see no reason to rein him back again. Not even when the committee chairman is a jellyfish, as some Nigerians observe. Kukah himself said Abdusalam has no reflex of an ex-general. If that is character flaw, it’s all okay. “He is a man I have great respect for,” said the bishop in the interview. “His weakness is actually his strength.”
To be slaw on the draw in danger might be a good virtue. Especially when the danger comes camouflaged in peace effort—and by a Catholic holy man of God doing fireworks with ethnicity and religion.
Bishop Kukah doesn’t need any reminder of the Rwanda genocide in 1994,
The Catholic Church is still sorry for the roles its priests played in the crime that destroyed 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus.