Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Revd Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, has said that the Coalition of Concerned Nigerians proposed by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in his 18-page letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, to take Nigeria out of the woods, is a continuous coup against democracy in the country.
In this online interview with Sunday Sun, Kukah, a social critic and public commentator, also said he would have thought that if Obasanjo thought he made a mistake, he should at least, apologize to Nigerians before offering the people another recipe to correct the current state of affairs in the country.
Taking a look at the current administration, Kukah further said one of the main mistakes that the Buhari administration made was to assume that everything that happened before them was wrong and everyone who came before them was a criminal.
Kukah also said he had no regret in participating in the General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led Peace and Reconciliation Committee that ensured a peaceful transfer of power from former president Goodluck Jonathan to incumbent President Buhari.
You are a cleric who is supposed to be primarily concerned with spiritual affairs, yet, your name cannot be wished away when it comes to national affairs, more importantly, when one considers the important assignments you have handled for the nation and your constant chastisement of the government. In view of this, how do you see the recent letter written by former president Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari?
You are generous with your observations. It is very interesting how politicians map our roles for us priests. When you say something that makes them happy, they hail you, but when the shoe is on the other foot and you say the same thing, they charge you to mind your spiritual duties and leave politics out. I am a free citizen of my country and will continue to make my little contributions. I am not out to entertain and make people happy. In fact, the sadder they are, the more likely it is that you are saying the right thing, only they are unhappy. What do you expect me, an ordinary citizen to say when a General has written a letter to another General, a former president has written to a sitting president whom he himself brought to power? I prefer to choose the battles I can win. But at another level, I would have thought that if people think they made a mistake, they should at least apologise to us before offering us another undated youghurt.
In x-raying the letter, which areas do you think ex-President Obasanjo was right and wrong?
I have no x-ray machine and I do not know if the one in the Villa clinic is working now. The letter was not written to me and, if you saw the banter between the two people last week (during the just concluded 30th Ordinary Session of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), then you will be more restrained in your response.
The coalition proposed by Obasanjo: is it feasible in our clime?
I do not know anything about the coalition and I am honestly not in a position to make any comment. As a person, I am not sure that this emergency ambulance mentality is the best form of institutionalizing democracy. Most of this is the indiscipline which does not understand how democracy and consensus building works. It is a continuation of this coup against democracy when those who have held Nigeria to ransom, decide on whom they want in power and then go ahead to manipulate the levers of power for their ends. We can only wish them luck.
Looking at the totality of the current state of affairs in the country, what is your verdict on the incumbent administration?
I take it that what this administration has offered is the best they can offer, given that they have covered over three quarters of the time allocated to them. My verdict is not important and Nigerians should pass their verdict at the next elections. This time, we will be judging based on evidence not propaganda.
In your estimation, where did President Buhari get it wrong?
Who told you he got anything wrong? What is your marking scheme? I believe that what we have is the best that President Buhari can and has offered. He has not told you or anyone that he feels he has made a mistake or wishes to do anything differently. He says he takes his time and I believe we should respect that.
Even though as a Nigerian, he is eligible to vote and be voted for, taking a look at the nation from 2015 till now, do you think if the resident decides to take a second shot at the presidency, it will be right for Nigerians to queue behind the president and vote for him?
Why not? He should be free to offer himself to Nigerians. It is left for Nigerians to decide and luckily for us, we have records of his promises, his achievements in fulfillment of those promises. These should be the basis of decision not the issue of if he should or should not contest. The decision is his to make.
You were very prominent in the General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led Peace and Reconciliation Committee that ensured a peaceful transfer of power from former president Goodluck Jonathan to President Buhari. Judging by the activities of the current government, do you regret participating in that committee?
I am very proud of what General Abdusalam led the committee to achieve. We made our own contribution along with other Nigerian civil society groups. I can only thank God for the miracles of answered prayers. In any case, should we not thank God that the current administration has been given a chance to showcase what they are capable of doing?
When we finished the elections, we thought we should disband and go home, especially given that the people who were involved in the exercise were extremely busy people who made sacrifices because no one received or asked for a single penny. We had believed that the committee’s work was done. However, we were encouraged by the reaction of Nigerians across the board when we undertook a consultative initiative to find out what Nigerians felt about the committee.
So, rather than disbanding and going home, we sought the views of the media, the leaders of the two parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). We had audience with the Senate President and the Speaker, former president Jonathan and current President Buhari. Each and everyone expressed satisfaction and encouraged the members to continue in view of the fact that the country still needed some wise counsel and that the people needed encouragement.
Do you think the president consolidated on the gains recorded by your committee?
It is not for us to judge, but my views are pretty well known. When a midwife helps in a delivery, is she to follow the new mother home to inspect how she is looking after the baby? It is left for Nigerians to judge.
Some people have said that where we are economically, politically, socially, et cetera, is worse than where we are coming from? Do you agree?
Where are we coming from? The problem is that we always think yesterday was better than today. One of the main mistakes that this administration made was to assume that everything that happened before them was wrong and everyone who came before them was a criminal. They created the impression that they had to drain the swamps and literally write a new script. More energy could have been committed to identifying what was worth continuing and in the process, building confidence in the country.
Now, they have realized rather late in the day that the team is the same, only the jerseys are different. Can you name one thing that is substantially different today from what it was yesterday after you have mentioned Boko Haram? At the beginning, I made a case for the fact that national cohesion was an urgent project, holding our people together and developing a vision. Now, look where we are as a people, see how divided we have become, see how scattered and littered the landscape is. Can we continue like this into the next election?
Your brother was kidnapped recently, and at the same time, the nation was grappling with security concerns, most importantly, in Benue State. In your calculation, where are these social ills and odds leading us to?
My brother’s case was dwarfed by the tragedy of Benue, along with many others in the daily menu of senseless killings that are now our lot. His case is a metaphor for the suffering and pain of many Nigerians who have become more exposed now than we have ever been. What is more painful is the seeming lack of concern by the government and the lack of a clear plan to reverse this sad phase of our national life. It is very saddening indeed.
What can we do to achieve the Nigeria of our dreams?
The Nigeria of our dreams is made simple: a country where we can live in peace and security, raise our families with some dignity, a nation where we have an idea of what being a Nigerian means. We just want what others have come to take for granted. (The Sun)