interviewBy Ankeli Emmanuel
In this interview with ANKELI EMMANUEL, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Most Rev Mathew Hassan Kukah, says that apart from faring very badly in every index of human development, the north does not exist in the real sense. He also contends that the Boko Haram insurgency will only end when the Nigerian elite begins act responsibly, and advises President Jonathan to be assertive in tackling the country's challenges
You recently said that reality was catching up with the north; can you clarify that assertion?
When I say that reality is catching up with the north, it is simply a question of what you sow is what you reap. The north has sown useless seeds that have sprouted and the result is what we are seeing today. Whether you call it Boko Haram, you call it poverty or you call it sickness, it accounts for a clear manifestation of the fact that the north has become associated with the best of poverty. We are falling behind very badly in education and in almost every index of survival. And my own argument over this is the confusion around the role of religion. In addition, I am unambiguous in making the role very clear; that anybody who lives within this geographical estate called the north must understand that for all these years the way Islam has been manipulated by politicians has not benefited the politicians, has not benefited the ordinary people nor has it benefited the Muslims themselves. Therefore, it is high time that we exposed the inadequacies of this manipulation as basis of governance, which in practical terms tended to privileged people on the basis of their religion. And as a student of religion, politics and governance, I am yet to see anywhere in the world where this kind of manipulation in a heterogeneous society has benefited anybody. So that is really the point I was making and I am happy that the Sultan of Sokoto has recently amplified what I said some days earlier.
Do you foresee an end to the growing rave of insecurity recently bedevilling the north in the near future?
Everywhere in Nigeria has been bedevilled by one form of crisis or the other. But, at least, in the other regions the people have been involved in what you might, with hindsight, call profitable engagement. Maybe the OPC might say that they benefited because they ended up with a President who was a Yoruba man. The Niger Delta might say they benefited because of where they are today. But none of these organizations benefited by killing their own people or by destroying their own infrastructure or destroying their own religion. Therefore, this suicidal engagement exposes everything that is wrong with the whole idea of how people perceive Islam and how they perceive the word, north.
Therefore, this is wake-up call for Muslims to rethink how they themselves perceive the role of their religion and how they want the rest of the world and non-Muslims to perceive their religion; because, clearly, since people have always considered the north as synonymous with Islam and this Islam might exercise almost a 100% dominance of this place called the north, it must be called upon to account and the rendering of account does not show us any index that should make us proud either as Muslims or as northerners. So, clearly as I said, and now the Sultan has openly said it, too. And he is not saying it for the first time: he has been a very severe critic of the institutions themselves and their inability, incapacity and unwillingness to perform. So, really, what we should be thinking about is how we can create a cool society. Religion offers us an opportunity but it is not an excuse for us to do the kinds of things we are doing. So clearly, you can say that the kind of present engagement of the north that is so suicidal that it has destroyed itself does not suggest that we can even compare it with other forms of struggles that have dominated Nigeria.
But then do you see an end to the insurgency?
Everything has an end. The Irish were facing their problem for almost 40 years, but then that does not mean we have to go the same way. However, the truth of the matter is that if we continue with this style of using religion to cover the nakedness of our corruption - whether it is Christianity or Islam is not the issue, whether it is religion or ethnicity is not the issue - the issue is that if we do not open up to the reality that is staring us in the face, we can't move forward. Neither regionalism nor ethnicity or religion by themselves can be a building material for a great nation. The world is changing. The truth of the matter is that we continue to use the word 'north' but geographically, geopolitically and religiously, there is nothing like the north. It does not exist in real terms. States have been created. So we are just using these unscientific terms, and again it is evidence of our intellectual laziness because the reality of the situation is that, as a geographical expression, the north has remained on our minds. But, realistically, every governor is taking his cheque and taking it to the state that has been carved out for them - the state with its local government areas.
Many churches and their worshippers have been bombed in the north and Christians as well as Muslims have also been killed and are still being killed. But what do you think would have happened to the north if any of the mosques had been bombed as churches were?
Well, as you know, it is almost impossible to imagine those kinds of things happening in the mosque. But precisely if it happened in the mosque, it would not be because of anybody called a Christian - because we don't have a tradition of that. No Christian has ever woken up to go and attack any Muslim. The irresponsible behaviours of some fanatics in places like Kano over spurious allegation that a Christian was alleged to have done XYZ are not things that were proven. Therefore, I am just making a point that we, as Christians in Nigeria and beyond, are very proud of ourselves - that we have never set out to go and attack anybody. And had the Muslim elite been able to restrain their own people, we would not be where we are in what they now call reprisal attack; which is that a good number of our young people got fed up with the state of incompetence and complacency and with the inability of the northern elite to get up wholeheartedly and condemn the act. Right now, the first example of how we ought to be dealing with these problems is being demonstrated by the government of Kaduna State.
And I'm happy that the new governor has followed through with the result of some of the discussions that I'm proud and happy that I'm involved in encouraging the late governor Yakowa - may God rest his soul - that you cannot encourage people to reconcile amidst violence when people's properties have been destroyed. And I'm happy because this is one legacy that former governor Makarfi left for us - that you have to find a way, even if you cannot compensate somebody, but you cannot find a situation where somebody's property has been destroyed and you assume he or she should be happy. There are many churches right across the north that every state is guilty. There are churches destroyed across the north but governors have not moved one step further to acknowledge that this is a tragedy and ask: 'please how we can deal with these issues'. There are many places in the north where Christians are still worshiping in the open. There are many places in the north where Christians whose properties were destroyed have relocated. So if the governors of the north are serious, and there is no reason why they should not be serious, even if you are not going to pay people compensation, at least be honest and sincere enough by either helping them in rebuilding their places of worship or you merely acknowledge that something has gone wrong. But we now have a situation where churches are being told now 'you can no longer worship in this place but relocate to this place'. There is no mosque that has been told in any part of Nigeria that you cannot remain here, and people must be fair.
It is not that Christianity is a cowardly religion or we are unable to know what our rights are. But I am just saying that the leadership of the Muslim community must meet us half way in honesty. It is not about talking: the Sultan may talk; I may talk, but I do not have a piece of land anywhere that I may give to somebody; the Sultan doesn't have a piece of land somewhere that he may give to somebody because he is not a land officer. He can only lend his moral weight but in the final analysis, it depends on what the governors themselves decide to do. When governors and politicians are running around looking for votes, do they look for Muslims or Christian votes? No! They look for the votes of voters. And if governors and politicians are not prepared to treat Christians and Muslims and even the pagans in any part of this country with the honesty they deserve, we will have to consider withdrawing our support for the process as an act of protest. So there are options; politics is dynamic but our people must learn to use the politics for building the common goal because I do not think that the other part of Nigeria has stolen less or more than the people in the north.
But the pathetic question I always ask is, where is the evidence of their theft? Other people are building factories in their own areas, but in the north, apart from building monstrous mansions that nobody is living inside and occasionally they would also put a mosque inside - such fenced house that nobody is worshiping inside - instead of them building such mosques outside the house where other fellow Muslims would use it for their prayers. Therefore, it is painful that while other people have the tendency to develop their region, the north has always the tendency to depend of the state. So, that is why I said it is daybreak and what we have sown is what we are reaping. Therefore, the insurgency is an opportunity for us not to panic but an opportunity for us to be honest by doing the right thing in the region to engage people. We (politicians, leaders and elite) from the north have told too many lies and we lack the political will to carry through some of the things that we continue to promise.
Some analysts of northern extraction say the insurgency in the region is being sponsored by both political parties and politicians from the other regions to ensure disunity in the north and allow for their continual stay in the presidency; what is your view on that?
You know, frankly, we must be fair to politicians: the poor creatures are trying the best they can, maybe their capacity is not enough. There are too many people in politics with limited capacity. Nigeria is the only place where people just come nowhere g to enter politics with no antecedents. Now, elsewhere politics is a function of tutelage. You learn how it is being done. Many Nigerians who are in politics today have never read the Nigerian constitution; all they are interested in and all they know is where to find the money - they couldn't be bothered about what the constitution says. So, as for the quality of the people we have in politics for a country like Nigeria truly we really do not have the quality of personnel that can drive our process. But that is not bad enough. I'm not talking about certificate here; but just a minimum quantum of goodwill; a minimum quantum of just trying to understand how you can build a great country; a minimum disposition towards reducing the insatiable greed that is manifested in the kind of stealing that is going on in Nigeria among those within the corridors of powers.
And the result is that every institution in Nigeria has become so severely weakened that nobody has the capacity now to fight these bunch of criminals and thieves that have taken over the political space. Recently, it was reported that Nigeria is the worst place to be born in the world- and Nigerians are pretending. This is not the best part of God's real estate given what God has given to us. It is one of the most dangerous parts of the world to live in and it shouldn't be so. With all our God-given human and material resources, we should have been better than this if not for greed. Therefore, when people say, will Boko Haram end? How can Boko Haram end if you do not in your own way identify that you are part of the problem and that Boko Haram is not a cause of the instability. Indeed Boko Haram is a manifestation and a symptom of the inherent rot in the system. Boko Haram will end when we begin to behave well.
With the perceived mutual disharmony in the north caused by the insurgency, do you see the north uniting for a common front for the 2015 Presidency?
My dear, I do not like to talk about it. I'm not interested in 2015 because you and I do not know whether we will reach 2015. We do not know who will be alive to witness 2015. The truth is, 2015 is really not my business and it is politically irresponsible for people to be talking about 2015. There is nothing for us to be so excited about 2015 unless we see the fruits of the promises made. And for someone to suggest that Christians and Muslims should be involved in a dance of death in preparation for 2015 is most irresponsible. I could not be bothered about who becomes president of Nigeria. Anybody who is better qualified can be and I am telling you that I do not live in Nigeria as a Christian but as a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore, it is not the question of mobilizing me - for what? Nobody can mobilize any Christian for anything in Nigeria, especially northern Nigeria, if those doing the mobilization don't come clean and convince me that we have reached a level in which we are prepared to create a society in which all of us are equal.
So, the real issue is that the problems of the north will not be resolved by the Presidency going back to the so-called north. If that is the case, and the north has being ruling Nigeria for over 30 years, would we be where we are now? So it is not the question of north or south or wherever they reside in Nigeria or not; it is the question of people who are competent. In addition, whether they reside in the place called northern Nigeria, they are Muslims or Christians - that should not be the issue, because the nonsense of turn by turn is uncalled for. We just want a bit of order and we want to be able to do the things that others have come to take for granted.
Apart from other mineral resources that are available in the north, the north has comparative advantage in agriculture because of the fertile land of the region, but do you see the north surviving without the oil revenue?
Let's be fair to the ordinary citizens. I think 99% of these ordinary citizens who are living in this part of the country called the north have nothing to do with the bandits that took over Nigeria. Whether they stole on behalf of the north or they stole on behalf the Muslims, I am telling you that 99.9% of ordinary Muslims just want to get on with their lives in peace. Now, we should all be addressing this problem, and as for who is responsible, the past is the past. Therefore, this is why I am being impatient about this whole discussion. We should look back and ask ourselves: if really governance were about regionalism or about religion, will the north and northerners not be the richest and most comfortable people in Nigeria? But after all these years, whether you call north or you called Muslims, it is that, with all these years of handling the levers of powers, we are still the most impoverished, the most illiterate, the least healthy, we are the most vulnerable, so what are we talking about? Therefore, what we should be looking for is good people whether he is Abdullahi or Mohammed, or whether he is James or Philip, Mathew or Philipa or whatever; that should not be the issue: the issue should be that we should be thinking of people and their antecedent, their record of accomplishment; but, unfortunately, Nigerians have become so psychologically defeated that it really does not matter to them as long as somebody comes and brandishes money.
Considering the state of things now, what is your advice for the nation?
I cannot advise the entire nation. The president has advised us and the president is the one that can advise the entire nation. Nevertheless, as for me, I can only say to our people that these are terrible times but they are also times of great promise for us as Nigerians. I also think and feel very strongly that our president should become more assertive. We hear all these stories about the arrest of Boko Haram suspects, but we do not see them, we do not know what is happening. Clearly, we are enjoying a little bit of reprieve now, but is that evidence that the security agencies have become so successful that this thing is being rolled back? If people have been arrested, where are they? Where have they been held? Even if that is a security issue, we need to know that a trial is going on.