Kukah’s 70th Birthday and Nigeria’s Unfinished Greatness 


By Gloria Mabeiam Ballason

On a day that we should shut down the streets and roll out the drums to celebrate seven decades of natal existence of Nigeria’s conscience in the person of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, we are steeped in a discourse of Nigeria’s unfinished greatness with a view to finding next steps.
Kukah who precedes Nigeria’s independence by eight years and who has invested the better part of his life toiling for the realization of the Nigeria of our dreams would typically, not want a day like this to be just about eating and drinking. Those of us who hail from Southern Kaduna or parts of the middlebelt have come to accept that our fathers would rather opt for ‘gaya’ (farming contributions) than spend days in chi-da-sha.
But it is also fair to say that having lived through the twists and turns of our national history with boundless investment of heart, soul, intellect, sweat and blood in a relationship -albeit an abusive one, the bewitching nuances and continuous infatuation creates a Stockholm syndrome. In such a situation, it is not uncommon to become clinically enabling and to accept that as a baseline of being. On the contrary, Bishop Kukah has refused for our country and the people to trauma bond.
This kind of raw courage warmed by the consistent embers of hope and resilience that the Bishop fans, should give us reason to believe.
A quick one: I grew up reading Father Kukah (as he then was), in the pages of the New Nigeria newspaper, where he wrote his Mustard Seed Columns.
It was in the 90s and I was in the primary school. My dad would always bring the papers home and I would read him.
That I could make sense of him at that early age is a testament to how he makes complex things easy. For example, he cites words and opposites, actions and consequences, problems and solutions.
Kukah’s evolution process through the years and his effort to hold the line even at great risks, is clear but even more distinct is how he came into the firm belief that justice must precede peace.
As I thought about Kukah at seventy and how he has poured out himself as a libation for our country, I wonder if Nigeria recognizes the worth and opportunity costs of his sacrifice for the becoming of Nigeria and if we have unfinished greatness or are yet to contemplate greatness at all.
A point to show: In 1997, Kaduna State Military Administrator, Col. Hameed Ali, sacked 30,000 civil servants and imprisoned 18 local government administrators. It was a hard time in Kaduna, Kukah’s home state.
In reaction, Fr. Kukah wrote a passionate article he titled: ‘Who Will Save Kaduna State?’ Today, and 25 years after, he could very well write an article of the same topic and it will be relevant only now, he would have grimmer facts and more dire statistics.
By 2021, The fact Nigeria and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had reported the sack of 70,000 workers in Kaduna by the Nasir El-Rufai government.
The State is the headquarters of kidnapping and terrorist activities. Court orders are not obeyed. Laws are honoured more in breach than in compliance.
Beyond Kaduna, Kukah’s commitment is rarely rivalled. He led the truth and reconciliation secretariat of the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission.
He served in the National Political Reform Conference and the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee. Those were wholesale efforts for Nigeria to yield in greatness.
Sadly, the findings of those committees have been barely implemented. The works lie musky on old shelves.
The revered Hon.Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, the gentle and committed Chief Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi who led these efforts along with Bishop Kukah died not seeing the glory they hoped will be birthed. The great Chief Justice Muhammadu Uwais is now stricken in age, Kukah is the last connector standing, but even he must find staggering how much work has been done and how all the efforts leave Nigeria doubling backwards.

Nigeria’s Unfinished Greatness:
The conversation about Nigeria’s unfinished greatness is often from a pessimistic and defeatist viewpoint.
For me,it is the story of how a nation chooses to run by inverted logic and alternate reality but in the same breath hopes to be great through convolutes.
Section 17 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the Nigerian state to be founded on “ideals” of “freedom, equality and justice”. Section 17 (c), the shortest provision in our Constitution states : “Governmental actions ‘shall’ be humane”.
The combined effect of the cited provisions is that we have an ideal to reach for and a mandate to comply with. Because ideals are aspirations, we may not always reach them but we are certain to go nowhere without them.
The word ‘shall’in Section 17(c) leaves agents of government no choice but to comply. The founding fathers and mothers of the Nigerian nation knew this too well so they set these aspirational goals that we may be able to look up, see the beauty at the top of the hill and journey in its light.
Unfortunately some impostors who somehow crack the code that allows them bulldoze into leadership positions have continued to act to the contrary.
For them, the Constitution is a list of suggestions and they imagine rather vainly that some Nigerians are more Nigerian than others. By these convolutions,they undermine law and order and do not only force the chains of servitude on some citizens but push and keep them at the edge where the slipperiness of the slope edges them out.
The evidence is in the political space, the civil service, the justice sector, the rearrangement that makes some sentenced to be at the receiving end of bad governance while others are born to rule and destroy.
To the need for liberty and freedom, Thomas Clarkson, the Slave Abolitionist, said : “It appears first that liberty is a natural and government, an adventitious right; because all men were born free.”
In extending the argument to the Nigerian state, we must for instance, ask the question: How does a government excite in the abduction of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho but somehow retain stoic silence when 879 detainees escape Kuje prison in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, including 68 Boko Haram terrorists?
While we dwell on that poser, it is imperative to review Nigeria’s constant coming but rarely becoming from atleast five critical respects.
First security. The primacy of security and welfare of the people as government’s essence as stated in Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution has not been considered a binding constitutional mandate.
President Buhari has taken the security budget from N4.6 trillion, which was the last budget under the Goodluck Jonathan administration to N16.34 trillion that was proposed for 2022.
This means the budget has increased by about N12 trillion. For our troubles, insecurity, especially that caused by bandit terrorists, which used to be largely in the northern part of Nigeria under the last administration, has spread to the South, East and West.
The terrorists have not only stopped at mowing down villages, they move out to the suburban areas, major connecting roads and cities and have attacked a train.
In response the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, traded blames with the government and went into his presidential campaigns, leaving the victims in the hands of their kidnappers who have raked out hundreds of millions.
About 35 victims still remain with their captors. That is just for incidences that make it to the news.
Recently, a former Minister of State for Aviation, Hon. Hassan Hyat, noted that in Kaduna, the number of people in the bush compete with the number of people outside it. Indeed, there is rarely a home in Kaduna that has not known or contributed to paying ransom to terrorists.
In the past week, over 200 Nigerian soldiers of junior cadres in the security strained North-East, applied for retirement. It is not because they changed their minds about their love and devotion to our country, it is more likely because they suffer from non-reciprocity of love and devotion fatigue.
In the end when faced with a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, you choose the devil you know so you can, with a bit of clarity, determine the bullets that come against you.
The sum total of our present state is that with more money injected for security, we have gained more insecurity.
Let’s go to our politics. Nigeria with a population of over 215 million suffers acute leadership crisis. The irony is this: the Migration Policy Institute reports that Nigerians are the most educated and successful in the United States with 61% of them holding atleast, a bachelor’s degree as against only 32% of Americans.
Nigerians in the diaspora are not excelling only in the academia, they are leaders in a wide range of fields including international politics, international public service, Space Science and Hollywood.
Imagine the affluence of human resources we have here at home. Yet, the political parties have too often prioritized their agenda over national agenda.
In real terms though, they have failed to come to a realization that there isn’t a different country for politicians and another for citizens.
The transactional nature of delegates voting in election primaries has not, and is unlikely to produce a critical mass of the kind of political leaders that will be accountable to the people.
We must consider direct primaries and firm up leadership accountability measures that hold leaders to higher and better pedestal.

The economy:
The exchange rate prior to the Buhari administration, was on the average, N150 to $1 for 4 years and then it rose to N225 – N230 a month to the 2015 election.
Today, the exchange rate of dollar to naira at official rate is about N480 naira or up to N677 in the “black market”; but that is not the news. The real news is that in the face of the naira destabilizing and high inflation rates, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who should keep their eyes on the dial, went into partisan politics and ran for the Presidency and governorship respectfully, despite the existence of Section 11 of the CBN Act, 2007 and the public service rules.
They still retain their positions while our laws continue to sing like canaries in the wilderness.

The education sector:
On what should be a love day – the 14 February, 2022, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), declared a strike.
More than six months after, about 2.1 million students who study in Nigeria’s public universities and their 100,000 lecturers are at home with no sense of how the impasse will be resolved.
The security dimension of keeping 2.1 million active youths idle and the attendant economic and social impact, can only be imagined.
By the way, certificates are deemed to be awarded in learning and character. While some learning goes on under extreme situations, very little, in terms of character is instilled.
The evidence abounds in how some professors were used to rig elections – a sad commentary to how corruption has become a state craft and a modus operandi for public service and institutions.
The fifth issue to highlight is nationhood. In basic civic education terms, we are told that a nation is a defined territory where the people are led by the same government; and that a state-based nationalism means that the people exist as a community to contribute to the maintenance and strength of the state. We have not been able to do nationalism and nationhood well. And because the leadership seeks votes from all, but provides leadership for some, not everyone feel like they own a stake in the Nigerian project.

Reaching the finished point of our greatness:
A good place to begin will be to implement the findings of the Oputa Panel,the Kutigi-led National Conference and the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee so that the labour of Bishop Kukah and our heroes past and present, do not go in vain.
Next, we will need to get back to the basics to determine what is right and what is wrong and to reward what is right and punish who is wrong.
For the avoidance of doubt,a few examples would help:
When the President swears to uphold the Constitution but fails in the primary responsibility of providing security and welfare to the people, while choosing to be a leader for some at the cost of others, it is wrong.
When a Chief Justice is removed by exparte on allegations not proven and the judicial officer who removed him is caught on camera in fisticuffs with an itinerary guard and the latter retains his office while the former does not, that kind of application of law is wrong.
When the Legislature who should represent the people make song and dance of grievous national issues that they ought to take action over and give a stamp of approval on impunity rather than vote against it, it is wrong.
When the Court of Law is not a Court of Justice and a person who wins elections is substituted by the one who lost and the laws are weaponized to validate the injustice, it is wrong.
When leaders who swear to uphold the Constitution pull the immunity veil of section 308 to keep themselves above the law and others beneath the law, it is wrong.
When terrorists are pampered and rewarded while victims are doubly victimized by the State by keeping them displaced, hungry, sullen and cold, it is wrong.
When young people in patriotism voice out against police brutality and bad governance and the state responds by supervising their murder and tampers with the evidence they should use to seek redress, it is wrong.
When citizens are excluded because of their religion or ethnicity and mediocrity is rewarded while competence is punished, it is wrong.
A country which acts in these ways, cannot contemplate greatness, neither can it make progress. On the contrary, it will perish in darkness. Any country which seeks to be great, must flip what is right to stand upright and not on its head.
And least we forget where all these began: Happy 70th birthday Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah. Thank you for your confidence in values, your consistency in service, and your sacrifice to God, His people and our nation.
May your priesthood endure through the endless order of Melchizedek, amen.

Ballason, a legal practitioner and Chief Executive Officer, House of Justice, Kaduna, presented this paper at the 70th birthday celebration of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Archdiocese of Sokoto, which held in Abuja on August 31, 2022.
She can be reached on: gloriaballason@houseofjusticeng.com


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