Bishop Kukah

General T.Y. Danjuma, while being conferred with the prestigious title of Jarmai Zazzau, stated “It is not in our character as Northerners to talk too much. We need to think more, relate better but talk less. Battles are fought and won through wisdom and strategy than through inflammable pronouncement and political tantrums”. And the blogger Muhammed Jameel Yushau admonished in ‘Islamophobia: The Root Cause of Blasphemy’ that Muslims be always “guided by knowledge and intellect rather than emotion”.

It is often said that dramatic events have distant subtle causes. This means that despite the most recent altercation between a prince of the Vatican, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and perhaps Nigeria’s most influential syndicated newspaper columnist, Mallam Mohammed Haruna, the gladiators have more in common uniting them than tearing them apart, as they are part of the collateral damage cropping up from the intellectual vacuum created by the self-destruction of the once leviathan ‘Kaduna Mafia’.

Both have not only, since the early 1980s, affected each other’s sublime consciousness but have had their helicopter views blurred by billowing bellows. It will therefore be unnecessary to belabour the reading public with the details of their most recent ranting. The discourse must now be expanded beyond that narrow prism.

Historically, in the North, religion and politics are two sides of the same regional coin. Because “In northern Nigeria where different ethnic groups happen to belong to different faiths like the dominant Muslim Hausa-Fulani and the Christian ethnic minorities. The struggles for domination among these groups as well as perceived liberation have dramatically assumed religious expression”.

The umbilical link between the ‘Sarauta’ system and the then Native Authority structure across swaths of the North meant that “from the early days of British administration the emirates were developed into units of local government based on emirs and chiefs which eventually evolved into powerful political forces”.

It is a well known fact that during the 1950s, “The Qadiriya sect was not only the brotherhood of the ruling establishment but also the most favoured by the British colonialists. Socio-politically it represented the class of emirs and chiefs, mainly Fulani. While the non-Fulani ethnic groups and the urban classes, including the merchants, opted for the rival Tijaniyya sect also considered subversive due to its staunch opposition to feudalism and colonialism”.

By the time party politics took a firm root up to the military intervention in the mid 1960s, the behemoth NPC (Northern People’s Congress) wholesomely allied itself with the Qadiriyya and the NEPU (Northern Elements Progressive Union) massively with the Tijaniyya. In the southern districts of the then Zaria Native Authority, where Bishop Kukah comes from, the political leadership revolved around Pastor David Lot (from the Plateau but educated in Zaria) and Pastor Bagayya of Kagoro, including Elder Dauda Kwoi all of the (MZL) Middle Zone League ensemble. It is against this tapestry that His Lordship today does not find any contradiction in converting his pulpit into a political soap-box.

As recent as 2013, Bishop Kukah frustratingly asked, “What does the word ‘North’ mean?” He went further: “Do we trust in one another?” And as if answering his own questions, he added that, “No one is mesmerised by mythologies of region or religion, it is daybreak and the Northern elite must appreciate this”. Apparently it is such brutal frankness and mode of delivery that Mallam Haruna, the main promoter of the leading regional think-tank, Arewa Media Forum, finds very provocative about the Bishop.

That notwithstanding, it is to his eternal credit that Bishop Kukah has had the unusual candour of acknowledging, in the not too distant past, that “There has been too much waste and hypocrisy in the name of religion by the elites in Northern Nigeria and it is time to take on this problem head on”.

But in a twist of irony in late 2012, the Bishop, while recounting the religious solidarity displayed during that January’s fuel hike protests, exuberantly celebrated “His Grace Onaiyekan breaking fast with Muslim faithful during Ramadan”; but by mid-2013, in apparent doublespeak, Kukah criticised such visits by Christians as being “for material gain”, asking “Do they ask Muslims to fast with them at Lent?”. And that was after divulging that “The distribution of Sallah cows, rams, rice or chickens have become an industry. I have been a beneficiary of these donations, but I am worried because I do not need most of what I receive”.

Mallam Haruna’s proclivity for the ironic is however more historical. Back in 1983, as an enthusiastic purveyor of government propaganda, he was well drubbed in a titanic scrum with the ace journalist Ray Ekpu, then of the now rested Concord group of papers in a rejoinder aptly entitled “Why Mohammed Haruna Needs a New Pair of Glasses”. By 1989 during the furor that followed the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and after the federal military government of the day had officially banned the importation and circulation of what every Muslim considered anathema, Mallam Haruna dotingly carried a copy of the book, as he offered a most paradoxical interview on it with the now rested Classique magazine, then a soft-sell publication of out of the Newswatch stables.

As recent as 2013, Bishop Kukah frustratingly asked, “What does the word ‘North’ mean?” He went further: “Do we trust in one another?” And as if answering his own questions, he added that, “No one is mesmerised by mythologies of region or religion, it is daybreak and the Northern elite must appreciate this”. Apparently it is such brutal frankness and mode of delivery that Mallam Haruna, the main promoter of the leading regional think-tank, Arewa Media Forum, finds very provocative about the Bishop.

By the 1970s, a rival trajectory of sectarian influence had emerged with the Wahhabi inspired Izala movement, “challenging the hegemony and innovations (Bidi’a) of the feudal oriented Qadiriyya and principally the Tijaniyya-NEPU merchant class led movement resulting into numerous clashes and crises”. The former regional government and later mainly federal government civil servants, their military cohorts and academia cronies all under the umbrella of the ‘Kaduna Mafia’ soon adopted the Izala, thereby reinventing the Northern Muslim intelligentsia. It was against that backdrop Mallam Haruna emerged as a rookie journalist. The rest, as they say, is now history.

The North today is unfortunately bursting at its seams without the core elite having the moral rectitude to call for a truce in the Kukah-Haruna face-off, while dispassionately looking into the substantive issues.

It was therefore not surprising in March 2013 when Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a ranking cleric in the Izala sect and son of its founding leader blatantly dismissed the Sultan of Sokoto’s call for amnesty for Boko Haram as “hypocritical”. And when Bishop Kukah jumped into the fray supporting not only the Sultan but “the grain of the apparent widespread support in the North and among Muslims” for that call, Mallam Haruna sneered at the Bishop’s intervention as “appeasement”, following the then President Goodluck Jonathan’s shooting down of the amnesty kite.

The Dimka putsch, its assassination of General Murtala Mohammed and the subsequent mass executions of the coupists, following a reportedly kangaroo military judicial process, left the political North in near irreparable tatters. The emergence of Bishop Kukah’s ‘Mustard Seed’ column under the editorial pruning of Mallam Haruna at the now defunct New Nigerian was subsequently part of a well thought out in-gathering and reconciliatory process by the ‘Kaduna Mafia’. The North today is unfortunately bursting at its seams without the core elite having the moral rectitude to call for a truce in the Kukah-Haruna face-off, while dispassionately looking into the substantive issues.

So, how does the North navigate itself out of the current labyrinth its political chessboard has become? To get out of its self imposed quagmire, the Christian and Muslim North must mutually heed to the well heeded advice of their own.

General T.Y. Danjuma, while being conferred with the prestigious title of Jarmai Zazzau, stated “It is not in our character as Northerners to talk too much. We need to think more, relate better but talk less. Battles are fought and won through wisdom and strategy than through inflammable pronouncement and political tantrums”. And the blogger Muhammed Jameel Yushau admonished in ‘Islamophobia: The Root Cause of Blasphemy’ that Muslims be always “guided by knowledge and intellect rather than emotion”.

Ahmed Yahaya Joe writes from Wusasa, Zaria, Kaduna State.