Not for once has any headline captured the Bishop condemning the brazen mentality of greed in the looting of public property. With names exposed and figures poured out in public domain, not once has any word of encouragement been heard from the mouth of the Bishop urging the government to carry on in its quest to sanitise the system.
When I wrote the book Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment, in which I examined Black Africa’s plight in its self-imposed religious trap, I stopped short of crossing several thresholds. Contrary to speculations advanced by people who read articles, reviews and intros about this work, the content did not concern itself with the existence or otherwise of any supreme deity. I did not concern myself with the relevance or otherwise of atheism. Indeed, on the contrary, I highlighted the importance of religion in society as the recognised custodian of moral and ethical values.
This is not because atheism does not have good enough reasons to question the existence of God. No. It is not because there are no reasons to call the existence of religion into question. No. The bottom line was to pointedly highlight the troubles we see in the practice of religion and its negative impact on people and development, without passing judgment.
Alas, the more Preacher-men in the Nigeria of today thrust themselves into the limelight of public exposure and perception, the more reason they provide doubters to question the existence of God and the holiness of religion.
In a society that is faced with the enormous moral challenge of recognising the value of life, particularly human life, one would ordinarily assume that religious establishments already have their duties carved out for them. Taking it from the most basic of all social ills, that has metamorphosed to a higher level, one asks when things got so badly out of control in Nigeria that the sight of corpses on the street does not cause revulsion. In the early post-independence days, the only place to see a dead body in public space, were the scenes of public execution by firing squad. A priest administered his last prayer on the victims, they said their last words and were shot dead and quickly packaged into the coffin for burial in respect for the sanctity of human life.
Today, seeing the dismembered body of a human being on the street for days, if not weeks unending, is as common a sight as seeing a dead rat in the corner of a blind alley. These days, scores between young men in cultist associations are settled using the barrels and the cannon. Simple disputes over girlfriends, cash or rank in cultist associations are met with death to the ringing sound of a short gun. Whence then will the value of life emerge when young ones at their tender age have no sense of awe and reverence for the human lives they take without care or at the sight of lifeless bodies that they spit upon?
The duty of religious leaders has been naturally carved out or so you may think. The sanctity of life alone makes a resounding subject for lessons from the mosque podium or the church pulpit on Fridays and Sundays for weeks unending. The society offers it as one of numerous subjects.
Yet, no. Let us not get into the daily fear of armed robbery and kidnapping in a society that seems to have lost it all completely. The daily struggle of the ordinary man with the harsh realities of normal life – from power failure to the non-availability of pipe-borne water – is often crowned by the fear of being confronted to handover meagre savings at gun point. Assailants often do not hold back from gunning down their victims. Ordinarily, this is a serious subject for Preacher-men to pick upon and play their role in fixing the human mind that is growing in the vicious circle to breed more generations that may know no sanity.
Yet no. Just what then is this obsession that Nigerian self-styled “Men of God” have with dabbling into politics leaving serious issues that are naturally designed for religion through the ages? What constituency does religion seek to address in politics to the detriment of more urgent moral and ethical issues in society?
Most notorious these days, is one Bishop Matthew Kukah of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. Prominence and guidance are attributes that make the rank of a Bishop in the catholic faith a big deal indeed. It is a level at which the stakes of moral guidance are high that are expected of the embodiment of such designation. For several reasons, Bishop Matthew Kukah has played several roles on the moral wing of the Nigerian political scene since the start of the new dispensation. From human rights investigations to the Ogoni reconciliation efforts, Mr. Kukah has had reasons to contribute his quota to the building of a political moral standard in the country.
Yet political assignment for clergies is often a calling that is answered and done with. It is not a primary assignment that defines the role of religion. The saying “Give what is God’s to God and what is Caesar’s to Caesar” was a clear demarcating line that the Bible drew for the propagation of the scriptures and impact on society.
…voices are claiming that Kukah himself is often agitated each time the fight against corruption makes headlines, and finds faults in the process because he too may have been a beneficiary of corruption under the immediate past dispensation. This insinuation alone would have been sufficient for an intelligent and honest adviser to retrace and recalibrate his steps.
Today, however, Nigeria has a Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which seems to see itself, first and foremost as a political body. From a blin-blin pastor that excelled in all worldly riches defined by nearness to political power to all other peripheral associates of CAN, the primary goal of religious leaders today seems embedded in material wealth.
In my book Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment, I highlighted the catholic church as one different entity of the Christian faith today, that has not been consumed by prosperity evangelism. In a setting of several fraudulent new generation churches performing fake miracles and exploiting parishioners, the catholic church stands out as one that does not conduct cheap rallies and deceptive rhetoric. The catholic church in Africa does not parade private jets for its Bishops and Archbishops. It does not task its members to build universities for the children of the political elites to enrich the preacher-men. Their trademark dress is the catholic robe of different colors. Not the blin-blin chains and suits of some shameless Oritseja-Fool.
Yet, the catholic church embodied by Matthew Hassan Kukah is fast turning out to be a far cry from the role that society expects of the Church. To underscore his relevance these days, Bishop Kukah seems to find compulsion in making political statements on how best to govern. While appreciation will always be shown to the moral instance represented by the Church in the affairs of state, people and governance, there is hardly any evidence that reposes expertise in governance on a Bishop with theological education at various levels.
Not for once has any headline captured a call from Bishop Kukah laying out an action plan to realign the mindset of our youth from 419, cultism, robbery and kidnapping. Not for once have I heard Bishop Kukah speak out against the generous donation of blood money to churches after plundering the public chest and robbing at gun point. Not for once has Bishop Kukah taught the nation about the wrath of God at taking another man’s life.
When Bishop Kukah speaks out, he speaks to condemn the government’s approach to fighting corruption. At the start of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, Bishop Kukah spoke out against the fight against corruption and urged the government to focus more on the central issue of governance than fighting the “symptoms of corruption” as he put it.
Not for once has any headline captured the Bishop condemning the brazen mentality of greed in the looting of public property. With names exposed and figures poured out in public domain, not once has any word of encouragement been heard from the mouth of the Bishop urging the government to carry on in its quest to sanitise the system. Not a word of support. All that comes from the Bishop’s mouth, is to express doubt as to the government’s ability to solve Nigeria’s problems. In one very brazen utterance, one media outlet quoted the Bishop as saying: “I will advise that rather than chasing the ‘thieves’, the president-elect should address the issues of the misery and squalor that have become Nigeria’s lot, as development will raise the best army to fight corruption.” In other words, the Bishop had counseled the then president-elect to leave those who have already stolen, to God and simply go on governing as if nothing had happened.
It was at this point, in my humble opinion, that Buhari missed the golden opportunity to read the riot act to this errant Bishop and place him where belongs. A respectful church leader speaks out once and retreats and does not make activism out of his views like a politician. Check Father Mbaka.
Not for once has Kukah called on God to forgive those who stored billions in a private house. Not for once, has Kukah appealed to the conscience of the people who disbursed military budget amongst themselves while Boko Haram was killing innocent souls. Now, voices are claiming that Kukah himself is often agitated each time the fight against corruption makes headlines, and finds faults in the process because he too may have been a beneficiary of corruption under the immediate past dispensation. This insinuation alone would have been sufficient for an intelligent and honest adviser to retrace and recalibrate his steps. Not Kukah. Instead, he doubles down and complains about the commando and propagandist-style attack on corruption as if he was more pained by the sufferings of the apprehended than the sufferings of the masses at the receiving end.
Aside from having no expertise and scientific authority to tutor anyone on good governance, Mr. Kukah does not even find the need to attempt a delicate balancing act when audaciously dabbling into a field that is naturally not his home domain. The need to condemn the crime, praise efforts to heal the malaise before suggesting steps to perfect the process of combating the affliction, does not appeal to Kukah as a well-meaning diplomatic approach. That he thus ends up as being the nominal mouthpiece of people who society seeks to hold accountable for crimes against the populace seems lost on him in its entirety. Worse still, is the fact that he commits all these moral atrocities wearing and abusing the robe and moral authority of the catholic church. Will he be surprised if skeptics begin wonder what God he serves and what church he represents, where this God exists and what this church stands for?
Frisky Larr is the author of Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism, Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment and Lost In Democracy.