Chairman of the Kukah Centre for Faith, Leadership and Public Policy Foundation and Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah has called on Northern Nigerian leaders to address issues of diversity and identity among the ethnic and religious nationalities in the region.
Speaking to Abuja Chronicle in his office, Bishop Kukah observed the need for northern religious, cultural and political leaders to open conversations on the search for a system to accommodate the diverse religious and cultural interests in the Northern states.
He insisted that, for such a diverse society, the challenge is always how to manage diversity. “And that means, you have to figure out how to manage the short people alongside tall people, the women and the men, the gifted and the ungifted, the brilliant and dumb.”.
“Essentially, what I am trying to say is that, this house (North) belongs to everybody; we don’t want anyone to feel left out. So if you don’t have the necessary management skills, what is going to happen is that, those who are brilliant will become arrogant and contemptuous of the not so brilliant ones.
“Now start a simple conversation in Nigeria; ask the Hausa man, Yoruba man and Igbo man to discuss quota system. The average southerner talks about quota in relation to lowering of standards; it implies that we, northerners cannot compete until the standard is lower to accommodate us.
“And I keep telling people; maybe we are prisoners of language, but the quota system is really about creating an environment each of everyone of us to recognize himself and feel a sense of belonging. That is that only way people will give you their best.
“So I worried that in governance in Nigeria, all these people from top to bottom, which of the presidents including the much-maligned General Sani Abacha for instance, will you say, in honesty, was not struggling to make this country great,?
“But look at us today, there is no Nigerian president that three or five Nigerians can be in consensus over the fact that he has tried. And my argument is that, we don’t manage diversity by mere glossy arrangements, where if you go the president’s office, there are the Fulani, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo or some other tribes, this may be an association of their friends. They have come in by contract, by business, just united by interest.”
The Bishop maintained that: “ The challenges in the North; I was hoping President Muhammadu Buhari would have the courage to sustain this conversation. And it has not happened. And I swear if we did not open this conversation on diversity and identity, it will have terrible consequences in the future.
“I wrote a letter to President Buhari when he personally wrote to me, where I reiterated that, it is a known fact that whether I agree or not, I am a northerner, but there was not that feeling of being one. With my education, pedigree and all the connections and contacts I have, there was not that feeling that I am a northerner.
“Constantly I travelled out of the country, I go to Christians community, any where I went, people cast their eyes pitifully on me due to negative stories they always heard. Here we are, our churches are burned, we were denied lands to build churches and we have not abused anyone, and I believe I am a citizen of the North and here I am not practicing a religious that is sorcery, but there is no single governor in the North that will come publicly and said we have applied for land and he approved it to build church, and yet were are
seen and believed to be part of the North.
“Meanwhile, you are signing lands for some people to build hotels, to build petrol stations, and I tell people that let’s not deceive ourselves, if we are indeed belong here. Boko Haram is a disaster, but we can trace the source.
“I don’t know who else that can open this conversation; we thought Buhari can do it, but it appear nobody will be able to hold this conversation. In 2003, when everybody was going around claiming that Buhari is a religious bigot up till 2014-15, the albatross he has hanging on his neck is that he is a religious bigot, the article I wrote is still there in the system. Even when Yar’adua won the election, and Buhari decided to go to court, and people said no he shouldn’t go to court, that both he and Yar’adua are from Katsina state and the North has gotten the presidency.
“Some even said that, in Islam it was not right for Buhari to challenge his fellow Muslim brother. My article is there the titled: Buhari and the return of Bayajidda, where I advised him to follow his case, indeed not only you are strengthening the system, but you were also showing that the survival of Nigeria is more important than ethnic or religious consideration.
“I usually engage His Eminence, the Sultan Saad Abubakar including many privileged northerners on this conversation, but it always a dead end. As grievous as I am over this issue, I came up with this idea of building hostels, one for female and one for male.
He postulated his thoughts thus: “What I am interested in is a space where younger generation can converge and engage themselves out on this thorny issue of diversity and identity. If you go to our university now, every Muslim believed he must be a member of Muslim Student Society of Nigeria (MSSN); every Christians must be a member of Christian Student Society of Nigeria (CSSN), no project in common apart from violent confrontations.
“We have graduated to camps, there is Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and Christians Association of Nigeria and there are many underlying issues that I don’t want to say, because my mum used to admonish me that tummy was not meant for food only. It almost as if impossible to say that Sultan will say something, and president of CAN will say he agreed, this is where we are now.
“This is where we are now. When people turn around and said that we are all detribalized, you know. Some weeks ago, I delivered a lecture as a keynote speaker for Professor John Azinge’s birthday at Yar’adua Centre, the topic was the search for detribalized Nigeria, but my title of my people is Tribalism in Nigeria: From detribalized to retribalised Nigeria, because, in sociological concept there is concept called retribalisation.
“For instance, let’s say you were employed at Channel TV, they knew you are a Northerner and you are competent, you know the job then you start jettisoning your Northern identity in order to belong and blend and then you finally surrendered everything and blended, then one day, it is time for you to become the director-general, and the system now does not tell you directly, but it makes you understand that you actually do not belong, the next thing is that, you cannot say you will quit, but you now realized that you have to go back to the bottom of the hill, either you start looking for a northern organization to move to.
“Now I am in a Bishop in Sokoto, and I usually sit with governor and discussed. I always said in all the 12 Northern states, from Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and all over, I cannot say I am been represented in the North. I have no representation if I am defining myself as a Christian. I can vote, but I cannot be voted for.
Meanwhile, it has not stocked anybody to say that we are together, Sokoto state governor would say, look there is no ethnic group, and everybody is an indigene. This is where managing diversity becomes important.
“This is really, what I am saying this is what leadership entails – courage. We need a courageous leader who would say this people are living with us. It took George Bush to say, look we cannot continue like that; he gave this top job to Collins Powel, who redefined how Americans saw black people. So I am saying to myself, these governors, we will shake hands, take tea together, I am a very privileged Nigerian, I have no reason to worry about, because there is no door in this country, where I will knock it, it won’t open. There is no emir or any leader where if I knock it won’t open.
“But it is precisely because of that I am saying let others experienced what I am experiencing. I cannot understand how I will say that in the North, for instance, you go to Kano, during Kwankwaso and Shekarau’s regimes as governors, occasionally you would find an Igbo business friend of theirs and make him special adviser, meanwhile what is he special advising about, perhaps building a social network, or building a business connections here and there, or the guy might have donated funds during campaign and those people are there, there are not representing anybody.
Bishop Kukah concluded by saying, “In the Iranian parliament, where Ayatollah Khomeini fought and brought revolution, in parliament, there are not less than 15 seats for Christians and Jews also. This is what I am saying. When I wrote to President Buhari, initially, the first letter I got from him was in 2011, so I said this letter, Buhari will write me I letter, and maybe he wrote it to select groups. So I
read it and keep it. In 2014, when he wants to contest again, he wrote another one to me, everything about the letter is original, his signature is original, and he wrote my name with a pen.
“So I replied him and I used that opportunity to say one or two things. I told him, where we are in Nigeria, I gave him two instances, I informed him that apartheid has just ended, but it is not black people that defeated the white people, it was actually white liberals, beginning from 1986, who realized that, although they were privileged on the system, but they knew it was not sustainable. They started their meetings in Senegal, before they started working back, because what they were thinking was what they were doing was actually treason in South Africa at that time.
“I said in United States, it was not black people, or moral rhetoric of Martin Luther King that ended the system, it took white liberals, led by John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Robert and Lyndon Johnson to say it is not possible. Kennedy manages to become president, take the step, but his life was cut short, but Lyndon Johnson moved on and actually signed the act into law. Where we are in Nigeria, believed me we would be on this road.”