Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah
Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah is the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese. In this interview with Mohammed Aminu, Kukah speaks on security situation in the country, endemic corruption and other sundry issues
What is your impression of the country at the attainment of 52 years of nationhood?
We have made progress despite the difficulties that the nation went through. The first problem we had in Nigeria was the tragic decision of the military to take away 30 years of our independence because had it been we were on the road like other countries during independence, the changes would have been tremendous. Thus, had it been we did not have such military interruption and instability, which coincided with massive upsurge of resources, Nigeria would have been one of the top economies in the world. I thank God that the military has left us and we are on the path now to doing new things despite the fact that we have missed several opportunities.
Are you saying that the military destroyed Nigeria?
It is not possible for us to quantify how much the military destroyed the foundations of democracy. Tragically, other countries that had been under military rule probably did things slightly differently but in the case of Nigeria, the greed of the military that led to successive coups destroyed the foundation of the military itself and pulled back democracy by so many years. And the military unfortunately did not have the capacity to unify the country by way of infrastructure.
Although the soldiers probably as individuals, might have been fantastic but they did not have the kind of time that was required to stay to build and complete projects. That is why we have massive spread of uncompleted and abandoned projects scattered everywhere. For instance, it took the Indians eight years to build and complete the Cancun Railways. The average project that you think that has a lasting effect probably requires at least eight years to complete it. Unfortunately, because of the greed of the elite and military, any person who shot himself into power, decided to abandon what the next person had started and that is why we have abandoned projects. So, had it been we had a sustained and uninterrupted democracy, things would have probably been different. The Indian Railway is literally on its own, it has a substantial workforce and is the highest employer of labour and it is a place where people want to go and work in India. For over a 40 year-period, Indian Railways never witnessed a workers’ strike. But if you look at Nigeria, tell me which profession has not been bastardised, whether it is military, bureaucracy or private sector.
So, we are literally in the period of rebuilding and Nigerians need a bit of patience. This road to democracy is irreversible, though it may have its problems. The only guarantee that we have now is to begin a process of saying that this man or woman has done well, let us give him a chance for a second term while this person has not done well and should be rejected in the next election. So, I think in the next 10 years, things would change and we will begin to see a different Nigeria based on certain level of continuity. It has to begin with the support of all of us.
Do you believe in rotational presidency and do you think it is a threat to the nation’s survival?
I don’t know what you mean by rotational presidency, but I think it is a rotation of greed. It is not a rotation of anybody trying to do good for Nigeria. We have got ourselves to a corner, which everybody believes it has to be their turn. If you see the kind of contract that is available to militants of yesterday and the kind of money people are throwing around, you will probably be tempted to say you are waiting for your turn when your own kinsman or person will be in power to have this kind of contract. And that is not the way a country should go; we cannot have a country that is rotating corruption and greed because in the long run, none of these things would impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.
I do not think you can pretend to be running a democracy based on the notion that it is the turn of this person or the other. Democracy is about competition and should be driven by ideas. Americans never say for example now, that it is time for a black person or a woman to be president.
So, we must not be tempted by extraordinary greedy politicians who never had any interest of transforming Nigeria beyond the fact that they want to have access to resources. I don’t think if the Igbo get the presidency tomorrow, they will actually change the living conditions of majority of the Igbo beyond the psychological feeling that their ethnic group is in power. I do not think President (Goodluck) Jonathan will necessarily impact the lives of majority of Niger Deltans beyond the few elite.
The clever politician will still make money and it doesn’t matter whether Abubakar or Kolawole is the president. I think what we are looking for is the best strategy that will guarantee the happiness of majority of Nigerians and it will not be by regional or rotational presidency but by Nigerians collectively choosing the best person for the nation.
Kukah... rotational presidency is greed informed