GUEST COLUMNIST BY Francis Damina
Kekong Bisong was my indefatigable metaphysics teacher back in the days at St Joseph Major Seminary, Ikot Ekpene. He is perhaps one of the finest wines that the Catholic church has brewed. In knowledge and in character, he is a good advertisement for the Church. He is not a scholar and a saint only, but also a controversialist. As a distinguished Philosophy Professor, he does not only fancy controversies; he creates them. On this, I can safely say that he is a brewery of controversies.
Whenever he went up to the pulpit to preach, the atmosphere became mute so much so that you could hear the musings of ants. Mute because, we knew he will disagree with even what Jesus had said in the Scriptures. But only to agree later. He does not only disagree for disagreeing sake; he disagrees so he will have reasons for agreeing. It was he who taught us how not to follow the crowd, subscribe to groupthink, belief system, conventional wisdom, etcetera, until when there’s a justification or a raison d’etre.
On one occasion when he came to the class, he told us a story to validate his point on what he called ‘necessary disobedience’. He started by asking who discovered the mouth of river Niger. Ofcourse, all of us said Mongo Park. He then went on to tell us of a boy who was preparing for a common entrance interview. Fortunately for him, his uncle is a member of the panel and had whispered to him that he will be asked “who discovered the mouth of river Niger.” Ofcourse, the conventional answer even among university professors is that Mongo Park did.
The day came and the boy was again reminded of the name Mongo Park before he departed home to the venue. The interview had started and it was his turn to answer questions. His uncle’s eyes were all on him when a panelist asked: “Who discovered the mouth of river Niger?” “My grandfather”, the boy answered. The uncle was so disappointed as the boy keeps repeating” my grandfather.” A member of the panel then went further to ask him why he thinks the answer is his grandfather. He replied: “My grandfather was a fisherman who lived around New Bussa long before Mongo Park arrived. He definitely knew about the mouth of the river before Park. Only that he was not literate enough to tell the story.”
All the panelists were amazed and clapped for the boy. This is what Kekong Bisong called necessary disobedience. For him, the work of the teacher is not to produce conventional ideas and then expect the students to reproduce same at examinations. It is rather to train the mind in challenging beliefs and conventions so as to ascertain what is true and real. This was also what Dr. Bala Usman advocated for when he called for a review of our syllabus to reflect our situation. May God bless his soul!
The ‘partisan behavior’ of some clerics during the 2023 elections, have now forced me into a recollection of Kekong’s philosophy in thinking that these behaviors, inspite of the provision in most Churches, that Priests ought not to take part in partisan politics, could at best, only qualify as holy or necessary disobedience. Apart from my personal experience, a large number of people had called to either complain about not knowing the direction to follow because of the discordant political prescriptions made by their pastors on the party to vote for, or that they and their priests belonged to different political parties and hardly see eye to eye.
The situation chilled me to the marrow because, almost, if not all churches, had representatives in the unfortunate tournament of choosing for, instead of guiding their followers on how to choose their leaders. Even the Catholic Church that used to be our bastion, exemplar, and parapet of hope owing to its rich traditions on Church-State relations, plus the provision of the Canon law that priests should not take part in partisan politics, had some of her Priests involved in this exercise of unprofessional, uncritical and seemingly embarrassing prescription of our present paralysis. What is evident is that, some church leaders, baffled by the development, came out to speak.
The Catholic Bishop of Aba, out of many other church leaders, for instance, said in a statement: “My attention has severally been called to publications and allegations of partisan engagement by priests and leaders of various groups within Aba Diocese but I carefully elected to study the situation from behind the scenes to understand the motivations of the individuals, priests and lay faithful, involved and what exactly they intend to achieve by dragging the Church and my good self into the murky waters of partisan politics.
“I find it particularly shocking that the individuals who are actively tarnishing the image of the Church in several parishes and communities in the name of active partisanship claim to be acting with my imprimatur. They feed unsuspecting faithful in various parishes and groups with lies and had become very much emboldened in the last few weeks, perhaps assuming my silence to mean acquiescence.”
The Bishop then cautioned: “The Church has left its doors open to all participants in the 2023 electioneering season to come sell their programmes to the people of God. We have maintained this informed position since the beginning of the campaigns because the Church cannot as a true Mother embrace one or few of its children and throw the others into the cold. We have welcomed everyone into our fold while allowing the voters the freedom to make the ultimate choice at the polls.”
That was Rev. Prof. A. N. Echema – the Catholic Bishop of Aba Diocese. After reading the statement, a friend said to me, had the Bishop seen what happened in Southern Kaduna, he would had called for a declaration of a State of emergency to checkmate clerical partisanship. But on my own steam, I remarked: “Apart from the fact that I was not happy with the way and manner some of the clerics literally bullied their followers into voting in certain patterns aimed at changing the current leadership and the nest that hatched it, I prophesied that there’s likely going to be a church-going apathy after the elections. I say this because, the positions these clerics took, excluded most of their sons and daughters whose dreams, candidates, party and interests didn’t tally; thereby denying them the warmth of the Church’s motherhood for all. But I thought we had gone beyond the issue of party and are now talking about candidates.
Yes, as Bishop Echema observed: “While admitting that the Church can guide the decision of the voters within its fold at very critical points, it must be emphasised that in making that decision, the Church is essentially concerned with the personal attributes of the leaders and their vision for the society. Membership of any group or society has never formed the basis of the Church’s approval or disapproval of any political leader.”
Now that the elections are over and it is an open secret that most Christian clerics in Kaduna state, out of deep angst, pointed to the direction of the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate, Isa Ashiru, who, according to the INEC, lost to Uba Sani of the APC, it is important to re-echo the words of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah at the funeral of Yakowa to the governor-elect, Uba Sani.
Kukah said to the then deputy governor and Yakowa’s successor, Ramalan Yero: “To our new Governor, Archbishop Ndangoso and I listened to all your beautiful testimony. The world looks up to you never to be tempted by the whispers of the wicked whose devilish and selfish hold on power has held our society down. Do not be tempted to think that the Muslims have taken what the wicked have presented as a prize for only Muslims. You have taken over the steering wheel and must obey and respect all road signs so that we can arrive at the destination that we have set for ourselves. “
“Balancing our dreams together “, Kukah continued, “can make ours one of the greatest States in Nigeria. Let us reverse the divisive, ugly and pernicious past which was constructed by men who had the hearts of apartheid. By pursuing the politics of exclusion, these men and women merely destroyed both the noble Faith of Islam and the North that its founders dreamt of. I want to assure you that there are millions of Yakowas outside the Muslim community, and that the monopoly of power by one section or even one gender or generation denies our people a future. This is what South Africa realized. It is what the Americans have now realized in Obama.”
To my mind, the necessary disobedience by the Christian clergy in especially Southern Kaduna should not be interpreted and seen as a creedal hatred against the identity of the governor-elect since the candidate whose coming they heralded doesn’t share the same Faith with them. It should rather be seen as an angry yearning for a change from an APC that could not only manage our rainbow collection of diversities, but also implemeneted, even on the eve of the elections, some uncritical policies that made some of its governors went to court.
Finally, did the clerics stray? No! It was simply a situational intervention; a necessary clerical disobedience to their code of conduct aimed at saying enough is enough. A contumacy that was entered into out of love. They complain that government didn’t manage diversity well; government implemented uncritical policies; the body language of government has not shown that the defense of human life is the essence of democracy. Therefore, they are ready for a new order even if to be headed by the red goat economist. God is the Giver of Power. May He bless our governor-elect and all our leaders with the wisdom to reunite us. Out of the ashes of despondency, and the cynicism of the vulnerable, shall arise a great nation. May God bless our state and nation.
Damina wrote from Holy Family Catholic Church Gidan Bako and can be reached via email@example.com