Renowned cleric, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah is in the eye of the storm. He happens to be in the news for the “wrong” reason in a long time, if not for the first time together with members of the National Peace Committee (NPC) which was his engineering in the period leading to the 2015 general elections. The committee became necessary at the time, to douse the high pitch tension of a possible breakdown of law and order necessitated by politicians of the two major contending political parties─ PDP/APC and their supporters through their bitter comments and recriminations which left the polity highly charged and seating on the keg of gunpowder.
Comprising of notable and eminent traditional rulers like the Sultan of Sokoto, Alh. Sa’ad Abubakar II, Cardinal John Onaiyekan ; president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor; and the primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh among others, the committee could be said to have done a great job with how they got warring factions at the time to sign a peace Accord in what came to be known as the Abuja Accord.
Chaired by the former Military leader, Alh. Abdulsalam Abubakar, the committee did not rest on its oars as it understood what was at stake, but rather worked indefatigably throughout the period consulting widely with interest groups within the country, members of the foreign observer team, the Security Chiefs and other relevant stakeholders on how to make their vision, a success. It sat with political parties recapping the need for them to accept election results or ventilate their grievances through conventional and legal means without inciting their supporters to disrupt the peace by taking the Law into their hands.
It needs no saying that their efforts led Former president Goodluck Jonathan to make that very important call that changed the course of history. A feat, unheard of anywhere in this part of the Atlantic when it became clear the result weren’t going to translate in his favour. That is, even before JEGA and Co. punctured their Casio Calculators.
That the headship of this committee, Abdulsalam Abubakar was seated together with GEJ at the State House when the phone call was made, is a pointer to the influence, and level of commitment of the NCP to see that the covenants reached at the Abuja Accord were not floundered and observed in the breach.
At the end of the day, Nigerians rejoiced. The international community lavished encomiums on us. We congratulated the new president and hailed Kukah’s team for a job well done in brokering peace at a time foreign elements predicted our nationhood has expired and must implode. Thanks to the NCP, an initiative of the Kaduna born cleric and Academic don who combines as the de-facto mouthpiece of the committee.
We have ran this post-mortem to paint a picture of what this body represents, to allow us an insight into their terms of reference when they assumed duties and its undeniable successes and achievements so that objective readers could at least come to a conscientious and fair conclusion when reconciling those with all the aspersions, calumny and mudslinging that is today (at least since their last week visit to PMP) been poured on this very resourceful body that once saved us from falling off the precipice but which many would hastily deny or belittle today, true to the nature of Man as an ungrateful beast.
Before continuing this effort, we must warn that we do not hold any brief for the Abdulsalam Abubakar led committee, nor do we reserve any sympathy for the administration of former president GEJ whom all these rabble rousing seems to be about.
On the contrary, as one who have followed the contributions of the revered cleric to national development; his commentaries over the years on national issues has since distinguished him from his ilk, endeared him to many Nigerians and attracted global attention on him, I feel constrained to call myself to “evidence” in speaking for a man whose type don’t come around every season.
Last week, precisely on the 11th of August, the committee (which has been re-named a Council) paid a visit to president Muhammadu Buhari behind Camera─a move which cynics and traducers claim was at the prodding or instance of former president GEJ to secure soft-landing for the Man in the probing of his administration by the present government which has made headlines in both print and online media platforms since PMB and co. returned from the United States. At the end of the closed-door session, spokesman of the committee, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah who seems to have stirred the hornet’s nest with his comments, told State House Correspondents the reasons for their visit. He said,
“I think what we are concerned about is process. It is no longer a military regime and under our existing laws, everybody is innocent until proven guilty. Again our own commitment is not to intimidate or fight anybody. The former president and what he did still remains spectacular and I think that president Buhari himself appreciates that. So our effort really is to make sure that the right thing is done”. He cleared the air, by stating that their meeting with the president wasn’t at anybody’s instance but part of their planned series of intervention, essentially aimed at getting feedback from the conduct of the last elections from the relevant stakeholders. “Anybody is free to come to our committee but President Jonathan never by telephone or other means talked to the committee. We went to see him, but that is after we had already seen members of the political parties and members of the Civil Society” harping that the meeting was not an intervention nor a hearing session.
No sooner had they left the State House, than were they harangued and called all sort of unprintable names─accusing Kukah and colleagues as having gone to visit PMB at the prodding of GEJ to secure amnesty for the man who would later visit the State House two days later. Some shadow organizations even called for the immediate probe of Bishop Kukah, challenging him to explain the source of the funds used in the building of an ongoing structure at a site in Sokoto State estimated to cost about a billion naira. Kukah is the butt of the vilest accusation for obvious reasons: his staunch critics for bad leadership and corruption over the years and also for being the mouthpiece of the committee.
Now it is true that PMB rode to power on the wings of an ascetic and anti-corruption stance to sanitize a nation that has since become a metaphor for financial recklessness where huge sums of money suddenly goes missing and business continues as usual if America have not confirmed the missing common wealth. A culture of sleaze and heist that has over time made the low and middle class Nigerians the greatest victim of the greed of an oligarchic and microscopic few prowling the corridors of power. But it is also true that in a democracy, there are laid down rules and procedures that must be followed to achieve a greater good and the compromising of these procedures in itself amount to a higher corruption and invitation to despotism.
Since naysayers have made the visit by the Abdulsalam led committee an exercise in securing clemency for former president GEJ, then we submit that Kukah’s statement were in order and in consonance with the major objective of his Peace Committee which is: avoiding any situation whereby people would resort to restiveness when their perceived heroes are made victim of political witch-hunt instead of a clear cut machinery of Justice set in motion against them.
After listening to Kukah’s address to State House Correspondents and also watch him the following day during the Sunrise Daily program on Channels TV, there is nothing I have found in the man’s comments that suggest he and his committee would rather PMB probes nobody. What any rightly thinking person not blighted by the catharsis of sentiments should make out of kukah’s position is: we have a lot on our hands to tackle, of which prosecuting suspected looters is one. We should not dissipate all our energy in probing allegedly corrupt public officers lest we run out of steam to address all the other multitude of problems more pressing and having direct bearing on the lives of the Common Nigerians out there. The media trial is just too much and is enough distraction in itself. Let us make our investigations and arraign suspects before courts of competent jurisdiction in accordance with democratic canons and the Rule of Law.
As an advisory body whose terms of reference, covers pre and post-election, I honestly don’t see the highhandedness in such remarks from a body whose mandate involves advising whoever emerges from the election the need not to carry along in ways where losers feel victimized.
The connotations of conspiracy read into it by APC voltrons and propaganda machine is by no means fair to the Kukah led committee; not after what they made possible but which many would easily rubbish ex post facto.
Talking about the need to thread within the ambit of the Rule of Law, the recent treatment of Felix Obuah, the former CSO to President GEJ and Col. Sambo Dasuki at the hands of the Daura led DSS, leaves a sour taste in the mouth and speaks volume of the gun-man approach to enforcement of law by the Buhari government so far. And if Kukah had reiterated the need to do things in accordance with recommended practice, what then is the fuss about? How does that suggest he was asking PMB to back off from probing those he would be doing? Are jesters not only crying wolf when there is none? Why cook up strange imaginations just to crucify Kukah for nothing? Forcing a bad name on the man just to victimize him in the court of Public opinion and bring him to disrepute among his admirers all over the world. And where is the wisdom in such?
It is true that we have suffered many years of financial misappropriation that no one can perfectly give a correct statistic of how much of our collective patrimony have been whisked away and purloined in so many shady deals and transaction; and Nigerians need to know, or at least see those whom they suspect to preside over the regimes of sleaze rot in jail for stealing what is collectively theirs. But in doing so, caution must not be flung to the winds. Recommended practice must not be jettisoned and established standards compromised. All of these, are what Kukah and friends re-echoed on that visit last week, but Cynical fellows, in their characteristic manner picked only what they wanted, and ran to town having no patient to consider the spirit of the committee’s position but rather visited opprobrium on them.
Of all the reactions trailing that visit, only one writer of all those whose reaction I have read, has thought out of the box (forgive the cliché)─ Simon Kolawole of The Cable. In is his yesterday’s Column titled: The Anti-Graft War and Rule of Law, he said: “If I were Buhari, I’d take note of Kukah’s comments on due process and ignore the bit about probe not being part of governance. I’d resolve to vigorously fight corruption with all my energy within the law of the land─so that my critics will find it hard to build a case of impunity and witch-hunting against me. Naturally, there will always be claims of witch-hunt however careful you are, but you can make it harder for your critics by dragging the net wide, by not sparing anyone, no matter the party affiliation and no matter their involvement in your campaign”.This presents a better line of thought and a clearer understanding of the Kukah sermon and not the bitter vituperations and sentimental stance of sanctimonious characters who see no good in anybody or group.
Our country is in dire straits no doubt. Our economy is on its knees. I no longer bother to check how the Naira is faring lately at the parallel market. Our graduates are frustrated. We have an army of employees who are not happy with their jobs due to poor welfare but yet cannot quit same. Our roads are death traps. Housing is a teething problem. Ours is a comatose situation in a nutshell. Some people’s wickedness and crass greed brought us in this quicksand. Should we leave them? No; even freedom it is said, comes at a price but in bringing them to justice we must carry along in such a way that would earn us commendations both at home and in the Diaspora, thereby, elevating our democratic credentials for doing a good thing by a bad means is also a wrong.
Corruption is defined by Law. Prosecution is also defined by Law. Law enforcement officers cannot be breaking the laws to enforce the law. This in essence, is the thrust of Kukah’s posturing and not any opportunistic or ulterior considerations as peddled here and there we dare say. Those who cannot wait to see GEJ, Diezani Alison Madueke and their friends languish in kirikiri should tarry a little while the Law does its bit.
Let us give Kukah and his peace Committee a benefit of doubt before we nail them to the stake. Even natural Justice preaches same. And I think it is only fair. Onu’kwube!
The writer is a Lawyer and Public Affairs Analyst.