Call him a politician, social commentator, cleric or an activist, you are right. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah is a journalist’s delight anytime, any day. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bishop Kukah is a detribalised Nigerian whose contribution to nation-building has spanned over three decades.
In this special interview to commemorate the official launch of Kukah Research Centre in Abuja, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, spoke on a number of issues. He explained how the centre will be of immense help to the government and the governed, as well as serve as reference point in future political endeavors.
He equally spoke on the biting Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, 2015 general elections, the role of the fourth estate of the realm in nation-building, among other issues. Excerpts.
You are about to launch your research institute. Nigerians might want to know what informed your decision to set it up in the first place.
That is a good question. It is a question I have no difficulty in answering. I am aware that this kind of thing will generate a lot of interest and excitement. The question is, why me. People are used to what they expect of a priest or a bishop. I think in the last 20 years, I have functioned slightly in the minds of some people, slightly outside the box. So, this is really a result of my experiences and reflections about Nigeria and its place in the world. It is also about the feeling that we need to have much more coherent platform through which we can deepen democracy and reposition our country.
In setting it up, did you consider what many Nigerians will assume? Everything is always looked at from the lens of politics. You recall that people have always accused you of being too political. Did all these things cross your mind while setting up this institute?
They have all crossed my mind. Actually, I consider that a plus. It is important because, when I look at the one who is our model, Jesus Christ himself, people called Him an agitator. They called Him all kinds of names. Those names, in my view, are also evident of the fact that people recognised that something is happening. I appreciate it when people say that I am a politician or political. As you know, politics is in our DNA as human beings. As you know, when you are in the church, you cannot, but be political. I am not a politician. Like in Nigeria, so many of us love football. But we are not necessarily footballers. A lot of us, including myself sing. But I am not a musician. I do not know why people credit me with being. A politician. I appreciate what people are saying and I believe with time, people will also begin to understand that the affair of this country is too serious to be left in the hands of politicians. Whether you are a priest, a bishop or a farmer, there is no separate market for us. We need to be genuinely concerned about how this country is governed. An aggregate of all these sentiments is what people call good governance. Good governance is not something that drops from the intelligence of the politician. That is what this platform is trying to do. You can be a politicians yet you do not know anything. I was called and told that the Holy Father had appointed me as a bishop. It was not a job that I applied for. I woke up the next day and discovered that nothing had changed. It will be stupid that because you are in office, you will necessarily know everything. I think greatness in leadership entails the ability to create listening devices. If you like to listen to only your ministers, commissioners, the people you have appointed and sycophants who are near you because you are the oxygen of their own survival they will never tell you what you need to know. Like everywhere else in the world, institutions like these are responsible for the interrogating powers and also help to offer alternative suggestions. This is why this is so important to me.
Will it be squarely focused on political leadership?
No, we will do everything that concerns our survival as human beings. For me, this is not something I am going to run myself. My interest is because of what I have experienced in Nigeria. I come from a very insignificant place in Nigeria. But God has been extra faithful to me. I have burst far beyond my weight. For me, increasingly, it has humbled me. I have also had the kind of experiences very few people in my position may have experienced. There is hardly any part of this country where I cannot claim that I have friends. If I do not know people, people know me. I take that responsibility rather seriously. My responsibility is to lend them my voice. For me, it is just providing a door through which younger people like you can test those ideas. I see this as my giving back to the country what it has done for me. This is purely because I think I am extremely lucky. If I pick up my phone and call the Sultan, he will pick and answer me. If I say to the president of Nigeria that I will like to talk to him, he will answer me. If I say to the governors of Adamawa and Zamfara that I want to speak with them, they will answer me. It is not something to be proud of. It is something that humbles me. I like to see myself as an outlet. Yes, I will deal with political issues, but only to the extent where it helps to give voice and credence to the society. We are designing a programme that will make young people to begin to have an idea of what leadership is all about. If you go to many secondary schools and ask an average student what he would want to be, he will tell you he wants to be a footballer or a governor. The processes are not important to them. This institute will create a space for people to exercise their intellectual gifts.
Giving this your wide acceptance, would it be out of place to venture into politics?
Well, for more than 20 years, I have heard such statements. People speak to me about them and I laugh. They mean well. But for me, its like Jesus and Peter. Jesus was clear why He had to go to Jerusalem and Peter told Him this was the way. For the first time in the history of the entire New Testament, Jesus suffered a loss of memory. He did not call Peter by name. He just said get behind me satan. For me, that clarity of vision was so important. I will like to say that I appreciate those who think that I should aspire for political offices in Nigeria. Sometimes when I talk, people tell me that I speak well. But speaking well is not the same as governing well. Writing well is not the same as governing well. Finally and more importantly is that people appreciate what I am doing because I am a priest. I open every newspaper in Nigeria and I see extra-ordinary gifts in writing. I know what good writing is. I standby and wish I could write like that. The reason why people take seriously what I write is because I am a priest. I think if I were a professor, people would not have taken me more seriously. I do not think I can participate in politics the way and manner you are talking about, without betraying the gift God has given to me. For me, I am primarily a priest. I will remain a priest. It is something nobody can take away from me. Unless I am stupid enough to surrender it. Like I used to joke with Obasanjo. I will say if I am president, I will be a president for four years or eight years. But this one is for life. I do not have to bribe anybody to give me third term. This is for life. I think only a fool can trade up this gift for anything. It is not something I have paid any attention to.
You have related closely with political leaders. How have you been able to do that without hurting your own image? Secondly, from what you have gathered from these political leaders, what would you say is the problem of leadership in Nigeria?
Thank you. It is a different matter if you heard about me and decided that you want to befriend me. You can do that by sending me a card or getting my number and then greet me. Increasingly, we can become friends. You might have your own motive as to why you are doing this. It maybe that you are getting close to me so that I can help you do something. There is Nigerian president I have called to say that I want to come and see you. I met them variously as a result of their own interest. As I say, I really do not want to be misunderstood. It is not something I say as a boast. Its part of God’s graciousness to me. President Shehu Shagari is the first Nigerian president that I met. Right to President Goodluck Jonathan, they were strangers. Each and everyone of these people are extra-ordinary good people, trying to do their best, within the circumstances they found themselves. The only leader I never sat one on one with is late Sani Abacha. Not because he did not ask me. But with hindsight, maybe I should have given him a chance. Strange as it may sound, after Oputa panel, there were so many things I realised. I have no intention of opening up a new conversation. Abacha had some legacies of things he did. He was unlucky to have hurt the wrong people. If he had annulled the election of one Hausa man, there would be no newspaper to report it. The noise making would have stopped. Everybody would have said it was the way God wanted it. I am saying this because it is another reason why I feel this centre is important. I have met a lot of extra-ordinary good people who are governors and presidents. A good number of them have ended up, either allowing bad things to be done or not having the other view to be able say that things should not be done in a certain way. My hope is that, this centre will serve as a place where a president of Nigeria will call Kukah Centre and say he is looking for somebody to be minister of aviation or director-general of an agency. I want to push this nation to a point where everyone will be proud to be called a Nigerian. Not to say you are an Igbo man, although there is nothing wrong with that. You are going to get a job in Nigeria simply because you are an Ijaw man or a Tiv man. Or that you have connections. The connections that will be needed will be the kind of qualifications that you have. I think that can then take us away from the half-hazard nature of what has been governance in Nigeria. One of the tragedies of our country is not the absence of good people. There are good people. Too many of them are doing terrible things because of the method of recruitment into leadership positions in Nigeria. I have a friend who was doing a programme with me in Harvard. We are still in touch. He is convinced that one day he would become the president of America. I can see the way he has programmed his life since I met him 10 to 25 years ago. I can see that he is making different policy choices. He knew that if you want to be president of America, it will not be possible if you did not go to Yale, Princeton or Harvard. I know when he came to Harvard, it was to compensate for that. I am saying that we should get to a point where I can pick up my phone and say this is what I know I can do. Ask for my paper and not my name or where I am from. There are people who are finding themselves in Abuja as a result of influwhat has been governance in Nigeria. One of ence peddling. When we have this kind of input, the output is the chaos we find ourselves now. I am not expecting that any of these things will take place in my life time. But my plan is to put these things in place. I remember I was in Houston, Texas when George Bush was elected president. During the news, the newscaster said that the White House website had downloaded about 600 CVs. Those were CVs coming from think tanks. When a republican comes to power, you know where the think tanks will trigger a reaction. If a democrat comes to power, you will know that people in John F. Kennedy’s School of Governance or Harvard will get moving. My idea is that, we can get to a point where when a president comes to power, he can listen to Kukah Centre. Its not about distributing favours. We need to bring in people that have the capacity into leadership positions. That is the only way we can move gradually away from tribalism, ethnicity and all these things about religion.
We have had a quota system and federal character in place. Would you say they have not helped us?
Let us be realistic. Let me use a word without being insultive. I think in Nigeria, we are in a semi-primitive level of modernity. That comes with a baggage. If you are carrying these baggage of people with no functional system of education, it has consequences. It is like driving a trailer. When you get to the roundabout, you cannot drive as if you are driving a saloon car. Navigating that bend has its implication. We have ethnic groups, but those identities should not weigh us down. That is what we are having in Nigeria today. This was the substance of my presentation in Uyo few days ago. Even federal institutions can no longer be federal. All the federal universities in Nigeria have become little regional territories. If you are not an Igbo man, you cannot hope to become the VC of UNN. If you are not a Yoruba man, you cannot hope to become the VC of UI. If you are not a Muslim or an Hausa man, you cannot hope to be VC of Bayero.
It has never happened. ABU is closing in too. I made a point in the paper that when you name a university after a local son, what it means is that you are carrying federal money and putting it in a small community. Only four years ago, Professor Andrew Nok thought he deserved to be the VC of ABU. I got the score sheet. He got 87 per cent. The next person got about 67. He was way ahead of everybody. He was not appointed. The chairman of the panel was Adamu Chiroma. He finally walked away. But they could not appoint him. It is not because he did not qualify. By the end of that year, Andrew Nok was already receiving international awards for his earth-breaking research. Last year, he won Nigeria’s a Order of Merit Award. Yet, he did not qualify to become a VC. Are you going to tell me that religion did not have anything to do with it? This is a federal institution. The point I am making is that it is not peculiar to ABU.
There is nothing wrong with federal character. Those things are supposed to be mirrors, reflecting our strength and weaknesses. They are not necessarily to lower the standard so others can come in. All these things have been so bastardised. The reason why I am angry is that it is totally incomprehensible that the federal government will take our money to invest in a school and now they have been turned into little fiefdoms. That is what federal universities and agencies have become in Nigeria. It is connection and not qualification that is now important. Everywhere in the world, people make attempts, but those attempts must be matched with competence. But here in Nigeria, the system is almost irreversible. A gentle man told me recently that he went to a university and spent over two hours. He said every office he visited, people did not speak English.
Do you agree with those who have opined that the political leadership in the country is depreciating everyday?
Let me tell you a little story about a woman who got married newly. She went to the window and saw another poor woman who had washed her clothes and dry. She said to her husband to look at the dirty clothes the woman is drying outside. She asked if they did not have a washing machine. The husband looked and did not say anything. They were newly married and she was extremely lazy. Two days later, she said the same thing to the husband. So, the next day, the husband decided to do something and then took his wife to look through the window. She concluded that the poor woman must have a washing machine. The husband told her he was the one who cleaned the window. What it meant was that she was too lazy to clean the window. She assumed that the things outside were not clean. We are getting more and more educated. As we are getting more educated, we are having. breakfast in London, medical treatment in India and having dinner in Paris and then heading back home the next day. Nigerians are traveling. And because of the revolution, we are becoming increasingly impatient. So, even the good things we see in Nigeria are still not good enough. If you just returned from New York and rove on a six lane, you will begin to ask what is wrong with Nigeria. Meanwhile, the people in my village are celebrating a little road tarred. The point I am making is that, the depreciation in leadership is happening at a time we are becoming increasingly impatient. It is all good for the society. When we were pounding yam, it was okay and then the yam pounder came.
Is it sweeter now? The point I am making now is that, our capacity to interrogate leadership has increased. Nigeria has over one hundred newspapers. There is nowhere in Africa that has the kind of media outlets that we have. They are also aware of what is happening elsewhere. Rather unfortunately, the followers are better informed. I see a lot of people who are in public office and they have five of eight newspapers which they never read. People will tell you that they returned from work and did not have time to watch the news. Ordinary people are getting well informed. I remember a bomb blast in Abuja and I was sitting with a big man. I made a reference to it and he did not even know something had happened. Our hope is that we can serve as a voice of hope and mediation. Being upset should translate into harder work for us.
President Jonathan cannot be sitting down and be responsible for everything that is happening in Nigeria. Elsewhere, people really do not think much about Obama. But here, we are concerned. Whether you get a school or not is tied to whom you know in government. I am saying that we should renew our commitment to democracy and believe that things can get better. That is why I am saying that when we have people who have the intellectual capacity, we will not have issues. I remember when Obasanjo was president, almost every minister bought a copy of Lin Kwan Yu book. They were thinking we could photocopy Singapore, but it does not work that way. But the Singaporean leader believed that there had to be intellectual input into politics. Politics is not just the province of those who do not have anything else to do in life. If we can have people who have the knowledge and the power, we will not have problem as to how we can govern our country.
Another argument is that we cannot get to this point without having a leadership that is focused. People have argued that the current leadership does not have the capacity to take the country to where we want to be…
This is why it is a democracy. That is the beauty of democracy. Democracy is not like the Super Eagles. Jonathan is not like Stephen Keshi who can decide who will play or who will not play. We have a chance. If you think Jonathan is not doing a good job, democracy gives you another opportunity. Like the communists used to say, the tragedy with democracy is that, when you make a mistake, it takes you four years to correct it. Still, there is a choice. If you believe you can do the job better than Jonathan, drop your pen and prepare yourself. You do not have to join the PDP or APC. They are too expensive and the seats have already been taken. But there is provision for independent candidacy. There is no need sitting here and lamenting. If you say leadership is not focused, how do you define focus? We spend enough time saying Jonathan is clueless. Well, every evidence seems to suggest that the situation is completely different. The things we have seen as good or bad suggest that you cannot be the president of a country like Nigeria and be clueless. All I am saying is, if Nigerians feel Jonathan is doing a good job, they should say. If they feel otherwise, time to stop complaining will son end. In another two months, we will cast our votes. This is what we should encourage ordinary people to do. This is what democracy is all about. Go back to history. Is it Jesus or Mohammed? Which leader will be in power and everybody will approve of your work? It is not possible. Even you, with your wife and children, there may be no consensus. What your wife thinks about you is not the same with what your children think about you. As a priest, if I say to your wife, “this your husband is a good man. I want him to be the leader of our parish council.” I am sure she will just look at me and conclude that I do not know what she is going through. Those of us who are here think being a president is easy. I will not call his name. But one of the serving ministers complained to me that being a minister is hard and he is tired. But he said is praying to God not to take the job from him.
The complain of many Nigerians is that their votes do not always count…
Oga, let us address some of the things that have happened. They are measurable. There are tools for measuring the amount of progress the country is making. That is why when you travel on the road, you know how far Kaduna is. If you are moving and you keep complaining that Kaduna is too far, you might never get there. A few things have happened. I hope I am not deluded. When I listen to Professor Attahiru Jega, he does not have a magic wand. But he was able to publicly admit that they conducted 2011 elections within eight months. He said with four years, they can have enough time to prepare. If the Germans believed that Brazil was hosting the World Cup and therefore there was no need to work hard, they would not have banged in 7 goals. If you are going for a contest, you have to make up your mind. Its like David and Goliath. The truth of the matter is that a number of good things have happened. I am speaking for INEC. The kinds of thing I heard Jega say are great innovations. Our minds are still stuck with 2012 elections. It cannot be so. We have had flashes. This talk about peoples not being relevant is becoming a useless mantra. Where people have stood to defend what they believe in, the results have been different. But those of us who prefer to watch football on the day of elections and those who are out there to vote want different things. The elites will be the ones to drink champaign when a winner emerges. My conviction is that we should have confidence in our democracy. One of the greatest threats to our elections was snatching of ballot boxes. Jega has said that will not be possible. He said the ballot papers that will be used in Kogi State will be different from those that will be used in Kaduna State. Within the same state, it will be different. The rules of the game has changed. We must educate ourselves.
2015 elections are just weeks away. Do you think religion and geographical sentiments will influence the outcome? Do you think we are moving in the right direction?
We are not doing the same things. President Jonathan, being where he is, is a function of many factors. When I wrote an article about this, I was subjected to a completely different interpretation. Whether Jonathan is competent or not is not what we are talking about. If you contrast his emergence with our traditional way of how you can become president it is strange. You need to have a lot of money. You need to have Islam or Christianity behind you. Now, you need to have a political party and oil the machine. Jonathan comes from nowhere. He worked from the beginning to the end without paying a penny. He never addressed any campaign. Someone jokingly told me what Yar’Adua said when he was asked to become president. He told them he did not have the strength. They told him to just shout PDP during campaigns and that they would do the rest. I am saying that Jonathan becoming president is a metaphor. I am not saying It will happen tomorrow. The doors of opportunities are never closed. Who is going to be president of Nigeria tomorrow, we do not know. We never know. All the guys with the deep pockets have always never gotten the prize. As a priest, that is how I look at it. In 2011, we had no idea. I believe everybody needs to work hard. This is a country that has potentials for the greatest surprises. We never appreciate the level of surprises God continues to manifest in Nigeria. Let me tell you the truth.
Go back and produce the record of voting in Nigeria and tell me which president has been voted for massively by Muslims in the way and manner we suggest? Shagari did not win in Kano. He did not win in Borno as it was then. Is our poor reading of what we consider to be northern Niin Kano. He did not win in Borno geria. The political choices from the 19th century between Kano and Katsina have never been the same. All these groups you are talking about fought different kinds of wars. All these wars have not ended. Islam as a religion has had a caliphate which is an architect of power. Muslims in northern Nigeria have never thought the same way. Never! Katsina has never ever voted in the same direction with Sokoto or Kano. Our poor reading of these maps is what accounts for our obsession.
If you talk about Christians, what do you need to become the governor of Anambra? Is it that you are Anglican or Catholic? There are no Muslims in Anambra. Elections will always be determined by different types of outcomes. There is always an aggregate of factors. I have never believed in this nonsense. I heard Obasanjo saying if a president is a Christian, his deputy must be a Muslim. Again, this is one of the false things we have mounted on our table. That is why this country is not working. Nigerians have suggested very clearly that if you give them the chance to decide, they have no issues with some of these things. If you want the Christian community to give you a candidate, it has to be decided by CAN. If you want the Muslim community to give you a candidate, it has to be decided by JNI or Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. If PDP decides to pitch two people, they are not sent there by their faith. You cannot inherit a faith by just getting to power. Again, we are gradually diminishing our sense of national identity. As I say, Christians have demonstrated that these things do not matter. That was why we embraced Buhari and Idiaghon. It is an open question whether if Muslims have a choice between Christians, will they accept that? This is the level you get to when you allow two identifies to congeal. It took centuries for them to be broken in America. Being white was not enough. You had to be white and a Protestant. But the dynamics have thrown certain things up. It is amazing that in America, you have two unlikely historical people to ever govern America. That is a Catholic and a black person. I wrote about Obama. There are certain things God does. All you have to do is sit done and watch. The fact that Obama will ever become a president and pick Biden as his vice, a Catholic is amazing. It tells you that the doors have not closed for us. It tells you that those of us of younger generation must begin to think creatively and differently from these talks about regionalism and ethnicity.
Bombs are still going off and killing people. We are not sure where the next one will go off. What is your view about insurgency ravaging the country? More importantly, can you tell us how you have been able to preside over the Catholic Church in core northern Nigeria?
Religion and politics is the area of my research interest. So, I do not claim that I understand the issues, but that was what my Ph.D thesis was centred on. When I say that this thing is not about religion, some extreme wings of CAN will abuse me. This is how I dress in Sokoto. I enter the plane in Sokoto dressed as a priest. There is hardly any Muslim that meets me in the plane that does not give me the respect which is my due. In fact, about three weeks ago, I met someone from Kebbi who lives in Sokoto inside the plane. He said to me jokingly that they should stop calling me Catholic Bishop of Sokoto. He said they should just call me Bishop of Sokoto. He was joking, but what I am saying is that, if there were problems of religion between Christians and Muslims, will I be walking on the streets of Sokoto? Will I leave the house of the Sultan at midnight and find my way back home? This is my third year in Sokoto. Last year, we organised a procession and it took us three hours to walk around the streets of Sokoto. This year, we did another procession about the Chibok girls. When Madala happened, I said it is an evidence that we have got a virus of evil. I said we should not say those behind it were a bunch of Muslims trying to kill Christians. They bombed a church. But I did not see that as sufficient reason to say that Muslims were behind it. They are just a bunch of evil people. The last time, I was speaking to Sanusi. I felt he demonstrated am uncommon courage to have gone back to the same debris to pray after the bomb attack in Kano.we cannot surrender the space. We are like the friends of Job. When they heard of what happened to him, they said he was a good man. They went there to find out. If you read the book of Job, it tells us that when they arrived at his house and saw the condition he was in, they spent seven days and did not utters a single word. They saw something that was bigger than them. This Boko Haram thing is something that is bigger than us. We are trusting in God to use the efficacy of human beings and bring this thing to an end. We must confront this evil together. Some of us will do it in different ways. The least we should do is to blame the president or any governor. It maybe about politics, but these people are still Nigerians. It also talks about how Muslims have presented Islam? These are issues we can discuss and that is why the centre is important.
We need a space where we can have this kind of conversation. Elsewhere, soldiers are fighting. Some of our soldiers have gone to the best places in the United States where their soldiers train. Being a soldier is an intellectual thing. These guys should be able to speak as many languages as possible. It is only here in Nigeria that if you get to high office, you collect people from your village. They bring you medicine men. During Oputa panel, the military intelligence were patronising the same babalawo the coup plotters were patronising. In many parts of Africa, people are busy, locking themselves up and being held hostage by false prophets and dubious characters. I am sure you have heard of cows being buried in government houses across the country. We cannot be doing this and expect a positive outcome. The negative forces of our medieval pasts are pulling us back. We do not have the scientific expertise to bend in that direction. This thing is no longer about guess work. Like I said to some of my European friends, they should stop harassing us that religious leaders should gather and have a meeting. Do you have David Cameron asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to sit down and have a meeting with security agents? What is our business? We do not have a police force. We do not draw from the security budget. These are pure issues about law and order. We are going through a rough path. We must hang on together, otherwise, there will be crisis.
From your reading of the whole thing, do you see any sense in some claims that it is a tool used by political leaders from the north to frustrate Jonathan’s government…
Whoever had that thought should have a reason to explain why the emirs from the north are suffering what they are suffering. The person should answer whether it was a bunch of Christians that were praying in Kano. An emir told me recently that it is insane for people to be praying and they be killed by terrorists. Then they will turn around and be shouting Allahu Akbar. And I said this is what Christians have been going through for the last 30 years. This is why I said, when all these things are over, it calls for s critical retrospection by all Muslim communities in northern Nigeria to truly confront itself. The caliphate maybe emotional, but the dynamics have changed. We cannot continue with this whole things about suspicion. I have some Muslim friends who have come to me to complain about some of the things imams are teaching about Christians. The same way, there are priests who are saying things about Islam. This is what is fuelling our bitterness. We need a new narrative. But a narrative that is clearer. We also need stronger laws. What the government continues to do is by using proxies. They are using middlemen who are traditional rulers and clergymen. We are not state actors. None of use has any responsibility. The government of Nigeria must address the problems of Nigeria frantically. Like I said, we can exalt our people, but only laws can work. In many parts of Nigeria, we have fought apartheid and racism. When northern Islam tells me that James cannot marry Ismaelu and that Islam does not say so, I do not know the Qur’an they are reading. These are some of the principles that are forcing people into largesse of prejudice. You need an incubator to process the hatred that produced Boko Haram. In my view, we had massive railway lines across this country, will there be Boko Haram? My answer is more no than yes. An average young man in Nigeria who is 30 or 40 can say he has never known a Nigeria that was not governed by Muslims or a northerner. In America, when Obama was elected, the Tea Party emerged. The party is like Boko Haram. The difference is that, they did not kill people. It was an expression of bitterness as a result of something they had never seen before. This is why I think this centre is very important. We need to begin to process these ideas. We had an emir the other day at an event we organised recently. When he spoke, everybody stood and listened. There is nobody who is benefitting from this situation.
Is the centre going to play a major role during the 2015 general elections?
In the build-up to the elections, we are hoping that we can have some activities. There is programme coming up where we will pitch Fashola of Lagos state and Lamido of Jigawa. Once we get this out of the way, we can organise another seminar. We hope to be able to organise those kinds of fora. In the coming years, we hope to develop a model that will help people to interrogate their prospective leaders, rather than the village chief calling people to the village square. I think going forward, once we can create those kinds of template, we can replicate them by developing a training programme that gradually empowers people. It is when people are empowered that leaders begin to tremble before them. Right now, we are the ones trembling before the leaders. It should not be so.
Sometimes, when we meet clerics, we always want to ask them whether they actually hear from God about the future. From your vintage position as a cleric, how do you see the 2015 elections? Will it be violent?
Unfortunately, I do not fall within the category of prophets that you are talking about. If I were, I would not be living in this kind of place or be buying tickets to travel to Sokoto. I am not a seer. On a more serious level, I hold the the media responsible for over-dramatising the perceived notion that this country is about to break up. I think we need to be a bit more diligent. Technology has made everything easy. You can sit down in one place and write a report about Nigeria. I see it constantly in international newspapers and magazines. We need to decide what we want. As a married couple, you either want to stay married or not. If you want to stay married, no matter the external influence, you are going to stay married. But if yo have already created the impression that you do not want to stay married, you only need an external interference to break it up. The issue of what will happen tomorrow belongs to God. God has not given that responsibility to anybody. One day, I was in a hotel and one of these pastors that camp in the hotel came to me and said God has given him for me. Around 11pm, he called me and said God had spoken to him and he wanted to come to my room. I told him I was a Catholic priest and that God had already spoken to me. I put down my phone. There are too many people preying on our fears and anxiety. The business of whether Nigeria will stay together is the business of Nigeria. If they decide that they want to stay together.
They will stay together. Let us not confuse the noise of the greedy few in Abuja as evidence that people want to go their separate ways. When you leave here and go to the motor parks, do you see anything to show that Nigerians want to break up? I went to Owerri last year, there was serious traffic and I asked the driver why there was traffic, the driver is an Igbo man and lives in Owerri. The way he answered me was shocking. He said “it is these our brothers from the north who have come to worry us here.” He was talking about Owerri people living in the north who have come for the festive period. The country is not as bad as the media wants to present it. Frankly, I am hoping that public officers in Nigeria will begin to trust the Nigerian media. A British journalist who wrote his biography said he had about 25 lunches with Tony Blair when he was editor. You cannot be president of America and not have lunch with editor of New York Times or Wall Street Journal. It is not possible. It is only in Nigeria that office holders think every journalist is looking for transport money. I think it is lack of this effective communication that has created this sense of hostility. I am saying it publicly. If you are a foreign affairs correspondent for the Times of London, MI5 will talk to you. A lot of these guys want to talk to you because of the quality of your analysis. The media should be the window to the world. It is not just about having a presidential chat. I think there are influential media people the president should pick up his phone and call
The Sun News Paper Nigeria