By Busuyi Mekusi
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah is a Nigerian septuagenarian without a ‘leviathan’ stature, but a vitriolic pen and acerbic verbal punches. He is largely detested by political apologists of the ruling party extraction; with Garba Shehu and Femi Adeshina at different times justifying their offices as presidential mouth-pieces through their excoriating responses and lampooning of the catholic clergy who they once advised should drop his cassocks for Bàbárìgá. Kukah, an apostle of peace but noted for his downright assessments of the performances of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, the no-nonsense-man whose anti-corruption posturing diminished with the profligacy of his political lieutenants that killed and buried Nigerian economy with their avarice and reckless feasting on the national cake, has been pigeonholed with people like South African Desmond Tutu, who did not only speak truth to power but epitomised the notion of absolute truth, forgiveness and a new South Africa.
Truth is a commodity that is now very scarce in the Nigeria socio-political and religious spectra, as half-truths and lies are now used to benchmark acceptability and privileging. This aversion for truth is one of the ‘new normals’ defining a hysterically religious people and prodigiously boisterous nation. Democracy is, therefore, burdened in most African nations that even political handlers that are paid for advising governments would tell their principals what make them happy, and that which would secure them patronage and sustain it. Special Advisers are not just bereft of progressive ideas in Nigeria but they often mis-advise their hirers who act on their follies and err as a result of their ill-thoughts. Advisers could be reversers!
Clergies from Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. to contemporary times have used the pulpit to shape, reshape, and distort nations, pricking consciences of leaders and reprimanding those at fault. Homilies have also transcended the domains of congregants to become public national discourses on realistic current matters. It is for the foregoing that Bishop Kukah has become a loud voice for the voiceless in Nigeria, to reflect on vexed socio-political and economic issues. Kukah’s comments on national issues are aptly blunt, decisively potent, and compellingly comprehensively incinerating. Easter and Christmas celebrations are seasons of anomy in the Nigeria political sphere, as he appraises governments, returns verdicts and offers succour and hope to the demented majority and subjugated poor. Little wonder that Kukah’s 2022 Christmas message is analogous to the ‘boxing’ of PMB.
The Boxing Day, 26th December that is a day after Christmas, was generally believed to be a holiday when servants and trade-people were customarily presented with gifts in form of Christmas Boxes by their masters. These boxes were believed to contain money and goods that are used in lieu of the services of the servants all year. The servants were also expected to use the Boxing Day holiday to go to their homes to give Christmas boxes to their families. When viewed against the backdrop of the Boxing Day sales, it is similarly seen as a time gifts are given to the poor.
Just as found in other English words, the ability of a particular word to generate multiple meanings is the reason why expertise is required in the deployment of such a language. This explains why the word ‘box’ could mean more than a container to indicate the exchanges of punches, as what opponents do in a sport. It is for this reason that people have jocularly referred to the Boxing Day as that of fisticuffs. This underpins why Kukah’s 2022 Christmas message is constructed as the ‘boxing’ of PMB, with the metaphoric dimensions therein.
For about two years, Kukah specially and uniquely demonstrated how biblical and literary allusions could be used to decry contemporary issues of economic downtown, political imbroglio, insecurity, and palpable corruption. In 2020, Kukah designated Christmas as another one ‘with dark clouds of death’, when the roads to the graves were busier than those to the farms, thereafter alluding to the periods of annus miabilis as the year of joy and annus horribilis as the year of horror, to underscore the extremism in human existence. The 2021 Easter message was themed ‘Before Our Glory Departs’, while the 2022 Christmas message was captioned ‘Nigeria: Let Us Turn a New Page’, with different doses for the leaders and the led, with PMB receiving systematic blows from Pandora Box of Kukah on the Boxing Day.
Among many other things, the 2022 Christmas message of Kukah started by contextualising Christmas to the daily living of Nigerians, based on the accentuation in the name of Jesus as Emmanuel (God with us). The message listed the challenges in Nigeria as; hardships, disappointments, threats, insecurity, failure of government, leviathan corruption, nepotism, etc. While stressing the need to be steadfast in faith in the face of fears, Kukah psycho-socially configured Nigerians as bearing scars, trauma, sorrow, as nameless victims get reduced to mere numbers, characteristic of the behaviours in Soyinka’s “Document of Identity”. Kukah decried the pauperisation and destitution of the people by the political class. Using the biblical imagery of Ichabod, Kukah asserted that the glory of Nigeria, akin to that of Israel when the ark of God was taken, had departed due to; declining global influence, being the poverty capital of the world, and one of the most violent states in the world, suffocating internal and international debts, pervasive corruption as well as unbridled nepotism.
Nonetheless, contrary to the perception of PMB’s handlers that he would see nothing good in the government of their principal, Kukah acknowledged the efforts of the President in providing infrastructures, majorly roads, as well as removing malfeasances in electoral processes. Kukah, as an all-round skilful narrator, introduced some comic relief into the lamentations of the departed glory of a nation when he seriously but jocularly submitted that he would up with PMB later on outstanding ‘Tithes and duties he owed his Diocese’. The metaphoric conversion of, and ascription to, PMB to Christian ideals by Kukah was substantially symbolic to blur the dangerous gap between Christianity and Islam, and the vexations created by individuals who profit from religious bigotry and crisis. In a nutshell, the message allowed Kukah to identify with vulnerable Nigerians, and appeal to the political class.
It is desirable that PMB should undertake the unpacking of the gifts Kukah extended to him on the Boxing Day, rather than assigning the role to an aid, in order to prevent misrepresentation and half-disclosure. Kukah’s gifts to PMB were, no doubt, purchased from the Nigeria open market, where poverty is grinding the people rather than for the people to grill chicken. The cost of raising chickens ballooned largely due to high costs of feeds. Incidentally, fishes are almost priced out of the reach of the poor, with beef made from grass-eating cows fast becoming a scarce commodity. The inept political class that did not provide enough supports for agricultural initiatives has always been blamed for the emptiness of farmlands, while others have similarly put the blame on lazy populace and killer herders that turned growing farms to slaughtering slabs. The growing population of Nigeria remains a liability internally and an asset to external growers and sellers of consumables. When will our consumerism end?
The fight against corruption, another pillar of PMB’s intentions, has been oscillating between Doyin Okupe’s ‘honest mistake’ and liberty to agent provocateurs like Sambo Dasuki. Mr. Emefiele, the CBN governor, has also recently been in the eye of the storm since he audaciously contemplated contesting for the presidential ticket of the ruling APC, and his misadventure of rebranding the naira, with humongous expenses incurred ‘repainting’ what some people considered an anecdote of widow-dressing a weak dilapidated falling house. The rumoured scandalous trillion naira stamp-duty controversy is another albatross.
Violence is pervasive in the country with non-state actors determining the pace for accredited security agents, who would rather maim the innocent as recently re-enacted by ASP Drambi Vandi in the brutal killing of Bolanle Raheem. This is as INEC’s facilities remain under ferocious attacks by agents of political profiteers. Ethnic politics are played by political actors who are set to grab the reins of power again in 2023 for selfish as against collective reasons, as supporters of the candidate of the ruling party at times blamed the incumbent for nepotism.
PMB has assured us that he would relocate from Abuja after his tenure to avoid poking his nose into governance. He should be reminded that we are aware of his absence from governance too long ago because of his old age and failing health. He should tell us whether the number of his cows has increased since his presidency, and what he would be bequeathing to Nigerians who majorly feel let-down by the pains experienced under his government. PMB may have to volunteer a memoir to the world to straighten some of the unsaid that characterised critical periods of his democratic rebirth, most especially the long face he wore during the APC presidential primary election where his wife was a gregarious party woman.
As I desire for PMB the strength to meet the obligations of his ‘Tithes and other duties to his Diocese’ anytime his friend and brother, Bishop Kukah, comes calling, I wish our many readers a prosperous year 2023 in advance!