Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Father Mathew Hassan Kukah on Tuesday warned Nigerians to beware of “early warning signs of totalitarianism,” even as he advised President Muhammadu Buhari to find a middle cause on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Father Kukah, who was the keynote speaker at the unveiling of the new-look Tribune newspapers and symposium in Lagos, said that the critical word in the emerging scenario is the process.
The Bishop, who spoke on the topic, “Electoral Integrity, Legitimacy of democratic institutions and good governance,” took a periscopic view of Nigeria and countries around the world and declared that integrity is a complex mix in the emerging scenario.
He harped on practical leadership when he said that what is needed for service delivery may not be pious men but men who understand how to fix road and infrastructure.
He said that for every form of governance adopted in any part of the world, the citizens must remain vigilant.
He said: “What is important is for the society to learn how to detect the early warning signs of the evils of totalitarianism which often start in subtle forms.”
He said that the President must find a middle cause on the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, adding that the Justices of the Supreme Court would also play a role in finding meaning to the logjam.
The Bishop said: “Now, everything has come to a head with the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, CJN, Mr Walter Onnoghen, by President Buhari. Despite all these struggles for power, Nigerians fear that very little will be done to change their fortunes.”
“Now we are stuck and wondering what the options are. So far, we have, as usual, rushed into our trenches and all we are doing is digging deeper. What is the option and what are the ways out? We are all expressing our views, but in the end, it is what the distinguished Jurists in the Supreme Court decide that is important. For example, where do they stand and what is their response to the fate of their Chief? At the end, where they stand is far more important than what we all think. The key word here is solidarity and it depends on which side of the fence they stand in solidarity with.”
“For the President, no one is infallible and what we have now is not a case of whether Chief Justice Onnoghen is innocent or guilty. The critical word is, process, right or wrong. It is not too late to retrace the steps and take the path of honour no matter where and how it all ends.”
“This justice has to be seen to have been done. This is where backroom diplomacy comes in. It all does not have to be either or. There is a middle way, and the President has to find it. The whole of Nigeria is his constituency, not the APC or his powers as President. His duty is to keep the country steady and on the right path. It is still daylight and we can find the black goat before the sun finally sets.”
The Bishop urged Nigerians to remain eternally vigilant adding that democracy dies when the people hand over their fate to politicians.
He said that tyrants and demagogues of the world all came through popular acclaim, adding that as elections draw nearer, Nigerians must look themselves in the mirror and take critical decisions.
Father Kukah said: “In the end, Democracy dies when people hand over their fate to politicians. This is dangerous because politics is the only game for which you require no qualification or prior training, experience or exposure to participate in. With the billionaires and the private sector in our midst, the intellectuals, the scientists, the retired and serving Generals, the Bishops and all calibre of people we have, surely, it will be a mortal sin to entrust our hope to our politicians and simply stand by and watch as our lives and future are threatened. We will be most guilty of negligence.”
He added: “The face of tyranny is often couched in innocence. There have been attacks on the Media and disobedience of the Courts as we can see in the cases of Sambo Dasuki or El Zakzaky whose detentions several Courts have declared illegal. The Government has continued to act in disobedience. Now, they have broken into and desecrated the Supreme Court to install their own Chief Justice. Who will be next? That is the central question we must face before darkness envelopes us. The Rev. Martin Luther King said that a man cannot climb your back unless you bend it.”
“So, as the elections approach, do yourself one favour. You have listened to all the promises that have been made, the ones kept, hurriedly or strategically. Do not get carried away. On Election Day, before heading for the polls, take a look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Am I looking better than I was last year? Do I look healthier? Do I feel more secure? What do I want for my family? Which candidate or Party offers the best opportunity for me to improve my conditions and become a better person, a better and proud citizen? These are the questions. Listen then to Prophet Isaiah who said: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Speaking on the legacy of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Bishop Kukah declared that the most fitting legacy of his undying spirit is the sustenance of Tribune Titles, which he said has weathered several unkind seasons.
He added that Awo was the most prepared President Nigeria never had, adding that local and international conspiracies robbed him of the leadership of Nigerians.
He said: “It is my firm belief that no aspirant to the office of President, then as now, has in any way shown the level of mental toughness, intellectual depth and prowess, discipline, hard work, vision, originality of thought and philosophy, foresight and even spiritual preparedness of the late Chief Awolowo. In my humble opinion, the levels and depths of his preparedness for leadership represent a combination of the visions of both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. ”
“With hindsight, it is clear that had he and his vision not fallen prey to the pernicious internal and external conspiracies of both the colonial and local elites, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that our story today would have been completely different. The miracles of the Singapores, the South Koreas or the Dubais of today would have trailed behind Nigeria’s achievement. Our combination of raw energy, mental toughness, population, nerve and verve would have placed our country, and indeed our continent, on one of the highest pedestals of national greatness.”
“Now that we are travelling on the other road taken, seventy years later, we are still stymied in the miasma of pain, self-deprecation and torture, national stagnation, decay and near anarchy. There cannot be a better way to pay tribute to this vision of Chief Awolowo than to attempt to acknowledge today the great contribution of the Media. Here, the longevity of the Tribune is a metaphor for imagining what might have been had the founder been given a chance to manage the commonwealth.”
Father Kukah also said that it was regrettable that various indices emanating from global agencies have failed to credit Nigerian with positive movements on the development ladder.
He added that leaders have also failed to take advantage of incentice such as the Mo Ibrahim leadership price.
He said: “None of the world’s Governance ranking and weighting Agencies has given Nigeria any hopeful and positive rankings despite all our claims of integrity and the fight against corruption. The World Bank, Mo Ibrahim, UNDP, Transparency International, have all returned negative reviews of our situation. These Agencies measure and weight countries based on a matrix which they have designed covering such areas of human life as: Safety, Rule of Law, Transparency, Personal Safety, National Security, Participation, Human Rights, Welfare, Education, Health etc. These measurements try to weigh how much progress a country is making in delivering essential services to its people (Good Governance Indices).”
For Nigeria, he declared that corruption was fast sucking in all sectors of the polity. He quoted the 2018 Afrobarometer report, which indicates that corruption was getting worse.
“But let us turn briefly to one of the Reports, nearer home, the Ghana-based, Afrobarometer Report for 2018 on Nigeria.”
In the Report, Afrobarometer showed that in Nigeria, very little of anything has changed in the area of corruption. The anti-corruption anthems have been loud, but the realities have shown the gradual spread of this cancer to all segments of national life. For example, the Nigerian Police is generally perceived as the most corrupt institution by 65% of the population. Next is the National Assembly (60%), Local Government Councils (55%), Government Officials (54%), State Assembly (54%), State Governors (53%), Judges ((51%), President and his officials (43%), Traditional Rulers (54%), Religious Leaders (36%). Clearly, corruption is so pervasive that it has permeated every stratum of society.
“The same Report stated that 65% of Nigerians said they had to pay a bribe to receive assistance from the Police, 44% said they have had to pay the bribe to avoid problems with the Police, while 38% had to pay to receive an official government document. To access water and sanitation, the percentage of those who have to pay a bribe is 34% while 20% said they had to pay to receive medical services.”
“The political, bureaucratic and business elite pose the greatest threat as its approach to and conduct of official business and governance is often designed to undermine the capacity of the bureaucracy to the delivery of services to its people. For example, 80% of the elites admitted to paying bribes to avoid proper registration of land and also to avoid court cases, 77% admitted paying a bribe to avoid payment of taxes.”
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