By Bola Bolawole
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, appears to have found his voice again. Kukah and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) president, Ayo Oritsejafor, were two prominent and outspoken Christian leaders whose perceived open romance with, and partisan support of, former President Goodluck Jonathan attracted widespread consternation and condemnation. That deliberate choice rubbed off negatively on the two, diminishing their stature as crusaders for social justice and effectively signalling the end of an era of folk-hero and cult-like following enjoyed by them. While Oritsejafor struggled to wriggle out of the cash-for-arms scandal, in which his private jet was the “kabu-kabu” contracted to ferry arms from South Africa, a transaction that went awry, splashing mud in every direction; Kukah’s ridiculous treatise that Jonathan be excused from the searchlight of the new government on account of his voluntarily conceding power to Muhammadu Buhari/APC, seriously depleted the store of goodwill of both men with the Nigerian public.
Last week, however, Kukah roared back to life. The occasion was a keynote address he delivered at a conference organised by the Islamic Welfare Foundation at the Fountain University, Osogbo. Kukah was at his sublime best; he pulled no punches and offered his hosts no fawning respect. That he spoke at an Islamic university was no restraint; in fact, it must have served as an elixir for Kukah, who drove his daggers right into the heart. He emphatically exposed what he called the hypocrisy, double-speak, double-face, even bare-faced criminality of Northern Muslims. Kukah himself is from the North. The topic was apt: “The Muslim agenda for Nigeria: Challenges of development and good governance.” Kukah wasted no time in making the point that the “Muslim agenda” as presented by Muslim elites, especially those from the North, is antithetical to good governance and the country’s development.
Hear him: “A hypocritical elite continues to believe that it can claim the benefits of democracy but use it only to consolidate its hold on power. This is what has laid the foundation for what is now Boko Haram. We must locate the current crisis of Boko Haram within the context of the inability of the northern Muslim elite to live by their own dubious creed of being Muslims. They preach Sharia Law but only for the poor. They preach a religion that encourages education; yet, their own people are held in the bondage of ignorance. They came to power on the basis of a democratic society but they turned around and declared Sharia to generate a false consciousness among the poor that they want a theocracy. They did not wish to live by the same standards, so they decided to live their own Islam in the capitals of the world away from the prying eyes of their own people. Boko Haram began as a revolt against this mendacity, subterfuge, and hypocrisy.”
Powerful! No-holds-barred! For Kukah, the North’s Muslim elite are guilty of hypocrisy to their religion and people; deceit of their people and the generality of Nigerians; and criminality in triggering the objective and subjective conditions that birthed Boko Haram in its ideology as well as in the murderous effort to actualise it. Kukah asked probity questions: How can you be a democrat and at the same time a theocrat, so to say? How can you swear an oath to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria while also upholding and championing the supremacy of Sharia Law? How can beneficiaries of Western education still find accommodation for a Boko Haram ideology that denounces Western education as “haram” or poison? If Northern Muslim elites, who are educated, are truthful and honest to their people, why does the region brim with children of school age but who are out of school and are, therefore, veritable foot-soldiers and canon-fodders for Boko Haram? Can the adherents of a religion who see nothing wrong in marrying/marrying off children as wives honestly oppose the Boko Haram abduction of teenage girls and marrying them out as slave-wives? A former governor now Senator not long ago married a 13-year-old girl and defended it under the cloak of Islam; while a prominent traditional ruler, despite his assumed urbaneness and outspokenness, also has married a girl 40 or more years his junior in age. How can these be opposed to what Boko Haram is doing to girls in the North? Despite the ravages of VVF, child marriage, justified under the cloak of religion continues unabated in the North and is vociferously defended by the faithful as something sanctioned by their faith.
Not done yet, Kukah thundered: “Now, I hear Muslims in northern Nigeria hiding under the cover of the facts by saying: ‘These Boko Haram people are not Muslims. They do not represent us…’ But “They (Boko Haram) claim they have been inspired by the Quran and no other holy book. They say they want to build an Islamic state. So they are Muslims…Although we all seem to pretend that Boko Haram has caught us unawares, the worst thing is that we continue to hide our heads in the sand of self-deception by further denying the roots of this ugly side of our humanity.” I have, in the course of duty, travelled widely in the North and can confirm with Kukah that hypocrisy, especially in religious matters, is widespread there, with the elite the more guilty. In the North, religion truly qualifies as “opium of the people” used by the elite to subjugate as well as cajole from the less privileged the preferred actions and reactions to issues. I do also know that we try to hide a lot of hard, unpleasant truths about Islam. But these are not limited to the North or to the Islamic religion. It is also rampant in the South and also among Christians.
I have a Quran written in English, which I study: I know it supports proselytization by the force of arms. It supports honour killing as well as makes death the penalty for blasphemy. Many Muslims, however, try to deny all of this. What ought to be done is to accept the bare facts and then try to consciously move away from them if we feel we can no longer justify them in modern times. As a Christian who studies the Bible, I know it, too, supports honour killing (e.g. the case of Phinehas, Numbers 25: 1-15) as well as makes death the penalty for blasphemy (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 4: 1 – 11). Stoning offenders to death is recorded also in the Bible (Leviticus 24: 13-16); but how many Christian nations enforce these penalties again today? Whereas in many Muslim nations honour killing is still being encouraged, Christians appear to have jettisoned it. There are certain provisions of the holy books which, if enforced to the letter today, will not only run counter to our democratic ethos but will also offend our sensibilities as cultured people. The dilemma that some adherents are faced with today is how to remain faithful with centuries-old injunctions in a rapidly-changing world. Insisting on implementing some injunctions wholesale can only signal a return to the Stone Age.
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