Bishop Matthew Kukah has a lot to say about Nigeria and often has very interesting things to say. In an interview he makes an attempt to classify Nigeria as a “semi-primitive” country but his discourse easily falls into “politics”. Bishop Kukah with his praise of Nigeria’s leadership and democracy even unwittingly extols semi-primitivity highly! Bishop Kukah is more appreciative of the expectations of the village peasant for Nigeria’s democracy than the expectations of the educated / travelled for Nigeria. I am surprised Kukah’ politics is tolerant of the logic of “a tarred road = good government”.

Democracy is not an amorphous system of government or governance as Bishop Kukah would want to make Nigerians believe. Democracy has definite parameters for governance embodied in the Rule of Law. That is the aspiration. Structures, regulation, rules, conventions, organisations and civic expectations of individuals are all subject to the rule of law in a democracy. Somehow the “negotiation delusion” is a card dishonestly played often in Nigerian politics. The president who is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, makes / sanctions all top federal government appointments including ministers, director-generals, military chiefs, police bosses etc. suddenly rendered a powerless “ward of negotiation” under this delusion. From time to time and around world great leaders are produced within a given democracy who transform their societies with incomparable acumen and enlightened focus. If a democratically elected leader is not great, people live with it but it is downright shame if not pure thoughtlessness to blame of the “complexities of negotiation” for leadership incapacity or failure.

Bishop Kukah politely claims that Nigeria is “semi-primitive” strictly from an ethnic religious perspective with Prof Andrew Nok’s failure to be elected as Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University as the motive. Nigeria has a semi-primitive democracy. Bishop Kukah avoids the real semi-primitivity in Nigerian society especially some he decides upon daily. The levels of superstition, inordinate desire for miracles, fear/blame of witchcraft, blind trust in juju that are characteristic of the vastest majority of Nigerian people “is” semi-primitive. It conveniently frees the Nigerian of responsibility. The proclivity of Nigerian politicians for investing wealth generated in Nigeria overseas making the economies of foreign stronger while their own economy weaker is semi-primitivity. It creates security for stolen wealth “over the sea and far away” as the kids’ books used to tell us. The Catholic Churches message of abstinence and the avoidance of use of condoms when unwanted pregnancies are rising, HIV/AIDS is raging and all aspects of the media is highly sexualised (even religious media) is semi-primitive. It helps the Catholic Church dispel modern realities.

The Nigerian educational system that produced the stellar Prof Andrew Nok in the 1970s to early 1980s gave Nigerians classic high school education. My teachers, university graduates, like Paul Evuarherhe (now a permanent secretary in Delta State), Sam Victor and Clifford Gaiya were not just teachers but mentors and inspiration leaders. These teachers made students want to be “somebody” through taking one’s education seriously. They never punished anyone and even truants did not miss their classes. Teachers’ salaries were paid on time without any delays back in those days. Principals admitted students strictly on the number of desks and chairs available. Principals and teachers were highly respected members of society. Education was a ‘process’ not a ‘trophy’ of a certificate as it is today. What does Bishop Kukah think about education in Nigeria today?

Nowadays parents give money to kids to settle lecturers in order to pass exams. Parents are extorted to pay for [extra] “lessons” for primary pupils. Parents have to pay for new school uniforms every term, the cloth used in making the uniforms being of the most substandard type. Parents have to buy lockers and chairs for their kids to sit in the classroom. Sex for marks is a standard practice everywhere. Nigeria has innumerable university graduates who cannot read or write properly, how do we expect them to know their subject of training. I once asked a female relative who was a recent honours graduate in economics the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics; her answer was that she could not remember because only read to pass. Has Bishop Kukah forgotten the astonishing capabilities of those who had only “Standard Six” primary education in the old days?

If Nigerians can rise above mere nostalgia, between 30 and 40 years ago (especially in the early 1980s), Nigeria was on an upward surge to progress and development. Keeping it very simple, constant electricity in Nigeria meant several months without a single power cut. Blackouts were mainly due to the ravages of heavy thunderstorms or vehicles crashing into transmission/distribution poles. The taps were working all over Nigeria bring citizens clean water without any water supply caused epidemics. The roads were narrow but mostly pliable. General hospitals were affordable and had the capability of administering proper treatments and performing successful operations with very impressive rates.

Today, one and half decades into the new millennium,  constant electricity in Nigeria means a few days of uninterrupted electricity supplies for a few days in a fortnight or month. Blackouts and brownouts (half-current) rule the reality of electricity use and customers get high bills charged to them for non-supply. If you want regular supplies of potable water for domestic purposes, sink a well or a borehole in your compound. Go to a hospital in Nigeria with an illness or injury. You will be told to buy infusion drips, oral medicines, injectable medicines, dressings, gels, surgical spirits, bandages, syringes, needles etc. from a designated chemist/pharmacy and in quantities that far exceed what is needed. I knew a few people who have died because power cut occurred while they were on the operating table, their abdomens cut wide open.

Bishop Kukah reacts to these aforementioned failures and retrogressions in public services which are to be provided or regulated by the Nigerian government by branding them as “impatience“. It takes a lot of chutzpah to say Nigerians are impatient with its leaders. That is a serious and belittling insult to Nigerians. Christ himself, the omnipotent and omniscient, would be extremely amazed at Kukah’s declarations. Does Bishop Kukah by virtue of his status in the Catholic Church have a constant generator or a borehole in his residence? When Kukah is ill does he go overseas for treatment or a tidy Catholic hospital within Nigeria? Does Kukah not use more air transport than the road for his numerous journeys? How much does Kukah suffer personally from the ever mounting economic hardships oppressing the everyday Nigerian? The “hero of Nigeria” in Bishop Kukah’s eyes is the poor Nigerian peasant yet he most evidently sides with the government and not the peasant nor the poor. I can see clearly why people like Leonardo Boff, a former clergyman within the Catholic Church, was so critical of the ostensible doublespeak declarations of his colleagues and their support of corrupt governments. Mind you Boff was excommunicated for telling the whole truth.

Food for thought?

Grimot Nane

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