Catholic Archbishop of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah and Director General, Michael Imodu Institute of Labour Studies, Comrade Issa Aremu, yesterday disagreed on the best way to achieve national cohesion in the country.
While Kukah said that the high level of injustice in the country was eroding national cohesion Aremu asked the Archbishop to stop agonising
Kukah who was the guest speaker at ThisNigeria Media Limited inaugural lecture and Gold Award with the theme “National Cohesion for growth and progress: The Nigeria delimma” held at the Yar’ Adua Centre, Abuja, noted that national cohesion is a myth.
Kukah in his lecture had decried the division of the country on basis of religion and ethnicity, which he said must be addressed.
Chairman of the occasion, Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi lamented the enormous challenges the country is passing through.
He said Nigerians should work to wake up a sleeping gaint.
Kukah said, “I think the actual thing that has been missing in our conversation about Nigeria, which speaks to the nature of the politics that we play is that our political affiliations and feelings are always so divisive that we end up living in little cubicles.
“Even those who vilified me in the past are now coming back to me to say Bishop all the things you said are all coming to pass, what did you see that we did not see and I told them that I did not see anything but I have a feeling that there are certain parameters that good governance has to meet. And for me, the conversation has not been about APC or President Muhammadu Buhari, tangentially, given where we are and what Dr. Kayode Fayemi has said himself despite being a leading member of the party, it is impossible for me to improve on that.
“But I speak to the issue of what really are the building blocks for national cohesion. How do you achieve national cohesion? I don’t know but I think the critical pillar has to be the quality of the constitution that a country has. A constitution doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems but its offers us a moral pillar around which to hang debate and expectations.
“Nigerians are angrier now than they have always been but we painstakingly get nostalgic about the past and we think the past was better. Really, it was not that the past was better, we had less capacity to interrogate the system, we were less educated and now that we are better educated and we are travelling more and we are seeing more and Nigerians are rightly becoming inpatients, so the critical question for me is that the conversation we are having now are not new. The real challenge is the leadership with the right disposition.
“Really, critical to our conversation is the quality of leadership and the depth of understanding of those who are our leaders. So the question then was what are we to do?
“In 1977, one thing was very interesting during the sharia debate, most southerners said they were hearing the word sharia for the very first time and I remember that the most dramatic person was Sam Mbakwe. Sma Mbakwe said this thing they are calling sharia what is this thing about and at the end of the debate in 1978, it was very interesting that subsequent discussions about Nigeria constitution, the hottest part of the debate is always the issue of Sharia law. In fact a member who participated, a christian from the north and he said to me sharia debate was realy wonderful for us because those who were Christians were going round that they defeated sharia and if you remember, literally, all the muslim delegates walked out.
“What I am saying that something as fundamental as constitution, a debate and the issues that ought to form a kenel of our governance has never been subjected to intellectual rigour as required. We have never debated our constitution based on peculiarities.
“We must be careful with how much raw meat we feed our people. because , the point is we are still to come out with article of engagement.
“So it is not that we are having conflict, it is how can we get men and women to be able to deal with the issue of this conflict. Because in the final analysis, this country will not be fixed until Muslims understand the grievances of Christians, until Christians understand the grievances of Muslims. Until at ethnic level, everybody understands the grievances of every ethnic group.
“So the issue about our future is that national cohesion is largely a function of myth .
So national cohesion is an ideal but let us understand because if you live in a society that citizens cannot understand why they are poor, then you are in trouble.
Kukah in his response to Aremu who asked him stop agonising over the challenges of the country said, “Why these things are personal to me. I am happy that you refereed to Prof. Oloyede of being Co-Secretary at National Political reform Conference. I was appointed Secretary of the political reform conference, the Muslims in Northern Nigeria, there was no fight they did not put up that I Mathew Kukah was a Christain and not a Northerner. It was part of that protest, in order to pacify the Muslims that Obasanjo was forced to bring Oloyede as my co-secretary.
“Patricial Eteh was the speaker, we cannot sit here and pretend that we don’t know why she was removed. She was removed because how can one man be president, Christian, Senate President Christian, speaker Christian. That was why the move was made. They made accusations against her. She was removed on the ground that three Christians cannot be holding these positions concurrently. May be they were right, the person who came back to represent the South West, a Yoruba Muslim in order to douse tension. So we are sitting here in Nigeria, are you going to pretend that you dont know that iniquity in this country can never suffer psychological trauma like we are suffering now. Did people sit for exams and fail?
“I don’t think anybody is going to govern this country with this kind of blatant unacceptable literally criminal partisanship. So when you talk about Bishop Kukah being divisive, in what sense. I can understand that you are now holding government position. So have arrived at the table, that is understanding. As they say of a professor who was really active in ASUU when he arrived in Abuja, his colleagues said oga, we are not hearing you what is happening, he said Abuja has table manners, when you are eating you don’t talk.
“I am not accusing you am just saying all the things you said here has absolutely nothing to do with my paper beyond the preconceived notion that some how Bishop Kukah has become a divisive product. Of course there is a difference between darkness and light. Of course there is difference between truth and lies, of course there is difference between justice and injustice. So we won’t stand here and pretend somehow let just keep moving. When I delivered my Christmas message, everybody was running riot saying Bishop Kukah, you have come, when people don’t want to hear what you are saying in Northern Nigeria they say you are dividing Christian and Muslims.”
“This country is ours to fix and those of us who have access to people not arrogantly by any standard I have good education and I have a moral duty to have a distinction between what is right and what is wrong. So for me you had the conversation.
“It has never been this bad my brother. it has never been as bad as it is now. Infrastructure by itself is not enough. When people talked about Wike, he is here. Beyond the infrastructure people are sleeping peacefully. There is certain kind of feelings here in the north you claimed you are part of, have you ever had this kind of situation you are having now? They say you cannot interrogate this, it is not possible. The point is the question about justice or injustice. We are living in a society that has become so dysfunctional so much so it is an embarrassment to be a Nigerian. Outside this country, I don’t think anybody can question my credential about where I think this country should be. I also made the contribution I have made.
“You were outside now and you said to me I was the one who packaged Buhari and i gave you. Okay fine, if I package Buhari and give you, you are the one chopping from Buhari. I am also saying that the Buhari I packaged and gave you is not the Buhari because I did not expect-okay tell me one single person now in this country both those who funded the government with their money. I was saying there was hope. so when you talk about divisiveness, it is the state that has created a division not we the victim. So you are blaming the victim.
“Every where you turn in Nigeria today, what are people telling you? We are living in injustice. People use to think that only Ogoni people were suffering injustice, when now suddenly everywhere you turn and you are telling me about numbers, about this. Are we going to continue to pretend, yes let us move together? Nigerians went out of their ways and contributed massively to getting President Goodluck Jonathan out of the way but we didn’t do this to now come back and now see that been a Muslim is more important because that is the impression you are given. I am saying this because that is a dent -this is not Islam, it is not a religion. The Islam that I know and that I grew up with is not what is manifesting itself today and there are many decent Muslims in Northern Nigeria who are not happy. We can be more northern, we cant be more Muslim than the sultan. He has said it out eloquently. Tell me who is happy in this country. So even criminals want peace. Armed robbers want peace.”
“We are saying what we invested in we are not getting the result. The point is there is going to be an election in 2023 and it is an open question whether indeed there would be a country. We shouldn’t be having this conversation. But we cannot deceive ourselves by pretending that nothing is wrong. No something is extremely very wrong. And the question of fixing this country rest on us and the knowledge that I have now if I pay for transport, I must know where the bus is going.
“And I am saying we now must choose people that have shown us evidence that they understand where we are hurting.”
But Aremu had a different opinion. He pointing out that emphases should always be on successes of the country and not issues that are divisive.
He disagreed with Bishop Kukah lecture which he said was more divisive rather than promoting the successes of the country.
He said “I really disagree with Bishop Kukah with your narrative, which from my point of view, goes contrary to the spirit of the theme of the gathering. To some extent, I think Mike also went on that intellectual discourse. I think the truth is that we are not suppose to be a debating society. I think we are talking about nation’s building. Yes, we can have a debate but the end is to build a nation.
While commending the organiser of the programme for the choice of the awardees, he said “inspite of the challenges and there are many challenges as we are actually building a nation and I think, guest speakers, discussants should help to bring inclusive narrative or exclusive, not divisive narratives”.
He also cited a scenario of the visit of the Ethiopian prime Minister who was in the country and throughout his discussions never mentioned anything about the war between his country and
“What is the lesson, I think it is time for us to amplify some of these our successes as citizens. This is a time that Nigeria patriot must make proper discussions in a way that we can have proper dialogue.
“When you use categories of Christians, muslims, some of us are taking aback that what is going on. At this forum which should talk of who we are based on the spirit of the constitution. Nigeria constitution never defined us Muslims and Christians. It talks about Nigeria and if you want to go further, it is very dangerous because who is a christian, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist. Who is a Muslim Ansarudeen, Nawarudeen. I think we are Nigerians and when we are discussing let discussion focus along that line. I think it is better to celebrate some of the successes we have made in nation building.
We should celebrate it that we have gotten an uninterrupted democratic transition with all the shortcomings that come with it and for me this is the kind of narrative we should be bringing out.
“So, I want to say that Bishop Kukah and others while talking stop please agonising. Let organise. And we need to organise to build a nation. We need inclusive language, we need inclusive orientation in a way that we build a nation.
“What i want to say is that i think we should organise our thought processes to make sure that we actually build a nation. There are lots of challenges. I am so disappointed Mike, you are a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“I think the least you can do is to return to build Nigeria and to do so we need true knowledge and do do so we need inclusive language, language that can build cohesion and that is the way it should be.
He also turned to Governor Wike, “I don’t agree with some of your politics, and i use to joke from afar that if only you could be a member of my party, Labour Party of Nigeria, we would make you our presidential candidate because you are a labouring governor. “
Fayemi in his opening remark said, “Our country is going through enormous challenges and when I received Eric’s invitation, his point to me was how would we wake up a sleeping giant.
According to him, “We have to agree that Nigeria is sleeping and also agree that it is a giant and when you have a giant, you can approach that giant from all sides. Its like an elephant and i believe that is purely the perspective that so many of us would approach the Nigerian state. But the Nigerian state is not in its most healthy state.
“There is no debate about that regardless of political persuasion, regardless of ethnic consideration, regardless of economic opportunity available to individuals, our country is in the doldrums.
“But clearly, in every adversity, there is always an opportunity and it is our ability to identify what those opportunities are that we take us further in this nation building journey.”
Fayemi who also spoke on the recent election in Anambra said “What just happened in Anambra was a mere miracle because many of us have come to the conclusions that Anambra was going to be a blood bath.
“We have come to the conclusion that it was going to be a blood bath and at the end of the exercise, we saw what transpired. We must give kudos to the national peace committee, which father Kukah himself is a key player led by our former Head of state, General Abdulsalam Abubakar. But I think more kudos should go to the people of Anambra and to INEC for making what we witnessed possible.
So that points to possibilities in my view and what Nigeria is capable of achieving if we put in our very best into what we do.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu assured that the country’s elections would continue to be better.
The INEC boss who appreciated the award of Gold prize in public service expressed appreciation for the award.
He noted that the commission appreciates constructive criticism but when they receive commendation, they also appreciate it.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike who also received Gold prize for exceptional leadership in public service said the nation cannot be talking about cohesion when we are talking about religion and ethnicity.
He said that was why he challenged the issue of VAT in the court of law.
The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Registrar, Prof. Isaq Oloyede who received Gold prize in public service also appreciated the recognition given to him and promised to work harder for the interest of the country.
Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum was also awarded gold prize for exceptional leadership.
Former Director General of Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Prof. Tonnie Iredia who was moderator for the occassion, cautioned media houses to be mindful of the way they give awards.
Iredia noted that for awards to be given, the criteria for the award must be known to the public.
The publisher of ThisNigeria, Mr. Eric Osagie said that ThisNigeria is for Nigeria and Nigerians.
He appreciated those who attended the lecture and promised to make it better next year.