Social critic and commentator, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, has said that President Goodluck Jonathan erred in the planned amnesty for the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Ladda’awatih wal-Jihad, also known as Boko Haram.
The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, who spoke exclusively with Daily Sun in Abuja, said the refusal of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to implement the report of the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel, led to what is today known as Boko Haram. He lambasted Obasanjo, saying his government was reckless.
Kukah said that Jonathan’s involvement of the military in resolving the crisis is endangering our democracy, declaring that it is also an admittance of incompetence.
According to Kukah, “the first point to make is that the argument has not been properly framed and we are frankly in a state of confusion arising from the fact that we ought not to have heard about amnesty from the President now. The President should not have made a statement either for or against amnesty because the President is the Supreme Court.
“So, this conversation needed to have taken place with a lot of other things being debated before proposals and propositions are made to the President in terms of how to deal with Boko Haram,” Kukah said.
Below is the excerpt of Kukah’s explosion on the controversial issue of amnesty, even as he did not also spare the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for its position on the issue.
Why are you in support of amnesty for the Islamist sect, Boko Haram? People are surprised that you are packaging the idea of the Federal Government.
I don’t know what you mean by support of amnesty and I am not sure I know what you are quoting. So, if you could please explain what you mean by I am in support of amnesty.
In your Easter message, you spoke about the need for the offer of amnesty to the sect, which the Sultan of Sokoto had earlier propagated. In your speech in Benin, you also spoke about “rising above the level of these miscreants.”
Ehen. Well, let me put it historically and it may shock you. The first discussion about amnesty took place in 403BC and that was to stop the Athenian war which ended what is called in Greek history, the tyranny of the thirty. And subsequently, discussions about amnesty are packaged along with discussions about what is called transitional justice. Because we need to understand the context of what we are doing because Nigerians are quite excitable and very combustible.
We will shout and shout without context and without clarification and we think we know what we are talking about. And others think that they know what we are against. I am providing this context because amnesty is a philosophy, a science about how you transit from a historical experience of grievances, perceived injustice, an environment of violence to a new order.
An amnesty is one out of a lot of options. If you believe that your transition to a new order can succeed by other means that is fine. But you will have to address the question of how do you integrate the source of perceived injustice, the source of the violence in the first place. Do you want to carry that into the new order? Or is the new order going to be a clean template? So, people then introduced the notion of amnesty to address three critical issues which seem to be very closely connected namely: the quest for truth, the search for justice, with the endpoint being a search for reconciliation.
So, these three things have to go together and not this kind of shouting match that we have in this Nigeria. If you want me to answer your question simply, what we are discussing now is a symptom of what we didn’t do more than 10 years ago when the Oputa panel was inaugurated. If we had dealt with the issues of Oputa panel, we would not be having this conversation.
When you said I support amnesty, yes, I support amnesty whether it is amnesty to Boko Haram or amnesty to whatever as a means of addressing the questions that are on the table. Whether that necessarily means Boko Haram, in whatever shape or form, I made the point. The Sultan talked about granting amnesty. That statement itself was made in a vacuum. You cannot grant amnesty unless somebody requests for amnesty. So, we have started the conversation. We have placed the cart before the horse. And that is why we are in this confusion.
And if you know Nigeria, we are going to shout and shout and shout until we foam in the mouth and everybody will go home. This is how we debated the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). This is how we debated Sharia and for 40 years now, we have never come to any conclusion. We just shout, something else happens in Nigeria and we continue, only to revisit the same thing again.
The first point to make is that the argument has not been properly framed and we are frankly in a state of confusion arising from the fact that we ought not to have heard about amnesty from the President now. The President should not have made a statement either for or against amnesty because the President is the Supreme Court. If the Chief Justice of Nigeria proffers an opinion in a case that is in a lower court, where will you go to again? So, this conversation needed to have taken place with a lot of other things being debated before proposals and propositions are made to the President in terms of how to deal with Boko Haram. If amnesty is one of them, then, that is fine.
So, President Goodluck Jonathan erred right from the beginning?
I have told you what I am saying that if you are involved in a war, there has to be a strategy either for entry or for exit. If you feel that you want to go out on an all-out war against Boko Haram, then you go out on an all-out war. But in my view, we do not have a very clear strategy. First of all, we decided we were going to resolve this issue using the military. But don’t forget that mentally, it is like saying for example, President Zuma has a problem in South Africa, bring in the white people and let them resolve them for you.
The military left the Nigerian political space and that is why we have democracy. The tragedy is that the civilians who took over power, have never been able to work out the modality for organizing society in a way and manner that we have in Nigeria. The issue of fixing conflict and dealing with this issue does not lie with the military. And in my view, I believe a lot of soldiers have lost their lives and so on. But frankly, this happening in a civilian environment didn’t have to have involved the military in the way and manner that we have done. And I have said it over and over: when you bring the military into your political space, democracy is in exit because you are also admitting your incompetence.
That is why you are bringing the soldiers. If you marry your wife and you have a fight and you bring your parents-in-law today, and you bring your parents-in-law tomorrow, your wife will ask you, are we going to stay married or not?
The point I am making is, these people who are in office now, whether they are ministers, or commissioners, or governors, or president; they came and begged us to vote for them that they will fix our problems. Boko Haram matter is an issue you are going to resolve by diplomacy, negotiations, consensus, trade up and so on and so forth. The military does not have the capacity to do that and the firepower that has intensified, has created a backlash.
The people are telling you we are losing more people from the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) than Boko Haram. The military cannot become an army of occupation in Nigeria. So, we didn’t vote the military in. They are not the ones we voted for. And if the political class shows this gross incompetence, what they are doing is seducing the military gradually because this is how we played around with the soldiers. I am sorry if the guys who are in politics now don’t know the history of Nigeria. This is how we played with the military in 1966 before we ended up in a long drawn out civil war.
What I am saying is, at the end of the day, our discussion about amnesty is a metaphor. I mean, it is merely symbolic of the fact that we have a problem. The very fact that these guys are involved in violence, I am not sure it suggests that violence is about the only way you can end the crisis that you have. But what is clear to me is that I don’t think we have thought through clinically and very clearly how to resolve this matter.
In discussing amnesty, have you ever put the killings and burning of churches in mind, even when the Federal Government has not done anything to those concerned?
Again, when you frame these issues in a bipolar manner, that is, everything we want to discuss in Nigeria, you want to discuss Sharia, Muslims are one side, Christians are on one side. You want to discuss OIC, Muslims are on one side, Christians are on one side. You are discussing this issue, Christians are supposed to be on one side, Moslem are one side. And of course, a lot of people within the Christian folk are sufficiently angry with me because they think that Bishop Kukah should be on our side. I am sorry.
That is not the way I see things. I am a Nigerian first of all. I happen to be a Christian today, I can decide I don’t want to be a Christian again tomorrow. And unless we fix the whole question of citizens living in this country, things will continue to remain like this. Churches have been burnt but churches are not the only subjects that have been burnt. Lives have been destroyed and if you continue to do this number based on religion and so on and so forth, how many women have been killed in this crisis? Do you know? How many children have been killed? Do you know? So, why do you number these things only in relation to Christianity and Islam?
And I am saying this because by taking this direction, we are enticing external agencies who continue to see Nigeria only within the prism of Christians and Muslims. So, this is not who we are. People are saying to me, are you going to grant amnesty? What of the Churches that have been burnt? We are having that argument because of the conceptual confusion that I am telling you about, that we ought not to have had this conversation.
If the President decided he wants to figure out how to resolve this matter, that is, if military solutions are known to have been exhausted, what the President should do is to probably set up a committee to look at this whole thing. Look, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa took about two years of people travelling around the world to figure out how to fix the situation. People went to the old Soviet Union. They went round before they came back. Read my book, ‘Witness to Justice.’ I made the point. When we were set up as Oputa panel, nobody seems to know why we were set up. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do. We were asked to submit a report in three months.
It was the cynicism of some of us, permit me if I sound immodest. It was the consciousness that some of us had, at least, I knew what was going on in South Africa. I have been sufficiently interested. And I was responsible through my friend, Dr Kayode Fayemi, the governor of Ekiti State. We brought in people from Latin America and other parts who have gone on this road before, to ask them, how do we do? That was how Oputa panel ended up over two years. And the outcome that we have, never mind that a reckless government or people interested in power and nothing else, abandoned the report. But it is because of that that we are where we are now.
The point I am making is that we are not the first people to face insurgency. They faced them in Latin America, they faced them in Europe, they faced them in different places. Did our government want to find out how other people have resolved their issues? Because if we have done that, then somebody will suggest to you that look, based on what is on ground, amnesty is one option. It may, it may not be. But the people in South Africa decided.
They decided on amnesty because you have situations where, let’s say, a government can decide to amnesticize itself. It can grant itself amnesty. It happened in Haiti. The outgoing government says nobody is going to try us and nobody will try you, nobody will ask questions. You close the books. But if you decide that you want to know what happened, people lost parents, people lost all this. It is then that the number of churches burnt, the number of mosques burnt, the number of shops burnt, the number of parents who have lost children; that is when all those things come into play in the package along with amnesty.
It is not Boko Haram that will tell you how many churches it destroyed or how many mosques it destroyed. It is not Boko Haram that will tell you how many people it killed. The government has to create that mechanism and machinery to achieve that.
Why did you remain in the commission when you were not told what to do?
Go and read my book. I remained in the commission because if you ask me to do a job and I take the job, I consider it done. I explore possibilities about how best I might achieve the outcome. But let me tell you, even Obasanjo himself, every Nigerian who is honest and serious will know that by exploring other possibilities, we were able to do the things we did. When we started, nobody was interested in us. The media was not interested in us.
Everybody shouted and shouted but those of us who knew where we were going, solicited for, thank God one, I had a little bit of international connections and contacts. I made telephone calls around the world to people I knew, that we have got a problem here, is there any way you can help us? People came to help. The first one year of Oputa panel was not based on resources from the Federal Government.
What I am saying is that if you have a job of this nature, you find out from other people. After all, presidents travel. Presidents meet presidents. What do they talk about? So, if you have a problem of this nature, your business is to learn from others. Northern Ireland lasted almost forty years. How did it end? And you learn from others. If somebody can tell you that we went through this thing and this is how we ended it, then you can have a conversation.
Don’t you think your position is at variance with the position of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)?
Please, listen to me and listen very carefully. I am a Nigerian. I have my own brain and my own conscience. If there are things that the Pope says, unless they are matters relating to Catholic doctrines. But if it is about point of view about the weather or about politics or about economics, the Pope and I don’t have to have argument. So, I don’t work for the Christian Association of Nigeria. I am a Christian but that is not the issue.
On this matter, when you talk about the Christian Association of Nigeria, the position they have taken, they have taken a position. But I have no obligation to support that position if I am not convinced. I have got a conscience. But what is also very interesting is that Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop Ndagoso of Kaduna, Bishop Niyiring of Kano, Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri, Bishop Stephen Mamza of Yola, Archbishop Kaigama, the President of the Conference and Archbishop of Jos; all of us without comparing notes, have one and all spoken basically on the same thing.
If you take the text of what I have said and the text of what Cardinal has said and what everybody has said, basically, it is the same thing. I wrote my pastoral message, I didn’t talk to Cardinal Onaiyekan. Both of us ended up talking basically about the same thing.
For us as Catholics, our position on this issue, on how to respond to violence is very clear. Whether you talk to a Catholic bishop in Latin America or you talk to a Catholic bishop in China or in Japan, our positions are the same. We are not swayed by the exigencies of the moment. It is not about what is politically correct for anybody. To say that is not to say that one does not abhor violence or that one is more or less ignorant about what people think.
When I wrote my Easter message, I spoke to the people in my church in Sokoto. And I told them look, this is my message, you are going to hear it but don’t get me wrong. People are going to abuse me, but I am putting you on notice. I have a responsibility as a teacher and I teach what I see and what I am convinced about. It is not a popularity contest. The more people are angry with what you are saying, the better you should appreciate that perhaps, you are closer to the truth as long as you don’t set out to vilify, to humiliate or to abuse anybody.
So, on this matter, I am convinced about what I am saying; that this is how Christ would have dealt with this matter. I am not interested in what the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any party or any president thinks about. My business as a Christian is to tell Jonathan because he is the President of Nigeria, he is a Christian. My business is to tell him what to do, what is right and what is wrong. And not to tell him what is politically expedient.
Don’t you think this position of some Catholic bishops could be attributed to issue of the Catholic church pulling out of CAN which played out recently?
Catholic church never pulled out of CAN. If you have a marriage and things are difficult, there may be a need for a bit of a reprieve – lets go and think through. We may come out actually stronger. Clearly, there are a lot of posturing in CAN that are not acceptable to me. And the Catholic church simply says there are statements that have been made, things that have been said that have not been keeping with the spirit of CAN.
As I am talking to you now, I was supposed to be delivering a keynote address in Kaduna at a meeting of CAN. CAN in Kaduna state is trying to revisit the whole notion of why was this organization set up. Because people without institutional memory don’t seem to know where we are coming from. I was in the Catholic Secretariat for ten years. CAN never had a secretariat for the first twenty or more years or almost even, thirty years. Their office was in the Catholic Secretariat. So, anybody talking about CAN cannot talk about CAN without the Catholic church. But that is not the issue.
The point I am making is that on issues of revenge, on issues of how Christians are to deal with issues of violence, the Catholic church’s position is there for everybody to see. If people believe that like they say, that Jesus said if you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other. I have heard a pastor saying Jesus said that if you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other. Now, they have slapped all the cheeks and I have none left ooooh.
The truth of the matter is that I say to people, nobody has ever slapped you on your right cheek. Has anybody ever slapped you on your right cheek? The truth of the matter is that nobody can slap you on your right cheek. Have you tried slapping somebody on his right cheek and see? Physically, try it.
People see this issue more political than the way we see it. You may have heard the northern governors and elders saying the amnesty committee should be expanded.
Again, you know we are talking pass one another. If you go back again to the beginning, and it is a pity. I am a member of the committee set up by the northern governors. This committee met in Maiduguri. This is the part of the script that I think the people in the presidency need to address. The committee met with people who said that they are members of Boko Haram and they said we are war weary, we want to enter the door to talk. That committee passed a report on. I am convinced that it is actually on the strength of that, that the Sultan made his statement. The Sultan did not make his statement in a vacuum.
But you earlier said the Sultan made his statement in a vacuum.
No, no, no. I am talking of context now.
Yes. I am saying it is based on these findings that the Sultan made this statement. Maybe when he says grant amnesty, perhaps, if you peel it, he also was not talking about granting amnesty in the way and manner that people see it. So, the truth of the matter is that in the whole of this conversation, including those who are spitting fire and those throwing water, we are all saying the same thing. Nobody has said grant amnesty to a bunch of people just by declaration.
Only that we are not very painstaking because as I said, we know that the President himself, without anybody provoking him, said that there were Boko Haram members in his cabinet. Nobody has been tried, nobody has lost his job as a minister; so we don’t know. We cannot say we don’t know where they are.
The second point is that when these people said this is what their situation was, naturally, when you are faced with that kind of a conflict situation, your intelligence people will screen and process all those people because it is not everybody that comes for amnesty that qualifies for amnesty. Even in South Africa, there were conditions. When you put conditions down, you simply say it is to let people enter the door. Entering the door does not automatically entitle you to amnesty.
That is why those who say no to amnesty, I am still not sure I understand what they are saying because unless you have clear evidence that you are almost winning this war, therefore you don’t want anybody to stop you, then that is a different matter. But the point I am making is that the members of Boko Haram have not renounced and have not lost their citizenship of Nigeria. But perhaps, a more important question: we continue to hide behind our finger by saying these are faceless people. Faceless people don’t throw bombs. So, if I were in a position, the first question to ask is to profile these people.
Right now, the Americans, the British, the Europeans have adopted profiling as a way of helping you know, even from a distance, the tendencies and who is likely to be a criminal. Now, have we profiled these people because we are saying that they are faceless. But for me, it would have been a matter of great interest to know where these people are coming from. Can we take suicide bombing as part of Nigerian Islam really? Which kind of people are predisposed to suicide bombing? Are there any antecedence? Most of that conversation could have taken Nigeria outside the borders but clearly, everybody is saying it loudly that there is a correlation between the emergence of suicide bombing and the Gadaffi crowd after the fall of Gadaffi.
You can’t blame anybody if our borders are thoroughly corrupt and so porous and we are not able to see this coming. But once we imagine that this is a fight between Christians and Moslems and so on and so forth, we exhaust ourselves and we lose the capacity to look elsewhere. So, clearly in my view, tragically, when the President made that budget and announced in the budget that there was one trillion naira set for security, I knew we would come to this point. I suspected we would come to this point because Mubarak of Egypt kept using the Moslem brotherhood as a masquerade to collect his cheque of seven or eight billion dollars from the Americans every year under the fear that if I open this door, Moslem brotherhood people will come and take over Egypt. I believe there is an amount of benefit to be made from the conflict between the Palestinians and the State of Israel. If that ended today, it will affect the cheque that Israel is getting.
So, when a country gets to a point in which you commoditize violence, you can see the ubiquity. Everybody, every former military officer, every former so, so, so, and so becomes a security consultant now. The result is that national security is now a big industry for babalawos, for fortune tellers, for pastors and for all kinds of characters who are now claiming that they just had breakfast with God and this is what God has said. When you are in power and not through legitimate processes, the natural tendencies is to be afraid. You are likely to be falling back on all kinds of institutions of support.
To that extent, I have spoken to a lot of people in the intelligence community and they will tell you that many governors today; a governor will not set out on a journey until some Mallams have told them that the road is clear and they should go. If they tell you the amount of money that is being invested in this dubious form of security because this is what is foreclosing the possibility of our dealing with this issue. We are employing mysticism, shamanism for things that are purely scientific.
Killings are still going on. Do you think amnesty will solve this issue?
Look my dear, let me tell you, as long as this country has no infrastructure, as long as this country does not have electricity, as long as this country does not have a network of railways, as long as we are still living in a semi-primitive environment, we are going to remain vulnerable to what we are witnessing now because all these things that we are witnessing, they can’t take place in anywhere else in the world. They thrive in an environment of semi-darkness such as we are living, they thrive in an environment of intense corruption, they thrive in an environment of lack of infrastructure.
Let me tell you, all these things we are saying, the number of people who are dying on Nigerian roads a week are more than the people Boko Haram has killed. The number of people who are dying in boats on our creeks, they are more than the number of people threatened by Boko Haram. We can dramatize what Boko Haram is doing but as long as we remain in this semi-primitive environment, with all the looters, they can steal whatever they steal but as long as we remain here, what we are witnessing with Boko Haram is just a symptom. So, this problem is not about resolving Boko Haram matter.
It is about first of all, aggressively dealing with the problems of corruption, which tragically seems to be in reverse. It is about massively rolling out infrastructure. Believe me, I can tell you that the day that you have a train from Abuja to Sokoto, from Kaduna to Calabar, the day you have those things, the people you are talking about will have no place.
How do you think the issue of amnesty will address the security challenge?
If I had my way, I will tell you lets stop talking about amnesty because truly, we don’t know what it is because what the President is doing now, is what probably should have been done many months back.
How do you see the resurgence of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)?
As long as we remain static as we are, so long will you continue to see this kind of situation. Today it’s Niger Delta, tomorrow it’s Boko Haram, next tomorrow, who knows what?