A Missionary of Hope: Bishop Kukah and Nigeria’s Knowledge System (Part 3)
By Toyin Falola
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah is a theologically equipped and philosophically vast figure Nigeria is blessed to have. He retains the status of a maverick, and the independence of his thoughts has been the basis for the controversial image he keeps as a public figure. Perhaps, the most common price paid by anyone who comes to dominate the public space with their ideas is the susceptibility to be seen from contrastive perspectives since people share contending opinions because of their varying disciplinary views. This man understands this and has never reneged on the determination to make maximum impact by offering his perspectives to different socio-political and religious issues. He does so irrespective of how controversial his positions are, or what they become when he airs them.
He is viewed differently, and, for the most part, people’s social or religious leaning has often been the basis for which they shape their opinions about the Bishop. Some argue that the revered Bishop is anti-Islamic. This is more so for the Northern bloc which, naturally, is challenged by comments that question the superimposing nature of Northern Muslims in the country. For others, Kukah has a political agenda masked by the religious paraphernalia. Anything can be said about Bishop Kukah, but not even his detractors can contest the content of his character, dictated usually by his vast knowledge and experience.
Anyone who has passed through the process of education would understand its immensely high importance in the shaping and making of a competitive society where ideas are manufactured and used for the development of human society. Bishop Kukah understands that good education is the background and foundation upon which one can build a formidable civilization, strong enough to withstand the intricate challenges of an evolving society. He sees a connection between the slow pace of Nigeria’s development and the denial of a good educational system and considers this a melancholy caused by leadership aberration that has befallen the people. When education is not given the necessary attention and motivation, people slip into mental retardation where it is difficult for them to have a sound examination of events to make the right choices at the right time. Education provides humans with information that prepares them with the mental power to navigate the complicated equation that social challenges invite. On many occasions, Bishop Kukah has stressed that unless the nation makes necessary reconciliation with the educational system, the structure would be weak for the enhancement of a desirous society that allows everyone to flourish. And because the aversion to education in the country is taking almost an ethnographic dimension, he has been held with reservation by people who are unnerved by the truth.
Part of Bishop Kukah’s irrevocable convictions is that educational institutions are centers where humans are refined and redefined. They are where people are equipped with the never-ending knowledge and information needed to manage the complex society and the world that keeps changing. Perhaps if one thinks like the Reverend Father does, one would understand the indestructibility of educational institutions in making vibrant and productive leaders who would become the future of a society where talents are harnessed and intellects are harmonized. Kukah believes, for example, that if leadership is faced with confounding experience, education will make leaders seek intellectual contributions of eggheads, irrespective of their varying interests. This is because the foundation of building a worthwhile society lies in the ability to stem personal and parochial interests and embrace dialogue, as the demands for social progress would be stronger than the ambition to overcome detractors. But when individuals with comparatively weaker educational background, or the absence of one generally, occupy the leadership seat of a place, the society would be on an ill-programmed autopilot where the chance of survival would be minimal. A good society in the 21st century cannot be run this way; otherwise, such society would be bedeviled by a barrage of problems
Bishop Kukah stresses the place of education in the identification and sustenance of collective morality and ethos. When the educational foundation of a people is strong, it would be impossible for individuals with an uneducated mindset, aggressive motivations and dangerous aspirations to overrun the affairs of the country; as education would have facilitated the erection of good institutions that would be useful in the retention of their cultural values and religious philosophies that would make the pursuance of personal ambitions impossible. But when the collective reaction to education is weak, a group of extremely ambitious people would have the possibility to impose their jaundiced ideas on innocent individuals and take advantage of them. This position is held by Kukah in his reflection over the pervasion of crimes and terrorism that have engulfed the country in its recent history. He believes that the continued relevance of agitating groups which are convinced to take the line of violence is inspired by the breakdown of institutions that cannot rise to protest the violence perpetrated against innocent individuals. It would be difficult, Kukah maintained, for individuals to be recruited in their numbers to visit immense havoc on the country that birthed them or that gives them their identity. An individual educated enough to understand the place of society in life would desist from such actions. With this unpopular position, we can see why he is not loved by enemies of progress.
To Bishop Kukah, everything is definitely connected. Human happiness is not unconnected to the philosophy in practice in the society. This philosophy shares a close relationship with their educational values, which, however, is sustained by the collective interest of the society. In other words, when people are not happy, we can trace the root of their state of mind to the identified source as seen above. While individuals can vary in their understanding of how happiness can be achieved, everyone wants to be happy in all human societies. It is because the human source of happiness varies that they are encouraged to create a formidable foundation for education so that all human ideas can be cross-examined before generating the philosophy that would bring about the attainment of relative happiness to everyone. This is possible as individuals who derive pleasure when others are unhappy would be restrained by their collective philosophy that would be made through the said education. Therefore, the educational system is a social infrastructure that can ensure humans are reasonably satisfied in their course of living with others.
While reflecting on the place of education in Nigeria’s political system, Bishop Kukah touched on areas of sensitive debates concerning the country’s political evolution. Looking at the promiscuous switch of Nigeria’s political philosophy and system, it is not surprising that the collective psychology of the country is rendered unstable, which has created a dangerous atmosphere that is impractical for common development. Of course, Nigeria prides itself in practicing the system of democracy because its political offices are contested and chosen by the people and, in what we are forced to believe, for the people. Kukah believes that the crux of democracy, however, does not lie in the cosmetic practice of electing political leaders during the electioneering process. It is argued that political representation in an unsettled country like Nigeria cannot be said to take the shape of representative democracy, for the process is littered with layers of permutations in which ethnic ambition and religious motivations are the building blocks. However, there could be a restitution of the system when Nigeria’s democracy is shaped by ideas and cultures that demonstrate the importance of individuals regardless of their ethnic and religious backgrounds. Fragmented democracy, as seen in Nigeria, cannot be said to be a replica of its Greek heritage.
Bishop Kukah has been an important voice in contemporary times, and because of his controversial opinions, he has continued to occupy and engage the public space. He argues that the country’s democracy has actually seen different trials, such as the one encountered during the periods when military officials truncated the peace of the society by overtaking and forcing itself into the political affairs of the country by force. His views are unpopular among some people, not because they lack good intellectual content, but because they speak truth to power, and it is the habit of leaders across the world to appreciate comforting lies than embrace the fundamental truths needed for the advancement of human society. Kukah has always emphasized the place of democracy in the making of a formidable society because he believes that the attainment of progress rests exclusively on the democratic culture of the people. Strictly speaking, no matter how one sees Bishop Matthew Kukah, one thing cannot be taken away from him, and that is his commitment to truth-telling, no matter how unpopular those truths make him and the threats to his peace or safety.