(Text of a Lecture delivered at the 80th Birthday Celebration of Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, on February 23rd, 2022 by Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH)
There is no greater sorrow than to recall our time of joy in a time of wretchedness…Dante
1: When I received the invitation to deliver this lecture, the bearers of the letter can testify to my enthusiasm. Knowing the volatility of my schedules, I wrote back to say that I would pencil this request down and give it priority unless some circumstances force a change. That is exactly what has happened to make it impossible for me to be with you.
I truly regret that I am unable to be with you for the celebration of the 80th birthday of one of our nation’s illustrious sons and a great son of the body of Christ in whom we are obviously all well pleased. We thank God for raising a man of the status of Pastor Adeboye and I believe that the body of Christ owes him enormous gratitude for all the good works he has done as a pencil in the hands of God. This celebration should summon Christians to a greater sense of unity for the sake of the Gospel.
Not long after I received this invitation, I was approached by Dr. Doyin Okupe to speak on the occasion of the 70th birthday of the Primate of the Aladura Church, Rufus Ositelu. I was to deliver the lecture tomorrow, February 24th. If and when I can, I do not want to miss an occasion to be with members of the body of Christ. Let me use this opportunity and borrow two seconds from you to congratulate the Primate too. May the Lord bless the shepherds of his flock in these times.
My first time meeting with Adeboye
2: I do not know if Pastor Adeboye himself remembers but we have met only once and that was at the National Institute for International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos over twenty years ago. We shared a platform and I do not even recall what the event was. I thank God, Pastor that our paths have crossed again even if not physically.
3: We would all have thought that for a celebration of this nature, I would be asked to speak on a Religious theme, but obviously, because these are not normal times, you chose a topic for me. I know that the celebrations of this great man’s birthday may stretch for a while.
But, in a way, I am glad that since these are not normal times, salvaging our country requires that we all stretch our hands both in reflection and supplication. It is interesting that without even comparing notes, I had been asked to speak on a topic quite close to the one you have assigned me.
Dr. Okupe said I had been requested to speak on the topic: A Nation at War with Itself: A Panacea for Genuine Peace. This speaks to the seriousness of the situation we are in and the fact that almost every speaking platform focuses on the issues of finding the way out of the mess we are in today.
Country of many nations
4: I will divide this paper into three parts. The first part will ask how we descended from aspiring to become a united country to a country of what you refer to as a country of many nations. What constitutes these nations and when did the consciousness that we are nations emerge from? Why have we decided to rebel against the dreams of our founding fathers? Second, I will try to place in context why these agitations have emerged and if they can be curtailed.
Finally, I will ask, whether we should be like the elephant which often has to retreat before it charges to attack. Is it possible that our threat to go our separate ways is just, as Fela would say, shakara, a plea for attention to our grievances. I will argue that we can still gather the debris of our broken dreams and continue this journey to national greatness. We cannot outsource this obligation.
5: Identity politics, the consciousness of our worth is driven by both a perceived threat, fear, and anxiety created by a circle of social, or political decisions that are directed at excluding particular groups. The fears that drive identity politics lead to the reawakening of tribal consciousness. The fear of threatened groups could be based on race, group identity, sexual orientation, ideology, etc.
People congregate around an identity whose fluidity often helps them to mobilise on a broader scale to take in all forms of grievances. People react in anger, they become defensive, identify an enemy who could be the state itself, an actor, institution, or a law.
Applied to Nigeria, it is not uncommon to hear Nigerians blame one group, region, religion, or ethnic group for being responsible for the woes of our country. Adolf Hitler did the same with the Jews. It is often a very dangerous and slippery slope to climb.
Concept of Thymos
6: Francis Fukuyama refers to three categories of identities that we have to deal with in our daily lives as individuals, groups, or even nations. The first is the concept of Thymos. Thymos arises from the sense of asking, who am I?
The second is Isothymia, a desire to be recognised, conferred dignity that we believe is our due. Megalothymia is the desire that others recognise us as being their superior. I argue that our entire lives as individuals, families, communities, and nations are regulated by the interplay of these identities. How we manage these identities very much determines whether we are happy in our private lives, in our families, communities, or nations.
7: Ordinarily, as Chinua Achebe very well said, there is nothing wrong with Nigeria or Nigerians. We have continued to play the ostrich as a nation, refusing to face squarely the reasons for the inability of politics to deliver on good governance, for the inability of our hospitals to offer a cure to our people, for the inability of our security forces to keep us safe, for the inability of our educational institutions to deliver on quality education, for the inability of our communities to stay united, for our inability to feed ourselves, for even our seeming inability to be happy as a people or a nation.
We are refusing to even ask why is it that things have become so bad that everyone wants to go their separate ways. We can use the above identity typologies to reflect on how they have affected our lives today and why we are suddenly realizing that we are nations is an expression of our frustrations.
Where is our glory?
8: When did Nigerians realise that the dark night of underdevelopment has stretched on and the sun of promised development seems unable to rise? How did we come to the point in which there is hardly one single institution in our country that commands our pride, loyalty, and affection?
Short of fighting openly in the streets, all our institutions are in a state of moral decomposition and internal turmoil, unable to deliver on their mandates or earn our respect. Try going back to your Alma mater and see where the glory has gone. When I issued an Easter Message last year titled, Before our Glory Departs, I was accused by the agents of the government of being an alarmist, merely dividing our people. Where are we and where is our glory?
9: Today, from those who govern us, the family institution, political parties, judiciary, churches, or mosques, security agencies, the private sector, the civil service, we are all unhappy.
The ordinary citizens deride the rich, looking at them contemptuously while the rich walk with contrived arrogance that is borne out of a complex, but deep down, they often walk in silent shame, knowing fully well that elsewhere, they would have been lynched, imprisoned or hanged by the state.
For where in the world is perfidy, duplicity, even treachery be rewarded as we see in our country from elections of crooks and criminals to public life and lack of open condemnation?
10: The cumulative impact of years of military rule has made the notion of some threads that hold a society together such as due process, integrity, neighbourliness, charity, friendship, respect for law and authority, objects of derision, and curiosity in Nigeria. For where are the leaders with the moral authority to earn our respect and command our obedience?
A skewed reward system has ensured that men and women with no character have climbed the greasy pole of public service by virtue of ingrained culture nepotism which has become malignant cancer destroying a sense of merit, the call to duty, and decency.
There are federal institutions that are treated like the heirlooms of men and women from a particular faith, region, class, or even clan. Nepotism or favouritism built on religion, region, and class when deployed into public life, subverts trust and is the worst and most corrosive form of corruption for any society.
The bandit mantra
11: The failure of public institutions to render services across the country to our citizens has led to a situation where the rule of engagement is the bandit mantra: Everyone for himself and God for us all. When public goods are not evenly shared, certain groups begin to develop a skewed sense of entitlement while others squirm or revolt against the system, institution, community or even nation.
It facilitates the decay in public institutions which become a den of thieves where governance becomes an act of pure criminal enterprise as public resources go to a tiny circle based on family ties, religious or class identities. How did public service become an exercise in grand larceny? How did we get to the point where citizens from all spectrums of society become wary of anyone claiming that there is hope in our country?
In public gatherings, whether in the church or mosque, public lectures or social gatherings, it is an exercise in futility to try to even hazard a thought that this country has a future. This is where we are and this is how we have come to the point in which everyone wants to go home because they all physically exhausted and psychologically traumatised? The nation is literally a graveyard of hopelessness. The question that is hard to answer is, where is home today?
12: Is there any Nigerian who can utter those indelible words of Emma Lazarus which today adorn the Statute of Liberty in 1814, saying; Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free? We are choking and there is nowhere to turn in our country. Where does one find the moral authority to challenge those who say they want to leave Nigeria or even those trained abroad who do not wish to return?
Those in power show no sign of coming to grip with the hemorrhage as innocent blood continues to flow, as public officers pillage the nation with abandon and security agencies seemingly lacking in capacity to stop the drift, no thanks to a judicial system that has been mortally wounded? It is this cumulative impact of this frustration that has produced the notion encapsulated in the topic you assigned to me for this lecture.
My past efforts
13: I have spoken and written about the theme of national cohesion in several public lectures over the last few years. A collection of some of my Convocation Lectures will be published before the end of next month under the title; Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Illusive Quest for National Cohesion. I have sought desperately to offer hope to our people, but increasingly, the leadership at all levels seem to have lost the script or even the drive to work towards a united country.
In frustration, Nigerians have continued to seek new identities as a means of coping with life. What we are witnessing by way of a surge in ethnic, religious, cultural, class, social forms of consciousness is the manifestation of the symptom of that frustration. It is within this context that we must locate the screechy cries of marginalisation, oppression, injustice, and so on.
14: The rise in rebellion against the state is the result of the abandonment of citizens by its leaders. I have often been accused by my enemies of being political. They say I am a politician in a cassock. I actually like it when they say that because at least, it means that I have never taken the easy part of pretending to be neutral. In the struggle against dictatorship, the military people told me to take off my cassock and join politics because I was worrying them.
Today, those we struggled for Democracy together with are now making the same accusations under a Democracy in which they are beneficiaries and are not become altar boys and defending tyranny themselves. They see nothing wrong with closing the spaces for freedom. Now, like the military we fought, they now say I am a politician in cassock.
I have been accused of making what these men call, divisive comments rather than appealing to citizens for unity. They believe sadly, that a religious leader should at all times summon people to obedience, under these horrible circumstances.
Again, here, I do not have a problem because I know that the grain and the chaff cannot be served as one. To be divisive in times of crisis and moral darkness is to beckon our people, victims of injustice and the wickedness of state actors to see the light of truth.
So, yes, a good part of the criticisms are often good music to my ears because, in logic, it is evident that while some of my colleagues of yesterday who were in NADECO, civil society have changed jerseys, joined new clubs, I have remained at my station as a politician in cassock. I know that when it all ends, they will come back saying what a patriot I am.
We speak out of conviction without looking at the direction of the political wind vane. Indeed, to borrow the significant promise of our President at his inauguration, I am for everybody and for nobody! I will never walk away from the duty post of justice
15: I do not know how some of us religious leaders will face our maker by pretending that we stood on both sides of the fence in the name of neutrality in times such as the ones we are in now. What we call neutrality is actually an opportunistic political calculation aimed at ensuring that we do not lose our space in the queue to the corridors of power.
But, sadly, we are not living in ordinary times today. These are times of trial and tribulation for our country. It is important that we religious leaders stop misleading politicians and public officers by offering them the incense of public endorsement even by silence. We must wear our glasses of prophetic faith. By prophecy, I do not mean the criminal and misleading opportunism bandied by dubious men who hide under the umbrella of Jesus to make false and empty prophesies.
16: The challenge now is, amidst all of this, what next and what are we to do? At the risk of boring you, again, let me cite just a few examples of my struggles with these themes over the years. At a Convocation of the Odumegu Ojukwu University, Anambra State, in 2020, my lecture was titled, Nigeria: What Time is It? Similarly, I delivered a Lecture at a Conference on ethnicity in 2015, titled, Managing Ethnic Identities in the Church.
I am making these observations to underscore the fact that the theme of managing diversity and pluralism in an identity conflicted society such as ours is fundamental to how we make progress in managing our resources for the good of all. Evidence of the mismanagement of identity is what has bred the nepotism that we see today. It is a response to this that we now see and live in the chaos that we find ourselves now.
17: Let me round up by returning restating my thesis which is that if we should stop pretending by blaming the victim. Let us be honest, and say clearly that if Nigerians are moving away from the home their forefathers and mothers laboured to build called Nigeria, it is because they no longer see it as a habitat their forefathers dreamt of.
Left uncared for, this house has been taken over by weeds and rodents that threaten the survival of her children. They are dying of hunger amidst plenty, being murdered gruesomely by homebred and foreign bandits who are committed to taking us back to the jungle where we are all supposed to become serfs in their habitat of illiteracy.
18: Today, we all know that over 90% of long-suffering Nigerians want to live in peace and dignity as brothers, sisters, neighbours, and friends. Even if their government has become alien to their daily needs, our ordinary farmers and even beggars would want to be left alone to beg and farm.
Even if our mothers cannot have their children in any medical facilities, is it too much for them to ask that their children be saved from ritualists? If their government officials, the custodians of our commonwealth who loot our resources and send their wards to Europe and America decide not to give them an education for free, is it too much for them to ask that their children at least trek safely to school safely?
How much is too much and how small is too small? Successive uncaring governments have created the conditions under which Nigerians are now suffocating. When Nigerians say they want out, it is not because out is better or even safer than in. It is that those who govern us have created a condition in which uncertainty has more appeal than the certainty in which Nigerians live. The unknown knowns are better than the known unknowns.
19: I saw a video on social media recently which illustrates the tragic situation we are in now. A man lands into the hands of gun-wielding armed robbers. While he is lying down, he asks them, who are you? To which they answer, we are part-time armed robbers. T
o the shock of the armed robbers, their victim gets up and gives their leader a huge hug while smiling and says: God, why am I afraid? Are there still armed robbers in this country? Where have you been? You have left us in the hands of bandits, kidnappers.
The armed robbers themselves are confused because they are being welcomed as if they were long-lost saviours. This is where we are today. Ladies and gentlemen, going forward, what are the options before us? I will list five out of the very many that we have.
20: First, by whatever name we may wish to call it, we must intelligently walk through the difficult thorn-infested bush we now find ourselves in and ask, how do we rebuild confidence in our country? How do we bring the prodigals back? I use the word for want of a better word because I am sure that many have realised that we have squandered our greatness. I have not seen or read Dr. Kayode Fayemi’s new book, but I like the title: Unfinished Greatness.
In other words, what must be done to re-enkindle our unfinished greatness? Whether is it through restructuring, rotation, zoning, or whatever, we know that something must happen. My friend sent me a tweet in which a friend asks his friend,
What is the English name for kulikuli and his friend responds, Did you call it kulikuli and it refused to answer? By whatever name we may wish to call, it, we must peacefully disrupt this system to save our country because we cannot survive under the deadly weight of injustice. Our disruption requires new thinking, new strategies for subverting these institutions which no longer serve us. We have a new generation that has the imagination to achieve this feat.
21: Two, our identities like that of nations are artificially constructed. I hear Nigerians make so much out of the fact that we did not give ourselves the name Nigeria. Why is this an issue? We hear now that the word Hausa is not itself Hausa, Yoruba is not a Yoruba name nor is Igbo and Igbo name.
The Taj Mahal, St. Peter’s Basilica, Burj Khalifa, Hagia Sophia, the Eifel Tower, White House, Buckingham Palace, Dome of the Rock, all did not drop from heaven. They were initially valleys, gullies, bushes, rivers, and so on, but great men or women with imagination dream these structures into being by virtue of their human ingenuity. In the same way, every country today has come about as a result of the dreams of statesmen with the right architectural imagination.
22: Chief Awolowo is credited with saying that Nigeria was a mere geographical expression. He was right but did was not a way of saying that unity was not feasible. He himself borrowed the expression from Count Metternich’s 1814 use of the term to refer to Italy’s scattered states which would finally become one nation in 1870.
The challenge that faces Nigeria therefore is how to weld these nations into one united and undivided country. Sadly, those who have presided over the affairs have not developed the political sophistication to bring us all together.
Anyone aspiring to govern Nigeria must present evidence that he or she understands what it is to weld disparate people together, that they have the imagination to manage diversity. We do not want any claim of fabricated integrity, pretentious moral claims about fighting corruption, or promise of infrastructure.
23: Finally, keeping our people united should be the main philosophy of government. Finding the means of unity lies in creative imagination around infrastructure. We were promised Housing, Power, Railways, and Roads among so many other things by this administration.
We commend the government so far on the struggle for Railways, Roads, and Housing even though we are still wallowing in darkness. But, with some seriousness, something can be done. For example, Egypt and Ethiopia have done it. When people are fired up by the imagination and inspiration of a charismatic leader, the sky will only be a footstool.
Look at Egypt under General and now President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. In 2014, the President launched an appeal fund to raise $9.2b for the construction to expand and deepen the Suez canal.
Barely twenty-four hours after the announcement of the plan, a total of 7500 workers were on-site, supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers. In 8 days Egyptian citizens raised the money on their own in response to the President’s appeal.
The construction work was initially meant to last five years, but the President has said it must be completed in three years. Again, in 2014, while he was still a military Head of State, President Al Sisi promised to build one million houses for the poor in Egypt. That feat has been accomplished.
24: Or look at Ethiopia. Ethiopia started a project to generate 6,500 megawatts of power from the Blue Nile in 2011 or so. Today, the project has commenced operation. This is part of Ethiopia’s dream of becoming a middle-income country by 2025! Exporting power is on their agenda.
Compare with the tragic story of Nigeria where promises to generate electricity has seen the agency become a bottomless and stinking pit of corruption. It is just to say that in the final analysis, where a leader goes is where his people will follow especially that leadership is about developing goals and mobilising people to join those goals.
25: The biggest challenge that Nigeria faces is how to bridge the huge moral deficit in leadership trust and the performance of public officers. How to get out of this den of thieves is the challenge that Nigerians now face. The campaigns are about to start and we will again to the polls. We are totally powerless and unable to break free of the stranglehold of those from whom we must choose our leaders.
A simple procedure like signing an Electoral Bill is now looking like climbing mount Everest with bare hands ostensibly because the Bill has a chance of helping ordinary citizens have a say in choosing their leaders through the ballot and help end our culture of voting without choosing.
26: At the heart of our elections next year must be the issue of whether we remain a country or we face our worst nightmare of the nation breaking up. The fears are real and it will be a pity if we pretend that this is not a possibility. The hopes we had have been squandered and the evidence of our failure is clear to everyone to see. It is hard to see which of the key promises that we were made has come to fulfillment.
Our next Presidential candidates must tell us where they stand in the areas of the restructuring of this country or, if the word sounds irritating, tell us how we shall pull down these walls of deceit that have fractured our entire country. There may be a better name for them, but for all we care, we want a country where we are really and truly free, where we feel safe, and where governance is not an extended fiefdom for a selected few who continue to misuse power.
I would wish to hear a Nigerian President, cross his heart with enough moral authority and say what the President of Malawi said in a national broadcast after an Audit report showed that some of his ministers had misappropriated Covid-19 money.
He said in an extraordinarily sincere, deep-from-the-heart, emotion-laden speech, the like of which I have never heard anywhere in Africa: I cannot have in my cabinet any individual who either spent money budgeted for one thing on something else or do not ask tough questions to ensure that the money they are spending on something was budgeted for that purpose.
As far as I am concerned, anyone who steals or wastes public funds is a traitor to this country. I pray I pray that God’s curse will rest on anyone who steals even one kwacha of the public funds that God has entrusted us to use in serving our people. Will the Nigerian who can make such a speech please step forward and be crowned our President on May 29th, 2023.
28: A happy birthday to my senior brother, Pastor Adeboye. May God bless you, your family, and all the members of your flock you lead all over the world under the name of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. As you walk ahead to the sunset, may you not arrive there soon but may your steps be steady. God bless our dear country.