Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of Sokoto, Nigeria
TAR: You talk about the marriage of faith and the state. How does this tie in with the drive by the churches to get people to register to vote?
MATTHEW HASSAN KUKAH: This has always been our civic duty. For any political process – I don’t think it’s peculiar to us in Africa – faith spaces have been very useful because of the moral authority of the teachers themselves, and the fact that our patriotism has to draw inspiration from our moral convictions.
You have the Catholic church trying to stay politically neutral. Should priests intervene on matters of ideology and moral values?
First of all, every citizen has to exercise their political rights. As religious leaders, our responsibility is to clarify the choices that our people make. Yes, I’ll vote for the party of my choice, but we don’t have a right to direct how people should vote.
How independent is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)?
INEC as it is presently constituted has to do extraordinarily hard work to convince Nigerians about its readiness to be as neutral as Nigerians expect. So far, it’s got nothing to do with the personalities running the show. Nigerians have every reason to be afraid about a process [in which] they suspect the key actors to not be independent minded.
Do the security crises in the country justify the calls for the creation of state police forces?
When I think of state police – and we have governors so visibly partisan in how they perceive particular conflicts – you can only imagine the consequences.
Which governors are the worst offenders?
I’m not prepared to name names. Everybody who lives in this country must be clear how people feel. It’s interesting that the governor of Kaduna State [Nasir el-Rufai] will cross into Katsina State and that he’ll receive traditional rulers from Zamfara about a crisis when I have not seen the same governor receive traditional rulers from other parts of Kaduna State.
As a Christian living in northern Nigeria, I would not contemplate anything like state police. Northern Nigeria has shown very clearly its reluctance to imbibe the instruments and institutions of modernisation. I shudder to think what the consequences will be.
Are the country’s herdsmen-farmers clashes a resource war, ethnic cleansing or both?
Why does Nigeria remain in such a state of volatility? What it suggests is that there are people running the ship of state that have absolutely no idea about how to run a modern state that can deploy the huge resources that this country has to meet the needs of ordinary citizens, creating an equitable society in which ordinary citizens feel a sense of belonging.
Are the clashes a resource war or ethnic cleansing?
It is a range of issues. Nothing is caused by a single action. These grievances have been growing in Nigeria over a long period. I don’t think we have ever had a president who can talk about the cultural composition of the country. Do they know how many ethnic groups exist in their state? Most governors have no idea.
Is President Muhammadu Buhari winning the anti-corruption campaign?
As far as Buhari was concerned, corruption is recovering money that has been stolen by politicians, then putting them in prison. That is the linear view. But recovering money doesn’t necessarily mean you are fighting corruption. You stole my phone, and I managed to get it [back]. But it hasn’t stopped you from being a thief.
What should be done?
Is nepotism corruption? In a plural and complex society such as Nigeria, can you explain how it is that somebody cannot find the moral authority to quarrel with it? How do people steal money? There’s hardly any day we’re not hearing stories about monies being stolen. The question you may ask is: These allegations, have they followed through to the end? If not, why?
How do you think we will manage the elections next year?
It will be one of the greatest miracles if we pull through this election successfully. I do not see how we are going to conduct these elections if nothing urgently is done to create a sense of national cohesion. It would be difficult to find one single state where you do not have tension that could boil over. If you multiply this by the number of states in Nigeria and the little sense of urgency, it would be difficult to talk about 2019 without a sense of foreboding. I have never felt this way. I prayerfully hope the government will wake up to appreciating how bitter people feel.
This interview first appeared in the April 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine