The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Revd (Dr) Matthew Hassan Kukah, has said it is sad that the otherwise potent and active civil society in the country went to bed after the enthronement of this present democracy and allowed see sroom for non-charlatans in power.
He said: “The civil society which paraded men like Olisa Agbakoba, the late Beko Ransome-Kuti, Clement Nwankwo, Chidi Odinkalu and others, went to bed after it succeeded in ushering democracy in the country,” and allowed the kind of characters we now have in government in the country whom with their misrule has brought Nigeria to a near precipice.
Kukah, who spoke during a conference on ‘Civic Space: The Pathway to Social Cohesion and Integration in Nigeria,” said the situation where the nation’s democracy and those in governance are not put on watch by the civil society has resulted to the confusion which the country is currently battling with where members of the National Assembly are contributing their various struggles to see that the civic space is actually closing in instead of opening up.
He lamented that the present situation we find ourselves was not unconnected with the fact that the nation currently parades so many people who are in politics without any track record, nor antecedents of engagement with public life.
He stated that with a close look at the profile of those who are currently in power from top to bottom, it was understandable why the system is literally crumbling and why the struggle for human rights is literally now being renewed and why the struggle to recover the public space has become a struggle. He stressed that Nigerians must renew their energies and be prepared to participate in it.
Kukah, while also lamenting that the nation is threading a dangerous path which has left young people with feeling totally disempowered, said Nigerians were faced with a nation that consumed its own children.
He decried the situation where Nigerians are now faced with the prospects of an uncertain future, as now “we have Barbarians at the doors.”
He said it was sad that “we are being referred to as rebellious whereas it is those in government that are rebellious,” acting against the wishes of the populace and sometimes the law of the land.
He said the situation the country has found itself was thought to be impossible and even the worst enemy of Nigeria could never had contemplated that the nation would be so headed.
The respected cleric said democracy was not an exercise undertaken by good men and good women which was really what Nigerians had always fallen victim to, insisting that a narrative that the nation was looking for holy men, men of integrity, men of dignity and so on to govern the country was wrong ab initio.
He noted that it was also wrong for Nigerians to assume that managing a diverse country like ours did not require some certain level of deep intellectual reflection and understanding of the complexity of managing a diverse society.
Kukah opined that we need a country of people who are so energetic and ready to guide our joint patrimony, insisting that “now that the Barbarians are at the door, how to fight back was the challenge facing the nation.”
He added that if there was any lesson at all that the nation can learn, it was that the nation was faced with political actors in whose hands Nigerians entrusted the future of the country, but who had no reflexes for understanding how diversity can be managed and who seemed to have almost no intellectual capacity to understand that governance, the strength of a nation lied in its ability to mobilise its resources across board.
He said: “And therefore, going forward, the tragedy that has now afflicted our country and where we find ourselves, is no excuse for us to become despondent. In 2023, whether it happens or whatever the case may be, we prayerfully hope it happens, but it gives us another opportunity to ask ourselves and think about the mistake that we made because we are not innocent in the choices that we made. Most of us are complicit despite the fact that of course, using the agencies and agents of state, those in power always continue to seek to close the space.
“The challenge for us therefore, is to understand that democracy is a work in progress. All of us engage in democracy and opening up the civic space must realise this is a journey, it is a long journey, we must wear the shoes of the long distance runner and every generation face its own challenges and pass the challenges up to the next generation. But whatever we pass to the next generation must be a light of hope.”
Kukah further said the conversation would continue beyond 2023, saying there was the need to strengthen the nerves of Nigerians in order to create a robust democracy because without it, Nigerians will end up with the all consuming fires of ethnicity, religion, dubious expression of religiosity which does not translate into a change in the lives of ordinary people and Nigeria will continue to remain a violent state because the resources of the nation were not well managed.
He also said it was wrong to accuse him and his likes of causing trouble in the country, noting that Nigeria was already in trouble as a nation, but insisted that the challenge now was how to climb out.
Speaking earlier, the Executive Director of the Kukah Centre, Revd Fr. Attah Barkindo, said the conference was aimed at deepening the culture of democracy and free speech in the country.
Barkindo said the issue of the shrinking of the civic space had become a daily discuss amongst Nigerians under the tree, in the markets, on the farms, in their cars, on airplanes and their offices.
In his contribution, a former Nigerian Ambassador to the Scandinavian countries and ex-Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Ambassador Boladei Igali, said from the foundation of human society, what has brought progress and advancement was the civic space.
Igali, who was one of those in the panel of discussants, added that throughout the cause of history, all manner of human leaderships have tried to shrink the civic space, but the strength, the energy, the versatility of the human spirit has never allowed the civic space to be shrunk.
Also in the panel in discussants include: Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, who was represented by Zipporah Ibeh, Idayat Hassan of Centre for Democracy and Development, Jake Epelle of the Albino Foundation, Audu Bukarti of Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, with Ms. Inya Ode as moderator.