BusinessDay

Nigerians are tired, angry, says Kukah at NBA conference

…says constitution offers little hope, tasks lawyers, judges

Fiery cleric and catholic bishop of Sokoto diocese, Hassan Matthew Kukah says young Nigerians are angry and tired of the happenings in the country.

Kukah spoke at the 61st annual general conference (AGC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which kicked-off in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Monday, October 25, 2021.

Delivering a keynote address at the conference, the bishop said “they (youths) cannot protest; if you carry a laptop, you are labelled a yahoo boy. The sign that Nigerian youths are tired is the heavy traffic to other countries. Now, there is internal hostility between the young and the old.”

He made it clear that Nigerians are exhausted, mentally and physically. “We must ask how we got to this point. How did we end up with a country that performs below installed capacity?

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“Religious terrorism threatens the land. Yusuf associated with the then governor of Borno State and this emboldened him because he helped to deliver an election.”

Kukah, who said it was not true that he was against the government in power, said he was only exercising his freedom of expression and speaking his mind.

He agreed with Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers, (guest speaker) who he said raised critical issues about the law, judiciary, and justice, saying lawyers must take a decision to save Nigeria.

Kukah, who worked for peace in Ogoni of Rivers State for about six years said: “I do not know any other country that amends its constitution more frequently than Nigeria, and starts all over again; so much that talking about constitutional amendment attracts derision. The US in hundreds of years has amended their constitution only 27 times. Yet, our problems seem tied to our constitution; its inability to solve problems that confront the nation.”

The cleric said the problem with the Nigerian constitution could be the quality of persons Nigeria sent to the constitutional conferences to review the supreme law of the land. “It is used as a favour because presidents and governors handpick those to go. The least objective they have in mind is getting a near-perfect constitution to guide the country. At last, tribal activists come together to argue for their interests.”

Saying he has worked in panels that reviewed the constitution, he said one of the chairmen of such constitutional review committees wrote a book to reveal his shock that Nigerians come to the table arguing about frivolities. Some were only concerned about which religion should get the upper hand, others argued about the cross at hospitals, etc.

He said one of the chief justices that headed such exercises revealed how the delegates use to be so aggressive and rancorous over minor matters that on the eve of one voting session, knives and daggers were bought out in markets in Abuja and Suleja.

He said: “Ethno-religious giants have seized the nation by the jocular, thus, Nigeria develops in reverse. The price Nigeria pays is our failure to give ourselves a proper constitution. We fail to understand the difference between leaders and officeholders. You can have office but you have no authority. We suffer from collective ignorance of one another.”

He went on: “Every judge must rise up to defend the land. Each time a case is in court, it is not just two parties on trial but the whole nation is on trial. That is what Nelson Mandela told Apartheid South Africa; that is what Martin Luther King told America. The Brown versus Department of Education case in the US was not between two parties but a fight to expand education opportunities to blacks; it challenged the US Charter of Freedom and the Declaration of Independence.”

He urged lawyers to make a choice: “Whether you are the lawyer for the rich and powerful or for the public.”

He said Nigerians must get to a situation where religion is not to be regarded as a weapon to flog the people. “Sharia fire ignited in the year 2000 has refused to be put off.’

Mentioning names of presidents that show him the books they are currently reading, the scholarly cleric said we must think not about the next election but begin to renew knowledge. It must not be about the powerful against the weak.

He went on: “Martin Luther King had issue with how the American society was going (against the blacks, against his children). He did not appeal to the Bible, he appealed to the constitution and the declaration of independence. He saw the US constitution as a promissory note and went to draw justice from it. Is the Nigerian constitution a promissory note, a cheque, can we draw from it? Can we draw the right to life, and the right to pursue happiness?

“Luther King said he refused to believe that the Bank of Justice is bankrupt.”

He said some accuse him of attacking the government in power today. “I do not attack the government but I speak my mind. We refuse to believe that Nigeria’s Bank of Opportunity cannot give us prosperity.

“We may not have enough for our greed but certainly for our needs. My community does not need much to be happy.”

He commended the National Assembly for giving Nigerians hope for free elections bypassing the law on the transmission of results electronically.

On a note of optimism, the bishop said he believes in Nigeria and hinted at how he turned down the possibility of US citizenship. “I said if I do so, I would be telling God that he made a mistake by putting me here. Nigeria will not break up. It’s a marriage that has issues but will not break up.”

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