Matthew Hassan-Kukah is the Bishop of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese. In this Interview with Bolaji Ogundele, in Port Harcourt, he spoke on the Boko Haram sect and sundry national issues. The Excerpts
What view do you really hold on the sustained Boko Haram crisis troubling the North?
The other day, I had a discussion with some German journalists who came to visit me in Sokoto, six of them. They were interested in knowing why Sokoto remains one of the most peaceful places in Nigeria. I also took some professors from the Uthman Dan Fodio University to my house so we could discuss because, just a few days before then, the Bureau of Statistics had released a report that Sokoto State was the poorest state in Nigeria. I wasn’t prepared to join the debate, but if Sokoto is the poorest state in Nigeria and if Boko Haram is driven by poverty, shouldn’t we be the most violent state in Nigeria? How is it that we are still the most peaceful? What this does is that it explodes the myth and perhaps we might have founded our analysis on a wrong premise. I don’t think you can scientifically correlate violence with poverty.
How has the Boko Haram crisis affected the socio-economic life in the North?
Quite negatively, because many people in my diocese have moved. Economic activities even in the most vibrant environments have substantially crippled. Nobody can exaggerate what has happened. Also, it is at a national level because every nook and cranny of Nigeria is literarily affected; there is a yellow card by the international community; more and more people are unwilling to come to Nigeria, whether it is Port Harcourt, Aba or Lagos, so we have a national problem. It is not something you can localise by just talking about the North; it’s about how to fix our nation. But I have a personal feeling that even though this problem caught us unawares, it is actually a symptom of our lack of seriousness in subjecting our political experiences to the critical tools of analysis that are generated by the contributions of intellectuals. The whole question of what was happening to us, which is now called Boko Haram, has never been subjected to any critical intellectual analysis. We’ve just been interested in the burning of houses, suicide bombers and so on, but we have never attempted to ask “What is the moral economy or what really predisposes people to this kind of attitude, where did this come from?” Beyond thinking of intelligence as gathering gossip and information from people, there are intellectual views. It is possible to trace the historical processes that have produced what we have now in the name of Boko Haram.
You believe that without dealing with the core issues surrounding Boko Haram
Good question, what are these core issues? Rather than seeing Boko Haram at the level of just the explosions, we should be asking ourselves; where did it come from? Is there any connection between Boko Haram and other forms of violent protests that preceded it, whether it’s Maitatsine or whatever? Can we explain why this Boko Haram is dominant in Maiduguri, Yobe and not in Sokoto or Kebbi? These are questions that only intellectual analyses, dispassionate, taken away from politics, can help us to come to a conclusion because there must be a reason and it may be sociological, cultural, religious or historical, as to why certain things happen where they do. If this was about religion, and Muslims are trying to expand the frontiers of Islam, which kind of a stupid man will be fighting inside his own house and hope to conquer other people?
We have not even attempted to profile the key characters that are involved in Boko Haram. Up till this day, we don’t have a profile of any of the key actors. The guy presenting himself as Shekau, for example, who is he? A lot of literature has been churned out of Osama Bin Laden; his biography, and so on. These are things that a serious government that appreciates the intellectual contributions of universities, of research institutions in policy making, should have been able to deal with. I think we’ve seen Boko Haram purely and simply as a question of what government can or cannot do. Goodluck Jonathan is not a magician, he certainly doesn’t have more than two eyes, but a lot of the questions have been narrowed down to politics.
Do you think the amnesty programme is capable of bringing peace to the North?
Even if it doesn’t solve the problem, it will not make it worse and my own personal feeling is that it’s not too late. But we have put the cart before the horse because this committee should have actually sat a year or so ago and the result of its analysis of the problem should have been the basis for government policies as to whether you are going to give people amnesty, in exchange for what. But clearly, many people have responded to the amnesty thing by reflex, more than anything else. What I mean by reflex is that we have characteristically said how can you grant amnesty to the people, what about the destruction that has taken place? No! The reconstruction of Nigeria is also part and parcel of ending this problem. So, you can’t isolate all the issues, it’s just that the result of this committee’s work should provide, hopefully, a framework for the government in deciding which way it’s going to go.
Talking about reconstructing Nigeria, do you support the call for a sovereign national discourse?
Again, unfortunately for us in Nigeria, for everything we have on the table, you either support or you are against. Do I support sovereign national conference, do I support amnesty? None of these things is in black and white: my position on the idea of sovereign national conference is that it has become an excuse. When we don’t want to have an exhaustive discussion on anything, we will say let’s have a sovereign national conference. It isn’t every time that you have a domestic quarrel that you have a conference to resolve the issue, I think what we have in Nigeria is clearly not unexpected of a country that has come through many years of military dictatorship. It is not unexpected of a country that is so resource-endowed; it is not unexpected of a country whose source of resources is only oil wells. These distortion are there, their application to society is what you call corruption.
The important thing is to appreciate the fact that we are not going to resolve the problems in one day. T here is no state in Nigerian today that anybody can say is a model state, where the governor can show us that “this is how all states in Nigeria should be.’’ O one may be good in infrastructure, but may not be good in other things. But to manage a complex country like Nigeria requires a lot of patience and painstaking analysis and encouragement to realise that the good life we are looking for may not happen in our life time, but perhaps 20, 30 years or so. Nigeria will be a different country. Sovereign national conference will never produce anything that is not yet on the table.
What we are witnessing are the sins we committed during our transition; we ought to have concluded the discussions about the constitution before we enacted a new government. The Nigerian political elite, largely made up of the other carpet baggers, who were also with the military, simply wanted the military to hand over, very quickly, the keys of the kingdom and the result has been that the system has never really been energised by people with real democratic reflex, who can appreciate the importance of the rule of law, who can appreciate the importance of constitutionalism and a range of other intangible things that drive democracy. Democracy is not just about the distribution of resources, it’s not just about digging roads and building houses and hospitals, it is much more than that.
Some analysts had expressed fear that Boko Haram can lead to a sectarian war
I think that, in fairness to us as a nation, that we are still standing is one of the greatest achievements of our country. I have not read any editorial, article, I have not heard any opinion on the radio, calling on the military to come and solve our problems. That is a quantum leap for Nigeria and it’s a plus for us, meaning that we have decided, almost collectively, that this project of democracy, no matter how bad it is, we will remain on it. It’s intangible, but it’s very important because it’s like a man who believes that he is committed to a marriage; a fight is not enough for him to contemplate divorce, childlessness is not enough for him to contemplate divorce.
With Boko Haram, Nigerians have demonstrated very clearly. The things the 12 far Northern states are now talking about are the things that Gideon Okar offered them in 1990. But it was precisely because Orkah made that offer that Nigerians said no! That was why the coup failed. We’ve gone through a civil war to say we want to live together, so, the indivisibility of Nigeria in principle is almost unquestionable. But it is not something we can assume because it has to be met by a range of other factors.