Sunday, 07 July 2024 04:54

‘It is religion that stops the poor in Nigeria from killing the rich’ - Matthew Kukah

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Matthew Kukah Matthew Kukah

Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto was a Guest Speaker at The Platform Special Edition held on June 12 and organized by Poju Oyemade under the auspices of The Covenant Nation in Lagos. Held under the theme, Democracy and the Free Market Economy, Kukah spoke on Nigeria’s 25 years of unbroken democracy and the way forward for the country. However, he said Nigeria’s democracy is in recession. Excerpts:

On using technology to fish out those stealing Nigeria’s money and stashing it in banks

I am in full support if such technology exists. If there are drones that can go around and find out those who have what… There must be a way of resolving this problem.

On the sorry state of Southern Kaduna

Talking about the demand side of economics, I come from the southern part of Kaduna State and we have been demanding for Southern Kaduna State since Kaduna State was created because, across the whole of Southern Kaduna, there is not a single sign of federal presence.

On Labour, FG & minimum wage

The Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Rt. Rev Godfrey Onah, told me a story, it is a common story that animals gathered. I don’t know whether it was an elephant that died and they gathered to share the elephant and the tortoise came from somewhere and said “I must get the thigh of this elephant” and other animals looked at him and the lion said “who made that demand?” Other animals said it was tortoise and lion replied: “You are asking for the thigh? If you get the intestine, that is what we are going to give you”.

The tortoise said “actually that’s what I wanted but if I didn’t ask for the thigh I would not even get the intestine”. My friends in Labour are asking for the thigh by asking for 1 million naira minimum wage and the President has already committed himself to solving the problem as he said in his speech on Democracy Day. And coming from the background of Labour I think with himself (president) and people like Senator Adams Oshiomhole (former NLC President and erstwhile governor of Edo State) and a few other labour activists, our problems should be on the way to being solved. But let me read out a quotation which will surprise you: “There is indeed worldwide economic recession. “However, in the case of Nigeria, the impact was aggravated by mismanagement.

“The situation could have been avoided if our legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities.

“The legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefits and unnecessary foreign travels.

“As a result of our inability to cultivate financial discipline and prudent management of our economy, we have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowings to execute government projects.

“The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last years have been a source of immorality and impropriety in our society, but we should do our best to settle genuine payment of salaries to which government is committed including the backlog of workers’ salaries”. I will give $1 million which I don’t have… but I will give anybody who can tell me who said this? This is taken from a speech delivered by General Buhari on the 31st of December 1983 (when he seized power from civilian President Shagari). 41 years ago. I’m not disappointed that you don’t remember because Nigerians don’t remember anything and that is why we are where we are today, we don’t remember anything.

On 25 years of uninterrupted democracy

We are celebrating the fact that we’ve had 25 years of “uninterrupted democracy” and we are anxious about the things we’ve not done and we’re also anxious about why we’ve not succeeded. American elections are coming up in November and there’s a lot of anxiety perhaps even more than there is in Nigeria and yet it is exactly 245 years since America elected their first President in 1789. It is to make the point that democracy is not an event; democracy, the way we understand it, I mean there’s a lot of anxiety across the board. I prefer to take a fairly historical view because too many of us are too careless about our expectations and it’s legitimate to have expectations, but those expectations must be founded on reality. Professor Huntington, the famous American professor who was actually my teacher, he did say something that there were three waves of democracy.

There is the democracy of the 19th century which is the wave that took America and other countries to where they are and then the post-World War II wave which took most of the countries in Europe to where they are today. And then, of course, the third wave happened in 1970 that saw Africa, Asia and Latin America becoming democratic or at least embracing the principles of democracy. But as you can see, across Africa, democracy has manifested in different shapes and in different forms.

Nigeria’s democracy pays little attention to intellectual conversation

I think what is missing in our conversation is that, unlike Europe where the principles of democracy were founded on the thinking of several philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and John Locke, etc, the whole lot of our democracy has paid very little attention, it’s not been the subject of a very serious intellectual conversation. We have been involved in intellectual conversations about democracy but modern western liberal democracy, as we understand it today, benefited extensively from the work of people like St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. It is also quite significant that (US President) Joe Biden, even in his presidential address, had to quote St Augustine and it means, therefore, that it is the teachings, the philosophies and the theology of some of these scholars that laid the foundation for what we call democracy today.

On why Nigeria’s democracy is in recession

Unfortunately, our democracy is in recession, is in decline, precisely, because it is evident to us that what we are working with is not something that has come from our own historical, cultural or even anthropological experiences.

But, having said that, even after embracing democracy, it must be clear to us that there are different ways of talking about democracy, there are different models of democracy. The British left us with the Westminster parliamentary system; we quarreled with it and then we decided we wanted the American presidential system. Of course, I was Secretary of the Political Reform Conference in 2005 when the discussion went on about term limits; there was so much anxiety almost like there are all kinds of anxieties that Nigerians have. Nigerians can’t think beyond a particular period. Right now our obsession with politics is 2027. If you tell Nigerians about what might happen in 2040 or 2050, Nigerians don’t want to hear that, so all our plotting, all our scheming is what is going to happen in 2027.

On China’s 100 years plan to rule the world

I read a book earlier in the year which, I think, if you can find it, please read it, the title is: ‘100-Year Marathon’, with the subtitle ‘China’s Secret Plan To Rule The World’. It’s a fascinating book because it talks about the fact that after the Communist Party won elections in 1949, the Chinese now decided to put a plan in motion in which the plan is 100 years old from 1949 to 2049. And China, within that period, is to be the greatest nation in the world. I don’t have to tell you where China is now.

Nigeria’s democracy needs clarity, long-term plan

It was very interesting I flew Air Peace (airline) yesterday and it was very nice to see a Chinese air hostess speaking very good Nigerian English; that tells you that if we are going to go on the path of democracy, there needs to be some kind of clarity about what are we looking at now while we are debating term limits.

For example, I remember that Tony Blair was British Prime Minister for 10 years, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister for 11 years, Lee Kuan Yew, people would speak eloquently about Singapore, but Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister, I think, 1958 or 59 or thereabouts and he remained so consistently. He conducted elections and won elections, the party he founded, People’s Action Party, is still the party in power today.

What people don’t remember about Lee Kuan Yew, which also speaks to other issues, is that Lee Kuan Yew studied in Cambridge and got a First Class; his son, who just stepped down as Prime Minister, went to Cambridge and he too got a First Class; Lee’s wife went with him to Cambridge and she also got a First Class. Imagine the quality of his imagination and, immediately he became Prime Minister, the first thing he did was to go to Harvard where young people like Henry Kissinger (former US Secretary of State) were just young lecturers, he established a relationship with them and from there they led him to Washington.

But one of the critical things that Lee did, which, I think, should speak to the reason why democracy is failing so badly in Africa is that Lee Kuan Yew identified the Public Service as the most important vehicle of governance, and so, if you got a First Class in Singapore, you went into the Public Service and he so incentivized the Civil Service that it became the place to go.

The salaries of civil servants in Singapore were 80% more than what people were getting in the private sector. Now, in Nigeria, if somebody wants to marry your daughter and your daughter tells you “the guy I want to marry is working in the ministry”, I’m sure you know that is a no-brainer, it’s most likely your prospective father-in-law will look the other way.

On corrupt Civil Service corrupting good intentions of the government

Every governor, President is full of good intentions. (But) the question is, what is the quality of the container, the quality of the conveyor belt for carrying the good wishes of the government? Because we have a thoroughly corrupt Civil Service, the result is that no matter the vision, no matter the dream because we tend to focus on what the President is not doing and what the governor is not doing, we forget the quality of those who are conveying the intentions of government.

It is to make the point that when somebody like Lee Kuan Yew stayed and conducted elections, he won elections over 30 years. Putin has over 20 years as President; we don’t know when he’s going to go. Museveni, we are celebrating 25 years of his being in power for about 38 years in Uganda; it started in 1986; we have no idea when he’s going to go.

Nigerian elite are shameless

Nigerians are quite shameless, especially the Nigerian elite. I don’t know what Nigerians were thinking when they started visiting South Africa for holidays and they probably have houses in South Africa, but which South Africa are you adoring? Is it the one that was built by apartheid or the South Africa of today? Criminals have so much money; they’ll go anywhere they hear there is a good place. Nigerians are now shamelessly going to Rwanda and they come back telling stories about Rwanda, but which Rwanda do you want to be in? Is it Rwanda in which you can contest the election? Here in Nigeria, you can fight, you can go to the Supreme Court, but tell me, who has stood in front of (Rwanda leader) Paul Kagame and is still standing to talk? We need to make a point about what exactly we want. Paul Biya has been President of Cameroon since 1982. Mbasogo has been President (of Equitorial Guinea) for 43 years now and he’s still president. Saso Ngusseo (leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo) is still there since 1979, he has been in power for 38 years.

Correlation between stability & development

I think somebody made the point that there’s a correlation between a certain kind of stability and development. It depends though, but the volatility in our system suggests that we need to be a little bit calmer. The situation in which we are all quarrelling with the quality of the tools that we are working with doesn’t address the issue. Martin Wolfs, who worked with the Financial Times, wrote a very beautiful book, ‘The Crisis Around Liberal Capitalism’, and he makes the point that the beauty of the economy is that it is a “Marketplace and a Marketplace is beautiful because it’s a place of choice”.

But the truth of the matter is that Adam Smith made the point about the ‘Invisible hand of the market’ where only spirits are invisible, but it also speaks to the fact that the invisible hand cannot regulate the market. Wall Street, which is really the temple of the world economy, after its collapse, hundreds of millions of Americans became homeless, it’s impact reverberated across the world, but the very interesting thing is that nobody, not one single person from Wall Street is in prison. Now, Michael Douglas talks about the glory of greed and this is the challenge for many countries in Africa beginning with Nigeria.

On the need to restrain the greed of political elites

How do you restrain the greed of the political elite, and not only the political elite but also the greed and the appetite of ordinary Nigerians because it is feeding this beast that has made it impossible for this country to grow? And, of course, you know that Labour is asking for N516, 000 minimum wage and government says it’s unable to pay.

Economist talk about what they call incentive compatibility, we cannot talk about people being corrupt when it is clear to us that the incentives for doing the right thing don’t exist. On the discussion of what economic choices to make, are we to be socialist or capitalist? Nigeria is neither and it’s not a choice of either. China has demonstrated very clearly to us that we don’t have to make those kinds of choices.

The monkey story

There is the story of a woman, she came back from the market and she had a set of twins. She came back with a small cake. When she brought out the cake, she had a monkey and the mother was about to give the cake to the twins and the monkey said, “Look, you are a mother; you cannot give this, you know you are going to create problems for your children. How will they share this cake? I am a neutral person; so, let me share the cake”.

The monkey collects the cake; he breaks the cake into two and discovers one is bigger than the other. Because they are twins, he bites it off in order to equalize it and, in biting it, this one became bigger and he continues this and then the children are waiting for the cake and they’re looking and by the time the monkey turns around the cake is finished. That is exactly what we have before. Socialism has not worked for us, but it doesn’t mean that capitalism will work for us.

It means that there has to be something internal in the heart. It’s very interesting we don’t like to talk about religion and the people say religion has become so abused. There’s no amount of abuse they have not heaped on religion. But the point is that it is religion that stops the poor from killing the rich.

Papa encyclicas relating to economics

What we are debating now about wages, Pope Pius the 13th (1891), let me read out what the Pope was saying at that time. He said: “Today, working men, all over the world, are allowed in their demands that they shall, in no circumstance, be subjected to arbitrary treatment as though devoid of intelligence.

And freedom working men insist on being treated as human beings with a share in every sector of human society in the social economic sphere in government and in the realm of learning and culture.” In (1963), Pope Paul the 6th came out with an encyclical called: ‘Pacem in Terris; Peace on Earth’.

And one of the things he said is: “It is only by labour of working men that states grow, rich, justice therefore demands that the interest of the working class should be carefully watched over by the administration so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create.”

On way out: Democracy Ideals & Intellectuals

Nigerians talk about “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”. The challenge before us is not so much a question of how the market works. The challenge is that the human person in Nigeria must become the thermometer for gauging whether systems are working or not working.

We have provisions in the Nigerian Constitution and I think that the challenge before us is that the National Assembly and the government must go back to the Constitution. I hear the criticisms against the Constitution but there is enough in our Constitution to give us the things we are asking for. If you just go through Chapter Two of the Constitution, of course the frame has said that the issues we are asking for there are fundamental as to how Nigeria is going to grow. There are provisions there, for example, encouraging us to inter-marry, encouraging us to form association, encouraging us about religious freedom. But a lot of these issues are operated in their breaches. For example, when you look at the United States of America, when their Constitution was made, they didn’t anticipate the Constitution was essentially for white men who were rich and with property, but, within three years, by 1865, America realized mistakes had been made.

They couldn’t have foreseen everything, so, the 13th Amendment in 1865 said that there will be no more slavery and nobody should be engaged in forced labour and they tried to make it happen. The 14th Amendment, which followed almost immediately, allowed people, American common citizenship was established. Achievable? Maybe not, but a system of inclusion was beginning to develop. The 15th Amendment gave people, including black people, the right to vote.

And guess what? All the conversations we’re having now about gender and so on didn’t start with Nigeria; it’s not as if Africans don’t like women. Actually, with all these amendments, women still could not vote.

Black people could vote in America but women could not vote including white women; it was not until the 19th Amendment in 1920 that women were now free to vote, so women have travelled a very long journey. I know you still have a long way to go, but it’s important to know how you have come to where you are today. In fact, a writer has said that, in reality, American democracy did not come on stream until 1965.

A lot of our women, I hear women say “we want to be like Rwanda because Rwanda Parliament is full of women”, but I said “hey, talk slowly because you need to lose many of your husbands as men died in the Rwanda genocide”. What is very interesting in all of this is that we work for one generation to be better than the next.

But the problem with the Nigerian situation is that we today want to make sure if life is not good for us then life is not likely to be good at all. Moving forward, and by way of conclusion, is to go back to some of the things that have been articulated here. What does it really mean to be a Nigerian irrespective of your economic status? These are the things that Chinua Achebe spoke about eloquently; you know he spoke about his people because he always insisted that Igbo must not allow these people who have money miss road to take over their communities.

When you talk about the elite, Nigerians measure elitism by the size of your house or the size of your car. It doesn’t matter whether you are educated or not educated.

I was here in Lagos for a wedding and the groom was so well dressed; beautiful, so when we now went through the ritual, I said: “Say I Thomas”, the guy replied, “You said I Thomas”. And I kept going on and on. It was quite embarrassing.

I didn’t know the man was a stark illiterate, but he was marrying this gorgeous woman who must have married him for whatever reasons. Love, if it happens, but at least there were things that were obvious.

On democracy ideals

I think we must redefine what it is to be a Nigerian, we must also make sure that the elite claim this argument and claim this space because I have not seen anywhere illiterate people have built a civilization.

It is important that we understand that democracy has its ideals but those ideals must be enunciated by intellectuals. There needs to be a much firmer foundation and finding a place for the moral guardrails that can protect our people. Otherwise, those who dismiss religion forget that even if religion didn’t exist, it will be invented because there are so many things we cannot explain in life. But in the final analysis, people need to be reminded constantly that this world is going to end. The Catholic Church teaches a principle that it calls ‘the Universal Destination of Goods’, and Pope Francis wrote an eloquent encyclical called Laudato Si in (2015) to make the point that everything God created is for a purpose. It is not for the greedy, it is for all his children. Those of us in the religious business, let me put it this way, have to continue to refine the arguments, we have to continue to hold certain ideals because what we need is not necessarily empires or emperors. What we need is a clean society; where we measure our progress not by the presence of the rich but by the absence of the poor.

And finally, the only way democracy can work is that democracy has to be an instrument of development and, if we use democracy to develop, then we will be developing democracy.



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