The National Peace Committee member and Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Kukah, in this interview, speaks about President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war and other issues
There were talks that some members of your committee had been approached to mediate in anti-corruption matters. Although you have debunked that, your committee has said that the Federal Government’s excessive talk on probe is distracting. Is this true?
Brutally, what you are asking is what I have heard people say and that is that former President Goodluck Jonathan has approached us to beg the President. First of all, I am a priest and anybody is free to beg me to beg someone or to beg God. But more importantly, there is no way that I or any member of the committee can be told to go and beg President Muhammadu Buhari for a favour in anything relating to corruption.
His body language does not suggest that and only a fool would undertake that kind of mission. I think I can speak for the members of the committee. Before we went to see the President at 9am on that same day, we spent about an hour with former President Jonathan.
And please let us not lose sight of what has happened in this country. Jonathan said it and I am sure Nigerians have heard it that when we met with the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, they also made it very clear that not all of them were in support of the singular decision that Jonathan took and I think that as Nigerians, we must become sufficiently serious and realise that that singular act is what has kept us as a nation. With all the billions and trillions in the world coming from the outer space, we would need to have a nation first.
So, I think that even for that singular act alone, Nigerians must be appreciative of what President Jonathan did.
As for how this country will move forward, President Jonathan was eloquently clear in saying that he was not afraid of probe but we are saying that if you are going to a forest to catch a monkey, you don’t go blowing a whistle or beating a drum. And I don’t think that we should be preoccupied with how this probe is going to be undertaken. There are no charges against President Jonathan or anybody for that matter. And please let me make it very clear, anybody is free to approach the committee with any ideas, including former President Jonathan or President Buhari.
But from your interview with State House correspondents, it seems your committee is not satisfied with the manner this administration is going about with its fight against corruption. Is that right?
Please, let us not forget that the vice-president of this country is one of the best lawyers I know. He is also a professor of law. I don’t think people like him can preside over illegalities. What everybody should focus on is that it might be Jonathan today, and we don’t have a case against Jonathan on the table. Even if we do, this public lynching is not going to help anybody.
Nobody knows whether when Buhari steps aside, he might face the same thing. What we are talking about is that we are not in a military regime, we are in a democracy and somebody has said there are no probes in a democracy but only investigations.
We are not going to grow in this nation until we have finished probes. Let us not forget, Abacha has been dead for almost 20 years and we were promised his monies but some of the monies have not been recovered, so let us not kid ourselves.
Even if you are going to go into a probe, it is not a substitute for governance and we are interested in the fact that every sane Nigerian must be conscious of the fact that it might be another person today and might be you tomorrow. And I think that we should not become so preoccupied with Jonathan to the extent that we forget the spectacular benefit that we gained under his presidency. Politics has ended and now is the time for governance.
How come all that was reported from your visit to Jonathan was that the treasury looters will soon be brought to trial?
That is simply because the media has its own prejudices just like the rest of us in Nigeria. There are people in the media who believe that Jonathan and the PDP and other bad people should be hounded out of this country or whatever and I have no problem with that. All I am saying is that if you have a problem, there are processes for dealing with that. The committee cannot inherit the prejudices of other people. For some inexplicable reasons, some sections of the media have made insinuations that impugn on the integrity of the members of the committee and as I said, I called every member of that committee to serve on that committee and I know how and why I called every member. I can vouch for their personal integrity and I know that they can speak for themselves. But I think it is not fair that the media should create the impression that somehow we should be out on this public lynching of people when we have no evidence against anybody.
Are you saying that if things (probes) continue the way they are, we might lose what we might have gained with the transition from one government to the other?
Absolutely. I don’t want to say this but frankly I am quite irritated by the way we are frittering away the opportunities that God has given to us. When you stand on quicksand for too long, it becomes impossible to get out. There are not many people in the world that want Nigeria to succeed. We’ve never had this show of goodwill before and I believe the rest of the international community and others must be laughing at Nigeria on how we are conducting ourselves in this way and manner and how we remain our own worst enemies. For goodness sake, governance does not foreclose people going to prison and so on, and I don’t believe that even if you recover all the monies that have been stolen from us, it will not go the same way. I think the challenge for me and for those in power is that the APC has to prove itself. Secondly, let us be faithful with little things so that we will know what will happen to us when greater things are entrusted into our hands.
But what has brought this concern to the fore for the committee?
I don’t know; you tell me. Because the journalists that started this scare mongering about the committee being approached by President Jonathan is as if we are saying that the government should not probe. Please, I am well over 60 and I think my records speak for me. I cannot be associated, by any stretch of the imagination, with anything dubious or hypocritical. I cannot see how any member of our committee can be associated with such an attempt.
What will be my gain for example, for saying I don’t want XYZ to be probed? I am simply saying that it can be me tomorrow and it might be you tomorrow but for goodness sake, had President Jonathan not done what he did, let us look across the road and look across Africa and let us see the tragic situation that we are in in Africa.
See what is happening in Burundi, see what happened in Cote d’Ivoire, see what happened in Rwanda. When the crisis of transitions meant that people put their personal interest before any other interest and I think that history will not forget what President Jonathan did and it is not in our interest to pretend that even if he stole all the money in the world, and even if the world is bringing everything into Nigeria, I am not sure where President Buhari will be, I am not sure if I would be sitting here, I don’t know where the vice-president or any of us would be today. I am saying let us keep our eyes on the ball.
It seems what you are trying to impress on the President is that governance must start. Do you believe that you haven’t seen anything in the direction of governance?
I think we didn’t all expect that we would have to wait till September to have ministers and I think that unless we want to be hypocritical, many of us have openly said that if this was the fourth time that President Buhari wanted to be President, and successfully became President, the truth of the matter is that you would have identified many Nigerians across the board who are fit to do the job but again it is his prerogative to decide how to govern. But I am saying that given what we heard the APC said, given the claims that the APC made, the level of their preparedness, the level of their decision to change, well, we need that change clearly spelt out.
That change cannot definitely just be a change of actors. It ought to be a change that we can visible see, a government that is fully prepared. The elections were concluded and there was a period of time in-between. Finally, all I am saying is that we need a bit of action, otherwise, Nigerians will expend their energies on the wrong things. We still have a lot of battles to fight and I think we will really need to focus on a lot of the problems that this country faces and to figure out by way of conversation and policy direction, where are we heading? Boko Haram may stop tomorrow but I can tell you that will just be the beginning of the most complex and complicated problem of trying to fix this country. How all these problems are going to be solved require a lot of thinking.