This seems to be one of the most troublesome pieces I have written within my stint in reporting, because it is really coming with mixed feelings from a heavy heart. But the consolation is, it is not death or the subject is question is going out of my sight for a life time. Rather it is a tribute as my guardian Monsignor Matthew Hassan Kukah celebrates his 59th year birthday today and in a short while, his Episcopal and Installation as Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese.

The painful side of it is the affinity and proximity that I and my contemporaries closer to him have been enjoying all these while. However this has been severed and we are taken back to our teenage years when he was in far away Lagos, the United Kingdom and finally the US before he returned to Kaduna in September 2004.

Suffice to say, one is celebrating about three or more things in Kukah’s life. Firstly, his priesthood, secondly his 59th birthday and thirdly his promotion to Bishop by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and again my growing years with him as a father cum mentor alas I explain.

If the audience that graced his ordination and first Mass on 19th and 20th December 1976 respectively, at Gidan Bako Catholic Mission, in Zangon Kataf local government area of Kaduna State and the ordination in Kaduna were asked what Kukah will be, may be their projection will have been a different one.

Very few would have thought that a Priest that was just ordained will chart a better course for the Church as well as that of the good of the nation, spanning into volumes and various initiatives of development and national growth. But then those who will also be more surprised if they are alive today will be the few that witnessed his birth on the 31st August, 1952.

Not even General Olusegun Obasanjo who was then a military Head of State, when he was ordained ever knew that he would come in contact with Monsignor Kukah and laying on him the burden to think and weave a tapestry of Nigeria’s reconciliation i.e. Human Rights Investigation Commission (Oputa panel), National Political Reforms Conference or the Ogoni-Shell Mediation initiative, Obasanjo I can say never envisaged that he will one day speak at a function marking Kukah’s Priesthood Silver Jubilee. The same can ascribed to Pa Vincent Kukah and Mama Hauwa Kukah who only knew that they had bore a child but they were certainly not knowledgeable that their infant was a torch bearer and Lord’s servant.

I can without any equivocation also state that His Grace, Archbishop Emeritus, Peter Jatau, Rev Fr J.C.Murphy and Rev Fr J.Obrien who coordinated the ordination service did not know that their ordained priest would rise one day and become such a magnanimous and positive pointer of hope and inspiration in both the Lord’s vine yard and the entire nation .

Today our Archbishop Emeritus Peter Jatau is rejoicing because the seed is yielding bountiful blessings .Same I believe would have been the case with the late, and first Chief of Atyab (Kataf) land, Malam Bala Ade Dauke, then a District Head of Zangon Kataf District, under the Zazzau Emirate and late Victor Gwani, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Establishment, who were present during the priesthood ordination but are not alive to witness this occasion. However we assume they are also smiling and heaving a sigh of relief today as they watch little Matthew Hassan Kukah from heaven.

More so, Bishop Kukah’s 59th birthday comes with great joy, happiness and fulfillment and a testimony of God’s dynamism, for with God all things are possible. He makes something out of nothing and leaves us with wider imaginations, and again. He renders nothing what mortals deem worthy and adorable in hypocrisy and selfishness. I know one thing running through his mind, today is an endless gratitude to his late grandmother who weaved baskets and paid the three shillings needed to write the entrance examination into St Joseph Minor Seminary, Zaria. And I also know that he remains grateful to his Headmaster late Mr. Gregory Sanda.

The most amazing thing one has learnt from the celebrant is humility and contentment; I claim authority to say that I enjoyed a closer relationship and access to our guardian because I was deeply involved in organizing his personal library comprising his articles, books, rejoinders, pictures, paper presentations and so on at tender age. I make bold to argue that Kukah’s works have outlived him, considering their impact and how they have birthed progress, peace, unity and cohesion in all the places he has set his foot on.

For record purposes, aside his books, his articles, paper presentations, rejoinders and interventions, papers in academic journals and other research submissions since 1980 to date as I personally compiled in his study, there are approximately over 5000 works. Of all the newspapers and magazines in Nigeria, from 1980 to date, there is no single medium of all that his byline cannot be traced. To be precise, he has over 1000 Questions and Answers, published interviews, and news stories reference in thousands.

In the bibliography of all books that discuss the Nigerian Project, his Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria, and Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria and the recently Witness To Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission  are all there having been well referred to as sources.

There is no single reputable academic institution in the world that Kukah has no affinity with, from Harvard University to Oxford University, again on viable organizations, from Ford Foundation to the rest of them he has paid his dues. Even on the foreign media scene, he has featured prominently in New York Times, CNN, BBC, Reuters, AFP, Aljazeera, The London Mirror, Telegraph and the rest.

On building friendship cutting across religious lines and other diversities, Bishop Kukah has won accolades and plagues. His ecumenism has spread wide and aided in building peace and oneness for all irrespective of differences. If His Eminence Archbishop of the Abuja Archdiocese Dominic Cardinal Ignatius Ekandem, Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja who died on November 24th 1995 under whose tutelage Kukah widened Church work in Abuja is alive, he will possibly ask in Hausa going  by Kukah’s ecumenism, “Bishop Kukah mai mutane, to me ya hada Matthew da Hassan? Meaning Bishop Kukah: a man of the people, otherwise what is the relationship between Matthew and Hassan?

Bishop Kukah’s sojourn is like The Mustard Seed pieces he started writing in the 80s, the pieces have grown along with him this far and no wonder his story is somehow similar to that of Joseph in the Holy Bible, though in Kukah’s case, he  was first made king at home before becoming king outside his home. Talking about the forthcoming ordination away Sokoto State what a coincidence of life.

Immediately His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Sokoto on the 10th June 2011, a diocese built in 1964 and a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Kaduna, which covers a vast territory of 109,507 sq. km, with 14,133,000 inhabitants, of whom about 44,366 are Catholics with 17 Parishes, 32 Diocesan Priests and 7 religious priests, 7 religious brothers and 28 religious sisters and 39 major seminarians.

What crossed one’s mind was if Kukah ever imagined going to Sokoto? But the answer was it was an act of serendipity and clearly a handiwork of God. This is coming out of the fact that there was a fatherly-son relationship between him and former President Shehu Shagari and the late Sultan, Alhaji Muhammadu Macido, and the fact that he did write a tribute when Shagari wrote his autobiography ‘Beckoned To Serve and he also did same when the Sultan Alhaji Sa’ad Muhammadu Abubakar celebrated two years on the throne. He did all these in his bid to appreciate the giant strides of peacemakers, and fatefully the Vatican promoted and posted him to the same Sokoto he respects and appreciates their heirs.

As he turns 59 today, life, one makes bold to say has not been bed of roses considering the challenges of working towards building a better Nigeria. But like I say Kukah is like Joseph in the Holy Bible, but he is not in Sokoto by accident, chance or slavery like Joseph, rather he is going there on God’s direction for the peace and progress of mankind.

Our prayer to Almighty God is his new appointment will be another place of serving God, like in the time of Joseph when people thronged his kingdom for manna following famine. So shall it be in his diocese where many will besiege it resulting from an outpour of serving God and mankind, and continued working for peace, unity and progress of our struggle nation. 

Finally, we have lost our own who we hold in high esteem, a person I and the rest of the siblings cannot explain the great impact he has set in our lives. I make this confession that the new Bishop had strived for me despite the juvenile problems that nearly ruined me. I made bold to say again that in God we find life and in Bishop Kukah we find courage and morals.

Today, I am not standing along in life following the discipline he instilled in me. Virtually of us have good lives of our own, and in our own vacations. I am happily married to my childhood friend, Hannatu who also is pained by Kukah’s going, but the God’s work is ahead of mortals and that is where lay our consolation.

As you turn 59, one debt is clear which you will have to pay some, and that is your autobiography which our patience is running out. As we say happy birthday holding our rosaries in our hands reciting prayers of our revered Holy Virgin Mary, we are also joining you in saying the prayers of the memorable St Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life

To set the record straight against several versions of Bishop Kukah’s biography the clergy who was until recently Vicar-General of the Kaduna archdiocese as well as the Parish Priest of St. Andrew Catholic Church, Kakuri, Kaduna, was born on August 31, 1952 in Anchuna, Ikulu Chiefdom in Zangon Kataf local government area of Kaduna State. He had his primary education at St. Fidelis Primary School, Zagom, then St. Joseph Minor Seminary, Zaria, before proceeding to St. Augustine Major Seminary Jos, Plateau State, where he studied Philosophy and Theology.
He was ordained a Catholic Priest on December 19th, 1976.

After his ordination, his quest for knowledge took him to the University of Ibadan, there he obtained a diploma in Religious Studies; he received the Bachelor of Divinity at the Urban University Rome in 1976, then a Master’s degree in Peace Studies, at the University of Bradford, United Kingdom in 1980, and PhD at the famous London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 1990.

However, his most outstanding book that discusses the religious politics of Northern Nigeria - Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria (1993) received an Honorary Noma commendation in 1994.

Furthermore to his credit again, is another book that analyses democracy in Nigeria titled Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria, then Religion and The Politics of Justice in Nigeria. In 1996 he co-published with Professor Toyin Falola another book titled Religious Militancy and Self-Assertion, Religious Revivalism in Nigeria. Other books include The Shattered Microcosm. The Collapse of the Moral Order in Africa, and The Mustard Seed, then Towards a Just Democratic Nigeria, The Catholic Church and Politics in Nigeria, and Whistling in the Dark. Apart from compendium of interviews he granted to the media during the military era, others are The Church and the Politics of Social Responsibilities, and Oputa Panel, Human Rights and the Struggle for Justice in Nigeria which is forthcoming.

Monsignor Kukah, who has several chapters in books, journals and had presented hundreds of papers both in Nigeria and other parts of the world, was also at the famous St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford as a Senior Rhodes fellow from 2002 to 2003, then at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government (KSG) Harvard University Boston, Massachusetts, as Edward Mason Fellow where he bagged MA in public policy in 2004.And he recently launched a book, on his experience in Oputal Panel, “Witness To Justice: An Insiders Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission”.

Happy birthday once again.
Samuel Aruwan, is editorial staff of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group, and it’s Kaduna Bureau Chief
[email protected]

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