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Bishop Kukah’s Private Outrage By Sonala Olumhense

This is a review of the recent public lecture: “Wole Soyinka: 80 Years Of Genius & Prophetic Outrage,” by the respected Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto.


I am at some liberty to claim the bishop as a personal friend; he is an intellectual and cleric I have admired for many years. 

In “Genius and Prophetic Outrage,” he assiduously explored Soyinka’s journey in a manner that was at once profound, insightful, and funny.

But it is impossible to talk Soyinka on the back foot, because while he may be better known to the world for his Nobel Prize in Literature, his “outrage” has always been forward about society and politics.

Perhaps this is why the Bishop missed a couple of traffic warnings in his presentation, and like the magician Professor Peller, appeared to produce a cudgel out of thin air as he artificially split Nigerians in two:

“…I am even more amused by the criticisms of some of our brethren in the Diaspora especially those who think that simply being abroad has set them apart from their fellow countrymen and women, those who believe that those of us who are here are so because we are not good enough to be abroad,” he declared.

I was not at the lecture, and so I cannot confirm if this mind-reading diagnosis was received with a knowing snigger or a standing applause. 

“I often resent the condescending attitude and outright smugness of some Diaspora Nigerians who believe in their superiority simply because they have a second passport,” he went on, “…rather than trying to stand together to rise beyond [Boko Haram] in hope together, I find some of my fellow citizens creating more confusion and using the insurgency as weapons of politics. The President and the security agencies have become the objects of attacks…”

Again returning to the ambush of Nigerians who ought to surrender their rights once out of the country, he said, “The least we can do is to stand in the comforts of highways and homes that someone else constructed and throw stones at ourselves and our people simply because we are living off someone else’s sweat.”

And then, apparently determined to make an example of someone, he put the Diaspora Nigeria cudgel down and seized Ndibe by the neck: “If Ndibe were a Ugandan, Rwandan, Zimbabwean or indeed, from most African countries, would he write this and still come back to his country…?”

Professor Ndibe’s “treason” is that he supposedly referred to Nigerians first as chickens, and then as ants. 

In a response to the lecture, a stunned Ndibe has responded suitably to the charges, which evidently stem from the bishop having misread the article.  I support Ndibe completely; he is owed a public apology and the restoration of his threatened rights and privileges as a Nigerian.

Bishop Kukah seems to be possessed of great anger and contempt, and this is difficult to grasp because I know him.  A Soyinka lecture also seems an odd fork on the road of history to have taken on that un-Soyinka task. 

“What we require now are new visionaries to set higher standards,” the bishop told his audience.  “What we need now are new dreamers with the necessary imagination to summon our people to a greater tomorrow.”

I disagree.  Our dreams and visions at independence—of a just society led by just men who would use public resources for public service—have not been invalidated: for 50 years, the problem has been our treacherous governments and their contractor prebendalists.  We need men who love Nigeria enough not to betray her and then blame the chaos on the betrayed, as well as men honourable enough to insist we must change.

That, I believe, is what Soyinka has been saying. When I read Ndibe, Tunji Dare, Biodun Jeyifo, Levi Obijiofor, Femi Ajayi, Niyi Osundare and many others abroad—along with others in the motherland such as Eddy Madunagu and Dele Momodu—I recognize the same thing.  I cannot accept Soyinka’s outrage but reject theirs.

I think the Bishop’s error is that he mistakes the frames for the lenses, which is why he identifies this division among Nigerians.  In Soyinka’s famous 1982 music album, Unlimited Liability, he appropriately identified the nexus between Country Hide & Country Seek. 

Sings the brilliant Tunji Oyelana of Country Hide:

“Dem wan rob church, so dey call prayer meeting

When all eyes close, dem do their thing…

Dem say no licence, but who dey smuggle…

Na who loot the nation, na who dey shed crocodile tears…[abeg drop dead]…

Country Seek my broda, leave corner side,

Nor let dem take you for another ride

To be fair, Kukah’s divide is not really new.  Cowardly, colluding and complicit government officials who want to be left alone to the dastardly unhinging of Nigeria whisper it among themselves.  They say—these drunks who mistake bathtubs of free government wine for philosophical clarity—that Nigerians abroad should concern themselves with treatises about snow and ice and winter, and not expose their kleptocracy.

There are many ways you can look at Nigeria’s story as an under-developing country, and one of them is by the numbers.  At Unlimited Liability, for instance, Country Hide was responsible for a missing $2.8 billion, among others, leading to a politician nearly being air-freighted from London; today, Country Hide is responsible for a missing $20b, among others, one of the Ministers in the middle enjoying frivolously chartered jets and presidential “drop dead” protection.

Another perspective is the harvest: is it coincidence today to find artisans who reason and speak more intelligently than “Ph.D” holders?  Look at our governing philosophies, where leading by example is anathematic, and where the rulership cites private jets as evidence that Nigeria is “not poor.”

And we have bolstered this malfeasance of farce as achievement in the past 15 years by image-laundering: Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Nigeria Image Project, Umaru Yar’Adua, Rebrand Nigeria, and Goodluck Jonathan has Levick

It is regrettable that while Nigerians criticize all of this around the clock and around the globe, anyone can see it as being unpatriotic.  Patriotism is about loving your country; loving an irresponsible government is a sickness.

The truth is that the only reasonable separation among Nigerians is between those who suffer from the country’s poor image and those responsible for creating it; or between those who labour under our collapse and those who benefit from it.  Our people say you do not spank a child and forbid him to cry.

Nigerians abroad, who now remit through formal institutions alone over $20billion per annum, are not responsible for eating Nigeria alive; they are an important contribution to keeping her alive.  And this is despite Nigeria’s being the only key democracy that still shamelessly keeps her citizens abroad disenfranchised. 

Finally, Bishop Kukah raises several interesting questions, among which are: “Who exactly are we writing for and for what purpose? Why has writing not effected any change in our societies? What is the scope of our narratives?”

I answer that some of these questions should be asked of the powerful but semi-literate who mistake the likes of ‘Ikebe Super’ and ‘Hints’ for newspapers. 

But a writer writes for the love of writing.  His work may or may not influence change, but he is happy to be up in the middle of the night writing. 

Speaking for myself, in the Nigerian context, I have since been cured of any illusion that what a writer writes has any correlation with changing Nigeria, just as the citizen’s vote has no correlation with public policy. We must be content merely to contribute to record-keeping, in case the future has use of information for which the present lacks place.