Father Kukah: Men of God are supposed to be “political” - OPID News

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Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Father Kukah: Men of God are supposed to be “political”

 Father Kukah: Men of God are supposed to be “political”

Matthew Kukah

On Christmas Day, Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Rev. Fr. Hassan Matthew Kukah, shared a homily in which he criticised the

regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). In the message, Fr. Kukah summed Nigeria’s anomie from insecurity, the rising rate of poverty, and despondency enveloping the country. He concluded his message on a note of hope, but you would not know that if you listened to those bent on chewing his flesh raw for that message.

Father Kukah has been – expectedly, of course – criticised by the Chief Aturota of Nigeria, aka Information Minister Lai Muhammed, who has a paid duty to defend his paymasters’ failings. Muhammed, ably supported by fellow yes-men who latched on to a single word in the entire article, managed to subvert the deeper essence of the message. Then, there are the critics who have curiously developed a taste for non-political religious messages. Those ones say men of God should stay away from politics and focus on their calling. They taunted the cleric that he might as well drop his cassock and join partisan politics.

When the issue of whether men of God should wade into politics or not arises, critics typically doublespeak. The pendulum of their opinion swings according to the side of the political divide they belong at the moment. That is why those that said Rev. Fr Mbaka was “courageous” when he endorsed Buhari in 2015 now think Fr. Kukah and other men of God should shun politics. The question of whether men of God can be political or not will never be satisfactorily settled, and that is because what we think they should say is determined by how much it affirms our political biases. Besides, asking people to self-censor because they have a divine mandate is patently undemocratic. We cannot tell them to shut up, neither can we ignore them. They are influential and their words go a long way. Rather than tell men of God what to say or not, we can do better by ourselves if we apply a universal standard to evaluating their prophetic proclamations. For me, it has always been to ask, whose purpose does this proclamation serve? The people already beleaguered by woes of administrative incompetence? Or the political elite in their quest for accruing more power?

Those like Muhammed, who demanded that men of God can speak the truth to power, but their utterances “must not come wrapped in anger, hatred, disunity and religious disharmony,” need to read up on biblical prophetic traditions. Men of God who consider the moral responsibility to speak to issues as part of their mandate do not owe it to anyone to express themselves in a manner that sates the deadened consciences of politicians and their enablers. In the Bible, Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for three years to convey the Lord’s message to the people. Another prophet, Ezekiel, baked with excrement while Prophet Hosea married a prostitute, all in the bid to impress the message of God to a people whose ears had been seared against the truth. Who is then to say how such messages should be delivered as long as they command attention?

Whether they identify as “priests,” “prophets,” or “pastors,” men of God have always been political, although not necessarily partisan. Since religion is never detached from the socio-political issues that define our lives, the pulpit cannot be disconnected from politics. Prophets in the Judeo-Christian traditions that we inherited did not always come bearing saccharine messages that put political authorities at ease. While there were ones who said the things that the government of the day wanted to hear, there were also other prophets whose messages were radical and disruptive. Consider the example of Elijah who had to run away from Queen Jezebel after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Or that of Amos who was run out of town by the chief priest who told the king that “the land cannot bear all of his (Amos’) words.” Zechariah was stoned to death, while Micaiah and Hanani were imprisoned for their intrepidity. John the Baptist was not only imprisoned, he also eventually lost his head. Then, there is Jesus Christ and the New Testament prophets whose departure from the norms of their day was so discomfiting, it cost them dearly. If they had followed Lai Muhammed’s standards to deliver their messages, their efforts would have passed beneath notice.

That some Nigerian preachers call their gossip and meaningless prattle “prophecy” does not take away from the noble tradition of a prophet speaking to the issues of the day. Too often, people confuse syrupy predictions of the future and cheesy sloganeering by grifters looking to trend with actual prophecies. In the desire to satisfy the evil and adulterous generations who are always looking for spectacular stuff, some of those men of God too have indulged in the business of prophesying election results, football matches, plane crashes, celebrity deaths, and even deign to list famous figures who will have children or not. Prophecies or utterances by men of God were designed for a far more noble purpose. They enjoin people to depart from their sinful ways and live righteously. Prophets use their moral authority to indict certain social actors, but more importantly, they advocate social justice and collective flourishing. When a prophet speaks, they approximate the past and present of the people of a nation and use it to speak to their future. In modern times, those we call “prophets” do not have to be preachers or even appeal to transcendental authority. They could be social justice advocates or those who conscientise society.

All of these, of course, do not preclude the self-serving interest of the speakers. Men of God are still men, and even the best of them can be compromised by pecuniary gains or blinded by their ethnic biases. Some might even be seeking notoriety like social media influencers are wont to do. That is why their message should be assessed based on whose purposes it serves. In the case of Kukah, what he provided was a critical analysis of the Nigerian situation. Yes, he has some sharp words for the Nigerian government that has become more or less sociopathic, but he also had some crucial observations in that message. When I read the message in its entirety and compared it to the noisy reactions that attended it, I concluded that most of the man’s critics did not read the lengthy article before joining the outrage from the lofts of their social media echo chamber. While it might not have pandered to the Buhari regime, it is nevertheless a fair reflection on the state of the country. All the vituperation is because his words unsettled them when they would rather have him say the things that soothe their scorched conscience. What should Kukah have noted in his reflections on the Nigerian situation as it presently stands? That the way we exist is good enough?

 The man of God who gives a critical takedown of a nation and concludes on a note of the possibility of redemption is not the enemy. We should instead worry about the ones whose “Thus saith the Lord” utterances have no other value than provide a moral cover for thieving leaders. Do not get me wrong. It is quite possible for a man of God to cavort with corrupt politicians and not be stained by their sins. In the Bible, Jesus went to the house of such a person, Zacchaeus the tax collector. However, it was not until Zacchaeus had promised to refund the people what he had stolen from them four times and even give half of his possessions to the poor that Jesus declared that salvation had come to his house. That is the standard I apply in gauging any “Thus saith the Lord” that has to do with corrupt politicians. If it is not about making restitution for the lives they have despoiled, I know such utterance has nothing to do with God. THE PUNCH

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