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By Francis Damina

How time flies? Yes, as the philosophers say: Nothing is constant; only change. Not even our hard-earned knowledge and attitude about life. No doubt, life is larger than logic. Only yesterday, at every twist and turn, Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, now Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, was vilified, demonised and called a political priest. And this juvenile crime, was not only committed by the laity who are thought to be not-fully knowledgeable about who and what priestly responsibilities entail; even the priests themselves who should have known better, threw the highest number of accusation stones at him. While in the seminary, yours sincerely was always introduced as brother of Fr. Kukah the politician. “Yes, that Obasanjo’s friend who was at the National Political Reform Conference”, a priest explained further to his friend. I was so surprised that students from other seminaries could call to report to me fellow students who disrespectfully called the priest a politician. One thing I will never forget was when on several occasions, my then Rector, Dr. Israel Ekpo, and his vice, Dr. Christopher Umoh, accused me of always seeking permission to enable me buy dailies I may have been briefed Fr. Kukah published a piece in. This may be why Dr.Umoh was later to say when he saw me reading an edition of Daily Trust Newspaper I had missed since, in Uyo, the paper usually gets to us a day after: “While People are reading for examination, you are busy reading about politics and Fr. Kukah in the dailies. Haba Francis. You may not come out with a First class. And like the fulfilment of a prophesy, or is it a prediction? I finally didn’t make any summa but grateful to God that I can now differentiate between capacity building and reading for examinations.

Perhaps, Fr. Kukah bashing received an official ecclesiastical stamp of approval, an imprimatur of sort, when certain Bishops – successors of the apostles, went about preaching that apart from the Catholic Church’s Canon Law that forbids priests from taking part in partisan politics, the scriptures are also not ambiguous on what entails the role or otherwise of a priest. Hence, they went about mischievously interpreting Acts 6:1-7 where it is reported that: “…in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration of food. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word”. “Therefore”, according to this higher clerics, “like the apostles, we cannot abandon prayer and preaching of the word which are our primary responsibilities only to be involved in political matters.” The insinuation that politics and how the society ought to be organised should be left for lay people, was obvious.

But the clerics should have, firstly, taken consideration of the fact that there have been both conscious and unconscious shifts in theological styles in response to the challenges of effectiveness in evangelisation. How can you, in our own circumstance, tell people about the hereafter while, hic etnunc, they are hungry?  Did Christ Himself, while preaching and teaching the multitude about the Kingdom of God, not paused to first attend to their temporal salvation in the feeding of the five thousand? I suspect that this was what inspired St. Augustine to come out with three styles of doing Theology, namely:1. Fides QuarensIntellectum(Faith Seeking Understanding), 2. Fides QuarensAdorationem (Faith Seeking Adoration) and Fides QuarensJustitiamSocialem (Faith Seeking Social Justice). Or, did the South Africans and the Latin Americans not develop their theological styles aimed at responding to the social contradictions in their countries?

Secondly, in the above text, the Bishops’ predecessors, the apostles, set the standard for those to be elected to serve in the ministration of food by insisting that they must be men of honest report, full of Holy Ghost and wisdom. Literally meaning that they had  provided the Electoral Act to guide the elections. What then, one must ask, was the input of these higher clerics during the National Political Reform Conference and when the Electoral Reform Committee was constituted to ensure that those apostolic standards were enshrined in our Electoral Act?

Though Bishop Kukah himself had in the last three decades, unsuccessfully tried to argue that in spite of the so much abuse, misinterpretation and misappropriation of Jesus’  statement about giving to Caesar and God, priests have a role to play in how our society is organised, I wonder if he has noticed how he has been vindicated by TIME in the last five or more years. As the Bishop’s student for many years, like Saul at the feet of Gamaliel, I have seen him do exegesis  of the text on giving to Caesar and God, at least thrice, all aimed at building a fence around his view. First was in “The Mustard Seed” series, second, in his “The Church and Politics of Social Responsibility”, and the third being in a lecture he recently delivered at a National Youth Seminar in Awka, Anambra State, titled: “Some Thoughts On Catholic Youth Participation In Nigerian Politics.”

While in a foreword to the Mustard Seed series, Mohammed Haruna said: “Many Christians, for instance, would find Kukah’s insistence that Politics and religion must actually mix in spite of the Biblical dichotomy between God and Ceasar rather puzzling because the idea is thoroughly Islamic”, in Awka, twenty years after Haruna’s comments, the Bishop said: “We have often fallen back on the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees who demanded to know whether they are to pay taxes to Caesar or not as a reference for the involvement of Christians in politics.” “According to the story”, he continued, “The Pharisees confronted Jesus with questions of loyalty and allegiance to civil authority by the Pharisees. Was it right, they said, to pay taxes to Caesar or not? In response, Jesus said to His listeners: “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and God, what belongs to God(Matthew 22:21).

“The meaning of this text,” the Bishop explained, “has preoccupied many scholars of Christian involvement in Politics. However, years and years of misapplication have led many Christians or even non-Christians to stay off Politics that belongs to Caesar and focus on spiritual matters that are of God. Yet, on closer examination, nothing could be further from the truth.”

But why is Bishop Kukah, for over three decades, been in a fruitless effort to justify his position that the clergy has a social responsibility? I think he should have noticed the unconscious shift in status quo since 2014 heralding the culmination of our economic meltdown in the first term of the Buhari-led regime brought about by years and years of bad leadership and corruption.  He should have equally seen how the untold hardship in our home soil had unconsciously pushed members of the theocratic class into abandoning their conservativeness and are now, not only believing they have a role to play in Politics, but actually and already playing and even overplaying it.

Before now, in a Press Statement issued by late Bishop Joseph Bagobiri of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan on behalf of Southern Kaduna Christian leaders published by Daily Trust on December 8, 2014, defending their position on the choice of a consensus candidate to represent Southern Kaduna in the PDP gubernatorial elections against those who accused them of straying from their calling by meddling into partisan Politics, the Bishop said on their behalf:” We want to state categorically that we owe them no apology now and in the future”. The statement concluded by saying: “Drawing inspiration from the Sacred Scriptures, we have always taught that the work of feeding the hungry , giving water to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless is better realised through responsible use of Politics. We will therefore not fold our arms to watch a handful of pretenders rather than contenders in politics mortgage our future.” Again, is Bishop Kukah not aware that since 2015, a large chunk of our clerics had turned their pulpit into political soapboxes; and that in the last elections, many priests followed their faithful to their polling units to be sure they didn’t vote for some candidates and parties at the risk of losing their worthiness to receive Christ in the Holy Communion?

Come on, as the Bishop marks his 67 birthday in arrears, all he needs do is to relax and watch how time will finally vindicate him. Here’s wishing him many more years in service to God and humanity.

You can reach Francis Damina on francisdamina@gmail.com


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