A call to justice (2) By Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah

It would take a combination of President Obasanjo and Alhaji Makarfi to change the course of the history of the people of Southern Kaduna.
It was in 1999 that Senator Isaiah Balat was appointed a Minister to represent Kaduna State.
Even then, the key northern Muslims protested saying that Senator Balat was a Christian not a northerner.
Then came the historic appointments of both Lt.
Generals Martin Luther Agwai and Yusuf Luka to the positions of Chief of Army Staff and for Agwai, Chief of Defence Staff .
When I met President Obasanjo and thanked him for this, he said to me: There is nothing to thank me for.
These two gentlemen were the best, they had the best career records and so we did not do them a favour.
I felt sorry for General Obasanjo because he did not seem to understand that in the eyes of the mafia, merit, excellence, competence, were tied to religion and region and that in our case, being a Christian excluded you from certain positions.
Alhaji Makarfi did for the people of Southern Kaduna what no one had had time to do for them.
He created a massive infrastructure of rural roads and opened up Southern Kaduna.
For that period, most of our quarrels and violence literally disappeared, thus, showing very clearly that it was government policies of exclusion that were the problem, not ordinary people.
Indeed, our people have lived together and continue to do so.
What we call crisis is reaction to skewed government policies and the records are very clear.
My point is that these circumstances of perceived and clear exclusion raised the volume of Bishop Bagobiri’s voice.
This should not be seen as a sign of weakness rather, it comes with the calling.
Moral revulsion leads a leader to rebellion.
All you need to do is look at the prophets of old right up to John the Baptist.
It was moral revulsion that led Jesus to whip the traders in the temple.
It was what led Prophet Mohammed and Dan Fodio to revolt.
History has not changed and nearer home we have evidence.
It is the politicians who panic in the face of the uncomfortable message of a prophet.
That is why John the Baptist had to die.
Politicians are often fond of praising Church leaders especially when they are in opposition, in exile or are victims of state repression.
Church leaders are praised for being voices of the voiceless, standing for justice, courageous etc.
When things change and the opposition politician of yesterday gets to power, they expect you in their pocket.
You raise the same issues and they accuse you of supporting the opposition, hating the government, standing in the way, being a danger to the nation etc.
People like us know this only too well.
I recalled one incident when I criticized Obasanjo in a lecture and two weeks later, I was in the Villa for a meeting.
One of the Ministers saw me and said to me: You have access to Baba, so why do you have to criticize him in public? I looked at him and said: I had access to Abacha but we still had to fight for his freedom.
The late Cardinal Archbishop of Recife, Helder Camara said it all: When I feed the poor, the politicians say I am doing God’s work.
When I ask why the people are poor, the politicians say I am a Communist.
It was the excesses of the government against the poor that drove Oscar Romero from being a rather Conservative Bishop to a radical.
It is the corrosive impact of Communism and its dehumanizing influence that drove Pope John Paul to take up the cause of overthrowing Communism as the Pope.
The excesses of the Marcos regime against the people of the Philippines led Cardinal Sin to take to the streets of Manila rather than remain in comfort of his Cathedral.
The degrading influence of Racism on black people was what led the Rev.
Martin Luther King to the streets of Alabama, New York, Washington and the entire country.
In his famous, I have a Dream Speech, he said that America had failed to deliver to the black people the promises contained in their own Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
He said injustice was synonymous with a bounced cheque and concluded that African Americans would never accept the idea that the bank of opportunity had insufficient funds! What took Archbishop Tutu to the streets of South Africa and around the world? Was it not the ravages of apartheid clearly shown in the killings and destructions in Guguletu, Soweto and other South African cities? Why did Nigerians clap each time the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Communiques were read in the Churches during the Abacha era? Clearly, any religious leader that stands aside in the face of tyranny, oppression, and injustice is a traitor.
For the better part of the last three years, Southern Kaduna was at best an inferno of pain, suffering and death.
Death and destruction by mysterious killers became the daily menu of Southern Kaduna.
In village after village, innocent men, women, children, the lame and the invalids were put to the sword.
Farm after farm was destroyed with a vengeance that was unprecedented and with no clear provocations.
Community life of harmony collapsed with accusations and counter accusations.
Entire villages became ruins over night and the landscape of graves dotted everywhere.
Amidst this, life was gradually becoming nasty, brutish and short.
These are the circumstances that provoked a change of tone in Bishop Bagobiri.
With Southern Kaduna having become one huge Bantustan of government neglect, with no media signals from the Centre, how was the world to know what was happening to his people? Every crisis is an opportunity for the qualities of leaders for fairness and equity to be tested.
It is a pity that the government of Kaduna rather than dialogue with both the traditional and religious leaders, resorted to accusations, threats and in some cases, outright blackmail.
No matter the challenge, in moments of crisis, a good leader will find some backroom channels across the divide.
But rather, Southern Kaduna was left to fester with the crisis cheaply presented as a conflict between Christians and Muslims.
Yet, the truthis that whether you are a Muslim or Christian in Southern Kaduna, the fact remains that there are no good roads, no running water, no electricity, no factories, nothing.
Yet, it was easy to divide and distract our people by creating the impression that somehow, we had a conflict between Christians and Muslims.
Perhaps, let me use this opportunity to place my own experience in context.
Many people, including Bishop Bagobiri wondered why I had stayed quiet over the killings in Southern Kaduna and we spoke about these things.
I told him that I had opted for a different approach to the crisis for two reasons.
First, it was his territory and I believed he was the man on the spot and secondly, I thought the times called for some level of diplomacy which I believe is key to resolving conflict based on my own theoretical and practical experiences.
After Christmas last year, I decided to spend about a week in my village to get a sense of the crisis.
In the course of my break, I told the Agwom Akulu that I wanted to visit the Fulani settlement in Laduga because I wanted some first hand idea of what was going on because I had never been to the place.
We were very well received by the Ardo.
Strange enough, while we were talking in his palace, my phone rang and it was the Sultan of Sokoto calling from Saudi Arabia.
I told him where I was and he was shocked.
What took you there, he asked.
I put the phone on speaker and allowed him to speak to his Fulani brothers as I told him.
They were all very excited to hear him.
Next, I decided to briefly visit the Chiefs of Kamantan, Bajju, Kagoro, Atyap and the Emir of Jema’a just to get a sense of the temperature.
I was struck by what I heard from these traditional rulers independently.
Each one of them said that they were all living in peace before the killings started and that they are working hard to ensure that the Fulanis remain because this is home for them.
Not one single traditional ruler in Southern Kaduna told me that he had a problem with any Fulani man.
I sat with the Emir of Jema’a, asked him if he felt vulnerable, being surrounded by others different from him but he told me clearly that he was happy and had no problems with anyone.
I returned to Sokoto and armed with this information, I decided to approach General Abdusalam, the Chairman of the National Peace Committee of which I am the Convener.
I tried to convince him about the urgency of the Peace Committee stepping into Southern Kaduna.
We spoke to the Sultan, Cardinal and other members and everyone believed that a visit to Southern Kaduna would be important.
General Abdusalam undertook to seek an appointment with the Governor and finally led a delegation of the Peace Committee to a meeting with the Governor.
We wanted to hear from the Governor.
Essentially, the thrust of his comment was the fact that he was determined to end impunity and that for years, people had got away with so much.
I was taken aback by his combative mood and worried if he really and truly understood the issues.

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