Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah's Message on Nigerian Elections

«The real challenge is how the international community can help expose or control the massive outflows of resources through capital flight.»

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Here is the message sent by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto (Nigeria) regarding the recent postponement of elections in the country. The statement was provided by International Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need.

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It is understandable why Nigerians are approaching the forthcoming elections with measured optimism, excitement but deep sense of caution and even trepidation. In Sokoto where I live, as well as most northern cities, the last few months have witnessed a huge exodus of citizens, some out of the country, others to their ancestral homes in different parts of the country.

A good number of southerners (more popularly referred to as Christians) started sending their families to their ancestral homes and states even before the Christmas. This is based on the ugly experiences that have been associated with some of the worst form of violence in Nigeria. Indeed, just three years ago, in 2011, many Churches, businesses, private and residences were destroyed while thousands of innocent people lost their lives in what has come to be known as the post-election violence of 2011. Sadly, the federal government did almost nothing to redress these issues. No one was prosecuted and except for a few, the federal government did not deal with the issues of compensation for the majority of the citizens who lost property. It is the sadness and bitterness of these experiences that have made citizens decide to heed the expression, once bitten, twice shy.

Ordinarily, Nigerians should feel quite proud about these elections given the fact that they would be the sixth back-to-back elections in a Democratic Nigeria. Secondly, despite the violence of 2011, one would have expected that Nigerians would be anxious to build on this relative progress and simply consider these elections as a routine exercise. But sadly, one of the key reasons for the anxieties lies in the fact that unlike 2011, the Opposition parties now pose a more formidable threat to the ruling party than at any other time. General Buhari, a northern  Muslim has lost elections three times and he is facing President Jonathan for the second time. Both of them represent the difficult and unresolved fault lines of Nigerian politics, namely, religion and region, two identities that continue to create tensions in the power politics of Nigeria.

President Goodluck Jonathan was seen as the face of the minority ethnic groups across the country. Along with it was the issue of his being a Southern Christian. With very little political experience, the President who came to power purely by the accident following the death of President Umaru Yar’adua had difficulties asserting his authority and taking firm grip of the handle of power. Feeling wounded and cheated as some claimed, the northern ruling class which had been used to holding on to power for most of Nigeria’s independence believed that they had been robbed.

The emergence of Boko Haram, coming in the early days of the resumption of President Jonathan’s election was considered to be the continuation of a war by other means. The insurgency has further deepened the internal fractures within the Muslim community on the one hand and the nation in general. The elections are coming against a backdrop of a national feeling of breakdown of common norms and values in a severely fractured society such as ours.

The President has done very little if anything serious to stem the ugly tide of corruption. Rather than putting more people to work, the President has continued to offer incentives by way of tax exemptions to a few cronies. Despite the huge resources that the nation has received from the unprecedented sales in oil, there is hardly anything to show for it in the lives of ordinary citizens. A lot of money has been sunk into the power sector, but again, the nation remains in darkness both in figurative and literal senses.

As a whole, these elections will test the resilience of the Nigerian people but they will also serve as a barometer for gauging the depth of the commitment and maturity of Nigerians in their struggle for Democracy. Either way, Nigeria’s President after the elections will face tough challenges. We shall list only three.

First, the tragedy of Boko Haram has taken its toll on the Nigerian people. The insurgency has depleted a lot of the good will among the various ethnic groups and further deepened the fracture between Christians and Muslims. Assuming the guns fall silent tomorrow, the process of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration will definitely pose a serious challenge. This is because there are many communities where Boko Haram destroyed the properties of Christians and left unmolested those Muslims who were willing to buy into their brand of the religion. Managing resettlement among these people, rebuilding and restoring confidence will be a real challenge.

Second is the challenge of how to heal the nation by creating prosperity. The uncontrollable hemorrhaging of resources has led to the ubiquity of misery among the people. The indignity that goes with this has made violence so pervasive. The real challenge is how the international community can help expose or control the massive outflows of resources through capital flight. Under this government, the volume of rut degradation and abuse has been unprecedented and the challenge is not so much whether a new government can change this ugly tide. The real challenge is for the government to very seriously commit itself to ending the culture of impunity.

Thirdly and finally, there is the challenge of a real effort to rally citizens around the project of a national identity and national unity. Years of corruption have diminished the sense of loyalty to the Nigerian state. To reverse this, the next President has to create institutions of national unity by once again committing more resources into Education and the creation of jobs and Agriculture. There is need to urgently address the issue of the severe infrastructure deficit that the nation faces. With limited resources resulting from falling oil prices, the nation very urgently requires the involvement of the private sector and the injection of international capital to ensure that life becomes more bearable.

The postponement of the elections has naturally elicited divergent responses. Either way, on balance, I think it bodes well for all sides. The elections are too close to call and naturally, every vote will be important and that is why the extension should offer the electoral body ample opportunity to do the needful.

The reactions to this development have been encouraging. First, there were fears that the opposition and its supporters might want to fight back, but we are encouraged that all sides have expressed support with the caveat that the electoral body and the federal government will not offer any more suggestions. The reaction of the international community has also sent out the warning that the federal government must play by the rules and ensure that the elections are conducted. Strong words from the Secretary General of the United Nations, other concerned nations are very much appreciated as evidence that the world is watching Nigeria.

We are also encouraged by the concerted efforts towards ending the insurgency and we are glad to note the international collaboration. Taken together, ordinary citizens are hopeful that we could indeed have successful and peaceful elections.

* Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria

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