Uhuru Kenyatta and the Matthew Kukah Inauguration Homily
By Femi Olugbile
One of the activities organised to celebrate the end of the Buhari presidency and usher in the Tinubu era a few days ago was a lecture in Abuja.
It was headlined by Uhuru Kenyatta, former two-term President of Kenya. Prominent among the other speakers at the occasion was Bishop Matthew Kukah, a man who had the reputation of being somewhat of a gadfly to succeeding governments in Nigeria, but most especially to the government of Muhammadu Buhari.
Uhuru Kenyatta has had a colourful time as leader of Kenya, a country that embodies the story of African liberation from colonial yoke, and the post-colonial struggle to find a workable Democracy. ‘Uhuru’ is Swahili for ‘Freedom’. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of independent Kenya, must have given his son that name as an expression of his aspirations for his dear country.
That Kenya’s ‘Uhuru’ was aspirational and was not actual was evident during the Presidency of Old Man Jomo himself. From the cleavage and disaffections concerning Dedan Kimathi and other veterans of the Mau Mau struggle who became somewhat of an embarrassment once a black President was in place, to the rifts between the ethnic groups – principally the Kikuyu and the Luo, successful nation-building emerged as a rather more complex assignment than the prosecution of struggle against British colonialists.
Some captions have emerged to capture the travails of countries such as Kenya, and Nigeria. These words were used by Uhuru Kenyatta in his insightful speech, and repeated by Bishop Kukah in his gripping homily. ‘Illiberal Democracy.’ ‘Tyranny of the Majority’.
Uhuru Kenyatta was hardly a knight in shining armour, fit to pontificate to Nigerians about how to manage ethnic diversity, religious controversies, and corruption, the three problems he identified as bedevilling African nations, and the reason why there were so many wars and so little development ongoing on the continent. For a spell during his presidential tenure, as he acknowledged, he had been compelled to shuttle between Nairobi and The Hague, facing questions at International Court of Criminal Justice, where he had been charged for ‘crimes against humanity’ pertaining to riots and deaths after the 2007 elections. The case came to nought, eventually.
Even after his departure from office in 2022, it was not uhuru for President Kenyatta. The supporters of his long-term rival, Raila Odinga were incensed that William Ruto, and not Raila, won the election to be the next President, and suspected Uhuru had a hand in it. It has been an uneasy peace since, with riots, and pillage. A recent television image showed rioters invading Kenyatta’s farm and carting away live goats.
Uhuru addressed the incoming President of Nigeria, represented by his Vice President, sincerely. He was distressed by the chaos and ethnic conflict that attended his own original election into office, and the loss of many Kenyan lives. A dip in GDP and a slow-down in development attended every election cycle. It was unconscionable.
He even once had the unsavoury experience of being removed from presidential office by the Kenyan Supreme Court. He knuckled down and won the election again.
But all that did not end the crisis or give peace and development to his people.
Then he had reached deep into his soul and decided he did not want to be the President that ruined Kenya. He reached out to his ‘brother’ Raila, and publicly apologised and made peace with him. That gesture, and the resulting calm, for a spell lifted Kenyan politics to a new level, though he was roundly condemned by his own supporters for fraternising with the enemy when he had won the elections and had all the power in his hands.
The peace he won unravelled somewhat after he left office. But it was the best thing he ever did.
After Uhuru Kenyatta, Bishop Kukah took the podium.
He acknowledged Uhuru’s analysis of the evils of Ethnicity, Corruption and Religion bedevilling African nations.
Nigeria, to his mind, was a complex country that did not really face a problem with Religion. The problem was that Religion had been turned into a weapon by politicians and the political establishment.
Kukah told the story of how His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, who was his good friend, had once joked with him.
’They sent you to Sokoto so we can convert you to Islam’ the Sultan said to him.
Never one to be lost for words, Kukah described his response.
‘I said I was looking forward to the day when I would be able to baptise him.’
He spoke of the aftermath of the lynching of Deborah, a young Christian girl by a Muslim mob, and the paradox of arriving at his home to find it being guarded by Muslim soldiers who were there to prevent any harm to his person.
He referred to Section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution which forbade the Federation or any State from adopting any religion, a law that was being openly breached daily. It was as though he said – ‘The laws are there, they only need to be obeyed, and enforced with sincerity.’
Nigeria must heal, he said. It must have the courage to identify its scars. The challenge was whether the nation could fashion out the guard-rails that defined acceptable behaviour and liveable space, and excluded anything that was not mutually agreed.
The challenge for Nigerian leadership was to make the nation’s reality believable and liveable.
He was not worried about youths ‘japa’-ing to foreign parts. They would return with their wealth and their knowledge once there was a home fit to return to.
As usual, this Kukah homily had celebrated a hypothetical future as though it were already here, and failed to describe the harsh and risky journey it would take to get beyond the vested interests and ugly personal, ethnic, and religious agendas of the present to that promised land. There was no guarantee, as he spoke, that another ‘Deborah’ incident would not occur the next day. And indeed a few days later, an outgoing Governor with a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth was to create public controversy and anger by asserting that a Muslim-Muslim gubernatorial ticket in his state was a deliberate ploy that had been replicated on the national stage, and was designed to outmuscle the ‘other people’ and keep people of his own faith in power ‘for the next twenty years’. Clearly there was still a lot of evil, ultimately futile, thinking that would need to be exorcised for the Nigeria ofBishop Kukah to come into its own.
The applause was vigorous as he left the podium.