“Democracy has to be an instrument of development”: Catholic Bishop in Nigeria

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah

On the occasion of Democracy Day in Nigeria marked annually on June 12, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese has underscored the importance of democracy, saying it should be “an instrument of development.

In his address to The Platform Special Edition on Wednesday, June 12, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah said, “Our democracy is in recession, in decline, precisely because it is evident to us that what we are working with is not something that has come from our own historical, cultural or even anthropological experiences.”

“The only way democracy can work is that democracy has to be an instrument of development,” Bishop Kukah said during the event that was held under the theme “Democracy and the Free Market Economy.”

He added, “If we use democracy to develop, then we'll be developing democracy.”

The Nigerian Catholic Bishop emphasized, “If we are going to go on the part of democracy, there needs to be some kind of clarity about really what we want for our nation.”


“It is important we understand that democracy has its ideals. But those ideals must be enunciated by intellectuals,” Bishop Kukah said.

He added, “There needs to be a much more firmer foundation and finding a place for the moral guard rails that can protect our people. Otherwise, those who dismiss religion forget that even if religion didn't exist, it will be invented, because there are so many things we cannot explain in life.”

The Local Ordinary of Sokoto said. “What we need is a clean society where we measure our progress not by the presence of the rich, but by the absence of the poor.”

The vocal Nigerian Catholic Bishop, who is also known for good governance advocacy went on to reflect on Nigeria’s economy which he said is facing a “recession.”

In Nigeria, he continued, the impact of the recession has been aggravated by mismanagement.

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He said the situation could be avoided if legislators lived to their constitutional responsibilities. Instead, he said, the legislators are “preoccupied with determining their salaries, fringe benefits, and unnecessary foreign travels”.

“As a result of our inability to cultivate the financial discipline and prudent management of our economy, we have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects,” the Bishop said.

“The corrupt, inept, and insensitive leadership in the last years have been a source of immorality and impropriety in our society,” Bishop Kukah said.

He said the challenge for many countries in Africa, beginning with Nigeria, “is how to restrain the greed of the political elite. Not only the political elite, but the greed and the appetite of ordinary Nigerians, because it is feeding this beast that has made it impossible for this country to grow.”

“We cannot talk about people being corrupt when it is clear to us that the incentives for doing the right thing doesn't exist,”  the 70-year-old Catholic Bishop, who has been at the helm of Sokoto Diocese since his Episcopal Consecration in September 2011 said.


He continued, “Justice demands that the interests of the working classes should be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community, may themselves share in the benefits which they create.”

“The challenge before us is not so much a question of how the market works. The challenge is that the human person in Nigeria must become the thermal matter for gauging whether systems are working or not,”  Bishop Kukah said.

The Nigerian Catholic Church leader urged the government and legislators to go back to certain provisions of the constitution and ensure they are respected.

“There are provisions, for example, encouraging us to intermarry, encouraging us to form an association, encouraging us about religious freedom. But a lot of these issues are operated by their breaches,” he said.

Bishop Kukah said Nigerians “must redefine what it is to be a Nigerian. But we must also make sure that the elite claim this argument and claim this space.” 

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Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.