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Nigeria “treading on dangerous paths”, Catholic Bishop Says, Bemoans Civic Space Closure

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese. Crédit : Catholic Broadcast Commission of Nigeria

A Catholic Bishop in Nigeria has highlighted various challenges bedeviling the country, saying the future of the West African nation is uncertain as it is “treading on dangerous paths.”

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah who was speaking on the topic, “Civic Space: Pathway to Social Cohesion and Integration in Nigeria”, bemoaned the closure of civic space in Africa’s most populous nation.

“We are treading on dangerous paths. Young people are feeling totally disempowered. We are faced with a nation that is consuming its own children; we are faced with the prospects of an uncertain future,” Bishop Kukah said Wednesday, July 28, and added, “It is impossible, even the worst enemy of Nigeria would never have contemplated that this is where we will be.”

Most Nigerian youth who have left the country are not eager to return home because they lack opportunities, he said at the event organized by The Kukah Centre (TKC) and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). 

Recalling a conversation with some Nigerian youth in diaspora, Bishop Kukah explained, “I asked some Nigerian youth in the U.S. when they are likely to come back to Nigeria and one of them said we don't have anybody who is a senator; we don't have anybody in the National Assembly; we don’t have any minister so what are we coming back home to?”

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“These are serious statements because we are faced by a nation that is consuming its own children and we are faced with the prospects of an uncertain future,” he further said. 

While Nigerians are “not innocent in the choices that we made”, Bishop Kukah said, “The agencies and agents of state, those in power have continued to seek to close the civic space.”

The member of  Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said Nigerians have a chance to change their situation in the next general elections expected to take place in a couple of years. 

“The tragedy that has now afflicted our country is no excuse for us not to become despondent. 2023, we hope it happens, gives us another opportunity to ask ourselves and think about the mistakes that we made,” he said.

The Nigerian Bishop continued, “If there is any lesson we can learn, we are faced by political actors into whose hands we have entrusted with the future of our country and who have no reflexes understanding how diversity can be managed and who seem to have almost no intellectual capacity to understand that the strength of a nation lies in its ability to mobilize its resources.”

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The founder of The Kukah Centre also urged his compatriots not to give up on democracy saying, “The challenge for us is to understand that democracy is a work in progress. All of us engaged in democracy and opening of the civic space must realize this is a long journey and we must wear the shoes of a long-distance runner.”

“Democracy is not an exercise undertaken by good men and good women, which is what Nigerians have always fallen victim to,” he added.

“That we are looking for holy men, men of integrity, men of dignity to govern us and we assume that somehow, managing a diverse country like Nigeria does not require a certain level of deep intellectual reflection and understanding the complexity of managing a diverse society such as the one we have,” Bishop Kukah noted.

“Every generation will face its own generation and pass the challenges up to the next generation but whatever we pass to the next generation must be a light of hope,” said the 68-year-old Nigerian Bishop whose recent address to the U.S Congress triggered criticism from Nigeria’s Presidency.