Recently, Professor Akinjide Osuntokun, the eminent historian and former ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, sent me a quotation of Nelson Mandela, the Wise One of South Africa. Said Mandela: “The world would never respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world are looking up to Nigeria to be a source of pride and confidence. Every Nigerian citizen should be made to understand this.”
When we consider leadership, it is often that we think only of political leadership. Yet, in the period of serious political and social challenges, the leadership of Nigeria had never been left to politicians alone. So it was during our struggle against military rule, especially when the late General Sani Abacha was our self-appointed ruler.
Following an illustrious tradition of clerical interventions in politics, that was the era that brought the then Reverend Father Matthew Hassan Kukah to national prominence. I was invited to come and deliver a lecture at the Catholic Secretariat, Lagos, where I met this cerebral, courageous, but soft-spoken and always smiling reverend father.
Kukah was in charge of the secretariat along with his colleague, Revered Father George Ehusani. Both of them were not unmindful of the danger of confronting a brutal military regime, but they were ready, willing and able to damn the consequences.
Military regime ended in 1999 and yet Kukah did not disengage from his staging post. He remains the sentry of our democracy. His pungent pronouncements and daring analysis of social and political issues remain central to our country’s search for our path to greatness that the great Mandiba envisioned. When I celebrated my 50th birthday in 2005, Kukah sent me a special gift, the African Bible, which I cherish till this day.