Homily at the Burial Mass of late Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, Governor of Kaduna State Fadan Kagoma, Kaduna, 20th December 2012
Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH
At times like this, we all wish things were different, that we knew more, that we could be a bit more certain, even if tentatively and haltingly. We wish that God would grant us some rare privilege of taking us into confidence, that He would open our ears and whisper some privileged information so that those of us who ought to know, those of us whom the world believes are close to God, might use it as a source of encouragement to our brethren. St Paul echoes the words of Isaiah when he says: Who has known the mind of the Lord and who has been His counselor? (Is 40:13, 1 Cor. 2:16). We must finally surrender to the fact that; God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts (Is 4055:8) or, as Job says, Can anyone teach knowledge to God? (Job 21:22).
When David’s son by Uriah’s wife died, David decided to dress up and end his fast to the shock of his household. They drew his attention to this irony and David replied: When the child was alive, I fasted and wept, thinking, who knows, perhaps Yahweh will take pity on me and the child will live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he cannot come to me (2 Samuel 12:21-23). Whatever our wishes, whatever we know or do not know, our beloved Sir Patrick Yakowa will not come back to us. We can only look forward to when we shall go to him.
As with Americans and the death of their beloved President, John Kennedy, for years to come, most Nigerians will still remember what they were doing and where they were when they heard of the news of the tragic death of Sir Patrick Yakowa, the erstwhile Governor of Kaduna state. The outpouring of emotions across the entire country is a testimony of what he meant to all of us. The questions will persist, Where was God? Why now? Then we will continue to contemplate what might have been and continue wonder, what if he had not gone to Bayelsa, what if he had waited for his own helicopter, what if they had concluded their chat with General Azazi and so on? Indeed, what if my good friend Oronto Douglas had not lost his father? But these questions are of no use.
Whatever our position, no matter our sadness, indifference or even hidden joy, our God draws straight with crooked lines. We humans can do absolutely nothing to change the plans of God. All that God does, no matter how bitter, is for our own good. Through the mouth of the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says to us: I know the plans I have for you, they are plans of welfare not evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11). He also assures us that: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13). This is not the time for us to feel despondent. St. Paul has warned us: The time has come for you to stop sleeping and wake up because our salvation is nearer now than when we first began to believe. The night is nearly over, daylight is on the way, so let us throw off everything that belongs to darkness and equip ourselves for the light (Rom 13: 11-12).
Mr. Yakowa’s ascent to the exalted position of Governor of Kaduna State was the climax of a most fascinating and exceptional career. He stood out as God’s favourite son among the entire people of Southern Kaduna State. It is actually tempting to assert that very few if any in Kaduna State can beat his track record of public service nor can anyone in the whole of this State claim to have had a life so full of Firsts. He was the first person from Southern Kaduna to become a Federal Minister, a Federal Permanent Secretary and the first to be Secretary to the Government of Kaduna State. He holds the special record of perhaps being the only Nigerian to have served two Governors as Deputy and to further ascend to the position of Governor all with no break.
I was at his historic swearing in ceremony as the Governor of Kaduna state. The event was historic because it temporarily closed the door to what has been one of the worst shows of selfishness by an unproductive and selfish cabal who have deployed religion to hide their greed. From the creation of Kaduna State in 1987, the Northern ruling class, by policy seemed to have erected an invisible sign that read: No Christians Need Apply to enter what would later be called Kashim Ibrahim House or represent the State at the highest levels. Despite the fact that all states were opened to Christian military officers, it was only Kaduna and perhaps Sokoto states that were never governed by non-Muslims.
This policy of exclusion against non-Muslims turned Kaduna State into a political Mecca and laid the foundation for the unnecessary and sad religious tensions that have continued to dog the state. This is why, a routine change like a Deputy Governor taking over from a Governor would generate such ripples across the country. It also has created the climate for the anxiety, fear and suspicion that destroyed the foundations of Christian-Muslims relations.
Mr.Yakowa’s ascent to power bore a little resemblance to Mr. Nelson Mandela’s ascent to the Presidency of South Africa in 1994. President Jonathan did for us what the great President de Klerk did to end apartheid in South Africa. As with Mandela, Mr. Yakowa went ahead to endear himself to a wide range of people across society, thus, earning him the sobriquet, Yakowa, Na Kowa coined by his Muslims supporters. His death has robbed our country of one of the finest human beings who brought respectability and nobility to politics, a man who has demonstrated how faith could influence politics, a man who has demonstrated that politics can be played by its rules and that indeed, politics can serve as a means of building bridges. He built bridges across the country, he made Muslims respect and appreciate the Christian faith, he showed a human side of life that very few in public life have demonstrated.
Where he died and even why he died was a true reflection of who he was. Some people have asked me, why did the Governor not send a representative to the burial of the father of Oronto Douglas, a young man who was of no immediate political benefit to him? Those of us who know him would testify that this is exactly what the man represented. He was selfless and took friendship rather seriously, perhaps, even too seriously. He never counted the cost of the sacrifice he made for his friends. In befriending Oronto, he saw a chance to place a building block somewhere around the creeks believing that one day in future, others might walk on that bridge. He was a man whose life was marked by simplicity, honesty, rectitude, character, integrity, probity, dedication to duty, solidarity and almost absolute faith and dedication to friendship.
He took my appointment as Bishop of Sokoto beyond the boundaries of ordinary friendship. Before I went to the Vatican in July 2011 for the audience with the Holy Father ahead of my Episcopal installation, Governor Yakowa told me that he and his wife would love to accompany me. I immediately added their names to my guest list for the audience with the Holy Father. As the days drew near, it began to look like he might not make it. I told him not to worry and that we could wait for the installation ceremony in Sokoto. I left for Rome with the understanding that he had inevitably cancelled the trip and I perfectly understood.
My audience had been slated for about midday at the Holy Father’s holiday residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome. On the eve of the audience, I received a call from the Governor saying he had arrived Rome and that he wanted to know where to meet me. He showed up with a driver from the Nigerian Embassy in Rome the next morning. My friend, Fr Patrick Alumuku and I traveled to the audience in real style, arrived to a most dignified reception in our diplomatic car especially given that my friend and brother, Msgr. now Archbishop Fortunatus, the Holy Father’s Chief of Protocol had given us some extra mileage in the preparations!
To the family of Mr. Yakowa, the Lord’s words through the prophet Isaiah are still true. He said: Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion for the child that she has borne? Yet, even if she forgets, I will not forget you. I have engraved you on the palm of my hands and your walls are ever before me (Is 49:14-16). The call of the Lord holds true when he says: Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest. My yoke is easy and my burden light (Mt 11: 25ff). Jesus has assured us that He will not lose even one of those the Father has entrusted to His care (Jn 6: 39).
To the people of Southern Kaduna, despite the clouds of fear, anxiety and uncertainty, we must not give in to self-doubt and prejudice. We have lost a dear son, but we have not lost our future. Indeed, the future that lies ahead is far brighter now than at any time. Our confidence as a people has grown. Mr. Yakowa, came, he saw, he conquered. He has left us a legacy that we should all be proud of. A man uncommon dedication to hard work, diligence to duty, sincere, honest to a fault, all trusting in the will of God, a family man, an altruistic citizen, he has shown that the doors are open to all if we imbibe his qualities.
Sadly, today, years and years of corruption and abuse of office have turned the otherwise noble profession and vocation of politics into a dark temple where money and power occupy the pantheons and enlist worshippers. The result is that rather than seeking men and women of honour for public office, our country has lost a sense of a common vision for creating the Good society. Nigerians have now developed a navel gazing and incestuous view of power that feeds on primordial sentiments. We no longer trust the Other, only those who worship with us, speak like us, can be trusted to represent us. Today, Nigerians believe that the only good public office holder is not the one who is most qualified, the most honest, the one with the greatest capacity to do good, but rather, the one who is a member of our circle of greed.
Those who have projected Islam as the basis for power have created the condition that now threatens the foundation of our society today. Those who used religion have left the north and its people poorer than any other part of the country. Mr. Yakowa in just about one year has managed to build up a people who have come to believe in themselves as brothers and sisters. He was relentless in his quest for peace. The result is that he has blunted the cutting edge of religion in our public life. Let me cite just a few examples.
When I called Sultan on Sunday night (16th December), he had already arrived Kaduna for a meeting that we had scheduled to hold with him, Cardinal Onaiyekan and other religious leaders. I was the co-coordinator of the meeting. His voice was deep and solemn. I was the one trying to lift up his spirits as he spoke with heavy emotions about Mr. Yakowa’s demise. When he said he was returning to Sokoto the next day, I asked if I could fly with him in his private jet. Well, he said to me, if you can get your friend’s private jet, I will follow you. You know, he said to me, I have been so shaken, this is the first time I am finding something to make me laugh. His voice said it all. This is the leader of the Muslim community.
When I spoke with General Buhari the same evening, he was similarly distraught and told me he had cancelled his 70th birthday celebration in honour of Mr. Yakowa. It is a sad day for all of us, and we must honour a great man, the General said. I felt relieved because I had accepted to be the Guest speaker at this event. This is the same man that his political enemies call a fanatic and a zealot. But there is even more.
The Daily Trust newspaper reported on the day after his death that Sheikh Yusuf Sambo, the National Leader of the Izala movement, had announced an immediate cancellation of a meeting which thousands of his members had assembled to attend in Kaduna as a mark of honour to Governor Yakowa. Yet, only last week, a rather irresponsible journalist had reported that the Izala members had held a meeting and laid out plans to kill Christians in Nigeria! On Tuesday, as we drove behind the Ambulances from the airport to St. Gerard’s hospital, I personally saw young Muslims genuinely wailing and waving in sorrow on the high way in Tudun Wada. I have received so many text messages from Muslims, high and low. Many ordinary Muslims genuinely full of emotions have hugged me and spoken about the death as our common loss.
These are genuine human beings and they reflect the best of our common humanity. They should be our focus not the riff raffs and scoundrels that are reported to be allegedly rejoicing over the death of Mr. Yakowa. They do not represent Muslims or Islam. They do not represent our common humanity. These scoundrels should be seen as part of the toxic waste of humanity who would still rejoice and dance on the streets at the nakedness of their parents. They should not distract us as we hold hands and stand together in our loss.
Let us not be afraid to ask God why He did this to us. A friend of mine who was on the plane to Kaduna after my installation in Sokoto last year told me of the near mishap they had on their flight back to Kaduna as the plane entered turbulent weather. She told me that while everyone was wailing, she simply asked God: So what do you want to do? If we all die, who will take the glory? What will you gain by this? You want the devil to celebrate and take the glory from you? I was impressed by this attitude because sometimes, God does deserve some tough questioning. And you know, what? He actually rewards this audacity sometimes. Let me offer three examples.
When God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham confronted Him head on. The dialogue is in Genesis Ch. 18: 22-33. It is an irritating confrontation, but it is amazing how Abraham remained persistent. Abraham seemed to challenge God’s sense of fair judgment and justice: Are you really prepared to destroy the innocent and the guilty? That is impossible. The Judge of all the earth has to act justly he said to God (Gen 18: 24, 25). It is as if Abraham is trying to do some PR for God by making him understand that this act will affect God’s reputation as a just, honest and fair judge.
A second example is the story of the one who has come to represent the virtue of honesty, Job. The problem that God faced in the story of Job relates to how His perceived sense of justice and fairness are again called to question. Job’s honesty and fear of God are well known. He loses everything he ever owned, children and property, and he is afflicted so badly by a skin wasting disease. His friends who were convinced of their wisdom and came to condole with him sit for seven days and nights and utter not a word because they had never seen anything of the sort(Job 2: 13). Job says: God knows everything I do. He sees every step I take. I swear I have never acted wickedly and never tried to deceive others. Let God weigh me on honest scales and see how innocent I am (Job 31:4-6). Poor Job. He continues his verbal shadow boxing, struggling to showcase his righteousness. God is patient with him and actually waits for him to exhaust himself before God breaks His silence.
He says to Job: Who is this, obscuring my intentions with his ignorant words? Brace yourself like a fighter. I am going to ask the questions and you are to inform me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me since you are well informed (Job 38: 1-4). A penitential Job shocked by the foolishness of his so called wisdom says: Before, I knew you only by hearsay, but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract what I have said and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42: 4-6).
Those of us who know more than God and are weaving the conspiracy theories, claiming that Mr. Yakowa was a victim of dark forces, can they answer just three questions? Did God consult them before he brought Mr. Yakowa the rare life he had? Was it Christians, the people of Southern Kaduna, or his kinsmen and women from Fadan Kagoma that guided his life? He owes his entire meteoric rise in the civil service and his political life to good men who had the discernment and whom God used when it mattered. Interestingly, good, God fearing and honest men who found themselves in power from Brigadier General Ja’afaru Isa, Governor Makarfi, Architect Namadi Sambo are not Christians. Neither are General Abdusalam Abubakar or Alhaji Gidado Idris who appointed him Federal Minister and Federal Permanent Secretary respectively. They were men of honour.
Finally, our brother, our friend and our beloved Governor is gone. We do not need to mourn because he has left us so much. We thank President Goodluck Jonathan and those who advised him to create the opportunity that enabled Mr. Yakowa to keep this appointment with destiny. Sir, as you can see, he has not disappointed us all. Our project for building a non-discriminatory society is on course and it is irreversible.
I want to appeal to all of us to rise to the challenge of building one united country, a country of love, a country where indeed, we are all God’s children. We must rise up to build a country where we see ourselves as human beings, citizens with inalienable rights and not allow ourselves to be held hostages by religious bigots. What is today Boko Haram is the toxic waste those years of dubious religious manipulation has produced.
Mr. Yakowa has opened a door and it will never shut again. Because Mr. Yakowa passed here, Kaduna politics will now be defined as Before Yakowa or After Yakowa. Indeed, for you the entire people of Southern Kaduna especially the Youth, rise up, fear is dead and it will never rise again. Before Yakowa, you were afraid, you were poor and felt defeated. Now, After Yakowa, the world is yours to conquer. Rise up, get ready to light your candles because we have seen the light of a star in Kaduna. Go forward and meet up with other young men and women like yourselves. Free yourselves from religious prisons, dream big and beautiful dreams. A wonderful, peaceful, just and non-discriminatory, unselfish world lies ahead of you. Conquer fear, take the torch and march forward, whether you are Christopher or Mustapha, march on, whether you are Mary or Maryamu, march ahead. This is why Mr. Yakowa has died for you.
To you, Mrs. Yakowa and the children, the good people of Fadan Kagoma, hold your heads high. You gave the world a most precious gift. Nigeria and its politics will not be the same again because our beloved son passed here. Our redeemer liveth. Yes, we know.
To our new Governor, Archbishop Ndagoso and I listened to all your beautiful testimony. The world looks up to you never to be seduced by the whispers of the wicked whose devilish and selfish hold on power has held our society down. Do not be tempted to think that the Muslims have taken what the wicked have presented as a prize for only Muslims. You have taken over the steering wheel and must obey and respect all road signs so that we can arrive at the destination that we have set out to. Balancing our dreams together can make ours one of the greatest states in Nigeria. Let us reverse the divisive, ugly and pernicious past which was constructed by men who had the hearts for apartheid. By pursuing the politics of exclusion, these men and women merely destroyed both the noble faith of Islam and the North that its founders dreamt of.
I want to assure you that there are millions of Yakowa’s outside the Muslim community and that the monopoly of power by one section or even one gender or generation denies our people a future. This is what South Africa realised. It is what the Americans have now realised. Other nations have achieved greatness by managing diversity. Diversity should generate appreciation and love and when properly managed, it can be a source of beauty and strength. This is why Joseph’s coat of many colours is presented as the best garment in the Bible. We wish you well and as you saw from the way our people have received this tragedy, we are a peaceful, God fearing and trusting community. I can assure you, we shall stand by you. And to you President Jonathan, when it mattered, you allowed God to use you to change history. Those whose selfishness sowed the seeds of exclusion leading to violence have abandoned the state and fled to Abuja where they continue to pursue an unproductive lifestyle of feeding off the state by pretending to represent Islam and the North.
Sir, this state is ours to build now that the members of the nefarious Mafia whose selfishness hindered the development of Kaduna in particular and the north in general have either died or fled the state. Mr. Yakowa’s ascent to power broke this jinx. You cannot attempt to put this genie back without breaking the bottle. Before Yakowa, Kaduna state had been surviving on one lung. Now that political surgery has corrected this anomaly, it is hoped that now, we shall lay a foundation for a successful transition and succession to power in the most honest way. If we fail to do that, we shall be attempting to clap with one hand or flying a plane with only one wing. With youth on your side, we all assure you of our prayers. Despite its troubles and doubts, Nigeria is on the threshold of hope and opportunity. We shall arrive our destination quicker because we have the likes of our dear Governor Yakowa praying for us. May God bless our dear country. Amen.