Leonard Umunna, founder and presiding Bishop of Bible Life Church, and a commentator on socio-economic and political affairs, in this exclusive interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, speaks on the state of the nation. Excerpts:
The insecurity situation in the country is getting worse and worse. Recently, Obadiah Mailafia, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigerian (CBN), warned that civil war was in the offing. There is apprehension in society as people are being killed on a daily basis. What is your take on these?
Whatever I say now is my own opinion and not that of the church or any other person. Concerning the general insecurity in the country, it has been there for some time now. When Boko Haram started to deal with Nigerians and somehow trying to present it as if they were against the education system in the North; I think some notable Nigerians said something that seemed to support them, and any attempt to correct this, they said you were killing the people of the North. When a child is throwing tantrums and the parents are paying deaf ears, the result will be that that child will grow up to become a bully or stubborn or even a social deviant. You have to strike the iron while it is yet red hot. General Ibrahim Babangida himself said it while in office that if there is any anomaly, a big challenge military-wise in the nation, if it is not quelled within a given period, they should blame those in authority, or simply put – that the government has a hand in it. So, that tallies with what Obadiah Mailafia has said; whether he is quoting someone or whatever- he said that there is plan for war hanging on. We can now see that this insecurity has escalated in all parts of the country. It is a time bomb. I warned years ago that they should look into our constitution and change of name, and make sure that they deal with the situation decisively; just like I advised that they should take care of Covid-19 early by looking for our own indigenous drugs; that’s what the Western World and Russia have worked on now, taking advantage of their ability to reason and do what is right without pandering to whether it is from this tribe or that tribe. That is what Nigeria is not ready to do. I think Chinua Achebe said it all; that the problem of Nigeria is leadership; whether it is cursed or is caused by our leaders’ penchant for avarice, unbridled lust for wealth or corruption, the whole thing rises or falls on leadership. That is the reality; nobody can tell you tomorrow that this thing cannot lead to war; going by the way things are going now. It has become hydra-headed both in terms of economy, religion, even the government aspect. People no longer believe in elections in the country. The real way of choosing leaders in a democracy is gone; it is no more working in Nigeria. Nobody should tell you that these abnormalities cannot result into a full blown war. What we need to do now is to take drastic measures; call a spade a spade; tell ourselves the home truth. We should look into the Goodluck Jonathan’s Constitution Amendment. Look at what is happening in Mali; I don’t support violence though, and I do not support coup, but what I am trying to say is that those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable. If you refuse to bring down your hand over what belongs to a child, I think by and by, your hand will begin to pain you, and you will be forced to bring it down. That’s what the situation is pointing to; but God forbid that there should be war. We must put our heads together now and solve this insecurity problem – kidnapping here and there; mindless killings and blood-letting; assassination, banditry, and insurgency. We are seeing the situation that was written in the scriptures that there was a time in Israel everybody was doing what was right in their sight because there was lawlessness all over the place. If, I were in power I would definitely investigate what Mailafia has said and not necessarily calling him for questioning here and there. Perhaps, there is big truth in it; and deal with it appropriately; so, that other people will come up to expose more. We must not make innocent people who are bringing information on how to get out of the insecurity situation to regret their actions. Don’t call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. The situation calls for drastic measures. In summary, what I am saying is that there is injustice in the land, nepotism and the feeling of marginalisation is everywhere; everybody says I’m marginalised. That’s what is causing all these things.
People are wondering why CAN is waking up late to condemn the CAMA 2020. Were relevant stakeholders not consulted during the public hearing or everything was done in secret?
I can only approach this question of yours from X-ray point of view. The reason is that there are many ‘yes, sir; yes sir’ church goers in government or in the corridors of power. We do not have real Christians in power that government can see as true representatives of the church. If such people are consulted, they will think, well, the church has spoken. Severally, I have spoken up against some so-called church leaders that go to government people for ‘prayer money’; ‘incense money’, hobnobbing with them. If they consult such people, they will say all is well; go ahead. They don’t take it into consideration that church is a spiritual affair. This is the way I reason with this matter. The other time when they wanted to fix the age of general overseers of churches; when they made it public; there was fire everywhere. I think somebody lost his job. So, if the people who heard or knew what happened at that time; this time around made it a covert activity so that nobody would know about it; and now all we hear is that it has been signed into law; well, I tell you that I heard about this when I saw some secular analysts on the television analysing the CAMA 2020; then they raised this issue; I said ‘what? Now, if myself, who is the Overseer of Bible Life Church heard it from a TV Channel, what would you say of others? Some people appear to be saying and asking the question, ‘Is CAN now a toothless barking bulldog?’ Thank God that CAN still came out forcefully to attack the development. I advise everyone that holds diverse views on this issue to travel between their shoulders and take another look at the constitution and what it says on the rights of every citizen and the secular state of Nigeria. The church should look into what the Bible says is the obligation of church leaders to their secular leadership. This is necessary so that no one will infringe upon the constitution or go against what the Bible demands Christians to do for their leaders whether they are wrong or otherwise. I have pointed out that there may be some people who are out to settle scores; when they came out with the overseer’s age ceiling, but could not succeed and now they look for another way to score a cheap goal. But that goal being allowed shows or indicates that there is a bad referee. We must keep religion separate. Nigeria is a secular state. Let us continue with that. Government must not because of a few bad examples on the pulpit – for instance, a huge sum of money that cannot be defended has been found in the personal accounts of some pastors. Government can single such people out and try them in accordance with the laws of the land; but should not judge all church leaders on that basis; or tar everybody with the same brush. That will be my sincere view on the CAMA issue for now. Religious leaders should sit down with the relevant authorities- the National Assembly and others- and iron out the matter.
From the latest report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria faces another recession. What are your worries about the state of the Nigerian economy?
If I tell you that I feel fine about the state of affairs I would be telling a lie. There is no stratum or segment of Nigeria’s people or community that is not hurting terribly except our top leaders – water they have the best; electricity – they have it on everyday; they don’t use their roads; they fly. They even charter aero plane and put it on standby, but when it comes to election they promise you heaven on earth; but once they enter into office they give people hell. Anybody who wants to draw their attention to their promises will be eliminated as an enemy of the state. These are the days of ban this, ban that. One should be very careful. The Bible says in those days the prudent shall keep quiet; else you will be branded an enemy. With our economy that is not just on its knees, but lying prostrate for years now, somebody is telling us that we are going into a recession. I ask, is the fellow living in the second heaven? We have been in this economic recession for years; have we come out of it at all? I don’t believe the figures they are bandying. Go to ordinary Nigerians, they will tell you that it is now a fight between the richest and the poorest. There is no middle class again. Everything is politicised. You either smile because you are in government or you cry because you are out of government. Nothing is working again; it is only government officials and their cronies that are enjoying the country. Companies are dying; manufacturing has collapsed; factories have shut down long ago because those who produce here are not breaking even, the market has been taken away by those who have government’s approval to import all manners of things from outside. We have been in recession. All my businesses have either shut down or struggling. Corruption has ruined everything in the country and there is no pro-active measure to remedy it. Whether it is in the law court – corruption; in the market – corruption; go to state House – corruption; whether it is in the church, mosque or any other religion – corruption. It is really serious. I want to say that the economy is more than bad; attention is now being diverted to politicising and monetising the church; things are bad. Look at insecurity everywhere, kidnapping, banditry, Boko Haram insurgency – people have been chased out of their businesses and farming activities have been affected. How can the economy thrive? Our main stay – the oil- is no longer bringing the dollars. We are now borrowing and staking our sovereignty. If those who fought for independence could wake up today from the grave to see what is happening now; they would be shocked. Nobody in the country is safe at the moment; so, how can the economy thrive? It is unfortunate that while we are complaining of abject poverty in Nigeria, some people are living in Eldorado in the same country. They see the type of quality life people live overseas but as soon as they land at our airport upon their return, they forget; another spirit will take over them.
Ahead of the gubernatorial election in Edo; some people are already expressing fears of possible violence in the state. What may be your advice to INEC, security agencies, politicians and the people?
They all know what is good to do. The scriptures say he that knows to do good and fails to do it, to him it is sin; and the punishment will always come at least. The Electoral Act was crafted but not signed; they said certain things should be amended; up till now, nothing has been done about it. How are you going to rule people without laws? Or what happens when the law is having too many loopholes that anybody can exploit? Violence-free election in Edo is only possible if Oshiomhole and Obaseki’s parties are caged by whatever security agency that will do so; and if such agency is allowed free hands to do their job. We all know that a fish begins to rot from the head. I am also appealing to Professor Mahmood Yakubu that he should do everything possible to conduct election that will be seen to be free and fair. In the past elections; some people were feeling that INEC was not really independent. They should clear their name now. If the trend goes that in Edo, people may not take it. The Edo youths must realise that it is their future that is at stake. They must not allow anybody to use them as thugs and dump them after election; thereby mortgaging their future. Security agents, INEC and everybody associated with the election must be allowed to do their job without pressure and undue interference; so that the people can see that truth has prevailed. Nigeria is already sitting on a keg of gun powder, further violence (electoral violence; rigging and day light change of figures) can lead to something else.
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