By Agatha Emeadi
dr. Samuel Chukwuemeka Uche (JP) is the prelate of Methodist Church, Nigeria. He recently bared his mind on the state of the nation in this encounter in his Yaba office, condemning what he called the deliberate creation of poverty in the country by the politicians. Excerpts:
In the past weeks, Nigeria has been involved in a lot of crises, as a spiritual father, what is the role of the church in shaping the nation?
The Church should be involved in advocacy because they are like the mouthpiece, the voice of God, and the nation. That has been our role from inception of Methodism in Nigeria. History has proved that Methodist mission was the first to land at Badagry on the 24th September 1842. Followed by the Anglican, Henry Townsend who came on the 24th December 1842.The two celebrated joint communion and Eucharistic service in Badagry. The same place where slaves were taken from was also where they returned as they came to Freetown, Sierra Leone first and then Ferguson, a Nigerian leader of the slaves who happened to have invited the missionaries to send someone to deliver a social song on witchcrafts and forces of darkness. Reverend Thomas Wesley was sent; so, since then, Methodism has been working with the government. Now, in Nigeria, it is a common practice to see government headquarters and Methodist share a common boundary. For instance, if one goes to my hometown Okigwe, the house of the District Officer and that of the Methodist Missionary share a common fence. At Marina, from the State House towards the Nigerian Ports Authority, all the expanse of land is owned by the Methodist Headquarters. Again, you may not know that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was a student of Methodist High School, Lagos; before he proceeded for his higher secondary certificate at Kings College. Chief Obafemi Awolowo did the same, he studied at Wesley College, Elekowa in Ibadan. Michael Okpara was a student of Methodist College, Uzoakoli, before he was sent overseas by the Methodist missionaries. So, we have been at the forefront of politics. But the church has been apolitical and not partisan as she advises her candidates. So, every Church that knows its onions, when and how to cut it cannot stand aloof when things are going wrong in the country. Interestingly, most of the points I raised during the #EndSARS protests are being picked by the government one after the other. I told them that EndSARS means so many things, it means lack of employment, it represents hunger, police and army brutality, arginalization, impunity in government, inequitable distribution of offices based on geographical setting and federal character. Those things are lacking because in Nigeria; one tribe wants to dominate Nigeria and things must fall apart. According to the legendary Chinua Achebe, when things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. That is what we are suffering. There is a lot of inequity, so until government addresses the issue of equity, there will be no peace. Moreover, the young people could be likened to black Minnesota George Floyd who was killed by police brutality with a popular slogan “I cannot breathe”. The young ones see old senators who sleep in the chambers only to wake up and earn N13 million every month while teachers and others are paid pittance. I told President Muhammed Buhari that half of the salary of a senator can give employment to 1,460 graduates if they are paid a N100,000 each. If it is multiplied by 109 because each state has three Senators including the Federal Capital Territory. One will know the amount of job they would generate; 109 multiplied by I46, this is coming from just the Senate. Then, from the House of Representatives, we generate equivalent of that too, how can one be reticulating and replicating old people and the young ones are suffering? As long as young people continue to suffer, there will be increase in hooliganism, armed robbery, kidnapping, cybercrimes etc will continue because young people are denied. We must address the problems of Nigeria once and for all by doing things right. The Bible says when the righteous is in authority, people rejoice, but when the wicked is in authority, people cry.
What do you think about restructuring, there have been national conferences on this issue, do you think it will solve Nigerian problems?
Nigeria is too big to be one country, though we should not disintegrate and go away. If we maintain the regional structures; Southeast can have a central government and what is known as states could be contiguous administrative units under the Southeast Region. America, for instance, is called United States of America, but each state has its police, immigration, customs, army etc, but they are called United States of America. So, restructure means that each generates its own money and pays a percentage to the centre and people will have a sense of belonging.
Are you suggesting that people should go back to Regional System of government?
Now, they have what is called the geo-political zones which was started by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and it has been adopted by other parties, so why not have six regions in the country or even more regions, but there must be a central administration headed by one person just as Donald Trump is heading United States. There must be some federal, state and other laws guiding the principles. There should be federating system in Nigeria because it’s too big as a country.
Looking at the total decay of the educational, electricity, health and infrastructural system, where do we go from here?
You may not have been born at a certain period in Nigeria, but I was privileged to be born at the time when Dr. Michael I Okpara was the Premier of the Eastern Region. We had two constant sources of power then; one was from Oji River and coal in Enugu (ECN). The fastest growing economy in the whole of Africa then was the Eastern Region. We had food in abundance. I remember when garri was sold in cups, my mother would buy from a rural market at 36 cups per shilling; then we would come back to town and sold 18 cups per Shilling. So out of every one Shilling, my mother would make 12 cups. That was how I went to secondary school because she helped my father who was a church teacher to raise money and train us and we ate very well. In secondary school then every Saturday we had two boiled eggs per student for breakfast, then on Sundays, we were sure of rice and chicken. Four students shared a whole chicken. One could differentiate between a boarder and a day students.
Just as people were recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, electricity tariff hit the waves though it was later reversed. What is your response to this?
The government gives money from one side and takes it from another side. With N30,000 minimum wage increase which means nothing; the truth is that people are suffering. There is hyper depression. Prices of goods and services have gone up by more than 50 per cent. People liked when they were earning N18,000.00 and fuel was going for N85.00 per liter, and goods and services were cheaper. Another issue about Nigeria is that our government is not creating enabling environment for private entrepreneur and industries to thrive. If they allow private investors to thrive, with energy which is germane and good roads, supply of potable water, these are the things that Nigerians need. If there is regular supply of electricity, the welder in the village will not struggle to come to Lagos. I was in Israel last year, any corner I visited, there is light even though their cable went underground, anywhere one wants to wash hand, in all the lavatories built in the wilderness, there is a tap for both hot and cold water running 24 hours a day, seven-days a week and 365 days in a year. They are very well developed, why can’t we learn from such people. Look at the roads in Nigeria. When I was growing up, there were Trunk ‘A’ roads which was for the federal, Trunk ‘B’ was state or region while Trunk ‘C’ was for the local government. The worst thing that is happening in our country is local government. I understand they share the money allocated to them for development. When the allocation comes to the state government, they take a chunk of it and use the remaining to pay salaries while nothing remains for goods and services. That is part of the reason for the suffering. There is deliberate creation of poverty in our country and they still want to suppress people to forced labour, obeisance, wickedness, there is no righteousness in this country.
Talking about poverty sir, was that why the palliatives did not get to the people who need them?
I was surprised that palliatives meant for the people was said to be preserved. Are they calling for another COVID-19 when the church is praying for pandemic healing? I am happy those warehouses were broken for people to carry what belong to them. I did not see it as looting.
Still on the state of the nation, we have found out that a whole lot of countries are talking about diversification of their economy, a place like Dubai was a desert, today, Dubai is one of the fourth most visited country in the world and also sits atop barrels of crude oil that have not been touched, Nigerian economy relies so much on oil, when oil dries up, what becomes of the nation?
We are not planning for the rainy day. My father told me that the most foolish man is the man that eats the fat yam and the seedling. When we were growing up, we had yam barn, my father would plant yam, while my mother plants cocoyam and cassava. She never went to market to buy yam or cocoyam or fermented cassava (Akpu). Every four days, my mother would take us to the farm to uproot cassava, soak in water and in the next four days, there was enough food at home. That is what I recommend for every family, do not wait for government. Get involved in farming. The most important thing that exposes wretchedness is hunger. If everybody is well fed, one may not be involved in some criminalities. While we eat, we also sell some of the farm produce from our farms. Diversification of economy also involves technological development, when artisans are technologically empowered even though it needs energy. Then there is also commercial agriculture, subsistent, arable farming which means cultivation of food crops. Poultry and aquatic culture are other means we can maintain to feed ourselves as a nation if we want. If countries like Japan that do not have oil are fed by ICT. I have also heard that cars that will not use oil are being manufactured to hit the road soon, at that time, what will happen to Nigeria. When I was a bishop in Owerri, I have told our people the advantages of diversification many years ago. Our gas in untapped. We have quantum deposit of untapped gas, why can’t we tap them and use for our economy. We only know how to steal money. All these houses they are building, some of those people in government store foreign currencies there in their houses. Some of them have packed monies in septic tanks, rooms and otherwise. Some they set ablaze for ritual purposes. I am a religious leader who do not sit at Lagos only, but I go to villages in every part of Nigeria. The government in power is not planning for tomorrow and the unborn generation. They want to finish everything and take loans from China and other developed countries. They have been taking loans that they cannot pay and they will leave it as a liability for the incoming generation, it is unfair.
What about sentiments that are not championed like what happened in the case of Innoson Motors…?
You all saw how that man was embarrassed because he is an Igbo man. I do not know why Igbo tribe has become the animals of sacrifice. If your wife annoys you, kill an Igbo man, if you fail election, kill an Igbo man, everything that happens demands the head of an Igbo man. Is it because these Igbo are enterprising and adventurous? If there is no Igbo, Nigeria will not be sweet. But then, an Igbo person who engages in dubious character is not for me. God has given each tribe something they can contribute and make the nation strong. For instance, when I go to the village to conduct marriage ceremonies, without Fulani/Hausa there, there will be no celebration because they bring in the cow, tomato, onion, potatoes etc. So, we need to live together. In the late 50s and 60s, we saw Hausa men who were not carrying gun, they carried stick. They married our people and vice versa, if you go to Enugu, Umuahia, Okigwe my home town, there are Hausa people there likewise how the Igbo are in Kano and Kaduna. With the level of interwovenness, if there are crisis would I go and kill my in-law, nephew or niece? We need to live together to build a viable well-together nation. We need one another to survive.