Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
State Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Akpen Leva, in this exclusive interview threw his weight behind the #EndSARS protesters, saying the protest was long overdue going by the unpleasant happenings in the country.
Leva who is also the resident Pastor of the NKST Church, Iortyer, Makurdi warned the Federal Government to be cautious in handling the #EndSARS protests with a view to finding an enduring solution to the national matters.
While decrying the level to which things have degenerated in the country, the State CAN boss said if care is not taken, even the market women, religious leaders, pensioners and the paramilitary will join in the protest. He spoke on other burning national issues.
There are protests going on in every part of the country as we speak. Even right here in Benue. What is your opinion about the #EndSARS protests?
First of all. I have to commend our youths because they have awoken from their slumber. We expected such thing long ago. Our youths have done something commendable because they are registering their protest to the Federal Government because of bad governance and maltreatment of our youths nationwide. But I want to advise them not to be violent. But I want to promise you that time is coming in this nation when not only youths will come to the streets. Market women will flood the streets, even the clergy will flood the streets, pensioners will flood the streets and the organized labour will flood the streets because of the type of suffering we are experiencing in this nation. It is not easy with anybody. I think the Federal Government should carefully come to table with the youths. They have outlined what they want to be achieved; end SARS; they want a complete overhaul of the police system, they want insecurity checked, they also want service chiefs to be changed and so many other demands. And I think all their demands are justifiable. And I think the Federal Government has to sit up and dialogue with them. It’s very easy to solve somebody’s problem. These youths are not doing anything at the moment because all the universities are closed as a result of ASUU strike. What is the Federal Government supposed to do? Settle ASUU and let students return to school. Look at legislators, people are unemployed yet somebody is taking home millions as salaries and allowances every month. All these programmes like the Npower and the rest of them that are engaging the youths and paying them peanuts, let them make it permanent. Employ these youths and increase the allowance substantially because there is money in this country. Few people are carting this money away and taking it to outside the country. Why should our leaders be going for treatment abroad when we have very capable Nigerians doing this country proud in the field of medicine home and abroad? I think time has come to stop anybody from going for treatment abroad. We have all the facilities here and whichever ones we don’t have can be brought in and fixed to make our medical facilities better. It’s high time Nigeria comes back to her senses. So, I throw my weight behind the youths in this EndSaRS protest. That is just an acronym but there is more to it than meets the eye. And if the Federal Government is not careful, one day, everybody will come to the streets. And I like the way they are going about the protests without being violent. They are eating and drinking there. They even offered prayers last Friday and Sunday. I want to caution the Federal Government against the use of military to kill these youths.
I was going to ask you that question. Do you think this is the right time to start Operation Crocodile Smile?
No, this is not the right time. If you inaugurate Operation Crocodile Smile, let them go to Borno and fight Boko Haram. Our youths are protesting genuinely because life is very unbearable in Nigeria and the youths are speaking to Federal Government. What does it take for the President to come out and address youths? I appreciate the Vice President who has been apologising. But we want the President, our father to come and address the youths. If they use military to kill these young people, they will miss the target. Let them dialogue with them, let them beg them, let them apologize to them. That is why I always commend my governor, Samuel Ortom. When we celebrated independence, he came out publicly and apologised to Nigerians on behalf of the leaders whom he said have failed the people. Our leaders have failed us. Nothing is working. There’s money yet nothing is working. No light, no water, no medical facilities, no road, no security yet we have money in this country. So, I throw my weight behind the protesting youths. But I caution them against violence. There are so many ways of protesting. You can just sit on the streets and be singing and you will not go home for weeks. And the Federal Government must respond. I think Nigeria has come of age. And this is an eye opener and if the government cannot handle this very well, one day’ don’t be surprised that everybody will be on the streets to demand good governance. Everybody including even the paramilitary will one day join the protest in this country so that there should be a change in this country. We need to pray for Nigeria so that our leaders will come back to their senses because if this is not handled carefully, one day, all these flashy cars will be afraid of plying our roads because the youths will start hauling stones at them. So, the Federal Government has a task to sit with these young ones and chart the way forward for Nigeria. I think that will help our country and life will return to normal.
Nigeria recently celebrated it’s 60 years as an independent nation. Do you think the country has really come of age in the actual sense of it?
First of all, I thank God so much for this period that Nigeria has celebrated her independence. We thank God because in spite of all the challenges, we are still one and the calls for sober reflection and deep appreciation to God. But as you know, somebody that is 60 years old is of age and it is expected that such a person must have established himself very well. He must have married and have children and grand children. But in the case of Nigeria, in as much as we are celebrating 60th anniversary as an independent nation, we are celebrating with mixed feelings because God has positioned Nigeria in a place that at that age of sixty, it can be anything on this planet. But it’s quite unfortunate that at the age of 60, Nigeria is still wallowing in darkness such that we cannot celebrate two weeks of uninterrupted power supply. We can’t open our taps to get water continuously for two weeks. Our roads are death traps. Our youths are roaming the streets without jobs, yet Nigeria is sitting on trillions of money, yet there is abject poverty in the land. I think these are issues that we have to address. Go to other countries like Dubai and Ghana and you will be amazed at the level of development. In Nigeria, there’s no light and they keep on increasing electricity tariff. Our roads are death traps. You have a vehicle and you cannot maintain it because if you travel for just twenty kilometers, by the time you come back, you may sleep at the mechanic fixing your vehicle because of the very bad nature of our roads. So, what are we up to? Is it the money that is not there? We have money, we have oil that can transform this nation, we have mineral resources and all that it takes. So, it’s a very big shame to our country that at 60, we can’t get what we have to get to make life comfortable for all in this nation. And that calls for serious prayers for our nation.
Looking at the level of insecurity in all parts of the country, what do you think can be done to stem the tide and bring a lasting peace to the country?
This is another issue that is bothering our nation. At 60, Nigeria is not secure. Insecurity is everywhere. Kidnapping, banditry, herders/farmers crisis, insurgency and so on all over the nation. It’s so alarming and nobody knows what will happen to him the next moment. You’re traveling and all of a sudden the road is blocked, people are arrested, kidnapped and taken to the bush and ransom have to be paid. Some are even killed after the ransom must have been paid. What are we up to? Well, many people have been calling on the Federal Government to overhaul the security architecture and I think that is very important. We have capable hands that if utilized, they can have something to say about improving the security situation of the country. I’m also supporting the issue of getting new security chiefs. The ones that have done very well, we commend them for that. But we need new brains that will come and inject new blood into the security situation of this nation. That is very important. We know the flashpoint so far of these bandits, let us intensify more efforts in arresting them so that there will be peace in this nation. Some people have stopped traveling in this country for fear of the unknown because once you travel, they will kidnap or even kill you. Our homes are no longer safe. So, I think the Federal Government has to put in more efforts.
What’s your opinion about the proposed Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA)?
I was among those who were condemning the CAMA act because if you look at it very well, it’s a very bulky document but inside, it’s very unfortunate that sometimes the policies of the Federal Government are anti people. You know, Nigeria is a country where some people seem to be working behind the curtain to make life unbearable for others. If not, how can you say that CAMA will have the power to dissolve board of trustees of religious organizations and NGOs? There are so many things that government can control. How can government come and control religious organizations to the extent of having the power to dissolve and appoint board of trustees and the Registrar General can do that and the court cannot challenge him. That is an anti people clause being inserted in the CAMA act. As a church, we condemn it and we appeal to the Federal Government to reverse or remove that clause that seeks to control churches because the church is a spiritual institution with its laws, rules and regulations. The Federal Government has so many parastatals that it can control. Let the Federal Government hands off the issue of CAMA as far as the churches and NGOs are concerned. If you look at it very well, some of these NGOs are the ones bringing succor to the people that are being oppressed including IDPs and the rest of them. And then, you want to check them and frustrate their efforts. So, we appeal to the Federal Government to please not implement the CAMA act 2020. We are against it and that is our stand on it.
Let’s bring it back home to Benue, where up till now, thousands of IDPs are still in camps because their ancestral homes have been destroyed and yet to be rebuilt despite FG’s promise of a N10billion to that effect. What do you think is/are the effect of the prolonged stay of these IDPs who are mostly farmers on the economy of the country.
This insecurity has also prolonged the stay of the IDPs in camps. The state government has done a lot and I commend it for what it has been doing so far. But the issue of insecurity has made the IDPs to stay in camps as if that is their permanent homes. Some of them made attempts to go back to their homes but they were attacked and had to rush back. Some were even killed. Secondly, these people need to be resettled, rehabilitated so that life will be easier and more comfortable for them. That is not forthcoming. The Federal Government made a pledge through the Vice President and we are still appealing and reminding him to please, come to the aid of IDPs in Benue by fulfilling the promise so that the IDPs can return home. You know that their continuous stay there is not good. These people that used to farm very well have now turned to beggars because they do not have the opportunity to farm again. And as they are there, you know there are some social vices that are going on in the camps. If you go there, you see many unwanted pregnancies. The young girls and boys have gone into all manner of life and this is not good. There is psychological and physical trauma on the IDPs because they have been brainwashed to be looking up to people for support. These are people that used to work and provide for themselves. Some are sick because of the environment they are living in. So, there are so many issues that are cropping up because of the long stay of IDPs in camps. I appeal to the Federal Government to resettle these people so that they can go back to their ancestral lands.
What should be done to resettle these farmers back in their ancestral homes?
One, if their homes are built for them or they are given assistance to go and build their homes. They can be given money for improved seedlings to go home and farm. Above all, adequate security has to be provided in their areas so that bandits will not come and attack them again. If these are done, I think the people can return to their ancestral lands and life will become normal again.
What is your take on the proposed Water Resources Bill which was brought by the FG to the National Assembly?
You know, in the 8th Assembly, this issue of Water Resources Bill came up and the whole nation kicked against it. This time around, it is the Federal Government that is bringing it back to the National Assembly. I don’t know what interest the Federal Government has in this bill. This is why I always say that sometimes, the federal fuels the crisis in this country because if you bring a policy that is anti people, the people will react and reject it. And so, we are still rejecting the Water Resources Bill. The Federal Government has all the resources to channel this water to any part of this nation, to create dams in the far North and everywhere so that there will be abundant water. Go to Israel, a very small country. With the Lake of galilee alone there is water everywhere in Israel and they have channeled this water into agriculture. If you go there, you will see that they are capable of feeding the whole world. The two rivers we have in this country; Rivers Benue and Niger are capable of doing any type of agricultural practice in Nigeria. All we need do is to just channel this water, take it to the far North and use it for whatever you want; fishery, cattle rearing, crop farming and so on.