Enyeribe Ejiogu ([email protected])
The blistering letter that former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him not seek re-election in the forthcoming 2019 presidential election, the aftermath of the recent killings in Benue State and the burning of the palm plantation of Chief Olu Falae, by alleged Fulani herdsmen as well as the country’s economic indices have coalesced to call back to mind the momentous question that Ronald Reagan asked Americans in 1980, when he was seeking to be elected United States president.
In the course of his campaigns, Reagan had asked Americans if they were better off in 1980 than they were four years earlier in 1976, when Mr. Jimmy Carter, the then US president was elected. Today, as a broad swath of Nigerians reflect on the Buhari administration, and particularly on the government’s handling of the burning issue of killings by herdsmen, outspoken General Overseer of Calvary Kingdom Church International, Archbishop Joseph Ojo, who counts himself as a mentee of Archibishop Benson Idahosa, has given insight to what he believes the late fiery Pentecostal minister, would have done about the state of the nation. In this interview, he speaks on vital national issues.
Looking at the nation today, with President Muhammadu Buhari in office, some people feel that the country is not better off than it was in 2014, when Goodluck Jonathan was in office. What is your view on this and your assessment of this administration?
To be candid, my assessment of this administration is not far from my assessment of Muhammadu Buhari before he won the election in 2015. I had never believed that anything good could come out of his administration. That is the truth. By the grace of God I am not a young man. I know the antecedents of our leaders. I told some people that we should pray for them. The biggest and saddest thing about our leaders is that they don’t know the enormity of the problems of the country. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo was in office and we know how far he went. When you are outside government, you think that you will do better if you are in office. When Obasanjo was sworn in he said that he would fix the power sector. But after six months he said that he did not know the enormity of the problems of the country. I think that people should give credit to those people who had been there (in office) before them. So, from 2014 t0 2015, when the All Progressive Congress (APC) was telling us that the party would do wonders, I never believed what the party and its candidate said. My assessment of the government is exactly what it was before they took over. The simple truth is that we are far backward. In terms of infrastructure, look at the deplorable state of our roads. From where our church is located, it takes sometimes up to two hours get to Alaba market (off Lagos-Badagry Expressway).
What about public power supply? All aspects of public infrastructure are in a state of total disrepair. Our leaders don’t see the deplorable state of the infrastructural decay in the country. The reason is that they don’t ride on the roads; rather they fly. When they promised us change, we never bothered to ask them how much change. We just embraced that promise hook, line and sinker. What we are seeing today is not the change we embraced in 2015. In a nutshell, I never believed the APC’s claims because they sounded so boastful. They thought governing would be a walk over; the party has among its membership the same people that messed up this country and did not govern well in some states. Today they are ministers and hold other prominent positions in the administration.
I believe in Nigeria and I believe that what Nigeria needs is more than prayer. All of us must search our hearts. The bible says, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” The fight against corruption is good, but we are not fighting it the right way.
How do you mean sir?
It is not only politicians that are corrupt. There is corruption everywhere. There is corruption in Alaba International Market, Lagos; there is corruption at the petrol stations. Drive into any petrol station in the country, you find that many of them have adjusted their meters and do not dispense the volume you pay for because one litre is not one litre. Officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) who are supposed to check the dealers and ensure that they are not shortchanging the buyers by under-dispensing, would go to the stations and get bribed to look the other way. When they dispense 10 litres, you find that in reality it is just about nine litres or less. That is another form of corruption. You go to the market to buy something to supply to the government, they ask you how much you want them to state on the receipt. That is corruption. So corruption will continue in Nigeria until we the people talk to ourselves and freely resolve to end it. It is everywhere, even in the churches and mosques. For the Buhari administration to be fighting political corruption, and doing so in selective manner, will not work because when he leaves office, the people that will take over from him will also fight him. The battle against corruption must be holistic.
Recently, the farm of Chief Olu Falae was set ablaze by alleged Fulani herdsmen. When you hear about what is happening in Benue State, what comes to your mind?
If what is happening in the state was happening in a state controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I would have said that it is political. But the state is an APC-controlled state and the Federal Government is also controlled by the APC. I visited Benue State twice last year, in March and November. In November I had opportunity to pay a courtesy visit to the state governor. If the state was not APC, the magnitude would have been more than what we are seeing. So I begin to wonder what really is at play in that state. Is it part of grand design that is just unfolding? We are grateful to God that the party in power is APC, otherwise the magnitude would have been a total massacre. I think also that our president should prove people wrong and show that he is not protecting the Fulani herdsmen because they are his tribesmen. His obvious inaction is making people to think that he knows about what is happening. You cannot use a sledgehammer to fight the Niger Delta militants but ignore the herdsmen who have done more harm and are almost like nationwide militants, unlike the Niger Delta agitators that are regional. The herdsmen are operating all over the country, in Imo, Enugu, Ondo, Delta, among other states. In Edo State, they have killed people, even in my own local government. President Buhari should show that he is the president of Nigeria and not the President of Fulani. I am appealing to President Buhari to prove people wrong by doing something that would make us have hope and faith that we can go out and be assured that we can come home safely. I say this because all over this country you could be driving and see cattle march into the road and even block the road. And if you are unfortunate to hit one, trouble could burst from there. But if the President could demonstrate that he is the president of the entire country and call his people to order, the current situation would not exist.
There is this belief that the attacks by herdsmen could lead to ethnic war. What is your view?
I don’t believe that a civil war would happen. It is only those who were not old enough in the late 60s, during the civil war are too quick to encourage that disposition. I am an Edo man and part of the civil war took place in the old Bendel State. I would not want a repetition of it. I don’t think that what is happening will lead to war. Rather what is happening is a quest for expansion of territory for Islamisation of the country by all means. They are using trick and scheming to dominate, take possession and islamise the country. Clearly what is happening is a strategy to islamise the country.
It is believed that you worked closely with Archbishop Benson Idahosa, and he was man who spoke truth to power. If he were alive today, what do you think he would have said about the killings by herdsmen?
If Benson Idahosa were to be alive today, he would have gone to Aso Rock to express his disappointment over the state of the nation. He would not have waited for collective action. He always took bold decisions on issues bordering on national affairs. He considered it a national responsibility to do so. If he were alive today, he would have taken such a step as to address the powers that be on how things are supposed to be done. An example was when General Sani Abacha took over power and was destroying everything. He called me and said, ‘Let’s go to Dodan Barracks, to talk to Abacha.’ By now, if Papa Idahosa were to be alive, I am sure his approach would have been quite different from the approach that many Christian leaders are taking today. The problem is that many Christian leaders are too spiritual and believe too much in prayer. Prayer is good but prayers without works (actions) is dead. We should, after praying also strike. Once they believe that it is only them that can unleash terror, they will keep terrorizing us. I remember what Idahosa once told us. He said, ‘Jesus said that if they slap you on the right cheek, give the other. But he didn’t tell us what to do after giving the other cheek.’ The bible enjoins Christians to be at peace with all men. That is why the other faiths that share the geographical location called Nigeria with Christians take the peaceful disposition of Christians for granted.
There appears to be a consensus that the Federal and state governments need to do more to protect the environment given what is being seen now. What is your take on this?
During Fashola’s time as governor, the Lagos State government made a law against noise pollution and banned the use of horn speakers mounted on the roof of worship places (both churches and mosques). Is the loudspeaker used by worship places the cause of the noise pollution in the state? The greatest source of noise pollution in the country and in Lagos State is the power generators. Because people don’t have public power supply they resort to the use of generators. Simply put, the greatest noise pollution does not come from speakers but from the millions of generators all over the state, ranging from the huge diesel generators used by companies that run round the clock to the ones used by every home in the state. Including the ones at Aso Rock and Alausa, the seats of the Federal and Lagos State governments. The noise from the generators and the emission are polluting the environment. That is the simple truth. It is unfortunate that the Fashola administration conveniently overlooked this and made a law banning the use of small horn speakers at worship places.
My candid advice to the government is that if it wants to reduce noise pollution, it must first of all switch off the generators used at the Government House at Alausa, then it should arrest the chief executives of all the companies that own and use generators in Lagos, after that it should arrest the heads of all the companies selling generators in Lagos. The government should go further to arrest all the private users of generators, including myself. And at the national level, the generators at Aso Rock should also be switched off. This way we will effectively reduce the pollution of the environment with noise and gaseous emissions from the generators. Otherwise, the ban on horn speakers is really a waste of time and a case of someone chasing shadows. The bible says, “Physician heal thy self.” Honestly the people in leadership don’t know the problems of the country. We have to look deep and deploy holistic solutions to the problems of the country. Let’s clean ourselves, let’s re-exam ourselves.