President Muhammadu Buhari has been advised to embrace dialogue in resolving the agitations for an independent state of Biafra. Giving this advice in an interview with SATURDAY SUN, in Lagos, the Prelate, Methodist Church in Nigeria, His Eminence, Dr Samuel Chukwuemeka Kanu Uche noted that Buhari meant well for Nigeria, but lamented that some people surrounding him are giving him and his government a bad name.
The cleric spoke to the trio of BRUCE MALOGO, TUNDE THOMAS and VERA WISDOM-BASSEY on other national issues including leadership, corruption, menace of herdsmen, on- going crisis in Southern Kaduna among a host of others.
People have been saying that we don’t have good government, now what is the responsibility of the leaders themselves?
The whole thing borders on leadership. A community or family depends on leadership. When you have good leadership people must follow, but when the leadership misbehaves, the centre can no longer hold. In short, it is like, Nigeria is under a curse. Maybe we have committed an error, and we have a leadership that doesn’t care. We have leaders that are not servant-leaders.
Leaders must be caring, generous and emphatic. They must feel for the people that they are leading. Look at what usually happen during the campaigns before elections. People who are nobody, they will come to your house, sit down with you, joke with you, and even when you crack a palm kernel, they will share it with you. But once you vote them into office, they become changed persons.
The first thing they write in front of their houses is beware of dogs. They cut you off. Then you see them going about with police escorts. They will even instruct their police that they should not allow any visitor to disturb them. They will tell their orderly, ‘tell them I’m in a meeting’ but which meeting? Meeting with the devil or what? That is the mentality of our leaders – they don’t come down to the level of the people.
I will continue to say that we have enough to meet the needs of this country but we don’t have enough for our greed. What individuals divert to private and personal pockets is more than what they need and that’s why we are having problem. So, our problem is man made. The problem of Nigeria has not come from God. Our problems come from us, both leaders and the led, and the led has a share of the blame because they have been voting people for money and selling their birthright.
When politicians seeking votes distribute N1,000 or even N500 to the electorate, that means they are selling their votes and some of these politicians that are buying their votes are criminals. If we put right people in the right positions, things will be okay.
The other aspect is that it seems government is not accountable to Nigerians, how do Nigerians make government accountable to them?
It is very easy. The legislature is put in place to checkmate the executive. The lawmakers are to supervise the budget passed to them by the executive, but they are not doing it. Our legislators have sold themselves to the executive.
It is now the executive that determines when to impeach a speaker, the senate president or local government chairman, and gullibly because of avarice, because of greed, you see fellow lawmakers buying into the plot and, conspiracy against their fellow legislators. You see them dancing to the tune of somebody that is supposed to be their servant.
Another thing is that our people don’t know their rights. Each ward has the right to recall any erring lawmaker. I’ve read what the constitution says on this.
People can recall their representatives. If you are representing us, and you are not doing well, we can pass a vote of no confidence on you by collecting signatures of majority of people registered in that ward and recall the lawmaker who is not doing well.
But you know hunger and greed are the major problems we have. Our people love money. Some people think about nothing but money they always go for money – to them money is everything. During the last general elections in 2015, they came here to my house, politicians, yes, they came here but I didn’t allow them to open their boots because they wanted to influence me to influence Methodist members to vote for them. But I said no – these politicians came from the North, East, West, everywhere, but I resisted them. If I had danced to their tunes that time and collected money from them I would have built about three or four houses. These people came with money, but I said no when they told me they have something for me.
I told them to come and thank me after winning the elections and I will pray for them. I tell my members don’t vote party but vote personalities that you know can deliver – that’s what I maintained. As a church leader I’m apolitical.
I’m much interested in this corruption thing, it worries me like so many other persons, in what ways is the church complicit in the corruption going on in this country?
There was something I said during my first conference as the Prelate of the Methodist Church, Nigeria. We had that conference in Port Harcourt. I told them that henceforth no person with questionable character will be made a knight. And if we don’t know your source of income, we will not accept it. We have to know how you made your money before we accept it. I want to tell you that this is the rule now. Ask any Methodist now, they will tell you that they are afraid, if you are not sure of yourself, you don’t come anyhow to the church.
It is better for us to finish a house in 10 years rather than take questionable money to complete such house within two years. But it is unfortunate that some churches have opened their doors to all manners of people who bring ‘Ghana Must Go’ containing money to the church, and then buy prayers.
And in some of these new churches in the Pentecostal, we know what is going on. The people that are stricter, especially in the main line churches, what you have there is integrity. There is integrity there. There is integrity in the Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Anglican and the Presbyterian churches.
But for these new churches, they have compromised and that’s why they build cathedrals here and there – they don’t ask questions. They only preach prosperity. In those churches, if you don’t have money, you are not a child of God.
We can’t continue this way, what practical things can we do as a way out?
The practical things we can do is to embrace change. Like Buhari said, change begins with me. Let him also change. Let everybody in position of authority change. Let every minister change. Let the citizens change, but if we are paying lip service to change. Corruption will persist and a time will come when we may have hyper-corruption.
What I know is that stealing has become endemic in this country. Let me tell you as we are sitting down here doing this interview some politicians are already scheming for 2019. Do you know why dollar is not in circulation? They are hoarding dollars. They are waiting for election time to bring it out and exchange it into naira for election purpose.
How can we build religious harmony in this country?
We must adopt what I will call tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness. For instance, if you go through my compound where I’m living here, I have some Muslims working for me. I’m not afraid of employing them because they are Nigerians.
When I was in Kano I had more Muslims working for me, more than five of them. Even in the church compound, I allow them to pray in their Islamic ways. There must be religious tolerance. That’s why I like Yoruba people. They are tolerant. In a family in Yoruba land, you have a Muslim, you also have a Christian and you also have a traditionalist, and they all live together in peace.
Nigeria is a pluralistic society and we must be accommodating. What we must value is the sanctity of human lives. Any religion that teaches shedding of blood is not a good religion. I don’t think any religion teaches killings. Even you go to Dubai, an Islamic country, the people there are very liberal. In the hotel where I stayed when I visited the country, about 80 percent of the workers are Christians.
The King of United Arab Emirates is very liberal and that’s why the country is very prosperous – there must be harmony before Nigeria can make any progress. There must be religious harmony and political tolerance for us to become a great nation.
So, what is the role of religious leaders in all these?
We are playing a role – for instance I was part of the people including former President Olusegun Obasanjo that are trying to broker peace between President Buhari and some South East leaders over the issue of marginalization of the South East in the current political dispensation. Buhari was to attend that meeting, he was convinced to attend, you know majority of the people of South East are aggrieved, they felt that after the war, they have not been fully integrated and those who participated in the Civil War are not the aggrieved ones but younger elements.
Some of these aggrieved younger elements even lost their parents during the civil war and therefore there must be a way to pacify them. We thought that bringing Buhari to the South East to interact with the people will bring about the needed peace.
Sincerely I believe that Nnamdi Kanu’s issue should be settled through dialogue by the federal government. They should send some people to him and appeal to him – ask him what his terms are. How do we bring the status of Igbo to be at par with that of other ethnic groups in the country? If they do, then I believe the young man will reason with them.
Look at major political appointments made by Buhari, Igbo have been marginalized and that’s why people are aggrieved. But I believe Buhari will do something. Some people think that Buhari doesn’t listen, but the man listens.
Look at him, he has been appealing to Niger Delta militants to lay down their arms. I think Buhari means well. But there are some things he should not do. He should not dabble into judicial issues, he should respect the independence of the judiciary.
I believe that it is those selfish advisers that are surrounding Buhari that are giving him bad name. I believe that left for Buhari, he wants equity and justice to prevail in this country. We have read his body language, he wants fair play to prevail.
But some of those people surrounding him are evil. I pray they should allow Buhari to work for Nigeria’s interests. But there are spoilers in his cabinet. I don’t want to mention names – there are some people doing evil things using Buhari’s name, but Buhari himself is not evil. But I believe that Nigeria will still get there. We will still become a great nation.
That meeting in the South East, what eventually happened because Buhari was not seen there?
You know some young people started threatening that Buhari should not come, and if he had shown up there might be some casualties. The boys may cause trouble, and the organizers of the meeting and the government didn’t want anybody to lose their lives.
But I believe that in the nearest future, the ground will be so well prepared that he will come. If I were Buhari, I will not be annoyed with these aggrieved elements, but rather try to win them over to his side by providing them some incentives like giving them good roads, hospitals and stable power supply.
Now political question sir, part of the solutions people are canvassing is to decentralize Nigeria which some people are referring to as restructuring as it was in the 60s, how practical is this as a solution to our national problems?
If we leave Nigeria the way it is and people are enjoying dividends of democracy there won’t be all these clamours for restructuring. Another way out for us is to have regional governments, the centre will be less strong. The centre will handle security, foreign affairs, it may also handle the judiciary, but then economically empower the regions. For instance if we have South East regional government, you may abolish local governments, and then have what we call Community Administration; states directly running communities by providing direct funding.
You now hold the community administration including the traditional rulers, Ezes accountable for good governance. Then whatever the regions generate as internal revenues, they will keep part of it and also remit a part to the central government. This is even part of the recommendation of the National Conference organized by the former President Goodluck Jonathan. I don’t know why they jettisoned that confab recommendations and kept it in the cooler.
Although some parts of Nigeria are not comfortable with the report, believing that if it is implemented leadership may elude them. Unfortunately in Nigeria, people feed from the centre, and that’s why you have bitter struggle for control of power at the centre.
Are you one of those who believe that the previous administration messed up the economy?
Yes I believe that, but the messing up started with the military – so much money was squandered. Corruption didn’t start with Jonathan, it has always been there with us.
The messing up started with the military. So much money was squandered by them. Corruption didn’t just start from the coming into office of Jonathan but corruption has been there all along. Look at the Abacha era, the Babangida era, Obasanjo era, they meant well for the country, but there were elements of corruption in their governments. Even the current president made mistake when he was the chairman of the PTDF, but he is now a repented person. I regard Buhari as somebody who has repented. Nobody is saying it but I must say it. But I still strongly believe that we will get there one day.
On the issue of killings in Southern Kaduna, do you think the Federal Government is doing enough to address the crisis?
The Fulani people who have been accused of being behind these killings are well organized people. The Fulani have been spreading through West Africa and if you have been reading books on History of West Africa, Fulani are very ferocious and belligerent. When you offend one, you offend all. Some of those Fulani that wreaked havoc in Nigeria are not really Fulani from Nigeria. They come from outside Nigeria and they mobilize from outside Nigeria to come and fight inside Nigeria. Some of them are from Mali and Chad.
What we need is understanding. There must be harmony among us. I believe that what is happening in Southern Kaduna today is a continuation of the Zango-Kataf crisis of the 80s and 90s.
The Hausa-Fulani traders in Southern Kaduna followed the rail to Kafancha. They are migrants. They should learn to live and let live. The Southern Kaduna people are the land owners, they are the indigenes of the area so the Fulani should respect the land owners. They should live and let live.
This is one of the reasons I oppose carving out of grazing fields for the Fulani. If you allow a Fulani man to have a grazing field, thereafter he would enthrone an Emir. Then they would try to take over the land from the original owners.
Fulani are unlike the Igbo. Igbo are republicans and adventurers. They leave their own areas to develop other people’s areas and they are willing to go back home anytime. I don’t think Fulani have a home. To them every land they occupy is their home. The type of Fulani we have today, the Fulani herdsmen are very violent. They are unlike the ones we used to have. I don’t know what these Fulani herdsmen are after, whether they want to conquer Nigeria. But if they want to conquer Nigeria, I want to say if they try that, there will be no country called Nigeria again because people are ready to resist with their last blood.
So the best thing for us to do is to live in harmony. We have to discuss how to live in harmony.