From IHEANACHO NWOSU and AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Abuja
The Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has declared that the nation is in dire need of reorganization.
The former President of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) who spoke with Saturday Sun in Abuja, said the Federal Government needs to urgently look at the various agitations across the length and breadth of the country and chart a way forward.
According to Onaiyekan, “each of these ones (various agitations), on their own affair appears like a joke. But when you combine them all together, they indicate that the country needs to reorganize itself well. When people talk of restructuring, the only thing I can get from it is that we have a country that needs to be reorganized.” The Cardinal-Priest of San Saturnino also said engaging the nation in another conference or a committee to look into similar past conferences was not a bad idea only if it would meet the yearnings of Nigerians.
Recently, we saw the Middle-Belt leaders coming out strongly to talk about restructuring that it must be done now. Also, we have seen the former military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida and your committee weighing in also on the need for restructuring. Is it that you people are seeing something that if it is not done now the country may not move forward?
A few things have been happening of recent which is indicating that things are more difficult to sustain. When you combine all these phenomena, you get a general picture of a nation that is very fragile and of the need to seriously address certain undermining and abiding causes of disturbance, dissatisfaction amongst our people. Let me just mention a few of those phenomena: first, there is a call for secession from the Southeast, which is the Biafra issue. Then we have had a call for secession from the Niger Delta who are completely dissatisfied with the way the Nigeria government is treating them and in whose land much of our foreign reserve is acquired. Then we should not forget too that even the Boko Haram phenomenon started off as a revolt against the status quo in this country. Finally, the statement and utterances of a group that nobody knew about before, that call themselves Arewa youths, who made a statement that has gathered momentum on its own, namely: giving a quit notice to the Igbos to leave within a given time.
Each of these ones, on their own affair appears like a joke. But when you combine them all together, they indicate that the country needs to reorganize itself well. When people talk of restructuring, the only thing I can get from it is that we have a country that needs to be reorganized. And if you are talking on that line, I think everybody in Nigeria will agree that Nigeria, as it stands now, is not a perfect country. Things have to change. The discussion is generally not so easy. Also, because one man’s meet could also be another man’s poison, the changes that some people want, maybe is not the kind of changes other people want. So, how do we handle this? This is where I believe the government should look at all these ideas that are coming out. Suggestions that are of how best to run this country in such a way that people will have a sense of belonging. Then the feeling of an institutional injustice will be removed. We have gone through this before on issues of how Nigeria should be studied in various constitutional conferences. And some of those congresses, the results have been kept in idleness. If we want to really face this now, it is wise not to re-invent the wheel, but to go back again to some of the ideas that have popped up before and see which of them can be useful.
Is it to set up a committee to review the conference?
It could be that. It could also be another constitutional conference that will bring in voices and representatives from different parts of Nigeria so that we can see and hear what everybody is saying. The whole idea is to arrive at a situation where we can say we have a constitution, drafted by ourselves and put together and which we agreed to respect. Don’t forget that they are many who have raised the fact that the constitution we have now was designed after some constitutional conferences. We all know that there were certain items in the constitution which the government of the day felt very strongly about and insisted on, just like there were certain aspects of the constitution which we know have been put in by subsequent military regimes by way of a decree. I think it is about time to look out for these things.
Is it the nature of the constitution or the bad governance that we have witnessed over the years because some people feel that the clamour is driven by hunger?
Why have we had bad government all these years? Some persons will suggest that the rules of the game are bad such that no matter how good the rulers are, they have on their hands, the instrument that will not promote good governance, equality and the involvement of everybody and justice, etc; all of which lead to peace as the condition for prosperity and a good standard for the people. For people to live peacefully and happily, with the minimum of hunger and poverty, you need a country that is peaceful, well managed and harmonious. More so, the rules of governance should encourage that kind of society. But when you have a situation where the rules of governance promote inequality and when it seems that dishonesty is not only discouraged and punished, it may appear to be rewarded and to even behave according to right judgement can become a liability for you, then you are running a system that cannot be sustainable. This is obvious now from what we are hearing that our system was such that it is possible for one person to wake up and steal billions of our money. It should be such that that kind of thing cannot happen or should not happen. But the worst of all is that we have a system that people can steal billions and go away without accounting for it because the system allows it. So, if we don’t change that system and you leave the nation to be ruled by people who do not pursue righteousness and personal selfish interests are allowed to dictate public policy, then we shall continue to have hiccups in the system. The time to look for reasons, which for me, are excuses of the problem, then you are looking for easy solutions to the problems.
There is a tendency for us to blame our problem on our ethnic differences and once in a while, we put all the blame on our religious differences. But when we look more closely, and I am happy to hear people refer and quote my good friend, the Emir of Kano, Sanusi, who made a powerful statement, and coming from him, I am very pleased that in Nigeria, there are only two tribes and religion and the two coincide namely: the tribe and the religion of those who are doing very well and are happy with the situation because they have access to state resources that they can take for their own selfish reasons, while ignoring the common good. That is one tribe and religion. And the other tribe and the religion are the rest of us; the oppressed and marginalized who are just there to suffer the consequence. But when you come to marginalization, it is only the ethnic politicians who will say it is his tribe that is marginalized. Look at other people too, there is no tribe that does not have people who are marginalized. And when you look at the list of those who have been oppressing us, they are in the federal character representing us there; they are both Christians and Muslims. Which means, if we admit, we would not allow anybody to use our religious or ethnic differences to keep us all fighting, while they stand by and watch. For a man like me whose job it is to preach Christianity, I have to understand within myself that whatever I do as a preacher of Christianity, I must preach justice, truth and honesty. Even if people of my faith are involved, I must say the truth.
Your Eminence, at the beginning of this administration, you did call for more time to be given to them to prove themselves and two years down the line, we have also seen that the problem of Nigeria, rather than abating, it is increasing. Are you disappointed that a lot of promises made by this government are yet to be fulfilled to the point that they even denied that they didn’t promise restructuring of the country?
I don’t think it is me who should answer that question. It is said that even the ruling government has said that things have not gone the way they expected. So, the reality is there. It is only a fool who will think that a change of government would change everything for good. It will take time. But you see, it takes time doesn’t mean that you will sit and do nothing. Like I said, we need time. People will patiently give you time when they perfectly see the line you are following and if they can follow the line you are following and they see the line in the right direction, they will be patient. And I am afraid that the reason why many Nigerians were hopeful two years ago are no longer precisely because they had expected that things would move faster than what it is. The question about whether it is a failure of those who rule depends on how you look at it. But what I will say is that we should give them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing their best, and that is giving them benefit of doubt because they are people who think that they are doing their best. But suppose they are doing their best, then we won’t complain. But the fact is, if this is their best, then their best is not good enough. But isn’t it why democracy is very good; why democracy has terms of office? In another two years, they will face us and we will mark their exams of either pass them or fail them. And if the Nigerian electorate were able to vote out the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, I am sure that the All Progressives Congress (APC) people should know that they too can be voted out. Will they be voted out in 2019? I don’t know. It depends on what the situation will be in 2019. In order words, it is possible for a lot of things to change between now and 2019 in such a way that they wouldn’t want this thing to continue. But if by 2019 a lot of Nigerians are not satisfied, they will try another group or party which I think was the right situation in 2015. We will continue to try.
You also talked about preaching the truth as a man of God. But we have also seen allegation of churches contributing to the problems of Nigeria. Do you share that sentiment?
I am afraid I cannot speak for anybody else about the church. If you are putting your questions as follows: most of the problems in Nigeria are being compounded by Catholic Church and by John Cardinal Onaiyekan, then I will know what to answer you. Part of our problems, obviously, is that we live in a country where we have different religions, where anybody can stand up and form his own church or mosque and the person applies to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and permission will be granted. That is freedom and it is good. But of course, every freedom carries responsibility to use your freedom well. I don’t think one can make any blanket assessment of religion, not only in Nigeria, but worldwide. My position as a Cardinal is that I will do my best to practise and preach what I have received as my duty from my point of reference, Jesus Christ. But that does not mean that I am perfect. I practise 100 percent because that is human nature. But there is a difference between our human differences and using religion to foment disorder, insecurity and dishonesty.
For many years, you have always condemned what you feel is an anomaly happening in the country and beyond, but many are also surprised that even in your state where workers have not been paid for many months, you have not been coming out strongly to condemn it. Why is it so?
Kogi is my state of origin. But I don’t live there. I live in Abuja. And the day-to-day politics in Kogi is hardly my priority. Of course, anytime I visit home and see the lingering poverty, it boils my heart. What is happening in Kogi is happening in all other states in the country. I don’t think Kogi is the worst state in the country. That one brings us back to the questions we have been raising on how our nation is organized and structured. As you know, much of the problems are in the Northeast. So, I don’t think Kogi is the worst state. I have relations at home who are under the kind of distress you are talking about; who have not been paid for many months and who are just managing to survive. The question of Kogi State does not solve the problem of Nigeria.
Have you tried to talk to some of the leaders?
Unfortunately, I don’t go there often. Let me confess that I have not even met the present governor of Kogi State. I don’t even know him. But the governor too comes to Abuja and he has never visited me. The only people I have met are those who are close to me. And I ask those who are supposed to be part of the leadership of the state on what they are doing. Each of them has their own story to tell. Before I start carrying a placard against any state, Kogi should be number one. Like I have told you, I am not there. For example, I voted here in Abuja. So, I didn’t cast my vote in Kabba.
Recently, you were widely quoted as saying that nobody can islamize Nigeria. What were you driving at?
It is important to remember the context to which it was quoted. I can remember it was a sermon in a church during the confirmation of candidates. I was not making a political statement. It was not a meeting of inter-religious discussion. I was talking to a group of people who were to be confirmed in the Catholic Church. And I told them that if they were confirmed in the Catholic Church, they should stay confirmed. It is then that I raised the whole issue that every now and then, we hear people say that there are many people who want to Islamize Nigeria. Well, in the first place, any Muslim who wants to Islamize Nigeria has the right to do so because our constitution allows us to practice and propagate our faith. But you who have been confirmed Catholics must also be prepared to propagate your faith and Christianize Nigeria. And if you are serious with your faith, nobody will Islamize you because you will still remain faithful. I also warned them right from the beginning to be faithful to the gospel. And it entails being ready to face the challenges, including persecution. Therefore, we should not be compromised because of slight advantages here and there in terms of job promotion, a little bit of more money. But if you stand firm in your faith, nobody can force you to be what you don’t want to be. That was the main point of my discussion. What we have in Nigeria need not cause any problem. It is we who are creating unnecessary problems. Our constitution clearly states that any Nigeria can practise any religion of his choice and also has the right to propagate it, which means as a Christian, I have the right to propagate Christianity to everybody. So does a Muslim have the right! What is required therefore, is that we have right that requires how we carry out this process in such a way that our rivalry will not become confrontational. Therefore, we must admit that there are rules and the rules involve a peaceful process without imposition, but proposition, including the fact that one does not use his position to victimize anybody who does not belong to his faith or to use position in government to promote your faith, which is why we believe that those states in Nigeria which make religion an instrument of political force are the ones that are leading the political problem and also leading Nigeria into problem.
So, let us believe that it is a game or a legitimate match and the rules are there and if you play according to the rules, everybody will be happy because we are not going to arrive at a situation where you will tell Christians to stop preaching or you tell the Muslims to stop. But we need to respect one another. For me, the greatest of the rules is being honest with your God in whatever you do.
Are the elders in this country actually speaking enough about the problems confronting the nation?
There are many statesmen who are not old, but young people. They are many elders who have no voice. Go to the villages and see them. Don’t forget that this country started in 1960 as an independent nation. And from 1966 till now, many of those who were at the forefront of national issues, who are still moving around today, still calling the shot, are the elders we are talking about. It is interesting when some of them are now saying that there is need to restructure, which means that they must have to agree that we have unstructured Nigeria. What I have been saying is that many of us who have been holding power for the past 50 years need to apologise to our country and this is what we have left behind for the next generation to take forward. Only few people have apologised. Many people are writing very nice stories about themselves. It is on record that if we hadn’t had a military coup in 1966 or if we had a military coup in 1966 and we didn’t continue with military rule, the history of Nigeria would have been a little different. You can also add that if we hadn’t had a military coup under Shagari in 1979 and if we had had a military coup in 1979 and the people who overthrew had taken the right kind of decision to say you politicians messed up the last election and I am giving you another chance to go to the pool to have a proper election, that is what we would have expected from patriotic soldiers. But they didn’t do that and claimed that they were going to redo and put Nigeria in good shape. From one General called Buhari, we ended up with another General called Babangida and that one continued for about ten years or more. And no one has apologised yet. Probably, they were doing their best not knowing they were doing the wrong thing. It is a pity that we went through so many years of ruling by gambling, trial and error. The only thing that saved us was oil well. Because of the oil well, we were able to finance bad government. If there had been no oil well, I don’t know what the situation would have been.
Has the 18 years of civilian rule changed anything?
Maybe. I hope Nigerians have not forgotten that this 18 years of civilian rule, some soldiers have been ruling us? There is something about mentality. When you have soldier-turned-civilian and you think that they can be born again, then you should have a rethink. Remember there was a time when there was transition from military to civilian rule. They met themselves and agreed that those who have had political offices as soldiers should not participate in the democratic process. Do you remember that? If they had kept that rule, then all the soldiers wouldn’t have played politics. They would have been told to enjoy their pension. I still believe that all the noise we are hearing today, somebody will be able to put them together so that more ideas will come out. God has blessed this nation with very brilliant people out there. So, it is not ideas that are lacking. If we could call these people who are in the best position to help pursue the common good and allow our common interest to override selfish and sectional interest, then the country will move forward.
Do you have headache with the kind of politics that is being played in the Catholic Church?
The Catholic Church is a church with two thousand years of history. It is made of human beings and everything about human has its own elements. Talking of politics, you mean having perception of things that they consider important like the issue about position which is inevitable? I hope that whatever the problem is that is confronting the church, I believe that we have the wherewithal to confront it, realizing that it is not the survival of the fittest, but the victory of the most upright.
Why I support restructuring – Atiku
Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar has explained the rationale behind his support for restructuring, which to him means taking power from the elite to the masses.
Atiku had spoken on “Restructuring for A United and Progressive Nigeria” at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on July 19, 2017. He however went on his tweeter handle yesterday to buttress his points.
According to him “I favour restructuring because I am proudly Nigerian and I favour a united Nigeria that offers every man, woman and child a brighter future where each and everyone has a chance to build and share in this great nation’s potential.
“The Restructuring I want to see happen is changing the structure of our country to take power from the elite and give it back to whom it belongs: the people. It will help to bring the benefits of the change that our people were promised in the last general elections.
“The whole purpose of restructuring is to eliminate those policies that feed the mindset that drives the sharing behaviour. Our national wealth is being drained by a select few instead of building a country for all of us. It has to end.
“We need to return resources and power to the local level, and from the elite to the people. Only by restructuring we can guarantee unity, equity, security for our nation. I favour a united Nigeria that offers everyone a brighter future and we have a chance to build and share in this great nation’s potential.
“The restructuring I want to see happen is to bring the benefit of the change that our people were promised in the last general election. Let me caution that restructuring is not a magic bullet that would resolve all Nigerian challenges but is a necessary first step.
“Those who seek to dismember the country think that once their dream is achieved their part of the country will become paradise. Not so. To me, restructuring means making changes to our current federal structure so it comes closer to the vision of our founding fathers. Restructuring the very issues and challenges that led our founding fathers to opt for a less centralized system. “The issue of restructuring is beyond resource control.