From Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
CATHOLIC Bishop of Oyo Diocese and Chairman, Pan-African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications of the Catholic Church, Most Rev Emmanuel Badejo has told Nigerians not to blame President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors for the prevailing economic woes of the country.
Badejo in an interview with Sunday Sun in Maiduguri during the visit of Bishops of Oyo Province of the Catholic Church comprising Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Ilorin and Ondo, said mismanagement by past governments was responsible for the nation’s economic woes. He also maintained that the economic situation in Nigeria has not got out of control but challenged the government to be decisive in dealing with unemployment. He added that he foresaw Boko Haram some years ago while lamenting humanitarian challenges in the northeast, restiveness in the Niger-Delta and Southeast among others.
Why are you in Borno?
I’ve always be pushing to come to Maiduguri since the problem started. I believe the duty of the church is to intervene when people are suffering and express solidarity with them. When there is trouble, pains and sorrow or danger in peoples’ lives, religion takes a back seat. Every human being was made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. I was waiting for the ideal moment when we will come to Maiduguri in this significant way as the Catholic Province of Ibadan with her dioceses. So, when we were looking down from the aircraft before we landed at the airport, I was amazed at the expanse of land God has given unto the people here, the beautiful places and what came to my mind was that there was no need to encourage all the ugly things that happened here in the first place. This is a good territory, a good land. May God help us to overcome the security challenge.
How did people react when they heard you were coming to a volatile zone that has witnessed much violence in the last six years?
Naturally, quite a few persons wondered “what are you going to do in Maiduguri, don’t you have any other places to go?” They were just reacting to the situation here but I must say when majority of people heard we were coming to Borno, they said “yes, that’s what we should be doing.” Some even expressed desire to come with us. We could have come with a plane load of people but we said it was better we channeled the resources on providing relief to the people here instead. So, they agreed we should represent them. Many of them helped us in prayers. Essentially, all Nigerians will want to pledge their solidarity to other Nigerians elsewhere. So, we’re just victims of ideology that destroys the peace that God has given to us and that is why we must join hands to fight it together.
With the security situation you’ve seen during your visit, what do you make of the scenario in Borno?
Boko Haram is an unfortunate occurrence. I must say Nigerians saw it coming. It could have come in any other form but it was bound to happen. Some of the measures that Nigerian government seems to be taking now in trying to improve opportunities for employment for the teeming young people in this country especially in the northern part, were absent in the last 30 years and that was bound to metamorphose and build up into something. Boko Haram was just one of the outcomes.
When I visited the north some years ago, I saw hordes of young people who just got to the streets early in the morning, moving but going nowhere. Sometimes, they just stood there askance in the middle of the road and appeared confused or disillusioned. I thought some day, these young people would do some harm to the polity and by extension the public. Therefore, I see the church today as one of those institutions that should give hope to the people. What I see today tells me the church is not failing in that. The church has continued to provide hope in the midst of despair because the day a human being loses hope that is the day he dies. As long as there is hope, man can continue to live and when there is life, there is hope. Now the church is trying to do just that, to make people joyful. The people in Borno and other affected northeast states have refused to allow the trials and troubles of the moment to take away their joy and hope. I’ve seen many people here with tears in their eyes. When we asked them, we realized they’ve lost their husbands, wives, brothers and sisters particularly in very gruesome manner and that touched me too. I’ve always told my people that we are extremely lucky. Most of us come to God’s house asking for promotion, money, new cars, houses, improved businesses but there are people who just don’t know what life is going to be tomorrow because somebody dear to them who they see as hope, is dead and some are still in very critical situations in the hospitals. But we saw an outburst of joy among the people in the church during mass because they believe everything will soon be okay. All the efforts we heard of in the IDPs camp that the church and religious bodies are making, are just giving the people hope and sustenance. My view is that there are a number of other institutions in the society that ought to be doing a lot more. Thank God for the media but honestly, I think our media ought to do more. It’s obvious that many people in this country have milk of human kindness in them but they are not getting enough information about happenings here. The Nigerian media likes mostly political issues, what politicians say or do. I think we’re not doing enough on human angle issues and where we are doing that and another thing happens, we shift our attention completely. We don’t have the capacity to remain focused and stay with the story.
The fate of the IDPs in the northeast is particularly dire. Sometimes IDPs don’t have facilities they need. In most cases, they lack food and there are Nigerians who can help if they get the right information they need. Government has shown some sensitivity to this but I must say that we can’t leave our challenges to foreign organizations and countries. I’ve seen at the IDPs camp posters and banners of United Nations Organization and international humanitarian agencies but I looked around for that of Nigeria’s NGOs and didn’t see any. We should be the ones who are proud to do something for our people rather than waiting for others from outside our country in everything. I think we’re still not doing enough in this regard.
As the chairman of Pan-African Episcopal Committee for Social Communication, do you think communication can bring an end to the insurgency?
Everywhere in the world, intelligence is about finding information and passing on the information. I believe our government has done a lot more compared to the situation in 2009 but I think there is need to do more. There is nowhere in the world where there is insurgency or crisis that communication isn’t essential. But beyond this, I think we need to improve on communication and collaboration among all the security agencies. With this, the problem of insurgency will be better dealt with. Insurgency or any kind of rebellion is usually as a result of unresolved grievances. In government, the people in authority must always have a desire or readiness to address grievances. When grievances are addressed, they don’t gather momentum. They don’t degenerate into worse things, but we know in Nigeria we always have reputation for not addressing grievances. We politicize all issues and then we hand them over to people who sometimes are incompetent. That has become a big issue such that a smaller problem grows to become a bigger problem that can threaten the entire nation. We’re at a very precarious situation now,because the problem we have is not just Boko Haram, we have the Niger-Delta Avengers, the Biafra movements and so many problems in other areas. I think our government needs to get its act together. Even sometimes, there’s disinformation and half truths which can actually cause a big problem. We’ve seen in the last few months how the current government has lost a bit of public confidence when the minister of information says something and another minister says it’s not like that. Public perception is very important in governance. When people see government or authority as trustworthy, it helps a lot. But when they see the government in power not really meaning what it says, then it becomes a big confidence issue. You can see that in reaction to government pronouncements on social media platforms people say “well, we will see what they say next week”. That doesn’t build public confidence. It doesn’t help the public to be on the side of the government. It doesn’t help the government to mobilize the public to solve a problem. Take the police for instance. It has done a lot of campaigns in the last couples of years telling the people “the police is your friend”, that when you see something unbecoming, tell the police. But do you know how many Nigerians are out there afraid of telling the police anything? It is because they don’t trust the police. They say if you go tell the police, you may end up becoming the victim. That is coming from what has been happening over the years. I think the government needs to shed the toga of untrustworthiness. The authority and security agencies ought to find a way of actually building trust. When trust is established, security is strengthened.
The current government is waging war against corruption. Do you think there is a relationship between corruption and insurgency?
We’ve seen so far and clearly that corruption is the umbrella of all the ills in Nigeria. Insurgency came because certain grievances and needs of the people have not been addressed over the years. That itself is corruption. People are put in office to serve the public in getting some issues or problems resolved and they don’t resolve them. It’s corruption. Therefore, whether it’s at the lowest level of a clerk in the civil service who is not doing his/her job to the policy maker who embezzles resources of the nation for healthcare, education and security, it’s corruption. Of course, corruption is a factor in the entire process and the anti-corruption campaign was one of the attractions of APC when they were coming to power. A lot of Nigerians heard them saying “we will fight corruption”. Nigerians wanted corruption out but the question that could not be answered is how? Now some Nigerians are complaining “oh the fight against corruption is one-sided, the fight is overblown” but the ‘how’ was not addressed. My proposal has always been let the government keeps its ears to the ground. If the people say “oh, this is one-sided”, then take a look at the people you’ve been prosecuting and ask yourself is it really one-sided because public perception is important no matter how good government is. Government is doomed if it lacks public confidence. Government is the people.
The economic situation is getting tougher daily for Nigerians; don’t you think the government needs to do something?
The economy is bad as I have said earlier. People are actually suffering; workers wages not being paid. This is pretty bad but we must also remember that the president and governors are not directly responsible for what we found ourselves in now. I’ll use a simple analogy. You’re invited to come and do a job and someone tells you I’m going to pay N100,000 and you agreed to do the job. When you started, you found the envelope for the money to do the job and it contains only N30,000. That’s what has happened to Nigeria practically. Our economy depends on oil and the naira exchange rate to the dollar. The APC came in with the expectation that crude oil would still provide income at a somewhat appreciable level but by the time it came in immediately, everything crashed. The public needs to know this and I think the media has a crucial job to sensitize the people on where the real problem lies. I’m surprised how the mood of the people with such doubts changes when I talk to them about this. They say “oh, it is true, we now understand. This government came in with expectations to have this kind of possibility, resources to solve the problem and it has come to realize the resource is one third of what it should have.” The state governments have the same problems, so they couldn’t do as much as they’ve promised. That is the fact. It is natural for the opposition too to be saying “you see they are not sincere”, but the opposition is not going to tell you the whole story because the situation is to their own advantage.