From Judex Okoro, Calabar
In this interview, Dr. Lawrence Ekwok, the Cross River State Chairman of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) has kicked against moves by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to field a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. Among others, Ekwok, a former journalist with the defunct Diet Newspapers and presently a senior lecturer in the department of Mass Communications, University of Calabar, spoke on various issues.
The issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket or Muslim-Christian ticket has been generating some debates and ill-feeling among Nigerians. How does the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) feel about this?
Well, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, is not resting on its oars with regard to 2023 general election. To tell Nigerians that we are not sleeping, the National Executive Council held a meeting in Lagos in June comprising all the 36 six states Chairmen and Abuja, the FCT along with all the national officers led by the National President, Bishop Francis Wale Oke. At that meeting, we resolved churches should mobilise its members to go and get their PVCs. What that means is that leaders of churches are to ask their members to attend services with their PVCs. The essence of that is to be able to know how many of our members that have PVCs and how many have not got theirs. That will accord us the opportunity to help those who have not had theirs.
Ultimately, the idea is for us to have the statistics of how many church members are registered voters because we see a situation where we are likely going to vote for just one candidate so that we would know the number of votes we have; 10 million, 20 million, 30 million or whatever. This is what we are carrying out and this is what we are sure we are able to deliver.
From your mobilisation what is the statistics you have gathered so far?
We are working hard and we are sure no matter the situation, we should be able to attain 70 per cent mobilisation. We are receiving reports from across the states. In some cases, some pastors are leading their members to registration centres. I can tell you that the exercise is massive and we are sure we would garner very high figures. Already we have put together a team that is strong enough to mobilise large numbers of voters and among them are pastors who have five hundred, four hundred, three hundred branches across the state.
On the issue of Muslim- Muslim presidential ticket, such a thought is the height of arrogance, it is the height of insensitivity. It is an insult to the body of Christian and to the Church. That is why they don’t want to insert the position for religion in the census. Let them put that even if some people bring fake figures and animals to be counted, the world would know how many Christians are in Nigeria, how many Muslims and how many atheists – why are they afraid? The truth is Christians are in majority in this country. Our research team has found out that Christians are 54 per cent of the population in this country or maybe more but not less. And if you want to win an election as President of Nigeria and you undermine 54 per cent of the population, are you ready for victory? Days of carrying ballot boxes and ballot papers to a particular place to thumbprint are gone. Because they could not do what they used to do, they resorted to the use of money to buy votes. Even this use of money, if the EFCC is serious, it will not happen. 2023 will not be business as usual.
Before now, some churches were not keen to mobilise their members and this has generated apathy among the people, how do you intend to tackle the situation?
Truly, pastors in the past felt they should restrict themselves to praying for leaders and only told members casually to try and register and on Election Day go out and vote their consciences. All those positions are no longer obtainable in modern Nigeria politics where Christians are at the receiving end. If you study the Bible, you would see that prophets anointed kings. For example, Elijah anointed Jehu, Nathan anointed Solomon, Samuel anointed Saul and he also anointed David. You may ask what anointing is and I tell you anointing is the process of enthroning a leader like saying this is the authority God has given you and this is the way to lead the people. For us in PFN, we felt look, having seen what we have seen these past years, the heat is on pastors and churches. Look, if you saw what happened in this church the past two Sundays after services, you would have seen the queues the crowd waiting to see pastors. Some had no need for counseling but stories of hardship caused by bad leadership. So, we felt we should be more involved in the process of electing leaders who can attend to the needs of the people. That way we can take responsibility if the person is not doing well. For instance, if we play active role in electing a governor in 2023 and he knows our role, then we can tell him in the next election we will remove you, he will sit up. That is why we thought we should be part of the process. Christian leaders are no longer going to sit on the fence. We are not going to pretend about it. We are not voting for parties, we are voting for candidates. We can vote for candidate A in presidential election in one party and another candidate in party B in the governorship election. We are going to operate according to our own convictions. We will interact with all key presidential candidates and all key governors at state level. At the national level, they have set up a strategy committee to interact with all presidential aspirants. We don’t just want to act based on sentiments but on facts. We ask them basic questions, “You have held office or this position before, what are your records and this is what you are promising to do, how you want to achieve it?” We want to be sure what the facts are before we take a decision – we are not going to sit on the fence anymore.
But to what extent does PFN go in ensuring the emergence of their preferred candidates in the various parties during the process of primaries?
To an extent, we do try but not too much. You probably would have heard of Greater Nigeria Project. That is the focus to be able to raise Christian leaders and draft them into parties to become candidates. In Cross River State, we sent a number of people to contest the primary but because we came late, we couldn’t make any serious impact. We had aspirants for House of Assembly, House of Representatives and even governorship but because we did not start early, we were unable to have delegates to vote for them. If you give us another eight years, the story will not be the same. There is a long term plan and a short term plan. It is either we adopt a party for Christians or a strategy where we can successfully field in some candidates to contest elections.
Vote buying has become the new style of election malpractice. What can be done to stem the tide?
Our duty is to tell our members not to accept money to vote for anyone because you are selling your destiny or selling your future. Actually, it is your money that was stolen. These people distributing this money were not as rich as they were when they entered office. Or find out how rich were their parents? Where did they inherit the money? You would discover that it was actually your money they allegedly stole after they held government positions to become billionaires. These stolen billions are enough to establish two or three industries that can employ millions of Nigerians. So, if you must collect money, go and eat it but don’t vote for them.