By Bimbola Oyesola
As the countdown to 2023 begins, Nigerians have been cautioned to ensure that those who continue to play the games of political manipulation, deceit, empty promises, ethnocentrism, reckless injustices should not be allowed to have their ways.
Presiding Bishop of Rhema Christian Church and Towers, with the International headquarters at Sango Otta, Ogun State, Taiwo Akinola, laments that some of the present crop of leaders are glaringly inept, incompetent, arrogant, short-sighted and political interlopers.
In this interview during the celebration of the church’s 30 years anniversary, Akinola also speaks on insecurity and its effects on the nation’s economy.
What is you take on the 2023 general elections?
The general election year 2023 is fast approaching, and it is quite understandable that our national political space is gradually experiencing some forms of rendezvousing, strategizing, alignments, realignments, cross-carpeting, etc.
However, I must counsel that all political players must imbibe the fear of God and respect for the people they govern or seek to govern.
The civil populace must also get it right this time around, and ensure that those who hope to continue to play the games of political manipulation, deceit, empty promises, ethnocentrism, reckless injustices should not be allowed to have their ways come 2023.
And, those who want to offer themselves for service should be people who are competent, patriotic, God-fearing, honest and sincere-hearted nationalists, unlike some of our present crops of leaders who are glaringly inept, incompetent, arrogant, short-sighted, unjust and unyielding ethnic jingoists and political interlopers.
In this regard, it is imperative to counsel that God-fearing believers who feel the inner pull to go into politics should not refrain from doing so. We use this medium to assure them that the reign of saints on the earth is not only in the spiritual sense, but it practically covers all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3).
God’s people are expected to gain ascendancy, and that the affairs of the nations would be in their hands (Revelation 1:6). Yes, God expects us to have roles in governance, fill places of trust and responsibility, and have controlling voices in the affairs of our societies (Daniel 7:27, Revelation 20:1-6). Hence, those who have such callings should not hesitate to run with it, or feel discouraged by the current murky waters of our national political experiences.
What are your views on the nation’s economy?
It is indeed disheartening to consider the state of our currency. The free fall of the Naira against major legal tenders like Pounds and Dollars is sad and indeed worrisome. About five years ago, N160 was exchanging for one dollar and we raised an alarm then. But, right now, the exchange rate is about N570 to one dollar, a devaluation of almost 500 per cent.
This has resulted in the consequent rise in the cost of living, and as usual, the average people who form the bulk of our population are most affected. Cost of households items and other essentials have gone overboard, with some as much as 100 per cent.
The adverse effects on the people include an escalating cost of food items and medical consumables. Raw materials for industries of all levels are also soaring astronomically, thereby crippling plants as well as the nation’s economy.
We believe that Government must, as a matter of urgency, take proactive measures to improve its fiscal policies to shore up the Naira and check this constant downward slide of the currency.
Reports also indicate that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) unwittingly weakened the Naira in May 2021 when it adopted Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange Rate (NAFEX) of N410.25 to a dollar and removed the N379 per dollar rate which for months, remained on its website. Since then, the Naira has continued its free fall against the dollar and experts equally warned that if this trend is allowed to subsist, the country’s economic fortunes may face further decline.
Meanwhile, experts fear that unless Nigeria increases its foreign reserves, reduce its ridiculous and almost insatiable appetite for foreign loans, boost local production to depend less on importation of goods including refined petroleum products, the Naira will continue its downward slide.
It is against this background that I implore government to ensure that forex is made available to genuine manufacturers to enable them increase local production of goods in order to stimulate businesses and by extension economic growth. The government at this period must take necessary steps to save the economy and Nigerians from further being impoverished.
How do you feel about the insecurity situation in the country?
Every day, we all read newspapers and watch on television and on the social media, gory tales of citizens being kidnapped, killed, or displaced from their homes by all manner of criminals. This almost daily incidences of violence have created a specter of fear among the citizens in all parts of the country and chased away likely investors from the nation.
We support the school of thought that insecurity, unemployment, poverty, crass ignorance and feelings of exclusion are closely related, and wish to appeal to the Federal Government to rejig efforts in addressing these in the country and reposition them to meet the aspirations of the citizens.
As for the governors, they are the Chief Security Officers and should take up the challenge thrown at them by the President when he urged them to step up their activities in securing their states. We are aware though that there is a lacuna in this regard, because they have no direct control over security apparatus, but I believe the State Government can still proffer constitutional solutions around the issues.
In this regard, since the fear of creating State Police is hinged largely on the premise that governors may use them as tools for vendetta, we call on the State Houses of Assembly to adopt a model of State Police where the governor will not have absolute control of the institution. It is our fervent hope that government will discharge its primary responsibility of safeguarding lives and property of the citizens without any further delay or excuses.
Are you comfortable with the level of unemployment in the country?
A recent survey conducted by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics indicated that rather than fall, the number of unemployed Nigerians, particularly among the youths, has continued to soar. According to the NBS, the unemployment rate rose from 27.1 per cent in the second quarter (Q2) of 2020 to 33.3 per cent in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020.
The survey also indicated that the problem of unemployment equally witnessed a rise to 40 per cent – or 80 million Nigerians – a figure that is projected to increase to 90 million or 45 per cent by 2022.
The church is indeed concerned and believe that concrete efforts must be made to tackle the twin challenge of unemployment and poverty.
This is a matter of great concern to us as a Church. No doubt, the nation has seen sizable number of the youths taking to crimes such as kidnapping, armed robbery, internet fraud as well as being ready tools in the hands of unscrupulous politicians and sponsors of communal crisis. Federal and State governments may be having different programmes to address job inadequacies, but definitely more is desired.
At this stage, governments at all levels must please arise, as a matter of urgency, to their social responsibilities and fulfill promises of generating jobs as one of the cardinal projects to empower the youths and make them productive for the advancement of the country.
Roads and other infrastructural facilities
Recently, we drew attention to the appalling state of our roads. But rather than improving, what we have seen from then till now is a near total collapse of almost all roads all over the Federation. Both the federal and state, including the local government routes are in abysmal states.
In particular, people living in Sango-Ota have worst tales to tell about the sorry state of the road infrastructure here. Most times, they are forced to ask if government still exists in this area at all or rather pretend to feel unconcerned about the people’s plights.
I personally know of some citizens here who have been unable to access their homes for about five months now, because of the deplorable conditions of the roads. I believe this level of disrepair and the resultant effect on the socio-economic well-being of the people calls for serious concern.
The Church as usual urges all the three tiers of government to please generate synergies and intensify efforts in the rehabilitation and construction of new roads.
Most urgently, we call on government to please salvage Sango-Otta roads. I am aware that after much cries and recent protests by concerned citizens, some palliative measures commenced recently at some bad spots on the roads. We commend government for these, but we plead that these efforts should not just be left at such a surface-scratching level. Permanent solutions should be urgently explored.
The Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) should also accentuate actions aimed at continuously maintaining all the Federal roads in Ota and across the country to make them more motorable so as to reduce the man-hours being wasted on the highways, and the perennial and avoidable loss of lives and properties as well as the security implications of such mammoth neglect.
We find it needful to respectfully request all our political leaders, from the President, Governors, Local Government Chairmen and others, in the country must make it a point of social policy to occasionally drive round the roads the people use every day, so that they can see the messy ground-level reality and feel the daily pains of the people they govern. Certainly, we believe that genuine and true leadership will not call for less.
In the same vein, electricity supply has gone from worse to worst. It has increased the cost of doing businesses as well as eaten deep into individual purse of the ordinary Nigerians. Many small and medium scale businesses which form the backbone of our economy are adversely affected. This also calls for concern.
Furthermore, everyone knows that the epileptic or inadequate electricity supply has caused a lot of our manufacturing companies to either cut down on productions, downsize their workers or totally shut down only to relocate to neighboring countries, while foreign investors have deserted our countries thereby throwing many Nigerian workers into the already saturated labour market.
The sorry state is such that prevailing poverty, collapsing infrastructure and mass despair prevail across the length and breadth of our dear blessed nation, Nigeria. I believe that Nigerians deserve the best and not a situation where the basic essentials of life such as electricity, water, good healthcare facilities, and good roads are in deficits.
Last year, we called on government to increase the Nigeria’s daily electricity power generation, which is still presently put at a miserable 4,000 MW. Cooking gas and others have joined these. Hence we still believe that the present administration must review the privatization of the electricity sector and others with a view to solving most of the myriad of problems confronting the nation.
What are the efforts of the church in improving the state of affairs in Nigeria?
No doubt that the past one year has been one with multifarious challenges for many individuals, families and nations of the world. These include issues of religious intolerance targeted at the Church in some segments of the nation, economic downturn, insecurity, social upheavals, unprecedented poverty and hopelessness, which unfortunately have become the story of many Nigerians. Don’t forget that the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are also being borne by many people and businesses alike.
However, as a people of faith, we strongly believe that in spite of all these, the Lord is always ready to give us new refreshing experiences. Therefore, we proclaim that, for all believers worldwide, especially Champions, it is a new day. The morning is nigh and this is the time we have all been expecting. The dawn of refreshing and revival is here. Alleluia!
We believe that Nigeria can be great again and that is why at our Convention, with the theme “A New Thing”, inspired from Isaiah 43:19, we prayed for our country. Prayer is our banner for this season of divine exploits that will usher us to the new level of fruitfulness, prosperity and God’s glory.