I pitched my tent with NCP, which is the oldest political party in the country… the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi founded it.
Venerable Funsho Awe, who recently retired as an Archdeacon in the Diocese of Lagos West, Anglican Communion, is the governorship candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP) in Lagos State. In this interview, he speaks on his plans for the state if elected, noting that he will change the face of the state within six months of assumption of office.
You are leaving priesthood to venture into politics. What is the inspiration?
In the first place, let me correct the impression; you don’t leave priesthood. It was one of our late retired bishops who said that you only have the ordination service in the order of service in the Anglican Communion; you don’t have dis-ordination service. So, you don’t leave priesthood even till death; even when you are dead I think you join the priesthood of the saints. So, I haven’t left priesthood; I just moved away from regular service in the church. I still preach, celebrate communion, wear my robes and minister in churches. But what makes it different is that I’m no longer under the day-to-day control of the church. On why I’m shifting to public service, it’s not the first time. If you go through the Bible, you will see priests and prophets that participated in governance. Governance is actually serving the people in a different dimension than just ministering to the people, although both ministering and service have the same root. This time around, you ask yourself the question, are things all right? Are we enjoying the best of governance? I would like to fall back on my background as a priest. In the book of Nehemiah in the Bible, when news came to Nehemiah in Babylon that the people in Jerusalem were in distress and the walls of Jerusalem had crumbled, he felt dejected. He prayed to God. He did not only pray, but also decided to take the bull by the horn and offered himself for service. He asked the king to allow him to go back to Jerusalem and make things right. And actually, if you study the book of Nehemiah, you will discover that nobody has ever done it better for Jerusalem. He did not only complete the walls in record time, he also reformed the city spiritually, morally and economically. So, I have decided to offer myself for service and I’m saying that God should use me so I can make a change. We Christians are not just supposed to pray and ask God to do this and that for us. We are to participate directly so that people will know that this is the way it ought to be done by bringing credibility, honesty, transparency and righteousness into governance.
Politics in this part of the world is regarded as a very dirty game. Do you have what it takes to wrest power from those dominating the system in Lagos State?
Everything in this world is about wisdom and intelligence. Remember what Jesus Christ told his disciples. He said, ‘I am sending you as sheep among wolves. Be you, therefore, as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove’. That calls for diplomacy. Like you said, the terrain is dirty, but I have been warned that I am being sent as sheep among wolves. And it has always been so. We have always found ourselves in environments that are not palatable; and we managed to cope. Just be on the side of God and watch what will happen.
So, how prepared are you for the race?
Well, we wouldn’t have got this far if God has not been guiding us. When we were joining the race, everybody was saying, ‘you must be joking. I don’t think this man is serious.’ We looked at the political terrain, studied the political parties and their ideologies and chose a party that was built on credible ideology. It’s not as if I didn’t look at the APC and PDP, but I don’t see them as parties with any ideology. They have been on the ground for a long time and I don’t even see the difference between the two. I pitched my tent with NCP, which is the oldest political party in the country. It was the first party registered in this time; the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi founded it. The party was built on a lot principles; it’s a party that has a lot of beautiful programmes for the people. When we joined, we were well received within the structure of the party. We scaled through the primary and our name is on the ballot paper. So, God has brought us this far and He who started it will surely finish it. Now that our name is on the ballot paper, what we are doing is telling the people about the difference we are bringing into the system, since they have been having it like in a particular way and it has not paid them. We are urging them to try something else. I believe that if a man is sick and has been using a drug all the while and the drug is not working, he should visit his physician and I’m sure that the physician having studied that the drug he prescribed has not been working will give him another prescription. So, we are presenting ourselves to people in Lagos and saying, ‘this is another drug that has been tailor-made for this situation, why don’t you try it’.
The NCP is one of those parties that are seen as existing only on paper. How far do you think you can go on the platform of this party in this election?
The system essentially is what must change. Even when Gani was alive and was contesting election on the platform of the party, nobody could fault what the party stands for. There is no place anybody will fault the sincerity of the party. But a lot of things are wrong with our political system. Somebody put it succinctly by saying that the whole thing about Nigerian politics is stomach infrastructure. Moneybags that buy the people’s conscience and vote, that generally disorientate the people, have hijacked the system. But that does not mean that what is right stops being right. NCP is what is right and at a particular time people will choose to remove the veil covering their eyes and move towards the right direction. It was the late music maestro, Bob Marley, who sang, ‘emancipate yourselves from mental slavery because no one but ourselves can free our minds.’ So, it’s a mindset; the moment the mindset changes, the party that controls governance changes and there will definitely be a time for that. Whatever goes up must come down and I think we are getting there now. Towards changing the people’s mindset, NCP has been educating the people. Even before the party primaries, we have been holding series of political education lectures. Right now, the thrust of our political campaign is actually educating the people. A lot of people, I must assure you, are tired of the set orders. They are tired of both the PDP and APC. Some people said they were looking for the third force because people are tired. Some say that if it’s only the two parties that exist, they might not even vote. But thank God we are presenting ourselves as the alternative and I’m sure we are going to make our mark.
What new ideas are you bringing to governance in Lagos State?
The present government has not been able to get it right in 20 years. How much housing has the government been able to provide for the people? A lot of people still live in ghetto areas in the state. Lagos is about one of the most expensive cities to live in the world. What about education? The NCP believes that education should be free; we can afford it. On healthcare, our party also has a programme that healthcare should be free to some extent because health, they say, is wealth. There are quite a lot of areas where government is supposed to come in; they are doing it all over the world. We have sat down with eggheads, people who have been seriously involved in the system, and we have a blueprint of what could be done in every sector to put the system in order. Corruption has been very endemic in the system. So, we are coming in with a system where there will be transparency, credibility and honesty. We will not just be saying we are fighting corruption, we will be saying we are incorruptible and that is what matters. And so the people’s money will be used mainly for the people. Even if it’s only for four years, people will notice a difference.
Are you saying you will make a difference in just fours years if elected?
Within the first six months people will know that we are out to serve them. It doesn’t take long for people to see a movement. People will notice the difference within six months of my administration if elected. It had happened before. When the UPN came into government in Lagos with Lateef Jakande as governor, in six months the whole of Lagos changed. They moved into the education sector and abolished the system where you had morning and afternoon sessions; they built new schools; they built many water works. The Jakande houses are still there for people to see. Roads were built; drainages were constructed. The man was not there for more than four years. When it is a movement things move immediately.