Tony John, Port Harcourt
Most Rev. Sunday I.O. Agwu, the Methodist Archbishop of Port Harcourt, believes that the country can only move forward if those in leadership positions imbibe the culture of always doing the right thing. In this interview in Port Harcourt, he spoke on Igbo presidency in 2023, restructuring, EndSARS protests, Nigeria at 60 and other topical issues.
Nigeria recently celebrated 60th independence anniversary. To you, has the country fared well?
Well, without mincing words I would say that we have not fared well. However, if we look round, we must find certain things that will make us say “Thank You” to God. But, in my assessment, we have not fared. Nigeria is a blessed nation, more blessed than many nations of the world. In fact, many nations envy Nigeria because we have the population, landmarks, and many other gifts. But, we cannot say the citizens are enjoying these blessings. In fact, we are suffering in the midst of plenty. When anyone clocks 60, he is of age. In fact, a 60 years old man should not be in civil service. But, Nigeria is 60, there is nothing we can show for it that is why I said Nigeria has not fared well. Many of us feel disappointed, only that we cannot question God for making us Nigerians.
Recently, Nigeria witnessed rare youth consciousness by staging a peaceful EndSARS protest, before it was hijacked by hoodlums. What is your take on that?
I want to say that this nation has myriads of problems. One of them is that, we abuse whatever good thing the government introduces. That was why when they were talking about giving arms to Federal Road Safety Corps members, I objected to it. I said they would use the arms to kill people. We Nigerians are fond of abusing the privileges God has given to us. SARS was established to protect lives and property. But, those men in the Force abused it. They employed brutality; they can kill at will. Of course, we read papers; we listen to news. That is why I do not blame our youths for protesting because we are in a democracy. So, we have the right to say what we do not like in this country. But, the unfortunate thing was that protest was hijacked by hoodlums. The property and vehicles that were destroyed, were uncalled for. Is a good way to express our grievances?
What about killings, particularly at Lekki Tollgate?
My question is what actually led to the killing at Lekki Tollgate? What must have led to killing innocent people who were protesting with arms? It is against the law that you are protesting and you have Nigeria’s flag, nobody should kill you. But, those young people were slaughtered, massacred for no reason. It is an abuse of office. That is why I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for setting up a panel. Whoever that has done it should pay for it. I must say that the youth were not wrong for protesting. One should not be surprised that hoodlums hijacked the protest because there is high rate of unemployment in the country. It is high time our leaders did something about unemployment. That is how I can describe the hijacking of the protest. The violence was the aftermath of idle hands. That is why there is kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and killing. The sooner government does something about generating employment in the state and on the Federal Government, the better for this country.
What is your dispassionate view on the recent incident in Oyigbo, were some security agents were killed and government assets razed allegedly by members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)?
That was another very unfortunate situation that arose out of ENDSARS protest. And I want to pray for the souls of the departed security men and young people that were killed in the process. And I want to say that Nigerians should know that bloodletting causes a setback to any nation. This Bible says that blood pollutes the land. This shedding of blood is causing Nigeria a lot of harm. Unfortunately, many do not realise it. I must that it is wrong for anyone to kill anyone, whether it is security men killing the young people, or the young people killing security men. It was absolutely wrong. I cannot condone such an action because bloodletting is a serious setback to this land. And, I want to say to Nigerians that we should avoid bloodletting. There is too much bloodletting in Nigeria.
Recently, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said restructuring the country would bring unity? Do you agree?
My understanding of the principle of restructuring is to give power to states, so that they can use their resources to develop their areas. Then, the centre would no longer be as strong as it is now. But, what is happening in Nigeria is everything goes to the centre; and the centre dishes out anything it likes to the states, whether it is enough or not; whether they like it or not. That is why some states are not doing well. Restructuring is good. I don’t subscribe to secession. God does not make mistakes placing people in various positions. I support the governor. President Muhammadu Buhari should listen to the calls for restructuring this country. The APC-led Federal Government should listen to the calls to restructure Nigeria.
The 2023 general elections are approaching and there have been discordant voices on the region to produce the next president. What is your view?
The South Easterners are calling for an Igbo president in 2023. Is there anything wrong about it? It is a better idea. Even during the First republic, Zik had less power than Abubakar. Abubakar had more authority than Zik that time. I want to ask, what will happen, if Nigeria has an Igbo president? To me, an Igbo man has not ruled this country. And I join in advocating that we should give Igbo people a chance in 2023 to produce the next president. Yoruba have ruled this nation. Hausa believe it the right of Northerners to rule this nation. Is the Igbo nation not part of this country? As far as that is concerned, Igbo are marginalised. I repeat, Igbo should be allowed to produce the next president.
Has religion, particularly Islam and Christianity, played well in reshaping this country?
Well, it would be unfair to say the Christians have not played their role well in the country. The major problem of this country is we have not given God a chance in the affairs of this country. As a church leader, there is nothing I do than to pray. But, the Bible says there cannot be peace without righteousness. That is our major problem. Righteousness is doing the right thing. The question to ask is, ‘Is Nigeria doing the right thing? The Bible says that there cannot be peace without righteousness. That is why people are protesting all the time. The person at the centre should see every part of this nation as his constituency. No matter the religion, no matter his party affiliation, every state in this nation should be his constituency. That is what this nation needs. Go to Abia State, which is my state, you cannot see any federal presence. That is the marginalisation we have been crying about. Unless the people at the centre do the right thing, there can’t be peace in this country. Marginalisation in this country is causing us a lot of setback. Christianity has been talking about this, that righteousness exalts the nation. But, nobody listens to us.