By Dayo Benson, Political Editor, & Dapo Akinrefon
Like most Nigerians of his ilk,Pastor Tunde Bakare has for some time be deeply concerned over socio-political and economic affairs of the country. From the pulpit, he often describe himself as belonging to a generation that will change Nigeria for the better.
Like John the Baptist was to King Herod, he was almost a thorn in the flesh of former President Olusegun Obasanjo during hisÂ administration. When it appeared his strident cries were unheeded, he stepped down from the pulpit to lead popular public protests.
In this interview with Vanguard, the pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly spoke on why he led protests in Abuja and Lagos, President Umaru Yar’Adua’s long absence, those he called power hijackers, former president Obasanjo and other national issues. Excerpts:
Why did you leave the pulpit to public place to protest?Â You are known as a man of God but some of your preachings have been very political; whyÂ have you decided to take this cause at this point in time?
I would never have thought that I would take to the streets in my life again. The last time I did that was in 1978, in my school days at the University of Lagos. But on the 23 of December, as I was flying from London to Lagos, I had a vision. I saw two male conjoined twins, they were joined around their heads. One had a left ear and the other one had a right ear but they were joined left to right in the middle and they wore base ball caps to cover their heads.
And in that vision, I heard â€˜donâ€™t separate us, if you do, we will dieâ€™.Â I didnâ€™t realise what that meant immediately.Â I donâ€™t have a set of twins and I felt, what is this.Â I pressed on to think further and it dawned on me that it was showing me the North and South of Nigeria. Not that itâ€™s perfect, but to separate them, will not give the best. I came to church,Â shared the vision andÂ we prayed that God will not let this nation disintegrate.
Then on January 2, this year I saw two young girls, their ages may not have been more than ten and eight respectively. In that vision, I discovered that the younger one had a renal failure and the older girl said â€˜I donâ€™t want my sister to die, I will donate my kidneyâ€™. And I saw both of them rolled into the theatre, after a while, the surgeon came out and said â€˜the surgery has been successfulâ€™.
I woke up and saidÂ SouthernÂ and Northern Nigeria have to help each other to recover. You must realise that I have never been part of any civil society, any pressure group; I have never been a part of any political party in Nigeria.Â I do not have a party card, so, it was difficult. But before now, some advances have been made to me by some quality people within the polity who felt we should pull resources together. So, I thoughtÂ time had come.
I summoned the few leaders of Afenifere Renewal Group and toldÂ them that part of the problem of Nigeria is that the civil societies have turned their swords into plough shares.Â Iâ€™m using a biblical language. They fought for democracy, unfortunately, they didnâ€™t take the seat of power. They laboured, they went on the streets, they suffered and did everything to bring democracy and those who did not labour, whatsoever, took over the reins of power and thereafter, their primary concern has been their profession, their careers and to make some ends meet for some of them and for others, they just played along with some of the political parties and they became politicians in one form or the other.
So, I summoned them and said I think with the going crisis created by the President Yarâ€™Adua administration, time has come for us to turn the plough shears back into swords and the pruning hooks back into spears and to go back and demand that sovereignty be restored to the people of Nigeria.
I called for that meeting on January 7 and the room was filled. At least a hundred peoplewere there from East, North, West and South of our country and I gave this challenge and they embraced it. It was in that room that we gave the name â€˜Save Nigeria Groupâ€™ to the movement and it became my lot and that of others from other groups to lead this Save Nigeria Group. We chose January 12 forÂ the first outing in Abuja, which by Godâ€™s grace was successful and peaceful.
All of a sudden, those who were not speaking, started speaking and people were taking letters to the National Assembly. Now, we said letâ€™s not leave it there, letâ€™s also top it up with Lagos andÂ keep the pressure up and so, Thursday January 21, we marched in Lagos.
I donâ€™t want to be misunderstood, neither do I want my colleagues and those who marched, the respectable elder statesmen, Prof Wole Soyinka, General Alani Akinrinade, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Ayo Opadokun, Femi Falana, Wale Oshun and all those quality souls, that we are not marching because of power vacuum. Power vacuum was just an opportunity to protest the ills in our society. There is no vacuum but there are those who have hijacked presidential powers to perform presidential functions and do things in an illegal and illegitimate way. They are not elected and there is no authority conferred upon them to do the things they are doing.
So, thatâ€™s why we took to the streets and called on Nigerians to take their sovereignty back, to announce that the engine of the state is knocked, the spare parts are no longer available, the manufacturers having discontinued that line of production.Â We need a new engine and a new vehicle. It means a peoplesâ€™ constitution.Â Until then, the manipulators will continue to manipulate the polity. But Iâ€™ll want to assure you that what you saw in Abuja and Lagos are nothing but dress rehearsals.
The real issue is social mobility.Â What is lacking are credible and forthright leadership; if that can be provided, our people will rise and demand for what is theirs. Thatâ€™s it.
But I though this started last year during your 55th birthday at Sheraton…
(Cuts in) No, that was International Centre for Re-construction and Development (ICRD). Before that, we have had two outings, brainstorming on what are the issues because most of the times, you read the papers, you watch television, you listen to radio, people criticize government, but they do not bring the alternatives or the practical ways of fixing our problems. Iâ€™m not a social critic, Iâ€™m not an agitator, Iâ€™m not an activist, Iâ€™mÂ not any of these.
I want to be proud of generations that rise up to relay the foundation of this country and to rebuild the broken walls as it were and to build this nation together alongside with other people. So that the worst of us will not continue to rule us or ruin us under the pretext that they are ruling us, while the best and brightest of us, are sidelined. That is what we are fighting.
That was part of putting the things together, gathering momentum, to know exactly what the issues are and the fundamental defects in our polity, that is generating every other thing like the constant day light robbery that goes on in every state and at the central government.Â Those people should not be there as their major reason for being in power is to amass wealth for themselves.
What are the things you have found out that are fundamentally wrong with Nigeria and how do you think they can be remedied?
First, I want it to be clear to those who may be reading this interview that I will never take part or join forces with anyone calling for disintegration of Nigeria. Itâ€™s clear to me that God wants us together; however, we cannot be togetherÂ under aÂ master/servant relationship or where a part of a nation dominates the others.
First, let it be known thatÂ the military ruined this nation and brought it to where it is today, because before the intervention of the military, we never had a unitary system. There were regions with their constitutions and there was a federal constitution. We were running what you call the federal system, whereby the regions were federating with one another.
Each region, out of its resources, contributedÂ to the purse of the centre for things that centre does on behalf of the federating units. And then, you had a Head of State, who was at that time, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, ceremonial and a Prime Minister, but each premier had its own authority and power and each region was developing at its pace. We didnâ€™t see the groundnut pyramids in the North being piped to the South -South, or cocoa in the WestÂ being piped to the North.
But all of a sudden, the military came and brought a unitary system, suspended the constitution of the federating regions, hijacked the sovereignty of the people of Nigeria, held us ransom with the barrel of the gun and created states that are totally incongruous and unproductive. They are nothing but parastatals.Â They put Ali Baba and forty thieves in charge of them and since then looting has continued.
Right now, if there is going to be a future, we must come to terms as to how we can go forward. Questions to ask: are we a republic? Or are we a monarchy? A situation where the Sultan of Sokoto has nationa-wideÂ influence in a so-called republic is absurd. Iâ€™m not against culture, Iâ€™m not against tradition.
If the people of Abeokuta feel thatÂ the Alake of Egbaland should be their supreme ruler, let them say so, but if they are within a republic, officials in government who are elected representatives of the people are supreme. Therefore, those institutions can remain traditional institutions, within their enclaves and should notÂ have any influence or remote control, operating behind the scene to do things that are totally outrageous in aÂ republican or constitutional set-up.
Now, today, we are not a republic, we are not a federation, weâ€™re an amalgam of political variety withoutÂ a clear identity. We need to determine if weâ€™re a federation. You cannot run a nation like Nigeria as a unitary system. Itâ€™s the same unitary system that led to one party state or mega party. I can form a party in my backyard and influence my local government and contribute my quota there rather than a mega party that is an ill wind that blows no one any good.
If weâ€™re going to be a federating state, even if we donâ€™t want to go back to regional government, we can allowÂ theÂ seven goe-political zones having their own governor or whatever they agree on, then you let them have their own regional police or any form of para-military organisation that would know the environment and the terrain.
Second, we need to restore sovereignty back to the people of Nigeria. Government must understand that shareholders are the owners of the company, not the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors are appointed by the shareholders. If they are going to do anything concerning that company, that is not authorised by the memorandum and article of association, which now will be the constitution of the country, they need to go back to the people. Now you can see what is happening, Iâ€™m not saying Iâ€™m lawless but you can see that MEND has started blowing pipelines and everything, saying we donâ€™t belongÂ here, we will destroy everything. You canâ€™t come and take our resources and impoverish us.
Iâ€™ve heard my friend say part of our problem is electoral laws and electoral regulations and that there is need for electoral reforms; but there was no electoral reforms in 1993 when we had a credible leadership that people could trust. It was open ballot, each one had a right to vote and people voted massively in what was considered the first free, fair election in Nigeria.
The system we are running now makes the states totally dependent upon the central government and if this is notÂ reversed, Nigeria will not make progress. These are the essential issues. If we can sit and have a clear blue print on how our leaders can serve us, not rule us, and how they can be removed if we are dissatisfied with them, without bloodshed, then, we can say we are about having a breakthrough.
Are you advocating a constitutional review or youâ€™re calling for a Sovereign National Conference?
Take South Africa, for example.Â When they were trying to bring Mandela out of prison, he said he wasnâ€™t coming out to operate under the apartheid constitution. When they now realised that the apartheid constitution was no longer acceptable to the majority of people, they brought in a new constitution. There are intelligent ways of doing this. We are not asking for the government in power to become useless or to be voted out, but to create an avenue for the people of this country to determine how they will federate. We can borrow ideas from South Africa without necessarily rubbishing the government. A genuine and true leader, who has the interest of this country, will do that.
We thought Obasanjo was going to do that, but he destroyed the whole process by bringing third term agenda into the whole thing. So, whether we call it Sovereign National Conference or you call it constitutional conference, or you call it a conference of the people of Nigeria, it doesnâ€™t mean. A lot of work has been done by people along this line, like PRONACO.
So, either, way, until we get a new engine and a new vehicle, we are playing with fire because this constitution has failed. Look at it, for 60 days, ordinary transmitting power from the President to the Vice president has become a major issue. Itâ€™s so absurd. Itâ€™s a slap on the collective intelligence, it does not make sense. ThisÂ constitutionÂ is not respected either by the operators or by those who evoked it because itâ€™s a lie.
On that, the position of the constitution is very clear, so whether those who are supposed to obey it are doing soÂ is a separate thing entirely…
(Cuts in) Well, it is clear, but the manipulators, are not operators. They say well, he can deputize for the president until he returns.Â I remember what I said in one of the broadcast I gave here that was suspended which I eventually did online and then, wrote about it; I gave a beautiful illustration. The ship of the state was in motion and on the high sea, there was turbulence.
The president took ill and they air lifted him from the ship to a foreign land, but when he was being air lifted from the ship almost half dead, the key to the ship was in his pocket. And then, they turned to the assistant to operate and he said â€˜I canâ€™t even operate because I donâ€™t haveÂ the keys to the shipâ€™. Then they asked â€˜who do we go toâ€™, they now called the madam but she is busy giving attention to the husband.
So, they turn to the crew, the National Assembly, but they too said theyÂ have noÂ life jackets.Â What are they saying to you, if the ship wrecks, if you can swim, good luck, thatâ€™s the name of your Vice President;Â if you canâ€™t swim, bad luck. Thatâ€™s the state weâ€™ve found ourselves in. Who would run his own business or company like that? No nation progresses that way.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently came out and asked God to punish him if he really imposed President Yarâ€™Adua on Nigerians. What is your position on this?
You donâ€™t dignify certain comments or certain irrational statements with reactions, but because you asked and because we support freedom of information, I will answer. To start with, his preambles and his beating about the bush, betrayed insincerity of purpose because he said he set three criteria for who will succeed him. He must be a person of integrity, one who has a large heart and who is fair minded to all religionsÂ and one who has the mental capacity to administer a nation like Nigeria.
Who is he to set these criteria? Is he the electorate. By setting the criteria, he has taken over the sovereign will of the people of this countryÂ who should determine in a free fair election who their leader should be. When did he become honest? I think Baba Iyabo is tired, he should just go and rest and not compound the matter. He should agree he made blunders.Â By admitting that he set criteria for who will succeed him, he has said that the electorateÂ did not choose Yarâ€™Adua, that he chose him, thatâ€™s all. Like Femi Falana said, he should tell that to the marines, not to us.
Unintelligent people can hear that and say may be he meant well;Â he did not know that the man was sick or he did not know that they could have stage managed the medical report. But when he collapsed in the cause of campaign, he told the whole world that it was catarrh. Why can heÂ not say well, we all made mistakes and I think this is the way forward, thatâ€™s statesmanship, not a man who is trying to be clever by half. Obasanjo sold us a pig in the pole and a day is coming when he will have to eat the pig by himself.
Don’tÂ you think that a good leader should groom his successor?
A good leader should suggest butÂ the party he belongs to should now determine, by their free votes, who becomes the leader. You donâ€™t impose people. Success without succession is failure, a good leader should groom, should look, but he must say gentlemen, Iâ€™ve occupied this seat, I think A or B can do this job, but, the final vote belongs to the party hierarchy and for the rules set for the game and besides that, the final say belongs to the people of Nigeria, who actually are the custodian of sovereignty.
He used his incumbency powers to shut out every other person and he said, this is it and nothing else or who contested in PDP against Yarâ€™Adua? There were campaigns byÂ people like Donald Duke, Odili, flying around and spending the money that they didnâ€™t have to impress the people they didnâ€™t like. The moment Obasanjo brought his own guy, they all kept quiet.
Nigeria hasÂ been in a mess ever since the President left for medical treatment abroad. What would you suggest as the way out of this logjam occasioned by the power vacuum?
There is no power vacuum, there is power hijack, they are two different things. You see, they have a way of selling dummies, propaganda to Nigerians.Â A news magazine, I think in its January 18 edition published the four gang member, who have hijacked power from a president that is in coma, we donâ€™t even know whether heâ€™s alive. Some newspaper say heâ€™s brain dead, so, which one do we believe?
Do I want my president to speak to me through a foreign radio, is that how I want to relate to my president. You were asking what is the way forward. Though this constitution is imposed on us, it is what brought you in, but obey the rules that you have set and stop changing the goal post in the midst of the game. And for violating that, you have disqualified yourself from being a competent leader of one who truly loves this country. The path of honour is not just to transmit power or to resign, the path of honour actually right now should be total obedience. If those who are in that hallowed chambers are not hollow minded they should have taken action.
A Federal High Court in Abuja did give a ruling last week that within two weeks…
(Cuts in) With apologies to the judiciary because thatâ€™s a constituency I respect a great deal, I think two weeks is another form of elongating the crisis of Nigeria. A man has gone for two months, you are now giving him two weeks, youâ€™re holding all of us into ransom. If the horse is dead, bury it or let us know the exact condition. We would have been better if the man had transmitted power and thereâ€™s an acting president.
They are afraid that Obasanjo may use Goodluck to stage a comeback behind the scene, that does not make sense at all. The way forward is simple, transmit authority via a letter to the National Assembly, swear-in an acting president because nobody forced him on you. Nigerians did not choose him. Itâ€™s between Obasanjo and Yarâ€™Adua family because they think Nigeria is their extended family and they are larger than life.
What do you make of the attempt to review the constitution being under taken currently by the National Assembly. Do you have any confidence in it?
They are not sincere about it. Nothing will happen from it, absolutely nothing. Weâ€™re saying electoral reforms, they wonâ€™t do anything because the present constitution and all the electoral flaws favour them to continue to rig elections, to continue to perpetuate injustice and their greed to satisfy their lust with the resources of this nation. They wonâ€™t do nothing. It does not take four years to review anything. It does not take ten years for good leaders to bring about change.
What will be your next line of action if this power hijack, as you said, continues?
We will bring those whom we have noticed, are running the nation illegally, who are not elected, for example, they are going to show us how the army got to Jos. Yes, you would have said theyâ€™ve done good, by bringing the army to quell the crisis, but who instructed the Chief of Army Staff to do so? Under what law? And all the budget manipulations that have been going on, who signed the budget; besides that all the money that is being taken out of the Central Bank and everywhere in the name of presidential vote, who is authorising the payment.
That is illegal acquisition of power in Nigeria and Nigerians are looking with their eyes open, we will use every means, we will use the press, we will use everything at out disposal including the law court to show how wicked these men are.
But donâ€™t forget that there is a subsisting Federal High Court judgement that the Vice President can exercise executive functions for as long the president remains away.
That is delegated to him, but that is madness. Can a sick man delegate anything to you? The man cannot even perform his domestic functions, talk less of statutory functions. Look, in other nations, youâ€™ve got to know the state of the health of your president, Cuba, America, Israel. It happens here because they have taken us for mumu incorporated.
Abuja and Lagos rally, what would you say the two have achieved so far?
The social mobility is not frozen, that our people are only waiting for credible leadership and they are becoming aware that something is happening and they are receiving hope again and the army is going to get bigger and bigger until we have a massive force built around this country to force them to do what is right or find a way of getting them out of power.
Donâ€™t you think the army of protesters is more of a Southern base?
It isnâ€™t. Youâ€™ll be shocked that it isnâ€™t, people flew from Abuja and Kaduna to be part of what we did here. It may start small, but itâ€™s going to grow big.
How far do you really want to go?
As far as this mess continues, we are going to continue until we get result. But we will do it in a legal manner, in a moral and ethical manner, we a re not violent people burning peoplesâ€™ houses; we are not a hopeless people running a hopeless race. Now, we are going to deploy every legitimate peaceful manner to bring solution to this logjam.
You a re product of Gani Fawehinmi chambers, how much impact would you say he had in you?
Well, I miss him and probably, one of the things that gingered me was when I saw him lying-in-state. I took a quick review of the Nigerian situation. Beko is gone, Gani is gone and the remaining warriors that have any credibility are old. Professor Wole Soyinka is in his 70s, General Alani Akinrinade is also in his 70s and even Pa Enahoro is old and I felt for this nation and said letâ€™s inject new blood into this thing.
The memory of the righteous lives on, I donâ€™t think Gani is dead, I think his spirit marches on; but Iâ€™m not trying to say I want to step in Ganiâ€™s shoes. Gani had his shoes, Awo had his shoes and I have my shoes but we value their contributions to this society, their selflessness and their dedication and focus. We are combining everything weâ€™ve gotten from those people with what God has given us to push this to its logical conclusion.
Really, over the time, you have preached very scary messages against former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Is there anything personal between the two of you?
Never, there are no personal issues. As an elder, I respect him. Not personal at all. In fact, if anyone should write in his report, Iâ€™ll probably do a better job if Iâ€™m considering relationship, background and questions. I donâ€™t make things that I do for people public.
I know the role I played while he was in prison, even to his own children. I prayed that he would not go to prison, but he went and when it came to giving, I gave, but I donâ€™t want to make that public. I know who they were and they know what I did, thatâ€™s enough. I donâ€™t have any personal issue with him, but I must tell you that with passion, I hate his arrogance and I hate his thinking that heâ€™s larger than life because heâ€™s just another Nigerian like any other person.
Do you have any political ambition?
Ambition has a companion called anxiety. I have vision for this nation, not ambition. I donâ€™t need to add his excellency to my name to be known, I donâ€™t need political power to make a difference.Â Now, that is not to say that Iâ€™m not interested in who sits there because we will drag this to its logical conclusion, that the best and the brightest, will begin to run the affairs of our nation from local government to state and national level.Â Iâ€™m interested in seeing meritocracy instead of this mess that we call democracy.
Mediocrity is in every sphere of our national life. You can see that PDP does not mean well for this country because any party that says we are rotating, will never get the best. Even if itâ€™s the deaf and dumb and mute person that the zone now offers, thatâ€™s who will be there. I hate money politics completely, but we want to train our people, we want to encourage them to rise and to team up with others and to use the little they have to over throw money bags.
If money is the only thing to politics, MKO should have been there, Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua should have been there; but there is a cabal that would not let them get there and now, we are bringing all Nigerian people together to explain to them in plain terms to take sovereignty back from those who hijacked it andÂ to create a level playing field so that meritocracy in our land can lead to predictable progress and a blue print that will give us a great nation. Thatâ€™s my real concern.
But if by any means, Iâ€™m called upon to serve and Iâ€™m persuaded, I can serve without any strings attached, so thatÂ I can serve with integrity,Â honour, selflessness, transparency, why not.
In what capacity?
Any capacity. Iâ€™m not looking for anything, thatâ€™s the truth. If I can make a local government better than it was, if I can make a state better than it was, if I can make a Senate better than it was, if I can contribute my quota, even by not going there, but by raising standards. Martin Luther King was shot for fighting and saying that segregation is evil, today we have a black face in a White House. Those who called it white house never felt a black face could be there. So, all we are doing today, we do not take any benefit direct from it, weâ€™ll still do it again and again for the sake of those that God has appointed.
So, ambition is out of it, vision yes, ambitionÂ no.
What you have started can snowball into popular revolt and revolution, are you prepared for that?
Absolutely. In fact, thatâ€™s what I gunning for but a revolution of values not bloodshed, not violence, not burning people, thatâ€™s nonsense. But in revolution of values, creating an awareness for Nigerians to become enlightened in what their right is and how to demand for it, and how to kick these hooligans out of power, absolutely, Iâ€™ll lay down my life for it.
What kind of elections are youÂ looking forward to in 2011?
Thereâ€™ll be no peaceful elections in 2011 if all these things are not put in place before then. It will be a mess, then youâ€™re playing with disintegration. Those who want to run elections in 2011 with this kind of mess, without any accurate electoral reforms, without any accurate constitution put in place that people will readily support and will not create an environment of merit and free and fair elections, they are sitting on a keg of gun powder and itâ€™s going to blow on their face.