Rev. Dr. Uma Ukpai is a high profile preacher. He is understandably much in demand in crusades, conferences, and seminars around the world. Rev. Ukpai was born in January 1945 at Asaga, Ohafia, in Abia State but unfortunately, he lost his father at a very tender age, a development that almost ruined his educational pursuit. In this interview with SAM EYOBOKA, Rev. Ukpai speaks on many national issues.
What is your assessment of the nation at a time like this?
It is time for Nigeria to sit down and see if we want to continue like a nation or a group of nationalities. The problem in Jos is totally uncalled for. When we keep talking about settlers, squatters and indigenes, then we are not ready to be a nation.
Every Nigerian should feel free to live in any part of the nation. I am surprised that we have no value for life. People have been killed in Jos but nobody has lost his job or sentenced to jail. It is very shameful our government cannot protect the weak from the strong. We keep talking about succession and who will be in power but nobody is talking about how to save the poor. I have a feeling that the poor have been forgotten. Unfortunately, we have become a dumb audience even in the midst of our putrefying wounds.
Four of your colleagues were in Aso Rock recently to pray for the President Yarâ€™Adua before his death. You were not part of the team.
From the things I have said, you will know I am not that kind of a person that will be invited. They went there on personal merit, based on their relationship with Aso Rock. But I have no relationship with Aso Rock. A man that talks the way I do will not be invited. Even if they invited me there, I would have done nothingâ€¦
You wouldnâ€™t have prayed for him?
I donâ€™t have to pray for him in Aso Rock. I donâ€™t think it was wrong they went anyway, because you could ask anybody to pray for you. But they went there on their own. And like they rightly said, they donâ€™t owe us any explanation because pastors operate with confidentiality.
But the President is a public property whose health status every Nigerian should knowâ€¦
Yes! But there is no Bible verse that says, â€˜thou shall pray and tell us the results of your prayersâ€™â€¦
Neither do we have any passage that says â€˜thou shall pray and keep quiet…â€™
Yes, but there is one that says we must pray for our leadersâ€¦
And keep quiet?
Well, that is where wisdom and common sense come in. God will tell you how to handle such casesâ€¦
What then should Nigerians do?
We, the electorate must be sincere with voting for the right people. Two, we must demand for accountability. Three, we must not allow anybody to buy our conscience and goodwill. Four, we must guard our votes. Sometimes, we blame our leaders but we are mostly to be blamed. We donâ€™t have the courage, the determination in this country to stand up to our leaders. We have such awesome shock absorbers that nothing shocks us again. The last man has left town; only girls are left.
But one wonders why we donâ€™t have the likes of Dr Martin Luther King among Nigeriaâ€™s church leaders.
You see, we do but things have not reached where they were in America of his days. In 1977, I was checked into a hotel in Alabama reserved for Whites and the police came threatening to arrest me. I said if they did, I would make sure every American in Nigeria did not come back alive. They laughed and asked if I was the Prime Minister of my country and I dared them to try it.
You see, it was that bad. But you see what America has become today. Weâ€™d get there too when things really get out of hands. When we get there, the weak will become strong; the humble will become violent but I pray we do not get there.
What is your advice to government on the issue of the Niger Delta?
If government can take 500,000 of these youths to study in America, Canada and Europe , by the time they finish that education and come back, their lives will not be the same again. If government can show evidence of seriousness by creating jobs for themâ€”and it can be done without restrictionsâ€”they will turn a new leaf. When Bayelsa State was created, there was only one petrol filling station in the whole area. I schooled in Ogoni.
The day I went back 54 years after, I wept. No additional block has been raised in the school. When you forget people and neglect them, you are toying with rage and that is what we have now. They have so much creativity and imagination and it is difficult to bottle them up. So, government should act fast to save the region. I travelled by road from Warri to Port Harcourt recently and I kept asking myself, where are our leaders? For two days, I couldnâ€™t stand up because of the condition of that road.
I also need to speak to the youths of the area who have been visiting their anger on their fellow brothers and sisters by way of kidnapping. If you continue to kidnap your people, you are no longer fighting for the betterment of the region. When you are fighting for the Niger Delta area and you are killing people from there, you are simply making nonsense of what you think you are doing.
There are many ways to vent your anger without killing your brother and sister. You kidnap him and ask for N5 million; where do you think he will get that money from? By the time he finds that kind of money, will he be happy to see you alive? Can he then say that you are representing him anywhere? I have one word for them and that is: vent your anger in a way that your brother will be alive to see the end of this agitation. If you kill him in the process of agitating for the Niger Delta area, you are fighting for your pocket and a revolution that ends in your pocket cannot change your community.
Next year is another election year. What is your take?
We as a people must ensure that only credible leaders are voted into power. There must be accountability in this country. We must ask those who are coming for the first time what they have for the people before we cast our ballot.
And for those who had been there, they must account for their stewardship before we vote for them.
If they refuse to render their stewardship?
Then we mark them as people who shall never be voted for, again.
Under the present electoral system, do our votes count?
Our votes can count. It is we that allow our votes not to count. If we can queue up, what stops us from insisting on how the votes are handled? You can queue up and stay till the very end to see what has been done with your vote; it will eventually count, because someone will listen to you.
We talk about electoral reforms with some people arguing that the Justice Uwais report should be adopted wholly, what is your take?
Nothing is wrong with our constitution. Nothing is even wrong with Nigeria. We are the problems. We have problems with holding on to our convictions; we have problems with demonstrating the courage of our convictions. We have problems with demanding for our rights. To me, the last man has left town, only boys are left. We are the only people that have made Nigeria what it is today.
If anything is wrong, it is our inability to interpret the constitution. We have problem demanding for our rights. So, we are cowards! We know how to circumvent any situation. That is our major problem.
If you were to meet President Goodluck Jonathan today, what will you say to him?
Ha! Ha!! Ha!!! He knows me and I know him. He knows the line of our discussion. I will not reveal that to the Press. But I have confidence in the President because I know him privately. I know that he is man of his word. He is a man that keeps quiet but he can follow his heart.
Within the limited time President Jonathan has before the next elections, what will you say should be his priority?
He should work on regular power supply. He should allow the rule of law to take its course. He is quiet but not dumb.
He knows what to do. He knows what the people want and I trust he will deliver. I believe he can cause us to have regular power. I also believe he should allow the rule of law. Heâ€™s a very humble man. He may look quiet, but he is not dumb.
He has the courage to do things. He is a man of few words and a man of few words, always, is a man of action.
If the civil society has failed to spearhead the revolution, will the Church take the gauntlet in the event of a revolution?
Only God can do that. The Church cannot, unless God wants it to do so. The Church does not belong to anybody. All those who call themselves founders and what not are just fooling themselves.