Failure of National Confab will have grave consequences — Okoh, Primate of Anglican Church

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•Says enemies within are helping to sustain B/Haram
•‘The challenge of operating the Church in the insurgents enclave’
•On same sex marriage: The problem with revisionists

The Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Nicholas Orogodo Okoh, believes strongly that the on-going National Conference must not fail, saying it is a great opportunity to resolve the challenges faced by Nigeria. He also speaks on the Boko Haram insurgency which has claimed many lives and affected the Church in the North-east and the controversial anti-gay law. Excerpts from interview:

There are allegations lately that corruption has crept into Christianity with some men of God accused of sharp practices. How do you react to this?
I think you used an omnibus word ‘sharp practices’. I don’t know what it means because it could mean so many things. Can you be more specific?

Corruption has one definition, unethical practice. That is exactly what I am talking about.
There are different churches today. It would appear as if the Church has been deregulated so that what you consider to be corruption in the Anglican Church may not necessarily be so in the Pentecostal church. This is because in the Anglican Church or in the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, Methodist, these older denominations have different Church polity. In most of the new generation churches, invariably, the pastor is

the owner; so when you say corruption, if he takes the money that comes to the church, do we say that is corruption? I am the Archbishop and Primate of the Church of Nigeria, but i am not the owner of the Church of Nigeria; I am in fact a hired servant, I am under the authority of the Synod of the Church of Nigeria. They look at what I do. There is account, there is audit, and there is report, which must be approved or disapproved. That is why I am saying that we cannot generalize because we are not under the same type of governance

*Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh

*Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh

What many refer to in this regard is the ostentation that seems to have taken over many men of God. It begins when men of God fly in private jets, live in mansions, drive flashy cars, dress in flamboyant attires. Are those things not an abuse in Christianity?
Now, again, I go back to where I started. In the new generation churches, some of them actually have a lot to do by way of travelling around. Outside the country they have churches. Within the country they have. So they do it like the secular CEO, now they believe that programming themselves to scheduled flights may not solve their problems and they have enough money to acquire these machines. But if you go back to the older

denominations, there are so many checks and balances. First and foremost, you have to convince the church that what you are talking about is desirable and I doubt if you will go beyond that level. So you have to convince them that of all the competing needs, it is aircraft that you need. If they don’t approve it, you sit down. There is no question of you insisting you want to go ahead whereas in other places, the pastor is the chief executive and the sole authority.

I will say he is much more powerful than in a place like the Anglican Church where the Synod or the standing committee will decide the priority.

With the benefit of hindsight, is it right for men of God to live ostentatiously, does it not portray wrong values in the Christian world?
Now you are talking about ostentation. From what I have described, if the church leader needs aircraft like the case of the Redeemed (Church), they have branches all over the world and one problem is that if you don’t attend to them properly, there’s likely to be crisis. So, if the need is there, and the money is available, then it does not amount to ostentation.

That is my way of looking at it.
Ostentation will look like you are doing it because others are doing it and that you don’t really have the need for it. You think that this one has got it, therefore, you also want to get one. That makes it ostentation. So what may be ostentatious in one situation may not necessarily be in another because of the supervisory role the church has to carry out. But like I said, in the denominations where you have so many checks and balances, it will be difficult for you to convince them that your immediate need is aircraft

What issues do you think the Church can raise at the National Conference?
I think the Church, apart from belonging to a group on its own, is part and parcel of the Nigerian society. The Church belongs to the Igbo, so what are the Igbo talking about in the conference? The Church belongs to the Yoruba, what are the Yoruba talking about in the conference? The Church belongs to the North, what are the northerners talking about in the dialogue?

The aggregation of these is what they are taking there and, as a Church body, we believe that President Jonathan, for instance, has taken the right step by outlawing same sex marriage because it is not, to us, a normal thing. Women are not scarce, men are not scarce and God has made adequate arrangement for human sexuality, so anybody who is developing any extra sexual instinct or desire, I think such person should attend to himself because there is something wrong.

Same sex relationship is anchored on human rights and the right of two adults to partner based on agreement. Now, looking at the law of the Church, does it cover same sex marriage, which Leviticus clearly condemns? How do you explain the position of the Church?
You have explained that the scripture does not permit it and you are asking me about the position of the Church. You know it already. Anyway, there are those we call revisionists. There is a group trying to put a new interpretation and they are arguing about human rights; but God himself has a right. If we do believe in God, then we should know that He also has a right; right of ownership.

So it depends on where you stand. If you believe that God has no right to tell you anything then, that’s a different thing. I want you to remember that this is how man started in the wrong way in the first place.
God said you should not eat this fruit and the enemy came and said did God say you should not? Then Eve came and said ‘see the fruit, eat it’ and then man ate and started having problems.

The consequence was that man was banished from the presence of God; now we are back to the same question? Did God say a woman should marry only a man? Did God say that a man should marry only a woman? If God did not say a woman can marry a woman and a man can marry a man, the disaster that followed the first disobedience is also likely to follow this very one.

You just commended President Jonathan for signing the anti-gay law, but the developed world was against that, and the criticism has been very strong against Nigeria. What is the Church doing in Nigeria to convince the world that Jonathan was right?
It is not the President that started this. It is the Church. The President is only being democratic in the sense that he is listening to the people who put him in power. What baffles me is the attitude of the white people. What they do in their place, they don’t allow you to do in your country.

When this issue of Syria came up, there was a time they tried to mobilise for attack on Syria, but the British people said no, the parliament refused and the Prime Minister backed down. The same thing happened in the U.S. Why is it that when our people speak on what we want our President to do, they start criticizing us? Why should they become the headmaster on moral issues in the world? Did they create us? They have no such right and we will be foolish to submit to them.

Does your Church still maintain relationship with the mother Church in England since the controversy on the gay issue broke out?
We have made our position very clear to them. About 2008 after the issue of James Robinson and one American who were ordained Bishop despite being homosexuals came, we were called to a meeting in Lambert and we refused to attend. We decided not to go and we went to Jerusalem instead with others of like minds. Now, people are living and worshipping according to their convictions. It is not just about history such that because you are historically attached to this man, then he must tell you everything; what you will eat, how you will eat, how you will lie down, how you will sleep and more.

What has the Anglican Communion done on the spate of attacks on Christians in the North by Boko Haram?
We are, indeed, suffering in those areas. Our diocese in Damaturu has been closed down, the Bishop has relocated to Jos; the clergy is just being paid to keep it on.

Only Damaturu?
Yes; our church in Maiduguri is miraculously on but the churches are being attacked here and there.  The Bishop has escaped so many attacks, but he is still there; so what we are doing is to find a way to support the Bishop to support his members. The Bishop is there to ensure that the church does not die; recently the Archbishops of the Church of Nigeria visited Maiduguri and met with the governor, the Shehu of Borno and our members to tell them that this is a passing phase in our history; it will not be permanent.

Let me say that evil will not win this battle no matter how long it takes.  We are aware that some people are behind it all, because it is not just the poor Boko Haram person who is perpetrating this evil; there are people behind it who bring the money, who bring the ideology and use these poor boys as canon fodder. By the grace of God, the evil will be defeated.

Why do you think it has it been pretty difficult for government to understand the mystery of Boko Haram?
I think government should know. I don’t know whether it knows, but I think it should know that there are insiders in government, in the military, in the police, in the in system that there are Boko Haram loyalists. They are the people who are expanding the coast of Boko Haram, internationalising their issues, giving them resources because if they don’t have strong resources, they will not have lasted this long. I have been a military man and I know that you need logistics to fight a battle, so who is supplying Boko Haram logistics?

national-conferenceAs a church, have you sat down to fashion a way out to say let us take this to the President?
The Church does not attend Federal Executive Council meetings. The Church does not attend any government meeting where views are directly presented. We can only make suggestions through our Synods and our prophetic ministries. Through we can have meeting with the President, but whatever is done in this regard is what I may call suggestion because the politicians will come and ask him why he is listening to religious people.

But I think we have reached a stage where the common views of Nigerians are converging in the sense that it is becoming clear that there are enemies within who have helped Boko Haram to sustain this insurgency. The views of Christians, Muslims, civil society groups, students, market men and women, journalists like you are beginning to converge and this is why the National Conference is very important.

It is important that we agree how to run Nigeria. There is a Bible passage that says ‘can two work together except they agree?’ If you want to marry, you must be compatible with your wife; you must be able to say to the woman this is the direction we are heading. If I entered your motor and I discovered that you are driving like a drunkard and you are facing an oncoming truck without getting out of the way, I will ask you to put me down. If this is the way you like to drive, I can imagine that you will not go very far.

So this idea of National Dialogue is a good thing. If it means quarrelling, let us quarrel without fighting. Let us disagree to agree. If it means shouting, let us shout but, in the end, let us be clear on the way forward so that the poor man will agree with the rich man on how they will live. The Christian will agree with the Muslim on how they will live. The old man will agree with the young man on how they will live.

The women will agree with men on how they will live. Different interest groups, the minorities will agree with the majority. There are people who are not Igbo, there are people who are not Yoruba, there are people who are not Hausa and Fulani in Nigeria, they will agree on how they will be part of Nigeria. This is the first attempt to streamline Nigeria.

We have had conferences in the past, but, to a very large extent, none has been able to proffer practicable solutions to the problems of Nigeria. So what is the hope that this one will not go the same way of others?
This one should not go the same way of past conferences. If it does, people will be disillusioned. This one must solve Nigeria’s problems. The equation of Nigeria’s project must be thoroughly addressed in such a way that if we agree that there should be no go area and that Nigeria should remain an indivisible entity, then I should be able to lie down in Kano and sleep with my two eyes closed.

The person in Kano should be able to lie down in Port Harcourt and sleep soundly. Somebody should be able to lie down in Lagos or Warri without bothering about ethnicity, same thing Sokoto, Zamfara, Niger and other places. The question of why should you build a church in my area should not arise. These are the issues. If we go to the National Conference and come back without resolving the issues, then, we have not started!

What other key areas do you think should attract the attention of the delegates at the conference apart from negotiating the unity of the country?
Another focal point should be governmental arrangement, that is, what type of government should we adopt? We started with parliamentary democracy, and then we copied the American presidential system with our own additions and so on. Now in between, we have the military system which is what we are running now and not a federal system. In the military, you will be allowed to talk, you will be allowed to discuss, but the commander takes his decision.

So, in this very matter, therefore, what type of government is good for us? Should we concentrate on having the power of government placed at the centre, a kind of winner takes, or we go back to the old system where the regions were developing according to their different capacities and what you can provide in the West may be different from what you provide in the East? In those days the North was not depending on any region and the spirit of competition was engendered. But this system we are running now is ‘wait for me’ type. If I can’t do it, you will have to wait for me, I must hold you down.

Are you not worried about the level of corruption in this country?
I stopped talking about it because it appears that the more we talk about it, the more we get immune to it. Let me give you a practical example of what I am trying to describe. We always talk about sin in the Church, let’s assume that there’s is a particular sin that is attractive to somebody and you know that it is wrong. The first time you fall into it, you will find it painful. You will be sorrowful and the feeling of regret will come over you.

You will be full of grief. The second time you fall into the temptation, your feeling of regret would be less. The third time, it will be less and the fourth time, it would be much less. So, after some time, you will become addicted such that you don’t see anything wrong with it again. So we have almost reached that level in Nigeria. That is why I stopped talking about it directly.

The way I decided to talk about it is to be doing things differently for others to learn. In our last standing committee meeting, our theme was, ‘Thou shall not bear false witness’. Why did we choose that topic? We see that in this country, we are very religious. Muslims, Christians, traditionalists place emphasis on their religions. But the religions do not carry with it the expectations of moral obligations.

There are, of course, very fine people in this country, people who have strong moral powers, who believe in what they do, who allow their beliefs to influence their morals, but a large percentage do not see the connection, the affinity between religion and morality. So I say the best thing to do is to teach, to talk, to educate ourselves.

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