By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
What’s your opinion on the National Conference? Does the Christian body have any agenda to promote?
I will not tell you what the agenda of the Christian body is until it is made public in the conference. As I have always said, we need to pray. Some people will say ‘but things are still rough with all the prayers’, but I tell you, Nigeria cannot survive without prayers, even for one week. Prayer is the glue that gums Nigeria together; if you remove that glue, Nigeria will break into pieces. Let us put aside tribal and religious sentiments. Nigeria has long awaited this conference; so, I advise that those who have not been chosen to attend the conference should take away malice and sentiments and pray for its success.
You just spoke about tribal and religious sentiments, but these diversities are recognized in the selection of delegates and each of them has his agenda. Don’t you think this could have a negative effect on the conference?
Nigeria is the United States of Africa. That’s why our diversities and language heterogeneity have not, all these years, disintegrated us. Like pieces of clothes in tailoring are able to allow themselves to be sewn together to form a beautiful dress, we should absorb and accommodate one another. That way, we will overcome. For instance, when the matter of gay was being deliberated, the way we joined forces despite our diversities helped us to conquer and outlaw it. On this national conference, I want to say that Nigeria is looking for solution and will get it with prayers.
But many have argued that the national conference is in no way a solution to our plethoric problems and that Nigeria will disintegrate nevertheless…
Those are called political statements.
But some religious leaders are of the same opinion…
Yes, that is because they are selfish; for the fact that they are not seeing yesterday and are not also looking to tomorrow. It looks rough now, but it shall be smooth. We are not together as one nation by accident. Lord Lugard may have made some mistake yesterday, but God’s hand is in it. Even Boko Haram is not enough to frustrate us. We just have to speak up as one and against the killing of Nigerians.
I told you from the beginning that Nigeria is the United States of Africa. Always remember that because it does not matter where we come from. In 1966/1967, I fought in the Biafran war and one of our slogans was: ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’. We could have been able to let the Igbo go away, but we didn’t because we still love them.
Igbo, northerners and probably Niger Deltans have done things that could make the nation to say ‘go’, but that has not happened. We must look at our existence with the eyes of God. The question is, what is God thinking about this nation?; not what we are thinking about this nation. These people are telling us what they think about this nation but I tell you, it is who God says we are that matters.
God speaks to His own, such as men of God like yourself; what is He saying or has shown you about Nigeria?
I have not seen splitting or disintegration bringing a solution to Nigeria. Let us do the analysis. The North and South split then the South is broken into three or four, making almost every tribe to become a nation. Then there’s going to be an embassy. You have to take visa before you move from Lagos to Warri for example.
If Edo decides to have its own embassy, you will then have to take a visa from Lagos and then another from Edo to get to Warri. We cannot imagine how bad it can be. What will happen then will be the case of a man who decides to let his wife go because of a quarrel and sees the woman three years later and begins to wish he did not let her go. What I love in Nigeria is the fact that unbelievers are here, Muslims are here, Christians are here and we are all able to stay together. If we can learn to respect one another’s religion and respect one another as well, I believe we can forge ahead.
Some prophets have also reeled out prophecies, declaring that the year 2015 will be disastrous for Nigeria if Goodluck Jonathan is re-elected; what do you make of that?
Having a dream for the entire country is not enough. You must confirm whether God is the one giving you that dream. Don’t forget that the Western world is already manufacturing cameras and hiring offices within Nigeria so they can make big news out of their predicted dissolution of Nigeria in 2015. Let me tell you something, Clemens Westerhof, one of Nigeria’s former coaches, was asked when he returned to his country (Holland) about what he had to say about Nigeria and he said: “I learnt something from Nigeria and that is the fact that if they do not want something to happen and they pray to their God, they are able to change that thing overnight”.
You know, during the time of Babangida, there would have been civil war and people were going home already because Abiola was not allowed to be president. There was going to be real bloodshed. Some of us went into prayers declaring that affliction will not come to us the second time, and because of that prayer, the finger of God averted the war, and it shocked everyone. So, I want those men of God to go back and ask God if dissolution and disaster are His thoughts for Nigeria.
Some people are of the opinion that the conference is to aid agenda 2015 for Jonathan while others are also condemning the amount of money spent on delegates…
People do not know what is called ‘leadership’. Do you know how much it is to for instance to invite a man of my caliber to go and spend days, weeks and months somewhere?
But you can do that free of charge for your country….
This case doesn’t require gift because you’re going to use your brain and spirit. The fact that those people agreed to go alone is very important because this conference will prove to the world that Nigeria can still sit down and talk face to face. It is a solution. Anytime there is problem and the two parties involved are not discussing, know that it is going to be bloody.
By the time they talk, even if they are shouting during the first meeting, the second will be calmer. Whether anybody says it is another way of bringing the president in again, that is not a problem. The entire country was three regions: Northern, Western and Eastern. One region became 19 states and all the rest two put together became 17. We’re in the game of numbers; so, tell me how Nigeria can create another state if the North says no.
You earlier said Nigerians are blessed with the ability to overturn events through prayers; but why is the insurgency in the North escalating despite prayers?
People are very confused over this, but I know how God works. Sometimes, He allows things to happen so that His name can be glorified. You may not have known that those who set up Boko Haram to destroy the peace of Nigeria are on the run now. I have spoken several times about this. If it were not for God, the plan was to swallow up Nigeria.
Are you insinuating that Boko Haram can’t tear Nigeria apart?
No. They can’t do it and they know it. Boko Haram has its own temptations and they might have been bewitched to do what they are doing. Otherwise, a genuine Nigerian killing Nigerians would have felt it, no matter how bad he is.
Nigeria just celebrated 100 years of existence which some people called frustrating amalgamation and some Nigerians were honoured, including the late General Sani Abacha, whose nomination was greatly criticized. Was that honour to Abacha deserving and does Nigeria really have any reason to celebrate?
Being able to live for only one day calls for celebration. The fact that the place called Nigeria is still there as one entity for 100 years is a miracle. Nigeria has fought civil war where many young men died; I was there. That it could come back together is a miracle. Our existence calls for celebration, though it was done in a very low key.
The fact that we did not take the grace of God for granted but went ahead to glorify His name despite our circumstances is more than enough to touch God’s heart. The celebration alone can make God do wonders in this country. Did you know Nigeria before many of you were born? Nigerians were eating only Uncle Ben’s rice; not anyhow rice. The white people were coming to marry our daughters so they could become our citizens.
This was why our first national anthem says ‘Nigeria we hail thee…’. These were the Oyinbos hailing us. I remember when I traveled to Washington DC in 1979 to represent the Christian body. That was the time of Jimmy Carter. Some white ladies there were begging to take photographs with me and I said no! Our fifty kobo was one dollar and when we were to return to Nigeria, we had nothing to do with dollars; we gave them out! People were coming into Nigeria from different parts of the world and were taking from us. But I’m telling you, Nigeria will rise again.
At what point would you say things went wrong in this country and what do we do to get it right?
Nigeria was blessed. God doesn’t joke with them where there is a multitude; remember the story of Jonah and Nineveh. Now, at what point did we get it wrong? You know Nigeria was coming up shortly after the over-throw of the first military people and somehow God opened doors through our oil and the money was so much that we spent anyhow.
We did not know how to manage that money. Hence, Awolowo was released unconditionally from prison so that he could show Nigerians how to divide the blessing. Money was actually distributed to the grassroots and everybody was happy. No armed robbery! Then, Nigeria said it needed to have a festival to glorify the devil. So, it invited every demon in Africa and we were celebrating Festac 1977.
They rounded off the festival and, when the people who came for the festival went home, the demon in the festival refused to go. You know what happened thereafter? Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, first went on strike; after that, it was students. Government started to settle with money until the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, came in.
What do we do to go back?
We must repent as a nation.
But we have more churches and religious homes than we had in those days?
We’re talking of genuine repentance. Since then, God has been waiting for somebody like Jonathan to come to lead. Every president of Nigeria was unique but you may not have known. People blame Babangida but it was Gowon who broke the relationship between Nigeria and Israel. Babangida was the one who came to restore the ties despite being a Muslim. Since then, no serving president has ever made attempt to go to Israel on pilgrimage. Gowon was a Christian and Obasanjo was a Christian too but they didn’t go. It was Jonathan that decided to go. And I assure Nigeria, we will see a difference.