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Christians are more than Moslems – Bishop Okonkwo

By Sam Eyoboka
AS part of preparations for this year’s Kingdom Life World Conference, the presiding bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, TREM and former CAN National Vice President, Dr. Mike Okonkwo, speaks on the state of the nation, the Pew Foundation report on Nigerian Moslems/Christians, electoral reform, deregulation, among others. EXCERPTS:

What do you think is wrong with Nigeria?

Everyone knows the problem of  Nigeria has always been that of leadership. I mean, it is there for us all to see. We have not had leaders with the will power to change things. And as long as we continue to have sacred cows in Nigeria, we will remain in the limbo. They talk about rule of law but my understanding is that no one is above the law.

But when you have selective judgments for people and different standards, we will keep on having problems. I thought that with 10 years of democratic practice, things would have taken shape. It is shameful that we can still have politicians that will go to the National Assembly to throw chairs. They swore on oath before taking offices. How can they be loyal to the people? We must have a restructuring of our political system.

I mean a sincere, honest and strategic, well marked-out restructuring of our political system whereby any credible candidate can emerge, whether  he has the money or not. We also need an independent INEC  that has nothing to do with the government of the day; one that no political party or ruling party can manipulate. If we don’t have such, we’d continue to have problems in this country. As long as people feel that all I need to do is to belong to the political class and whether you like it or not, I must be in office; as long as they have that, we are not ready.

As it is now, Nigeria is like a bleeding cow where everyone is cutting his own share, not minding whether it develops or not. Fifty years into our political independence, we are still groping in darkness. Most of the companies here are moving to Ghana.

Can you imagine that? Some years ago, we said Ghana must go; but don’t be surprised, it will soon be Nigeria must go. It is coming because I learnt that Nigerians are already buying up estates in Ghana. It is important we  understand we need an honest restructuring. There are honest, capable people in this country that can move things; unfortunately, they can never, never emerge with this current structure.

Should we expect a Jerry Rawling?

Not really. Somebody will take them to jail. People have done so many bad things to this country and they are still not ready to let go. If they had repented, we might have forgiven, but you have committed so much in the country and still continue as if there is no God in heaven. We are praying already and trust that God will act very soon.

How do you react to the conviction of PDP chieftain, Chief  Bode George and the war against corruption generally?

To a reasonable extent when Nuhu Ribadu was around, despite his shortcomings, there were some restraints. People were careful; people were afraid to steal public funds.  But when he stepped out and the new person came in, things have gone down. But what happened recently has given an impetus that looks like all is not lost. I believe it has sent a wake-up call to others to be careful because the man never believed. Now, he is shocked.

Newspapers have said he gazes into the skies sometimes and shakes his head. I want him to understand he is there; he is the one there. And that is a wake-up call to everybody to be careful. People should better be careful and stop parading themselves as God in this country.

How about the people? What can Nigerians do to ensure the restructuring of the polity?

Let me tell you what has happened to Nigerians. The people have been made to become lame ducks. The idea is to put them down and never allow them to raise their heads. It’s like we have been emasculated. Take, for instance, a politician constructs roads and provides waters and people gather to praise him. Why should I praise you?

That is your job. But that is the mentality here. It is this pull-down syndrome that has affected out people’s psyches. So, we need to orientate people. It is your right to have good roads, get water and quality healthcare.

The bank crisis affected many CEOs very close to the Church. How do you respond to the CBN clampdown on them?

It is something that if you handle it in isolation, it won’t work. I have said that the corruption issue in Nigeria is such that whether you like it or not, the system has put all our hands in corruption. The system in place has made it that everyone, including preachers, have been roped into corruption.

For instance, the Federal Government has banned the importation of foreign fabrics, but these fabrics still find their way into the country and we all buy. I don’t think there is any preacher that does not put on foreign clothes, which means that both those who smuggled foreign fabric into the country and those of us who buy are culpable. Should I now go naked because there is an embargo on foreign fabric?

Of course not! We buy what we see because most textiles have closed shop owing to poor power supply. Power and the environment needed for textile companies to thrive are not there, so most textile companies cannot meet up with the high cost of doing business.

So, if you look at what those bank CEOs did in isolation, you will miss the point. I am not holding brief for them but I don’t believe that they were doing those things without any support from the government.

Were we not reading in the newspapers how some of them were donating money to the government? Where were they getting the money from? Did the government ask them how they got the money? Why are we not arresting all those who owe the banks? That is why I say if you deal with it in isolation, you won’t solve the problem. If you tell a bank CEO to give you a billion, where would he get it from? And if you don’t get it your business is under threat. So, you see the entire system is in murky waters. You cannot put people’s hands inside fire and say ‘don’t cry.’ It’s impossible!

What is your reaction to the Federal Government’s amnesty package?

It’s been so far, so good but the government should move very fast. We are talking about people who have lived in the creeks for several years and they are out there with us. We’d have more problems on our hands if we don’t make sure they are adequately rehabilitated. I heard that close to N200 billion have been allocated for the development of the region.

Government should move in immediately and must not end up in private pockets. No one quarrels with success and when they see government is developing their areas, they will be happy.

Your home state, Anambra, is in political turmoil. How does that make you feel?

Bad! It is disappointing because Anambra is supposed to be one of the leading states in the country. We have produced a lot of brilliant people yet it’s a glorified village, not a state. Nothing is happening in Anambra. It is unfortunate, Anambrarians are allowing themselves to be pawns in people’s hands to play chess, rather than allowing development to take place.

The race for 2011 elections is on. How do we make it successful?

For me, if we want to have a credible election, Prof. Maurice Iwu should be removed. Everyone knows that Prof. Iwu is a disappointment from his past records. How could you conduct elections and everywhere you conducted elections, they are being overturned? He should be removed to assure people we are going to have a credible election. At least, let’s start from there, because as long as he is there, I don’t see us having a credible election.

Is it about Prof. Iwu or our faulty electoral system?
I think Prof Iwu should be  removed because even the political parties don’t have confidence in him, except the ruling PDP.

So, let’s start from removing Prof. Iwu. Ghana recently conducted a free and fair elections because the electoral commission man in that country is truly independent. But Prof. Iwu is never like that. He is appointed by the government and he is ready to serve their interests.

Nigerians are bothered about the silence of Mr. President in the face of crucial national issues. How does that make you feel?

The president might be a sincere person but the system is bad. Let me tell you that even if you put me there with this system in place, I will fail. I cannot perform even if I have good intentions. I may want to move the country, but the people around me are all hawks and there is nothing I can do.

So, you have to understand his position. From the few steps that he has taken, you will know that the man may have a sincere mind but the people around him have their own agenda on how the country can be run. I don’t see anyone critical of him now that will perform when he gets to his position.

Recently, Pew Foundation came up with its report for the year, saying that Muslims form about 50 per cent of the nation’s population. Do you agree?

It is absolutely impossible! Any report that says anything like that is either spreading rumour or is simply dishonest. Christians are more than Muslims. If I want to immodest, I will say that Christians comprising all the denominations in the country are more than 60 per cent, and I am saying that without any fear of contradiction. I am just being economical with the statistics. It just cannot be.

The impact Christianity has made in the last 10 years in this country…look at the number of conversions in virtually every church. Virtually every church is witnessing a revival and the Church is exploding …the more they are trying to put us down, the more it is exploding in every sphere. So, that report is totally unacceptable to us.

Why did the Christian community agree to pressures that the religious and ethnic clauses be removed from the last census exercise?

We didn’t agree. Because, I can tell you that I personally led a delegation to President Obasanjo to protest the removal, saying that it was not right. We told him the implication of the move. But he told us that his government was employing a satellite kind of counting that there would be no way anyone can manipulate the final figures.

He said it was going to satellite and would be able to locate every house in the country and determine every person in each of the houses. But the truth is that everyone knows that the final figures were doctored.

How can you give the figures that were given to Lagos? Everyone all over the world knows that coastlines are more populated than the hinterland. We told him these things then…let us do this thing right because it would set us back, but he said no.


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