PASTOR Gabriel Olatunde Olutola, the only son of an Ekiti cocoa merchant was recently elected to the be the national president of The Apostolic Church, Nigeria in addition to his post as the chairman of LAWNA Territory. At 78, He is very meticulous and does things as though he is just 55 years old. In this interview with SAM EYOBOKA and OLAYINKA LATONA in his office at Olorunda, Ketu, Lagos the soft spoken father of nine and several grand children bared his mind on several national issues including the just concluded elections and violent crisis that attended it. Excerpts…
What has been the major challenge since you assu-med duties as LAWNA chairman and national president of The Apost-olic Church, Nigeria?
I thank God for all He has been doing for us so far. But at the same time there are two major challenges. The first one is the com-pletion of our temple. We have started it long time ago and if one is not careful people will soon begin to ask unpalatable questions. I also inherited a project from my pre-decessor which is the est-ablishment of a university for this mission. These two heavy loads are upon me without money; not that the church has no money but just like Jesus Christ said; the harvest is many but the labourers are very few. But we are trusting God for the pro-vision of all that is need-ed for the two projects.
The much talked about 2011 elections have come and gone. What is your assessment on the exer-cise?
I am not a politician, but I listen to various comment-aries on radio, telervision and the newspapers incl-uding those of the inter-national bodies, I can say the just concluded election has been the best in the sense that things went on freely and smoothly in ac-cordance with our pray-ers. I will commend God because, as a man of God, I have been praying for the success and peace of God during the election and I know many others were doing the same. I believe that God did it for us as a nation because there were some individ-uals who were determined to destroy Nigeria but God nullified their plans.
I can also tell you that President Goodluck Jonathan has acted in a very reasonable way; when he talks, he talks sensibly which indicates that he is a responsible man and he deserves to be a leader. He amazed several people when he continued to tell Nigerians about the need for a free, fair and credible election even if he didn’t win. He warned that nobody should kill anybody because of him.
But there were some poli-ticians who wanted to ru-le this nation but whose campaigns were based on make or mar. How can leaders say such a thing. In theological school, we have a slogan that says; “Leaders are born and not created.” Leaders are not appointed, although we say we appoint them but the truth is that the Lord has already created them to be leaders. The-refore the body message of President Jonathan so far to Nigeria as a nation and his party shows that he is a born leader.
Despite the peaceful manner the election was conducted there were vi-olence in parts of the North. What is your reaction?
It proves the immaturity of those who said they wanted to be leaders of this country and that is why the Lord has not acc-epted them. Because it is clear that if a segment of this country fails to accept their policies as leaders they would destroy us. The crisis also portrayed their inefficiency; ineffic-ency in the sense that you have been a leader in this country, what can you point to us that as your achievement that we can remember you by. It is like such people wanted to impose themselves on us not mind-ing if they can perform or not, but God will not allow that in today’s Nigeria because this country be-longs to God. I can say it loud and clear.
As a historian, I know that Christianity entered this country in 1842. Before the emerg-ence of Christ-ianity there was nothing good we can identify apart from slavery, killing of one another in addition to the fact that we could not communicate beyond our local dialect. But to God be the glory, through Christianity we have education and from education, we have civilisation; automatically Christianity has done us well as a nation. If anybody wants to be anything from any part of the country, the first thing people will look for is his educational background. Christianity brought education to Nigeria. We can’t throw away Christianity and enjoy Nigeria. There is no government or kingdom that will go against Christianity in Nigeria that can prosper.
What should be done to the perpetrators of such evils?
As Christians we don’t judge, but if you don’t tell a wicked man that he is wicked he will be proud and say to you that he is a co-developer of the city. Therefore, government should let them know that they have done wrong. Nigeria is a civil-ised nation and we are no longer a kid nation. We have passed through 50 years of political independence; how do we continue with such barbarism? It is not good.
There are laws in the Nigeria statutes which can be used to deal with them. For some people to say we did not vote for them and therefore we should be killed is wrong and unconstitutional. And if such acts are unconstitutional, such people should be disciplined. If the government fail to discipline them, they should be expecting more mayhem in future elections.
A number of NYSC members were killed during the post-election crisis which has thrown up the debate on the continued relevance of the National Youth Service Corps scheme. What is you take?
If the government cannot discipline the perpetrators and curb the crisis in the northern part of Nigeria, there is no need to continue the NYSC sche-me. If we want it to conti-nue, each corps member should be made to serve within his state. But if the government is still see-ing Nigeria as one, then they should bring those behind the madness to book and discipline them. I am very sorry for the unfortunate incidence; may the Lord console the affected fami-lies.
The president announced a token of N5 million for each of the slain corps members. Is that enough compensa-tion?
This is not the first time such thing will happen in Nigeria but no president has ever paid compen-sation. For the president to do that is a good move. Since 1979 when late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was robbed of his election just like late Chief MKO Abiola, I had not voted in any election, until this year. I was per-suaded to vote for two people and that is the president and Governor Fashola of Lagos because they have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that they can help Niger-ians. Those are the kind of people we need in Nigeria.
What do you think will be the lasting solution to the perennial religious crises in northern Niger-ia?
There is need for peaceful co-existence. Since the amalgamation has been done in 1914, we need to live together as one. One state in the US is bigger than Nigeria and America has 50 states. If we can leave together, there will be progress.
As a member of Nigeria Interreligious Council, NIREC, some-time ago the body gave me a job on how there cn be peaceful co-existence among Muslims and Christians in the North and I raised 10 point in the paper and to the glory of God, five out of the 10 points were adopted and it was published in the communiqué. What I am driving at is that until we believe that we are co-owners of Nigeria and we learn to leave peacefully together, then things will be fine for us in this na-tion.
Nobody can claim that he or she is the owner of the nation and that is why I love the Sultan of Sokoto for what he said during the crisis of Modakeke and Ile-Ife. He said he did not think what Ooni is doing was right and he talked to him. He said nobody is a stranger in any part of Nigeria. And being a peaceful man, since his assumption of office as the Sultan of Sokoto, he had maintain-ed peace. There was a time that one of our churches was burnt in Sokoto; he instructed the local council to rebuild it for us. It shows that he is educated and knows that killing of persons and doing evils are wrong. Some people claim that they are educated, but they are not knowledge-able.
What is your agenda for Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola?
He should seek God more; seek for God’s wis-dom and direction. Fash-ola should not go beyond what he has been doing but rather put more effort.
What is your advice to the president?
He should make efforts to fulfill his campaign pro-mises to the Nigerian people. Because whether he rules for one term or not, the most important thing is that he should maintain his stand and create a name for himself.
He should know that no matter the number of ye-ars he spend on the thro-ne, he should always re-member that it is for a limited time and he is on an assignment.
I will also appeal to all political appointees to desist from stashing away the nation’s wealth in foreign banks. Instead, they should make Nigeria comfortable for the Niger-ian masses. They should put in place necessary amenities that will make the masses feel comfort-able. President Jonathan is a child of God. When peo-ple act well their parts automatically they will have rest of mind.