*Divergent views have severally been canvassed by Nigerians on why the nation has virtually remained stagnant in the past 50 years. Our Correspondent, CHIDI NKWOPARA, cornered the Anglican Bishop of Okigwe South, Rt. Rev. David Onuoha, and he bared his mind about the Nigerian project. He also spoke on a number of other issues. Excerpts.
What is your view on the vexed issue of Islamic banking in Nigeria?
It is a time bomb that is about to explode. This nation is secular in nature. It is a constitutional stipulation that no religion should be adopted as a state religion. The fact remains that Christians cannot claim to be the sole owners of Nigeria. Muslims and African Traditional Religion practitioners cannot equally claim to be owners of Nigeria. If that is the case, foisting or attempting to foist the religious practices of a particular religion on this nation is a time bomb that will explode.
What really is Islamic banking?
Islamic banking by that name also means Sharia banking. There is no way this nation can still be one when it starts operating two legal systems, our Constitution and Sharia. If this happens, then Nigeria is as good as forgotten. All we are saying is that Islamic banking is not in the interest of this nation. If they are proposing a non-interest banking, that is a different thing altogether. Let the CBN come out with the defined policies of non-interest banking and make sure that it is not a religious thing. Definitely, certain percentage of the gain that will accrue from the system will go to further the cause of Islamic religion. I don’t know how the Christians can, without knowing it, contribute to the funding of a religion that is in all intents and purposes against his own faith.
What is your advice?
We call on the Federal Government to immediately intervene and stop this attempt to islamize this nation through the Sharia banking. I also want to call on the CBN governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to resign because we no longer have confidence in his ability to stem the tide of confusion that will arise. Honestly, Sanusi has derailed and he should resign.
How do you see the spate of bombings by the Boko Haram sect?
It is very unfortunate that Nigeria is witnessing what we used to hear about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. That such things are happening in Nigeria today is very unfortunate.
Does religion teach violence?
Religion is for nation building. Religion promotes values in a society. Religion is for the good of the society. Any religion that encourages violence is no religion at all and should not be allowed to continue as a religion. Honestly, government must stand up now and ensure that this ugly development does not continue. It is most unfortunate that Nigeria is witnessing such a thing in this day and age. Again, there should be the political will to put an end to this. There are people sponsoring these extremists. It is not enough to set a commission of inquiry, which will submit a report and it will end there. Government should go a step further to identify the masterminds, the sponsors and deal decisively with them. We must do everything to stop it now otherwise it will stop Nigeria. That is my view on this issue.
We recently concluded another round of elections. Where do we go from here?
Let us start this way. Our dear nation celebrated her 50th independence anniversary last year. Not too long ago, leaders were inaugurated at the state and national levels to pilot the affairs of the country for the next four years. It is only right to expect that this is the administration that will lay the foundation for the growth and development of this great nation as we begin the second 50 years, leading to our centenary celebration. The crucial issue here is whether it is going to be business as usual. In the face of abundant human and material resources with which we are richly blessed, are we still going to tempt and provoke God with all those attitudes and behaviour that hinder the realization of His blessings for us as a nation? Are we still going to sow to the winds as we did in the first 50 years of our nationhood? These are the solid issues that should occupy our attention.
What do you think is wrong with Nigeria? Is it in our stars?
Quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with the entity called Nigeria. This is a land of blessings and infinite opportunities. These have, however, remained elusive. Definitely not because we do not have good laws or intelligent people to harness our potentials for the good of all. It is the hardness of heart that has made corruption in its ramifications, pervasive, permissive and pernicious. It is the same that has dried up the milk of kindness in most people that wanton destruction of lives and property have sadly become the order of the day in this day and age.
So, where do we go from here?
I prescribe a new heart. This is what all of us need to unlock our potentials and blessings both as individuals and as a nation. A new heart is possible. My plea is that we walk and pray towards this goal. This is the key to our individual and collective survival. Let us resolve not to hold on to those old ways and practices that offend and provoke God. Let us approach both our religious and civil obligations and duties with a new heart that is sensitive and responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We must as a people march towards our own promised land, convince ourselves that this call is for our own benefit and advantage. A changed heart leads to a change of attitude, style, orientation, values and concept. It is a necessity for peace, progress and out-pouring of God’s blessings. It makes possible for one to rediscover oneself and retrace one’s steps back to God. It is only when this happens that safety, fulfill-ment, satisfaction and restoration are guaranteed. The prodigal son is a good example here. His change of heart made it possible for him to realize his misadventure, saw the danger he was in and enabled him take the right decision that restored all his rights and privileges as a son.
Let us take a quick look at the last election. What is your view on it?
First of all, I salute President Goodluck Jonathan for his courage and discipline in not meddling with the functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. We pray that he will use this opportunity to make this country a place where every Nigerian will be proud to call his or her nation. Similarly, I congratulate Prof. Attahiru Jega and INEC for a job well done. The conduct of the 2011 general election has been adjudged credible, free and fair. It is true that there were some flaws and irregularities, yet INEC tried very hard to maintain the posture of an unbiased umpire, the sordid activities of some bad eggs within the Commission notwithstanding. We call on the Federal Government to give Prof. Jega and all the committed members of his Commission the opportunity to continue in office and at least conduct the 2015 general elections. This plea is very necessary because the experience gained from the just concluded elections will be of immense benefit in our search for true democracy.
What is your take on the mad rush for wealth by public office holders?
This is a good question. This has been our problem. Our nation woke up some time last year to hear the chilling revelation that 25 per cent of Federal Govern-ment’s overhead cost is spent on the National Assembly. When you put two and two together you will realize that more or double of that percentage would go to the executive arm of government. We have all watched with disbelief, the repeated increase in the salaries and allowances of political office holders in this land, so much so that the monthly take home pay of a senator is more than a school principal’s or medical doctor’s pay in 10 years! This is not only ridiculous but also very shameful and embarrassing.
Is this why politics has become a do-or-die affair in Nigeria?
You are perfectly right. Political offices and positions are the easiest and fastest means of personal economic well-being today. This is no longer news to all of us. One wonders why this should be so in a nation where more than 80 per cent of the populace live below poverty line. We do not know if the only work the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission does is to continually increase the wages of political office holders. To have the wages of a section of the society regularly increased when other sections have to go on strike to receive attention is immoral and uncharitable.
What is the likely effect of this on the rest of us?
It sadly creates the impression that the duties of political office holders are more important than those of university lecturers, the medical doctors, school teachers, the police and a host of other public servants. This is very wrong and misleading. The perpetrators of this injustice cannot justify their act in any way.
What then do you advice?
Government will do well to merge this Commission with the National Income and Wages Commission so as to have one body regulating the wages of all those who serve this country in whatever capacity. This will make it possible for justice and fair play. Secondly, government should review the wages of political office holders downward to reflect the economic realities of the time. Government should also reduce drastically, the number of political appointees, so as to conserve funds for the improvement of the infrastructure and other programmes that will improve the lot of average Nigerians.
Let’s look at Imo State. What is your view about the recent hand over of schools to their original owners?
The immediate past administration of Chief Ikedi Ohakim made good his promise of returning schools to their original owners. These schools were confiscated by the defunct East Central State government at the end of the war in 1970. Anglican Boys Secondary School, Onicha Uboma and Girls Secondary School, Ezeoke Nsu, have been returned to the Diocese of Okigwe South. As a matter of fact, I do not know whether to rejoice or weep at this development. This is because while they took over the schools with good infrastructure and neat environments, they returned to us thick forests with more than 90 per cent of the infrastructure irredeemably dilapidated. We call on the present administration to review the whole situation and work out a modality of making these institutions conducive for human habitation and learning before perfecting the handing over process.