‘My grouse against northern governors’
As the world celebrated Boxing Day, National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, played host to two Niger Delta governors, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State and his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Obong Godswill Akpabio, among others at the 8th edition of Word of Life Bible Church/Eagle Flight Micro-Finance Bank poverty reduction programme where he gave out six brand new cars, 15 tricycles and 100 grinding machines. Impressed by the gesture, the two governors and Mr. Erhuani Godbless donated the sum of N30 million to assist the next poverty alleviation programme. While Akpabio gave N250,000 each to the first four persons who won cars, Uduaghan opted to buy fuel for the six persons who won cars in a process described as a free and fair election. Before the programme that took place on Ajamimogha Road, Warri, the CAN President spoke on the essence of Christmas and some national issues. Our SAM EYOBOKA was there. Excerpts:
This is Christmas, a season of love, giving and the rest. What is the essence of the season?
The most powerful verse in the Holy Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him will not perish but have everlasting life”. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. Basically, Christmas is about giving. God gave His son to man, that’s why Jesus came. He came on a mission to rescue man from obvious destruction. Man had fallen, now God wanted to restore man. But in restoring man, He didn’t just say He wanted to rescue man, He set a precedence—He gave.
So if you are going to celebrate Christmas properly, we must put in focus the main issue about Christmas, and it’s giving. So, first of all, He gave His son so that we may be saved and know that heaven is secure. But while we are in this world, how do we genuinely celebrate what God gave? Wise men came and they also gave. So if we are wise today, what we must do is to give; give to the less privileged, give especially to those who will never be able to probably give back to you.
To me, that is the giving that touches God most. When you give to people who don’t have the capacity to give you back; it shows that you believe that, first of all, what you are doing is right, also you know that it’s only God that can reward you.
It’s very painful and pathetic for me to see what Christmas has become, but that must not stop us from celebrating. It’s sad, because it has become a commercial venture, where people sell this and that.
The worst of it is not just even the selling, it’s the killing and the maiming and destruction. People get drunk and do all kinds of crazy stuff in the name of Christmas. Yesterday, Christmas day, some people died; they didn’t die because they were sick, they died because they were stupid.
In the name of Christmas, people get drunk and have accidents that take their lives. In my own opinion, 99 per cent of people in this world, either they don’t understand what Christmas is, or they don’t want to understand what Christmas is, because when you see the way people do certain things, the extent which they go….People literally don’t go to church on Christmas day. It’s surprising to me that the person you are celebrating is the Church Himself, and yet you won’t go to Church on Christmas day, so what exactly are you celebrating?
The essence of living is to touch lives, and this is an incredible opportunity and season to do just that, and that is why we do what we do every December 26, apart from all what we do throughout the year. The painful thing sometimes is that, Nigeria does not know what we do; I still open newspapers and read where people are saying Pastor Ayo doesn’t care about anybody. I ask myself, are these people normal?
For example, two weeks ago, the Christian Association of Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, led by Rtd Gen Piko, visited me in Abuja on a solidarity visit. I didn’t even know they existed, and in the spirit of Christmas, when they shared how pathetic their situation is today in Nigeria, I wept. I had to look for two million naira to give to them to start something like a revolving loan. Some things that certain people do appear on front pages, but 99 per cent of Nigerians don’t even know what happened.
These people came from Jigawa, Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara. They are the real core northerners that we are talking about. They lamented that the Federal Government is spending huge sums establishing Almajiri schools across the North, asking what about our own children? ‘Our children can’t go to those schools. We are more marginalized than anybody else, we are seen as Fulanis, we are seen as Hausas, Kanuris, but we are not treated as such; even by our own people, just for the single reason that we are Christians’.
And I asked a question, ‘where are the civil rights groups in this country?’ Where are all these groups in Nigeria? What is their mission? Because, sometimes, when I see them go after certain issues, forgive me but sometimes I feel like these are paid events that they do.
‘Bauchi govt illegally altered LGA’
Five days ago, the Sarawa nation, an ethnic nationality from Bauchi State, in the Tafawa Balewa Bogoro local government area, also paid me a solidarity visit. They have chosen their paramount ruler, but the governor refused to give him a staff of office. Why? Because they are Christians.
The headquarters of their local government was removed. That should not be because, according to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, nobody except the National Assembly can alter local government headquarters. Bauchi State government did it. They moved it. The only girl secondary school in their area was closed down by the governor and Muslim girls were moved to other schools, but Christian girls were left to roam the streets.
People are celebrating Nelson Mandela, do they tell the full story of Mandela? They say Mandela was a man of peace, a man of forgiveness, that’s wonderful. Is that all that Mandela represented?
Mandela didn’t go to jail because he was shaking the hands of white men! Mandela went to jail for exactly the reason I’m explaining here now. Mandela was, at a point, labeled a terrorist. Mandela, at a point, refused to dialogue with these people because he said anybody who doesn’t see him as a human being, he would not sit and discuss with him. He did what I would rather not do; he took up arms.
There was division in his ANC, but his own side opted to take up arms and he did and he was arrested and jailed for treason and other things. He stayed in jail for 27 years. Why did he stay in jail? Because he was fighting for the freedom of the marginalized, persecuted, dehumanized people. Mandela would never have come out of prison if apartheid did not stop. It was because apartheid came to an end that he accepted to come out of jail, if not; he would have stayed in prison. But when he came out of prison, he forgave. Why? His forgiveness shows that what he was doing, he was not doing it because he hated the white man, but because he hated what they were doing.
When I say things like this, people say ‘oh he hates Muslims’ , no! I don’t hate Muslims, but I hate this discrimination which started long before Boko Haram.
I gave the Sarawa people N2.5 million. Bishop John Praise was there when they visited and he added N500,000 to make it N3 million that we gave to start a revolving loan scheme. You can go to the states where these people are, the governors will spend N300 million to build mosques and yet churches are destroyed, and they will not pay compensation or rebuild the church buildings or help rehabilitate lives; widows, orphans.
These governors squander huge sums of money on different things and don’t really care about these indigenous people. These are voiceless people; I have a calling to be a voice for these people who no one else will hear or even know that they exist. The first step to their liberation is recognition. This nation must recognize that these people do exist all over the North. Yes we have in the South, but its a serious issue in the North. These are people who nobody cares about. As we speak, there are people who are refugees in Cameroon and they are from Gwarzo in Borno State.
What is the governor doing? Why can’t he bring them back? Why can’t he rehabilitate them and take care of them? Just because they are Christians.
There are few who are Muslims, but about 80 per cent of them are Christians. They are in camps. I was told that there are some government officials who were even denying that they existed, and yet United Nations are doing their best, going to some of these people and trying to give them helping hands.
Yes, the Federal Government must get involved, but it is in Abuja. There is no voice, nobody is saying anything. I am doing my best to say something but they are drowning my voice! Certain persons want to divert attention by making it look like I’m wining and dining with government and that’s why I sleep in Aso Rock, that is my home.
‘Where are the govs’?
Let’s get back to the topic, this is a season of giving and I’m doing my little best. Now I’m helping Gov. Yuguda to take care of his people, I’m not a state governor. How much do I have? I’m helping Borno State governor to take care of his people.
If you know how much I’ve sent to those refugee camps. I bought grains for them about a month ago worth N1 million; two weeks ago, I gave out money to buy them things for Christmas in four different camps. There was a group that was displaced from Yobe State who are now being camped in Jos as we speak for at least two years. They had to run for their lives. They are in one abandoned hotel. Somebody appealed to me, so I’m trying to look for something to send to them for Christmas. Where is the governor of Yobe State? Does he care? Because they are Christians. So nobody will do or say anything. It’s pathetic. We are doing our best to try and touch people and change lives. This is that season.
You spend so much money every year for this empowerment program. Year in year out, you have refused to disclose how much you spend. What are you giving out this year?
Well, we are giving out six brand new cars, that people who get them will use as taxi. Yesterday, at the Christmas service, a couple came to me and gave me a gift. The young lady said she was the first lady that won a car a few years back. And here she was with her husband, coming to give me Christmas gift. What that tells you is that their lives have changed. I was so touched that tears came to my eyes. I said to myself, it’s worth it. And she kept saying ‘I was the first person that won a car’, now she’s married and their lives have changed, they are living like human beings, because, through that one car, they have been able to do other things. But, basically, they are able to have an income; things are going very well for them now. I am hoping again that six persons lives will be changed today.
Then we have 15 tricycles. Then we have about 100 grinding machines. We have people whose lives have been transformed through ordinary grinding machine. Some of those who won’t be able to get these things, I might be able to share about 100 bags of rice as well. Some people who couldn’t get anything naturally will feel a bit depressed. I can’t help everybody. We have a hundred bags here; probably we’ll share into two, two to one bag, that gives you about 200 people who will be able to share 100 bags just at least to give them some hope and joy that at least they got something out of the process. These are some of the things we are doing today.
It is obvious you are so passionate about the plight of the less privileged. In your interactions with the president of Nigeria and the governor of this state, for instance, do you try to let them know what the people are going through?
I do. I don’t speak for government but I noticed that they have tagged the federal budget of 2014 as budget of employment. I don’t know whether it’s for some of the things that some of us keep saying that has led to this, because the situation is really bad. People are hungry and are suffering. I think, apart from education, unemployment is probably a major challenge in this country today. People need to be gainfully employed.
I threw a challenge at the October 1 service held on September 28 or 29 or thereabouts at the National Christian Center with several state governors and the president were seated. I said I would like a situation where all elected and appointed office holders in Nigeria across the board, from local government to the Presidency, forfeit half of their salaries for one year, and such money should be put into a dedicated account, to be manged by credible Nigerians. The money should be used to create employment.
Do you know it didn’t appear in any newspaper the next day? I’m the only one that has been brave enough to make such a statement but nobody carried it. I wonder sometimes what the media really wants to report. Do you know that if that thing was carried, it becomes an editorial issue, and there was a lot of pressure from the press, public, everywhere, probably by now it would have materialized? Do you know how much that would amount to? It would run into billions and that could be helpful on one side that could be used to establish medium scale industries across the country that would create employment for a lot of young people.
Since no paper carried it the next day, the story ended, because it’s coming from Pastor Ayo. It’s like the press has made a pledge that anything I say or do that will benefit the ordinary people must not be carried. But when they perceive or think that this will put him in bad light, they put it on front page. I’m just giving you an example of what I did publicly, not even privately.
Would you therefore say you are disappointed by the attitude of government to the plight of the ordinary Nigerian citizens, because there’s no reason why the Delta State government, for instance, should not collaborate with you?
There is no reason they should not. But a few years ago, the governor gave us N10 million to assist in what we were doing. This was about three or four years ago. I don’t want to sound like I’m pulling people down, I want to encourage them to be able to do as much as possible, but there’s a lot they can help us to do, especially those of us who have the heart to do some of these things. I have discovered that government alone can’t do these things, they need private partnership. I think there should be a partnership between the private sector and the public sector, the government and philanthropic organizations, genuine NGOs. A lot of NGOs are fake. But I think there should be a partnership so that government can be relieved of certain things so they can concentrate on other things. And they can take credit for a lot of it too, because they can finance some of those things and it will go a long way to help the average Nigerian. So government can do more, much more than what they are doing. I’m hoping and believing that 2014 will be better, because I’ve heard a lot from government. So lets wait and see. They need to do something and they need to do it fast.
We are moving into 2014, the centenary anniversary of the nation’s amalgamation, and there has been issues concerning this amalgamation, whether we should continue as one. From your own point of view, what do you think?
I think from all what you are saying, that’s the more reason the national conference is extremely necessary. You could call it any name you want. Let me go to the extreme to say if even what is done or said is not adopted anywhere, but it will give Nigerians an opportunity to talk. We need to talk. In my own opinion, the level of impunity, pride by certain group of people, some almost feel like they own Nigeria, all kinds of things are going on. So I think that is the more reason the national conference is absolutely necessary, because, as far as I’m concerned, at the national conference, everything should be on the table, nothing should be left out. One of the things it will do, it will heal people, because they will be able to speak their minds.
Anything that is bottled in will either implode or explode. But when you are able to say it, you are relieved. In the process of saying it, you’ll really know what is on my mind and I’ll know what’s in your mind and we can agree or disagree. I think we have reached the point where just a group of people should not determine the destiny of the nation; I think Nigerians should decide what they want and how they want it. In my own opinion, it is a part of the democratic process and we must do it very quickly. I’m glad I hear that it’s going to take place in February; that, to me, is one of the legacies of Jonathan’s administration and he should make sure it is guided properly so that it takes place in a wide atmosphere for people to really speak their mind. I think it’s the right step in the right direction.
If you look at what is going on in the polity today, there is a kind of gang-up between the Muslim South- west and the North-west that is predominantly Muslims ahead of 2015. What is your concern? Do you think they are up to something?
To be honest with you, I’m very troubled. They don’t like people like us saying certain things. At the end of the day, they look at us and say ‘you are the one that is heating up the polity’, but it is strange because all we do is react to the reactions of other people. What you have just described is exactly what some of us are seeing that is very frightening. Are we aligning along religious line? Because if that is what is happening, it is very dangerous for Nigeria. Obviously, it is not all of the South-west, it is like the Muslim South-w est, the far North Muslims. It is very frightening, it shouldn’t be, and they shouldn’t pretend about this, they should come out and tell the truth because that’s what we see here. I don’t want to comment on political parties because I’m not a politician, I’m not going to that extent, but we should not do that. We should please allow Nigeria be and allow the people to decide what they want. It’s a very dangerous direction if we go that way. The body language we see is not good for this nation, and I think the media must help us to get the message across that this is very dangerous for the unity of this nation and I pray that it shouldn’t go that way so that we can come today and not try to divide this nation. I’m being very selective in my words. I wish Nigeria well. I believe that 2013 was a year of discovery, 2014 for me is a year of recovery. I see Nigeria being able to recover. We have an incredible opportunity to recover and I hope and pray and believe God for recovery.