Bishop Leonard Umunna, the general overseer of Ajegunle, Lagos-based Bible Life Church is a preacher of the Word, a gospel artiste, educationist and a philanthropist among others. In this interview with Sam Eyoboka, he took a look at the state of the nation and his conclusion is; until Nigeria changes the 1999 constitution to reflect the collective interest of Nigerians, the nation will continue to grope…Excerpts.
Now that ministers have received their portfolios; what are your expectations from them?
First, did President Muhammadu Buhari really pick the ministers by himself or on the basis of political compensation? APC came to power with loud propaganda with few achievements thus far. PDP started well and ended badly. APC started badly after the election and appears to have no direction. Fuel scarcity has since returned to Nigeria. Don’t forget that except a divine miracle, things don’t change from bad to good overnight. Nigerians must be prayerful. Nigerians have been so disappointed in the past that they no longer trust any government that would preach to them to be patient. What is important is that every Nigerian must contribute in one way or the other to ensure the system works. However, no one should be deceived to think that any government can solve Nigeria’s problems, because the more hope you repose in them, the more disappointing they become. Early in the life of the administration, Nigerians began to experience improvement in electricity supply, and praises were heaped on President Buhari. Long queues also vanished from the filling stations across the country, but all of a sudden the situation has gone worse. Power supply in some areas is at its worst and fuel scarcity is nearly crippling the country.
It appears the Nigerian economy is worsening and poverty is increasing? How can Nigeria check this ugly trend?
Is there truly poverty in the land? I don’t think so. Is Nigeria really poor? Today, Nigerians are being ranked in the world as wealthy people with landed property and private aircraft everywhere. The issue here is that our wealth is in the hands of few. The lifestyle and expenditure pattern of Nigerians do not agree with the claim that there is poverty in the land? Who are those named among the most powerful and influential people in the world, are they not Nigerians? Who are those listed among the richest in the world; are they not Nigerians? Those who stash away our money in Swiss Banks, etc, are they not Nigerians? Nigeria is not poor in all its ramifications. The problem is that the entire wealth is in the hands of few who do not want it to go round. We have enough to go round and take care of our sister-nations in Africa.
Is President Buhari’s deadline on Boko Haram realisable?
Deadline helps to achieve results but in the case of Boko Haram, there is no political machinery to curtain the situation. You cannot give deadline when the military is not fully equipped to fight the insurgents. Terrorism is worldwide and if Boko Haram is dismantled, other terrorist groups will emerge. But truth be told, I do not see the military ending the Boko Haram war this month. Insurgencies anywhere in the world are not defeated the way the APC government is trying to go about it.
What do you think about the body language of the President Buhari? Given what you have seen in the last seven months, does it seem to you that he is capable of delivering good?
I do not have trust in any human being, but I believe in people’s personal strength. Buhari is trying to reconcile between his military and civilian lives. He has good intentions, but he can’t do it alone. Now, his body language is not speaking again. You can see what is happening—petrol scarcity is back, complaints everywhere, constant power outages, and general poverty in the land. Again, President Buhari does not need any more time to effect the change. It is said that ‘prior proper preparation prevents poor performance’ (PPPPPP). I don’t think that Nigerian leaders are making that prior proper preparation. If Nigeria must move its economy forward, tackle corruption, get it right on education, power and infrastructure, there must be conscious efforts to make adequate and proper preparation for leadership.
Many Nigerians have expressed fears that it may take a longer period before the much-talked about change would come, going by the economic situation of the country at the moment. Do you see it the same way? What went wrong?
By APC propaganda, things would have looked up by now. I have not seen it yet. The PDP came strong with many achievers in their team; the party offered hope initially, but it ended the way we never expected. APC came with many propagandists and a few known achievers. It is said that morning tells the day. There was a wrong signal when a particular area began to be marked out for appointments while certain others were marginalised. Some people say such lopsided appointments and neglects gave rise to the agitation by some groups somewhere. Again, I told you before that Nigeria is like an airplane that successfully took off, but along the line it crashed. It has refused to take off again. Change the constitution that all Nigerians will be proud to say, ‘we the people of Nigeria do give ourselves this constitution.’ A referendum should also be conducted to get the buy-in of every part of the country. I have said again and again that the name “Nigeria” vibrates a dangerous number that has not enabled her move forward. We would be better off if we change it. In addition, appointment of leaders must be on merit and ability to deliver good service and not on where people come from. A Nigerian is a Nigerian no matter where he comes from. Some people say that our large population is causing problem for us, but we are not the only nation in the world with a large population. We are not larger than China. We must not continue to deceive ourselves with the claim that it is because of the different ethnic groupings in the country that is our problem.
Some groups in the South East have been protesting, agitating for Biafra. What do you think informed the recent campaign?
There have been agitations and complaints of marginalisation by virtually all the regions that make up the country. The Northern region said they had been marginalised and short-changed, and some people said keep quiet, what can you do? Boko Haram came, they said what can they do? Now Nigeria has been hijacked by some powerful powers, not just Boko Haram but the Al-Quaeda and ISIS. The South East is crying about open marginalisation and the Yorubas, the Isokos and in fact, every part of the country is saying the same thing. There has not been any conscious effort to address these ill-feelings. We must stop the discrimination—I am a Hausa; I am an Igbo; I am a Yoruba, an Urhobo, etc. No. A Nigerian is a Nigerian no matter where he comes from. Every Nigerian can vote and be voted for in any part of the country. But sectional leadership has eaten deep into Nigeria’s leadership system over the years, causing so much trouble.
There are obnoxious decrees that were put together as constitution by certain elements, that’s why the constitution must be changed to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people. Our leaders can conduct a referendum to seek the views of the Nigerian people. The agitators made reference to some appointments and decisions of government that tended toward marginalising certain parts. Leadership must embrace everybody. I don’t support violence, but we must abide by the federal character principle in the leadership system. Those in leadership position must not handle public matters as if they were private matters; just the same way it is not wise to wash private linens in the public. What happens to the federal character arrangement? So, when leaders neglect to follow the proper way of doing things, they receive some resistance. I think that’s what we are seeing now. The constitution recognises federal character in dealing with all the different geo-political zones of the country, but when it is not respected or when it is obvious that whenever some people want to score a clean goal, the referee would say, “No, No, no,” and changes the goal post, then it gives reasons for questions and agitations. That was what happened the other time that resulted in the civil war. War is an ill-wind that blows no one any good. And I don’t want to see war twice in my life.