*but he should not favour any religion
By Wale Akinola
President, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Southwest Zone, Archbishop Magnus Atilade, in this interview, explains why President Muhammadu Buhari should not be seen to be favouring a religion in his administration of the country.
Atilade, who is also the President, Gospel Baptist Conference of Nigeria and Overseas, also speaks on other national issues, including Nigeria at 56, the war against corruption and the calls for restructuring, among other issues.
How do you assess the journey so far under President Muhammadu Buhari?
So far so good, we thank God that we are still on track. And we thank God that Nigeria is still one nation.
However while Buhari’s government has been at work recording some progress in the past one and a half years, one must not fail to point out that we are yet to have the desired change. Although some may argue that change is a gradual process, the millions of Nigerians that have been expectant before Buhari got there are still longing for the desired change.
For the common man and people at the grassroots who readily constitute the largest percentage of the population, many of them are still groaning, yearning for dividends of democracy.
If the truth must be told, even though government is trying especially on the war against corruption, Buhari and his advisers should also shift their attention to other areas requiring urgent attention.
The President should look into the problems of hunger and poverty. Millions of Nigerians are complaining of hard times. These are the people who voted him into office, so the President can’t afford to ignore them.
Buhari and his advisers should look at how to formulate policies that will ensure that we have food in abundance, and that will also ensure that jobs are created for millions of unemployed youths.
Buhari came on the platform of effecting change, so he owes Nigerians that obligation to bring about changes that will put smiles on their faces.
In view of your comments, do you think the recent outburst of the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, deserves attention by the President?
God bless the First Lady, Aisha Buhari. It is God that spoke through her the minds of millions of Nigeria. She is a woman that doesn’t want her husband to fail, and that was why she was able to display that rare courage to speak out.
If I were Buhari, I will not trivialize what Aisha said. I will not gloss over issues she raised. Rather, I will take steps to be sober and reflective. Aisha obviously knew what she was saying. She is the President’s wife and very close to him.
Buhari should know that as an elected leader, he is under a social contract to fulfill his electoral promises to Nigerians.
Buhari should be reflective and, after a thorough self-examination and examination of those closely surrounding him, he should carry out a purge. He should purge the so-called cabal. He should only recruit and get the best hands to work with him to make him succeed. What Buhari should remember is that the buck stops at his table.
But with the war being waged against corruption …
I know that the war against corruption is good, but that should not occupy 90 percent of Buhari’s time. There are other areas yearning for his attention.
I was one of those clerics that formed a group called “Pastors For Change” in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
Our group openly canvassed for Buhari’s emergence even though he, a Muslim candidate, was contesting against a sitting Christian President.
When we clerics in that group were supporting Buhari’s emergence, our support for him was borne out of patriotism and not out of any other sentiments. We believe that he has the credentials to deliver the goods. Up till now we still believe in him, and that’s why we are advising him on how to succeed.
Now we are facing economic recession, and things are generally tough for Nigerians. It is not that millions of Nigerians don’t know that Buhari is fighting corruption, they know and they support him, but then they are also hungry and that’s why they are lamenting that this is not the change they were expecting from Buhari. But I’m very sure that if many Nigerians have food on their table, are gainfully employed and can meet the obligations required by their basic needs, they will be very happy and there won’t be these complaints.
I’m however using this medium to appeal to Nigerians to exercise patience with Buhari’s administration. With time and understanding from Nigerians, I believe that Buhari’s administration will make a difference.
What is your take on the calls for restructuring?
It is sad and very unfortunate. The way some people including respectable elders have been interpreting the calls for restructuring. To this set of people, the calls for restructuring are an indirect call for break-up of Nigeria. But this is nothing but peddling of falsehood.
Today, Nigeria is in a dire economic problem. Effects of recession is biting hard on everybody. 27 state governments can’t pay salaries, and the future looks gloomy. Must we continue like this? Absolutely NO. We must look for urgent solutions. One of the solutions is through restructuring, we must embark on fiscal restructuring. This is a situation whereby component units that make up the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be encouraged to explore and exploit resources in their various domains for revenue purpose – they will now pay tax to the Federal Government.
There is no region or geo-political zone that is not blessed with one natural resource or the other. So I don’t know why some people are afraid of fiscal restructuring?
This was even the way it was during the First Republic. That was the era of cocoa production in the Southwest, groundnut pyramid in the North and palm oil in the East. You also have coal, cotton and rubber being cultivated and exported for revenue.
The genesis of Nigeria’s problem was when we neglected this practice and became solely dependent on crude oil. Now that the price of crude oil has crashed, that is why we are having this problem. It is either we do the needful now or we will continue to suffer.
The military intervention of 1966 also disrupted everything. It corrupted true federalism that we were practising as the military introduced unitary system of government.
As a Christian leader, what is your reaction to the Federal Government’s response to the killing of some Christians in some parts of the North recently? Some people claimed government’s reaction should have been more decisive?
My appeal to President Buhari is that he should be careful on issues relating to religion. There are some Nigerians who already viewed him as a religious bigot. Buhari should not play into the hands of those who have such views. He should realize that as the nation’s leader he should not show bias for any religion or give preference to one over another.
Nigeria is a secular nation, and that secularity should be respected. Even under the Constitution, anybody that commits murder deserves to be punished. Anybody that takes others lives should not be spared. Culprits or suspects should be arrested and put on trial. Every Nigerian irrespective of ethnic origin, and religious background should be treated equally. There should be no first class or second class citizens. Every Nigerian should be treated equally.