By Udo Ibuot
Senior Apostle John Okoriko is Overseer of the Solid Rock Church, Uyo, in Akwa Ibom State. He marked his 70th birthday recently. In this encounter, he speaks about the church, crises in the polity and the way forward. Excerpts:
THERE appears to be crisis everywhere in the country.
Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, recently complained that if care was not taken, Nigeria risked slipping into war and break-up. Are these fears justified?
Yes, well Chief Obasanjo is close to the international community. He is respected and has followership, so when he speaks, it seems as though Nigeria is speaking and majority will listen to him. It doesn’t mean that everything he says will happen exactly the way he says it, because he is not the Lord. But I don’t want to disagree entirely.
We are looking at insecurity and herdsmen attacks, and to me, spiritually the whole thing is as a result of the break-up of families. God started with the family; once the family is broken, the society is broken. That is why we have to gather my ministers, village heads, paramount rulers, great men and women of God and share with them the vision for all married people, to pray for peace in the family. All these cult boys, prostitutes, Boko Haram are all children from families. They are offshoots of conflicts in families.
Are you worried by reports that the killer herdsmen who mastermind insecurity are allegedly foreigners?
Can you blame them? You blame the country, because we don’t have strict borders; our borders are porous, so they have easy access. They can go from one country to another. We don’t have data that one can check whether you are a Fulani from Nigeria or any other country. The borders are porous but it didn’t start now.
You said the society is broken because of the breakdown of families. What is the role of the church?
Family is different from the church, and the church is an offshoot of families.
Are you saying the church is broken too?
Yes, when the families are broken the church is broken. Who constitute the church? Is it not the family? If somebody marries three wives and has girl friends; works in government and steals money, what do you think he can do morally, spiritually? Can he instill morality in the society? What good example will he leave behind?
So, the Church has failed in its responsibility of instilling morality?
Partially, even in the Bible God confirmed it when He blamed the seven churches. The churches are focusing on materialism. They forget spirituality, they forget values. So, if you look at young people they are focusing on flashy cars, how to have more in their pocket, how to dress well, but they don’t have values. How they grow up gives them a wrong picture of how life is.
Are you saying members of your church should not have these good things of life?
Well, we are neither here or there when you talk about prosperity. The kind of prosperity we propagate in this church is different. We talk about virtues. It is not bad to have palatial buildings, big cathedral, have planes and expensive cars. But there are virtues God is asking us to possess. He is not asking us to be poor. The kind of prosperity we are talking about is the prosperity that will sustain life and godliness.
You were said to be sympathetic to the governorship aspiration of Obong Nsima Ekere of APC. How would you assess him?
I never followed one particular candidate. All candidates are my people. How did you know that I followed Nsima? (laughs). Some of them invited me to their programmes and I went. There is one thing to be sympathetic to somebody it is another thing to be concerned.
Is that why Nsima Ekere didn’t show up at your 70th birthday?
Nsima Ekere is my brother, look at Mkpatenin and IkotAbasi, we are brothers. Would you want me to be negative about him? I was not disappointed that Nsima Ekere didn’t attend my birthday. The governor of this State was highly represented and I was honoured. I never cast any blame on Nsima, I never even said any negative thing about it.
How do you see Governor Udom Emmanuel
He is a good man, he wouldn’t have done all that he is doing without a certain excellent greatness in him because when you get to that level you will be buffeted by every Tom, Dick, and Harry whether you do it or not, they blame you and say bad things about you; and he still has the mind to focus on the things he is doing now. He has focus and I believe in people who have focus.
What do you foresee about the Buhari administration?
Well, I want to believe that it takes special grace to rule a country like Nigeria where three quarters of the citizens are poor, uneducated with some being miserable in every way. I can be difficult to lead close to 200 million people to which half of them being illiterates. It is easier to lead an educated, morally advanced persons, they will understand you better. But for the poor, the wretched of the society, it will be very difficult.
What’s your take on the controversial RUGA settlement issue?
The president didn’t affirm it. The issue was suspended so I can’t say anything. Unless he had said something or maybe has made it into law, then the State Houses of Assemblies and the National Assembly would have been asked to do something about it.
How would you assess Christianity in Akwa Ibom State?
We are now better in loving God, building churches and doing things for God, than when I was a little boy. There is a difference now, because many churches can come together. Denominations now come together to worship and sing the same songs, unlike before.
There are people who feel that churches should be taxed what do think
They did that some time ago, almost 25 years ago. I was interviewed and said churches should not be taxed and it was carried by many newspapers. From which parameter will the government tax the church? The church is known to law as not for profit organisation. It never declares assets and profits. So long as they have not changed the law, the church should not pay tax.
What do you think government can do to change this narrative?
I went to the governor’s office with my wife to pray with him recently, and told the governor to help do two things: To revamp the Qua Steel, and Aluminum Smelter (ALSCON) industry. The governor said the Federal Government was using political maneouvres to control these companies, and that within the limits of his power he cannot do anything. I was satisfied with what he told me. But in my spirit I know if the two industries are revamped it will change the face of Akwa Ibom State.