By Ebele Orakpo
Bishop Joshua Nissi is the co-coordinator, New Testament Life Mission with headquarters in Lagos. In this interview with Vanguard, Nissi who says he knows the history of every government that has passed through this nation, what they did and what they failed to do since 1965, speaks on various issues concerning Nigeria and the way forward. He says Nigeria’s problems are as a result of ethnicity, religion and selfishness and her ability to handle her issues will determine whether she can be relevant in the scheme of things globally. Excerpts:
Was this the Nigeria you grew up in?
While growing up, things were quite different. I was about 7-8 years old when the civil war started. I know the history of every government in this nation, what they did and what they failed to do. In terms of technology, we are better off now but we had better life then in terms of security, unity and oneness. Apart from the civil war, Nigeria was quite united. But today, we are so divided, quite unfortunate! It worsened in the past 10 years because pockets of individuals and ethnic groups as well as religious affiliations started becoming a nuisance in the system, creating a lot of unrest and making life more difficult for the citizens. Most people now talk about themselves and their tribes and not Nigeria because they feel marginalised. People are more interested in their tribesmen; we have more sectional leaders today.
We don’t have leaders in Nigeria; we only have political office holders. A leader is responsible for the success of the people and everything rises and falls with the leader so when the leaders concentrate more on their own tribes, there is a serious problem. Unfortunately, it seems Nigeria got independence prematurely and that is why we are the way we are. Under colonialism, we were like slaves and when we got freedom prematurely, we did not know how to handle it. The late Dr. Myles Munroe wrote a book on the Burden of freedom. We got freedom and it became a burden because we did not know how to handle it. When privileged slaves handle the affairs of a nation, because they never saw freedom or wealth, they kept everything for themselves and never showed interest in the people. So we need to re-educate ourselves and revisit values.
When that is done, people will know what it means to be a successful nation. Nigeria is wealthy but it is in the hands of a few so out of the about 200 million people, (we don’t know our exact population because of the way it is configured, so that an interest group can claim to be more populous than the rest). We have always had cabals in Nigeria and it’s getting worse. They grab everything, arrogate power to themselves and perpetuate themselves in power. I am glad there is more awareness now than before.
Insecurity in Nigeria requires very pragmatic approach which unfortunately, the various governments did not take head on. I believe government is not totally oblivious of the perpetrators but they may be sacred cows; some people in leadership may be part of it, so it’s a moral burden. However, if the leaders want a solution, it’s not difficult. Find out the real perpetrators and block their supplies and support, cage those who are here and pick up those who are behind it. Once these ones are taken, those on the street can only work for a while and get tired because they will no longer have support.
I am not a security expert but my little exposure in management tells me that security is more of intelligence- gathering than carrying gun and blocking roads. They have suffered us so much and we have not seen what has come out of it. What they need is information. I travelled for over 12 hours by road in the US and there was no single road block. Even through the night, you won’t see a policeman stop anybody. It shows they work.
If government is sincere, some nations have gone through what we are going through so they can borrow a leaf from them but sometimes either out of pride or other prejudices, they fail to do so. For instance, if Israel offers to help and you are pro-Middle East, you won’t want anything to do with those who can help you because of these prejudices.
With the farmers/herders clashes, serious hunger is coming because people cannot farm. Government must do something about it. I know they know what to do. Ruga, cattle colony, ranch etc. won’t work. Cattle rearing is a personal business so government should only create an enabling environment for all,whether cassava, oil palm or grains farmers or those rearing animals,and not by sponsoring any particular set of farmers. If you want cattle rearers to live in ranches (by the way, anybody can rear animals), they should open it up and not continue to perpetuate the same type of people, believing that the rest can’t do it. I know about the farming system in South Africa. We don’t hear of these clashes there. Meat is surplus in South Africa, America, Europe and Asia. How many herds of cattle do we have in Nigeria? India alone has much more than Nigeria and they don’t eat up their crops. I believe that if we have a more exposed, balanced and broad mindset, we will solve the farmer/herder problem. People are using the herders, they have not always been like this. In my state, Kogi, people no longer go to farm but if you must go, you must not go alone so that if anything happens to you, someone can report it. People are being killed daily.
I believe government should upscale the standard of education, make more funds available to the sector. People who are informed will get better. Most people become suicide bombers because they are not exposed so the perpetrators capitalise on their ignorance. You can’t make me a suicide bomber because I have people I know I am pivotal to their progress in life so why should I kill myself in one single transaction and they pay money which I don’t know how it will be spent?
We have to get the best of brains who can give us the blueprint on the way forward for the economy so that we won’t be having terrible economic depression. Of course all over the world, there are problems economically but it is the one that concerns us that matter most. You must be alive first before you can talk about global peace. Our ability to handle our own will determine whether we can be relevant in the scheme of things globally.
The religious leaders should teach people the truth. Honestly, our problems are being escalated because religious leaders are not doing the proper thing. I do my best to preach the truth. If we all preach the truth, tell people that it’s not all about getting rich; you must be interested in the general progress of people. What will you gain if you own everything and others own nothing and you are idolised as a small god in your community? Let more people live a good life, even if they don’t have surplus and be a factor that is making it happen instead of impoverishing them through embezzlement and oppression.
I believe there are pockets of people who are reserved that God wants to use for this assignment because God will not leave us without a remnant, otherwise, there will be no hope. We’ll keep enlightening our people that the collective success of the nation is better than the success of a few individuals. When you are the only very rich man in an environment, you are at risk because they see no reason why you alone should be having everything when others have nothing. That is why you buy bullet-proof car for almost N100m. Won’t you come out of the car? That’s rubbish!
If we don’t arrest the situation, life is going to be more difficult for the rich in the next few years. Kidnapping is on the rise; it’s wrong and ungodly but we created the environment for it.
Mr. A who probably didn’t have school cert becomes a member of the House of Reps, earning over N30m a month and Mr. B who was his school mate and was always leading the class, has been holding one job for ages and can’t boast of N150,000 a month, a big problem has been created. There’s no reason why these people should be overpaid and promptly too, while those who are working hard for about 35 years, can’t save N150,000 and many are owed for as long as one year. In my state, some people have not been paid for a year and some people’s salaries have been cut by 30 per cent.
If we have people who are altruistic, the nation will develop. I pray that God will raise people who are interested in the welfare of others. Buhari told us that he belonged to everybody and to no one. We thought he was altruistic but down the road, we discovered it was just to create an impression in people’s minds.
We are praying that God will gradually replace those who don’t have the interest of the nation at heart with those who will develop the nation. We must be delivered from this hostage by God’s grace so our young ones who have the interest of the nation at heart will come in. I am not advocating that only youths will lead the nation because we need some level of experience and the benefit of hindsight to be able to get things working well. Everything must be balanced.
How does the church handle security issues?
Well, we can carry it to an extreme, but I believe that God is our ultimate protector. You won’t see any security here, it looks stupid but because I have nothing to hide and have not offended anybody, I don’t go with escorts. I have no secret deals anywhere with anybody. But again, I’m not against putting up a little bit of checks. We are vigilant but more than that, we pray because even if you keep 10 policemen here, if real terrorists come, they can’t stop them. Once we are under God’s shadow, we are covered. I believe in balance; while we keep an eagle eye, we make sure we don’t overdo it because sometimes when you bring too much security around you, people know you are protecting something. Where I live, the people said we should gather money and get a police station. We did and that was when armed robbers started attacking us almost every night so some of us had to start taking other security measures, including dogs; I don’t like dogs but I have no choice. We keep praying for God to help us because dogs can’t stop real armed robbers.
When they descend on the dog, the dog is gone. We do the little we can and leave the rest to God.
So prayers and keeping an eagle eye, and also clean leadership, will do it but if the leadership is involved in shady deals, no matter the amount of security you put in place, they will catch you because they know your movements.
What’s the way forward?
One, all of us should genuinely repent from our ways. The Bible says: “If my people that are called by my name should humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, God says He will ensure He reverses all the evils and cause rain to fall upon the land and bring a refreshing. We have gone astray as a nation. These are national sins, the blood of too many innocent people has been shed. We have been praying but we have to have corporate repentance. Those at the helm of affairs will have the responsibility to speak straight to the authorities without prejudice and without fear and with wisdom, all this party politics is part of the problem. There is no system used in human governance that does not have disadvantages but what we are using presently is an attitude of winner takes it all; it should be a win-win situation. The fact that somebody didn’t win does not mean that you are now a god in the environment and doesn’t mean that you are the best so we should make sure that we harness the best of brains and hands in the system, not necessarily the political leaning but those that are not capable of harming the system should be engaged. Also the political office holders should not make election a do or die matter because that is part of our biggest problem. When you make election a do or die matter, you will get the wrong people into the place but if you allow the people to actually make their choice, we will come up with people that we can control but when someone is imposed on us, we can’t talk to him because he believes that he got there without us. So government must look at all these and be humble enough to accept.