By Chidi Nwokpara
If there is any cleric who is visibly disturbed by the happenings in Igboland and Nigeria today, it is the Anglican Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province and Bishop of Okigwe South Diocese, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. David O. C. Onuoha.
Onuoha was cornered on the sidelines of the Second Session of the Tenth Synod by Sunday Vanguard at St. Cyprian’s Church, Umuihi, Etiti Parish, Ihitte Uboma local government area of Imo State, and he spoke on issues including the growing level of corruption, insecurity and sagging fortunes of the education sector. Excerpts:
Indeed, corruption is walking on all fours in our nation. I don’t know how else to succinctly put our sad experience better. We don’t need to go far to get instances of corruption in the land. Corruption is palpable in our land. It is now a common refrain that our country, Nigeria, which is richly endowed with enormous resources, both human and material, is, today, holding the inglorious record of being the poverty capital of the world! It is certain that corruption is one factor that has compounded the problem of poverty and its attendant effects on our society.
What is even very disturbing is that people no longer have a prick of conscience in stockpiling our commonwealth for themselves and their families alone, while greater percentage of the population die daily of hunger and poverty. This class of people has obviously forgotten that it was God who placed them in positions to fear Him and keep His commandments and diligently serve the citizenry. They must have forgotten the judgment aspect of God-given opportunities and privileges in life. We regret the fact that corruption has risen to an unprecedented height in this country, in the last seven years. If the news making the rounds recently of two public officers stealing a whopping N120 billion and above is true, then Nigeria does not need to borrow to pay its foreign loans and revive the economy. Nigeria’s wealth in the hands of about 50 public officers can bail us out of our foreign and local indebtedness and fund our public universities adequately. We encourage Mr. President to use the remaining days of his administration to look closely at those working with and for him, and take necessary steps to recover our commonwealth, heartlessly stolen by them. He would have written his name in gold if he does this for us before leaving office.
On problems with tertiary education
If there is anything an undergraduate in any public university in Nigeria is sure of today, it is that he/she will not graduate on schedule, no thanks to incessant strike actions that presently define the university system in Nigeria. It is on record that since 2020, students have been at home more than they have been in school. The inability or unwillingness of government and the university staff to find a lasting solution to the unstable academic calendar and improved condition of teaching and learning in our public universities is not only inimical to the future of our youths, but may also be part of the reasons for the worsening insecurity in our land.
On way out
Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, should ensure that the ongoing negotiation to resolve the present strike is holistic and far reaching. A hard and critical look must be given to government policy of free tuition fees in Nigerian universities as this policy is as unrealistic as it is unsustainable, given the prevailing global economic realities. The number of Nigerian students that fled Ukraine due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, as well as those studying in various universities all over the world and in private universities locally, confirms the fact that Nigerians are ready and willing to invest in the education of their children. Rather than reducing the quality and standards and making the system dysfunctional due to poor funding, efforts should be made to introduce schemes like loans, grants and scholarships that will enable brilliant students, whose parents cannot afford the fees for university education in Nigeria, to realize their lofty dream. Every effort should be geared towards ensuring that this national debacle is resolved and students go back to school before the next general elections. The consequences of millions of undergraduates roaming the streets with suppressed anger and frustration, while the nation heads to the polls, are better imagined than experienced. It is in the interest of all of us that this matter is satisfactorily resolved before we think of going into elections.
On schools in Imo
We decry the state of public schools in rural communities in Imo State especially those in the political unit called Okigwe South federal constituency. The level of decay of facilities as well as the near absence of teaching and learning in these schools, especially the primary section, is intolerable, unjustifiable, inexcusable, regrettable and unacceptable. When one remembers that these schools were once the pride of the various communities that have them, as well as the hope for a guaranteed future for both the pupils and the entire society, one cannot but nurse a sense of pain, regret and loss, as to why successive administrations in Imo have sustained this criminal negligence of the most critical sector of human society.
On numerous unfulfilled promises
Unfulfilled promises are many and varied. The energy crisis and survival of Nigeria readily comes to my mind here. We are all living witnesses to the frustrating energy crisis we all face in this country. That no appreciable improvement has been recorded in this sector despite billions of dollars expended in the much talked about reforms in the power sector, as well as the turnaround maintenance and the building of modular refineries in the oil sector, remains very disturbing. Just a few weeks ago, we witnessed a very horrific sight of the roasting of over 100 people in Ohaji/Egbema local government area of Imo State in an inferno that resulted from illegal refining activities. Those innocent lives would not have indulged in this deadly business if the refineries were working and products available. Just before that unfortunate incident, the nation woke up to see adulterated petroleum products flood our filling stations. Until now, no one, at the last check, has been held accountable or even requested to offer convincing explanation to citizens. We regret the monumental corruption that has held down every effort at fixing the energy sector in Nigeria and the lack of political will to deal with it despite repeated promises. While we regret the monumental degradation of the environment occasioned by these illegal activities, we, however, insist that the solution to thr energy crisis in Nigeria is not in clamping down on the impoverished masses who are trying to survive these extremely and excessively difficult times we are in.
It will be beneficial for government to bring these people together and channel their skills aright towards modular refineries that will make petroleum products readily available.
Will that be all?
Well, beyond the foregoing, efforts should be made to halt the high level of stealing and selling of Nigerian crude in the international market by highly placed fraudsters. There is no sense in spending humongous amount of money laying pipes to evacuate oil and gas from where they are produced to far away cities when the host communities are degraded and other Nigerians are denied the benefit of availability of the products.
We will continue to question the rationale for ‘donating’ our common patrimony, oil wells, to the people who have neither the capacity nor expertise to refine oil.
On fighting and killing for God
My heart bleeds because this is becoming a norm in Nigeria. The recent brutal murder of Deborah Yakubu in Sokoto was the latest in the series of such deaths masterminded by religious bigots, apparently trying to defend their god and religion. It is very clear that fighting for God is a clear way of telling the world that your god is weak, feeble, impotent and handicapped to defend himself.
It follows, therefore, that anyone fighting or killing for God is naive, because the Almighty that we know is most powerful and does not need the help of man to fight His battle.
Enough of this recklessness. Enough of this celebration of ignorance about God. Enough of these fighting and killings for and in the name of God. It destroys our humanity and our corporate image before the civilized world. Let us use religion to promote unity, cohesion and true love instead of using it to cause mayhem, unrest and pain. Whether the perpetrators will listen to wise counsel, however, remains any person’s guess.
On the fate of Ndigbo in Nigeria
We have been watching with keen interest the unfolding events in Nigeria as the race to the 2023 general elections heats up. We observe with disbelief how the dominant political parties are jettisoning zoning because of the possibility of that leading to the emergence of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. Igboland is boiling because the injustice against this part of the country has led to very fierce agitation for self-determination. The state of affairs in the South-East, today, was exactly what it was in 1998 when all the major political parties in the land picked their presidential flag bearers from the South-West. Leaders across the nation met and decided on that as a way of preserving the unity of the nation. Today, those same leaders, apart from Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Edwin Clark and a few others, have suddenly gone dumb, with some of them pushing for the abrogation of the zoning formula because it is likely to favour the South-East. Similarly, the call to apply a political solution that will see the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu from prison as a way of reducing tension in the land has always met a brick wall. Not even the repeated plea by the only surviving Minister of the First Republic, a nonagenarian, could make any difference. Sometime ago, a cartoon in faraway Denmark sparked off a crisis that led to the senseless destruction of precious lives and property of Ndigbo in the northern part of this country! Till today, was anybody arrested and prosecuted for this crime? Again, just recently, the alleged blasphemy of Miss Deborah Yakubu, a native of Niger State, took a heavy toll on Ndigbo living in Sokoto. Obviously, the call for restructuring would long have been heeded to if it would single the Igbo nation out for extermination. We pour scorn on those politicians from both the South-South and South-West (Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, VP Yemi Osinbajo, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, Governor Ben Ayade, Governor Udom Emmanuel, Senator Godswill Akpabio) who threw their hats in the ring against the South-East in this contest. We strongly question their sense of justice, equity and fairness as they aspired for the exalted position or office the President of the Federal Government of Nigeria at this particular time, knowing quite well that, of the three zones of southern Nigeria, it is only the South-East that has not had the privilege of producing somebody for this exalted office.
Those so-called pastors among them are an embarrassment to the faith. Their decision to attempt changing the rules at the middle of the game has given them out as rapaciously greedy and over-ambitious and have, by that very fact, betrayed the stark ignorance of the ethical standards of the Christian faith.
Lesson for Ndigbo
What this whole development teaches us is that Ndigbo should be wiser and more sensible. With God on our side, we will surely survive, with or without any of our sons and daughters making it as President of Nigeria, come 2023. However, we must be very careful not to destroy ourselves with our own hands. We should continuously remember our slogan during the Nigeria/Biafra war: “Onye ndiro gbara gburugburu, n’eche ndu ya nche mbge nile. Umu Igbo, onye arahu kwala ura” (any person surrounded by enemies remains eternally vigilant. Ndigbo, remain on your guard always).
And to this, I add: “Onye si agbara egbula ya, mmadu egbula ya, ya ejikwala aka ya egbu onwe ya” (any person who prays not to be killed by the spirits and fellow men should also resist the temptation of killing himself).
On the gory spectacles in the land
The killings that go on everyday and the unprecedented savagery that attend these killings keep one wondering whether people still believe that there is God. It is not within the prospect of belief that a sensible human being can severe the head of another and proudly displays it with every sense of accomplishment, yet it is happening before our own eyes. Have we not seen video clips of human beings freely dismembered by others without any twig of compulsion? That a lady can be raped and her body sold in parts is absolutely sickening to contemplate. The get-rich-quick syndrome has lured many young men into acts that are unnatural and ungodly. The spate of kidnapping for ransom is on the increase as the act has become a very well organized and a highly flourishing business. It is now a sin of sorts to build a decent house or buy a car, after many years of honest toiling and labour, because that is now an open invitation to those who like to fish from the boat instead of the river. I often wonder how these people think, reason or sleep. Our society appears inured and helpless at this unfortunate new normal as these killings, kidnappings and decapitations no longer make news to most people.
Hands point to youngsters in all these
It is sadly so. When one remembers that those engaged in these satanic business are young men and women, whom God has endowed with strength, energy, good health and life, when no one remembers that these ones appear not to know that God is the source of the strength and energy they are using negatively, when one remembers that they appear oblivious of why they are on earth, one is filled with pity, sorrow and pain. It is common these days to see someone endowed by God with very high intelligent quotient and skill in Information Communication Technology misapplying this talent into cybercrime, pornography and other tools that dishonour God and compound the problem of creation. This is saddening.
On increasing tales of rape and hard drugs
Even toddlers are victims of rape. Deranged fathers also defile their daughters. Sordid tales trail these happenings. When a lady is raped and her body sold in parts or left to decompose, or if she is lucky to survive it, live with a sad memory of that experience all her life, how do you think God will feel? When all the hopes and aspirations on her by family and friends are completely extinguished within a twinkle of an eye, are you sure that the one who is of purer eyes than to behold the iniquity, will pay deaf ears to their cries and groaning? When you import dangerous and harmful substances against regulations, and expose the lives of our young ones to danger, do you think that using the proceeds from that to live big, set up foundation for charity and promote evangelism, even to the point of building places of worship, will save you? These things are not good for our society.
On the looming 2023 general elections are approaching
Stories filtering in from party primaries are anything but good. They are smiling home with huge sums of money and, in the process, denied the nation of quality human beings that would have probably served the citizens profitably. Shall we ever learn from our past mistakes? It is election time and children of notable politicians are in safe havens while the impoverished youths are being recruited for odd jobs. My brothers and sisters, where is God in your plan to arm these innocent ones with gun, hot drinks and dangerous substances to fight, kill and be killed for you? It is not only in the barbaric acts of wasting human lives that we see people behave as if they do not know that God exists. The level of excruciating hunger and suffering in the land seems unprecedented in the history of this nation.