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Govt that can’t fund education, health, employment is a failure – Methodist Prelate

Emeritus Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Sunday Ola Makinde, shares his views with OLUWAFEMI MORGAN on the state of the nation among other issues

You once warned that a revolution was looming in Nigeria in 2013, has the present government averted the prediction?

There is a silent revolution now; in fact, Sowore didn’t hide the revolution he led. There is no country, no society, where there is insecurity, hunger, unemployment and injustice, that there will be no revolution. #EndSARS is an open revolution. The voice of prophecy is not silent in Nigeria, you know that one Imam was sacked in Abuja for saying the truth, ‘Thus says the Lord’, it’s a spiritual revolution.

But these revolutionary attempts were quashed; the #RevolutionNow was armstrung by the courts because Omoyele Sowore was restricted from travelling…

That is why I said in a society where there is no justice, there will be a revolution. Revolution doesn’t mean that you will go to the street and kill people; everybody is hungry now, and a hungry man is an angry man. There are people who have graduated in five years, six years, but they have no jobs. The way they sacked the Imam in Abuja, they can’t sack (Bishop Matthew) Kukah like that, or Father (Ejike) Mbaka, nobody can silence such people. So, the revolution will continue.

Let me tell you, we have become a nation where anything goes. Did you know I was bitter yesterday (Wednesday), I was sad when there was heavy rain with wind, I remembered that people are in the country without roofs over their heads, no clothes, no shelter. I remembered people who were going through the trains, saying, ‘Oh, the train is the best way to go’, but they were kidnapped. In Nasarawa, people are kidnapped; go to Plateau; go to Benue; injustice somewhere is injustice anywhere. I think about it and I weep. Go to our hospitals. You can’t get better treatment in our hospitals today. Most of the universities are shut; everything is in decay. Can lawmakers go on strike? No, because they are well funded. Why can’t those teachers who taught them go on strike?

Do you feel that the educational standards and civic consciousness of the citizens fell because the government took over schools from missionaries?

You know that the education our children are receiving today is education without God. Religious studies and civic studies that are being taught in schools now, when we were young, we didn’t do that. We were given thorough religious studies, both Islam and Christianity. Today, people don’t care about that. All people are clamouring for is uniform, not morality, not educational excellence. I have not heard people say ‘we want educational excellence’. What they want is a hijab. Can the hijab improve moral education; can the hijab improve the moral standards of the people? Rend your hearts, not your garment. We are chasing after shadows and we are chasing after godlessness. I understand that in one state in the North, they have removed Christian Religious Studies from our schools, we are rejecting it and a lot of the problems arose as a result of the government takeover of schools.

I was a bishop in Lagos when schools were taken over by the government. Thank God for (Bola) Tinubu who returned part of the schools to us. He said, ‘Run your schools’. Education without morality and without religious studies is like a cup of tea without sugar. Our parents didn’t take children to Dubai to have sex. Children are now beating their teachers. We are in trouble. Tell anybody that we are in trouble.

How will you rate the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), since it came to power?

Those who destroyed the PDP went to the APC, and those who have destroyed the APC are going back to the PDP. That is why I don’t believe in professional politicians; they are professional spoilers. We want people to rebuild for us now, and I am happy with what the National Assembly said that before you even come into the Assembly, you must be a graduate. I hate it when they say they are professional politicians. Abroad, there are no professional politicians. Let them go there (to the Assembly) and get only a sitting allowance. Do you know what we should do now? Take everything to God. I like God. The Christians have just concluded their 40 days of fasting and prayers and the Muslims have continued fasting, in two weeks’ time, they will be done. Let’s take the issue of Nigeria to God. We have boycotted God. The number of killings; when we were young, when a person was killed, the blood would sink quickly, but now, the blood does not sink, it flows. This is because the ground has refused to drink innocent blood.

Now, I lament. I ask myself, is this Nigeria where I was born? One mango is now N100, a loaf of bread that you can say is good bread is N1,000. In Nigeria, where I was born, look at the cost of rice? People are crying. The church will know whether Nigeria is good or not. Why? We are dealing with the people; when the economy is good, the church will know; when the economy is bad, the church will know; people don’t pay tithes again. Sunday collection is going down because the economy is going down. They (government) said the other day that our economy had risen to 15 per cent or something; I said these people are liars.

It is now a luxury to take people to Kaduna; I don’t blame people who are taking their children to Dubai. Where will you take children to in Nigeria? Look at the number of girls they have taken for more than seven, eight years. Look at Leah (Sharibu); where is Leah today? These people don’t think about the security of life and that is why God is annoyed with Nigeria, I am telling you. Although they are trying on infrastructure and so on, insecurity has overshadowed it. There is poverty in the land; one dollar is almost N600, and the pound is almost N800. When I was studying abroad, the naira was higher than the dollar. When I went to the bank with N500, I got $750; N500 today cannot even buy bread. Where are we going from here?

Some critics have said Nigerians are spiritual about matters of governance and life, and that a lot of countries that are doing well seem to be irreligious; what is your take on this?

Without God, you can do nothing. If it were not for prayers, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The more we go to God, the more we will stabilise as a country. You can say, oh what of Russia, what of Germany, the UK, have they not departed from God, do they believe in God? But they have justice and where there is justice and where there is hard work, there will be progress. We have so many moral diseases in Nigeria. Where there is corruption, no country can grow. And then they are giving clemency, forgiveness and pardon to those who are stealing billions of naira, but those who are stealing rice and goats are languishing in jail.

Has Nigeria’s reputation improved overseas under President Buhari, especially since your experience at Frankfurt?

To be sincere, it is getting better, but we still need to do more. For example, Marwa (Brig.-Gen. Buba Marwa [retd.]is doing a lot of work for the government at the NDLEA. He is very active and hardworking. When he was governor of Lagos State, he did a lot of work. He is a performer, but when it comes to Nigeria’s reputation about drugs and corruption, people don’t trust us, and when foreign businesses come here, they don’t trust us. What reputation do you (government) have? The All Progressives Congress came and said the next level; the next level is hunger, inflation, lack of employment and lack of drugs in the hospitals. Even building materials and food prices have escalated. When you go abroad, you realise that a lot of our medical doctors are now abroad. As I am talking to you, in the Makinde family, I have more than 17 unemployed graduates under my roof, 17 in my family alone, including doctors, accountants and engineers. Our reputation abroad must come from home. Charity begins from home.

People don’t trust us outside the country. If you are a businessman or a white man and you come to Nigeria, they will kidnap you or swindle you out of your money. All these ‘Yahoo Boys’ are a problem to our foreign image. Immediately, you say you are Nigerian abroad, they will look at you twice or thrice. We need a deliverer; we need a Moses to cleanse the mess, and that is why I am not interested in someone from one party or the other party. I am telling you.

What qualities should Nigerians look for in a new president in 2023?

I am looking for a president who is God-fearing, a detribalised president, a president who is not a religious bigot. I am looking for a president who is firm. I am looking for a president who has good qualifications, including First School Leaving Certificate and secondary school certificate, whose certificate is not lost or in question. I am looking for somebody who is well read and experienced, and I am looking for somebody who has not ruled by a barrel of the gun.

Elections are around the corner, how will you rate the efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission to discourage voter apathy?

INEC is doing a good job, but in a situation where people will go and attack its officials and kill them, I hate it. They are doing a good job. The only thing is that they must be independent. There is no amount of money you give to INEC, if you don’t make INEC independent, there will be no positive result. INEC must be independent before they can do an honest job. In the 1950s, we used to play a game called the Master’s Voice. For INEC, he who pays the piper calls the tune. If INEC is independent, it will do a noble job, because we have brains, efficient people who are there. The judiciary must also be independent; so that they can boldly say thus says the law without fear or favour. The three arms of government, the legislature, and the local government must also be independent.

Should the role of the church change due to the current political challenges in the country?

The role of the church has not changed. Those who fought for the independence of Nigeria were trained by the missionaries, this is historical and factual. So, the church cannot destroy Nigeria. Can a mother destroy a child? Nigeria is the mother of Christianity. Any pastor, any bishop, any minister, who is wise must just say, ‘Thus says the Lord’. They are almost crucifying Kukah because he is saying the truth. Kukah is not tribalistic about his preaching. He comes from the same place in the North as the President and he says, ‘I don’t hate him, but I hate the decision of his government’. I am telling you, I continue to tell you, the church must be prophetic, and that is why I said in 2013 that there will be a revolution and we are getting it and if you are not careful, more will come.

I am a spiritual leader and I have told you about the mind of God for our nation, prayer and change, and a better life for our people because the church is dealing with pepper sellers and locust bean sellers. The church is composed of so many people of different socio-economic classes – the middle class, the haves, and the rich – and we must cater for all of them; any minister catering for the rich alone is no minister. When people are hungry, they are angry. Nigerians are angry because they are hungry, and because they (government officials) are not governing well. There are too many killings in the land. The Lord says that His vengeance is coming upon us whether we like it or not, and those who are accumulating our money and don’t want us to know, thus says the Lord, ‘the Lord will visit them with His anger, very soon’. We must shine our eyes in the forthcoming elections.

It seems that Bishop Matthew Kukah is the only one speaking critically to power in Christendom these days, why is that so and why are the rest of the Nigerian clerics not complimenting his efforts?

You are wrong; many people are talking. Kukah is not a lone voice in the wilderness. When the military was pushing right here and there, people were talking. Now, people are talking, but we are talking to deaf people. Satan has blocked their ears. You know what they are doing to him (Kukah) – persecution here and there. There are many people like Kukah that even the press will not look at their side. Many clerics spoke during Easter. Look at that Imam, he spoke. I love him; I saw the video and then they said he was inciting. Even (Femi) Adesina, who claims to be a Christian, contributed to his persecution. We are the enemies of ourselves. The government is not ready to listen because of corruption. So, let God choose our own president for us. And let us look at individuals who can lead the nation passionately, where everybody will be happy, where we will not be enslaved. We have been enslaved, we are hungry.

The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria has asked its members to create political departments and units in their churches. Do you think the Methodist Church should do the same to increase Christian participation in politics?

We have done that before; the Catholics did it 10 years ago. Orthodox churches did it. The Redeemed Christian Church of God did not do it for a particular person. We must do it. It is what is called political education. In the Methodist Church of Nigeria, we had insisted that our people should be given political education and we have been doing it. We are telling them, ‘Have your PVC, if you don’t have your PVC, how do you vote for a good leader’. It is not religious bias. The Bible says my people are dying because of a lack of knowledge. What we are telling them is that it is your civic responsibility to vote and be voted for. Gone are the days when we say politics is a dirty game. If it is dirty, let us go there and clean it up. I like the PFN for saying that, I cannot crucify them. Other religions can set up their own political units as well.

 So the Methodist Church has a political unit from day one?

We don’t even play with political education; we give the youth, the adult and so on political education, even if that department is not there. It is our duty; it is our right because we are part of society. Look at what is happening in Imo and Anambra in recent times, killing has become rampant. Although IPOB has denied having a hand in it, the Igbo are saying they want their rights. It is not a crime to say ‘we want a separate government’, because people are suffering. If there is justice, nobody will say we want a separate government. It is injustice that leads people to say ‘we want self determination’. It was injustice in America that brought black power and look at them today, they produced the first black President. So, what we are crying for is justice. Many Nigerians are now going abroad for greener pastures, when we have all it takes to become a prosperous nation with our citizens living in abundance.

Recently, the Federal Government donated $1m to the Taliban-led Afghan government through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, what does this portend for the nation’s psyche?

That is why I said the next president we want to produce must not be a religious bigot. Look at our constitution; does it state that we are a Christian or Muslim state? It states that we are a secular state. How do we say we are a secular state and we are still pushing all sorts of agendas? We are not a member of the OIC, only Islamic countries should be members of the OIC. If you look at the political appointments, they’re always one-sided. I am sad. Why should we give $1m? That $1m can provide employment for our people; we are hungry here. At the same time, you want to extend rail from Nigeria to Niger, why? When rail has not got to other parts of Nigeria and you are extending it to another place. If you are from Niger, let us know so that we can separate those who are from Niger from those who are from Nigeria, and that is why we say, shine your eyes before you choose another president.

So, those Taliban people send support to Boko Haram and ISWAP to come and fight us, to come and kill us and you are empowering them with fat money. And then your people are suffering at home. I think the APC should think twice; I think Nigeria should think twice. I think this is where we have to spiritualise everything. Pray for God to give us a discerning leader, a leader who will know his left from right and who will know top to bottom.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities have been on strike for a while now, throwing the university system into paralysis. What is your opinion on the long-drawn agitations of these pressure groups?

I have been a senior citizen of this country for a long time and I have enjoyed the better days of Nigeria, and I know what I am enjoying now – dark days. Any country that cannot prioritise education, health, agriculture and social amenities should pack it up. ASUU and SSANU deserve the best. I had the opportunity to go to my university one day. I nearly wept because of decay. I was at the University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan, I was weeping. I compared it with what I saw in 1960, in the 1970s and even up to the 1980s, I saw decay, even water was not running. Go to the National Hospital, it is a national clinic. Go to the hospital in the Villa; the wife of Mr President even said it. Where is the money spent there? If you cannot fund education, health, social amenities and employment, you are a failure.

I support ASUU, but when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Our children are suffering. ASUU never went on strike during my own time at the university. In my own department, they earmarked money for us at the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy to go to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to have inter-collegiate games as well as departmental debates. Now, they don’t have money to do that. They don’t even take (adequate) salaries. I would have loved a situation where members of the National Assembly would not get commensurate salaries the same way ASUU and SSANU members don’t take salaries. Sometimes, members of the judiciary don’t even get commensurate salaries, but members of the National Assembly get their salaries? Who taught them? They are biting the fingers that have fed them; they should repent. Tell them, PUNCH, tell them to punch their hearts and fund education, because without education no country can grow.

You earlier commended the government on infrastructure; the country has witnessed several blackouts in recent times. Do you think Nigeria can successfully provide the electricity it needs for competitive industrialisation?

Where is the light? I was at home, they switched on the power like two times for 10 minutes in three weeks, and they are bringing bills and we are recharging our meter. No light. Any government that is not providing electricity, water and other amenities should pack it up, and should not be voted in because it amounts to repetition; they will repeat what they have done.

You see this government of Buhari, I am talking from experience. I have seen better days. I come from Ibadan. When you were eating at home, you would go outside to take water and the pressure would be pushing your cup, but we don’t have that now. Go to Abuja; I spent 10 years in Abuja as the pioneer bishop; the water from the taps would be pushing your cup. Do you have water there now? When I was in Abuja, nobody would steal your things if you put it outside. Now, they are kidnapping there now. It is a kidnappers’ den. Even in the State House, they will soon go there if they are not careful. I will be surprised if water is running in the State House. The essential commodity of life is water; there is no water. Where is the water coming from? Water Corporation?

The Federal Government seems to have accrued some debts reportedly to build infrastructure and manage the economy. What does this portend for the future of the average Nigerian citizen?

That’s glorified enslavement and our children and grandchildren will pay that debt and that will incapacitate our physical and economic development.

The campaign for restructuring seems to have been stalled by the fear of discord and disunity. How best can a new government restructure Nigeria?

Restructuring cannot divide Nigeria and cannot bring disunity. There are so many areas to look at. To be sincere, we still have few faithful remnants in both the APC and the PDP; just let us pray that God should bring them to the limelight. Restructuring has started already; Lagos and Rivers states have said they would control their VAT, they have started somewhere. Their eyes are open; you know Lagos State is a premier state and it is a mini-Nigeria, and it is well-governed.

Cocoa House was built by (Obafemi) Awolowo from the proceeds of cocoa produced by the people. What can you (government) point to in Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, in Ogoni land that you have done with their money? Let them control the oil and let part of it be sent to the centre. The centre is getting fatter and fatter, while the states and local governments are getting thinner and thinner. Let’s do it one by one; you can start with economic restructuring first. Baba Adebanjo and others in Afenifere, that was what they were clamouring for, and I support them. Let us restructure and possibly return to the parliamentary system of government.

What areas of the 1999 Constitution do you consider faulty in a federal system?

The 1999 Constitution is a military law, let people sit down and look at it. Unfortunately, people are afraid of looking at what Jonathan did, and why can’t they consider the 2014 National Conference? Everything points to leadership. We cannot move forward under that 1999 Constitution.

Do you think the N100m nomination and expression of interest fees of the ruling party will affect leadership in Nigeria come 2023?

I am telling you that they (the popular political aspirants) will find it. For the aspirants that I am seeing now, money is not their problem, but we all have to be prayerful and be selective and look at the antecedents of people. The APC didn’t look at the antecedents of their leadership then. So, we must look at the performance of people who made life abundant when they were there. If you made life abundant when you were in previous positions, they may call you a thief, but life was abundant. Let all those who are contesting the position of the president tell us what they have done in their previous offices. Were they good leaders? Were they progressives? I also don’t subscribe to consensus candidacy, I hate consensus; consensus is undemocratic.

In those days, during the time of Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Okpara, Akintola, Osadebe and Tafawa Balewa, they were giving us manifestoes. The current political parties don’t have manifestoes; they have monetised the political space. Where will young Nigerians get N100m? Some people are contributing money for them (politicians). I understand that they contributed money for someone today (Thursday). To be a president, N100m; and M50m to be a governor, and you say they will not recoup their money? And they are telling young people, #NotTooYoungtoRun, where will the young get N100m? Are they going to sell their fathers’ houses? Even if they sell their fathers’ houses, are they going to be able to raise N100m?  Which young man can come out today with N50m and say he wants to be a governor? How will he raise the money? This is the beginning of our problem.

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