The Guardian Interview: Okogie On 2015: Don't Run, Jonathan, Don't…
The Archbishop emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, has advised President Goodluck Jonathan to jettison the idea (if any) of running for a second term in office in 2015.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Okogie said 'the handwriting on the wall,' does not favour it, even as the election date is two years away.
Making direct reference to the alleged 'third-term bid' of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Archbishop, who decried flattery and sycophancy 'in high places,' stressed the need to keep political agreement, if any.
According to Okogie, by 20015, the incumbent President would have served the country in that capacity for, at least, six years, the number of service years, which, he said, is enough for modest contribution to national development.
'If I were Jonathan, I will not try it (running for a second term), because the writing on the wall does not favour it. We have not even got to 2015, (yet) there is so much sycophancy and flattery. It is like telling Okogie now to go into politics: 'come, you are the kind of person we want;' you think I'm stupid?'
He continued: 'Jonathan will be there for almost six years; there was a time, he was Vice, and now President for four years. What is he looking for again? It is just like comparing it with Obasanjo; what was Obasanjo looking for in third term?
'You know what happened then. Apart from the story that Jonathan made an agreement that he would do just one term, if it is true, do you think those who were there when he said 'just one term' are stupid.'
The Bishop Emeritus also expressed dissatisfaction with the manner the Nigerian elite go about the business of politics, describing it in the words of late musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, as 'chop I chop.' He also condemned corruption and the killings in Nigeria.
'And why are so many people running into politics? 2015 is two years away; see how they are killing themselves. Who even knows who will get to 2015? What do you think they are looking for, money? Nothing else. They are not patriotic; they are not. All our political leaders, how many of them can beat their chests to say they are patriotic. It is just gimmick and pancake that they are doing.'
Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, 77 is a Catholic Priest and social crusader. He was ordained a Priest in 1966, at the age of 30; five years after in 1971, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Oyo. After serving in that office for two years, he was promoted the Archbishop of Lagos in 1973 and got elevated to the office of Cardinal in 2003. As a Priest, Okogie did not only lead his sheep along the path of righteousness, he also stood for less privileged persons and spoke ceaselessly on their behalf. He was quick to join issues with governments whose actions and decisions do not favour the people. Now in retirement, he spoke to GBENGA SALAU on a range of issues concerning the country and his faith.
SOME people have argued that Nigeria has not achieved much in spite of her resources, because religious leaders tend to romance the political class, instead of calling them to order when the need arises; do you agree?
I will not agree with you that it is only the religious leaders that are romancing with the political leaders; I do not think it is true. It is the society as a whole, and people like to romance where the pasture is green. But unfortunately, religious leaders happen to be among them and they are members of the society, so we cannot exclude ourselves. It is a pity that a good number of those who call themselves religious leaders today are not religious leaders; they only became religious leaders because they want to feed their tummy and because the Bible and the Koran is available for everybody. And they feel they can take it up, read and interpret it to suit themselves; but no way. And this is why they are not keeping to their calling
Unfortunately also, all these people who form churches get approval from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). When we were there in Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), we told them, they have no right to approve any church because the church is something spiritual, even the Lord Jesus Christ said that you should give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
Churches belong to the spiritual spheres. For example, any religious leader that dabble into politics, I do not say that politics is bad because it is part and parcel of us, but the problem is that when they go into politics, they forget that is not there field. For CAC, we tried to tell them that they have no right to license the formation of a church. Already, we have about two or three associations that cater to religious groups, so these large groups, when somebody comes up to say he wants to form a church, why not send him to these groups, let them screen him, whether he is genuine or not. Not CAC, which is for business, that is why most of these people, when they are licensed they go into business and they say they are preaching the gospel and show you the certificate from CAC to back up their work. Who is at fault? It is not our fault and this was what we were fighting for when CAN began. This is it.
Because of the love of money and materialism, things began to take another different shape. The religious leaders began to say, 'why can't I do this or that, after all, I am a human being, God says this, God said that;' who ever heard from God. It is the conscience that dictates all these things. And if you read the Bible properly, you cannot serve God and mammon together, it is not possible. This is why these people mislead their followers and are always after money. For instance, what does a religious leader have to do with a jet plane or many wives? The Bible says we are in the world but not of the world. So they want to be in both, they cannot.
Therefore, how can we attain development when those who are supposed to knock you on the head when you go wrong, are not there? This is the problem and this is what we have at the moment and how many religious leaders can you point to that are straightforward and godly? There are lay people today who are far better than religious leaders, but they also keep their mouths shut. But I also wonder, why can't they talk too because they are part of the society. So that is why I said it is not only religious leaders. It is just greed and a lot of religious leaders have lost their calling and they have nowhere to go; that is why they are pushing on. Some are even going into politics. I often see commissioner so, so, so with Reverend title before his name, what is he looking for there. Are we saying we cannot sanitise these places from outside, because good example teaches best? So what are you looking for inside? Once you are there, gradually with time, you will want to play along. This is the problem.
But has the church provided good example?
This is because the religious leaders are not providing the example. Some parents for instance, what examples are they giving to their children. In some cases, you have these our youths controlling their parents. The children are saying they cannot do things because their parents belong to the old school, but what happened to the law of God that says, 'honour your father and your mother.' And somebody should have knocked that child's head and say, 'listen my friend. This is not right, I am your father or mother, God gave you to me; therefore, you are not to tell me what I am to do.' But since the parents are not showing good examples, just like many of the religious leaders, this is why we are having this crisis.
When I was in CAN, as president and T. O William, he is dead now, may his soul rest in peace, as my secretary, who is going to touch CAN or any Christian, in any part of the country, we would shout. But the moment we left the place, things changed because of love of money. They want to be like the joneses, but that is not what they are called for. Where I am living now is a rented abode after serving the Church for so many years. Of course, they have started preparing a place for me. This is a rented apartment; it does not belong to the Church. You must try to practice what you preach, that is it. But a good number of religious leaders do not believe in that. They rather believe that they must have their own heaven here, before going up to the heaven built by God; that is there belief. It is wrong? What kind of gospel, preaching and examples are they giving to the lay people when religious leaders have about three or four houses? What ordinary members are doing, they want to do better. And yet they stand on the pulpit to tell you about God and things that they do not believe in; they want you to believe it?
Corruption is setting the country back; how could religious leaders help check corruption, since many of those accused of corrupt practices belong to one religious group or the other?
It is quite true and corruption has been there, but not as strong as it is now. It is now a cankerworm. The only good Lord can help us out of it. But if we want to fight corruption, we should start from the top. The man at the top is thinking when I leave office, what happens to me and he wants to build an empire for himself. How did he get it?
The love for one's neighbour is gone. You see a lot of people showing their white teeth, but you do not know what is inside. And this is what is happening in our nation today. People smile, but is it genuinee? They are your friends because they want to get something from you. The moment they cannot get it, they malign you. They would say, do not mind Okogie; that is how he talks. Things they do not see they talk about him.
And why are so many people running into politics? 2015 is two years away; see how they are killing themselves. Who even knows who will get to 2015? What do you think they are looking for, money? Nothing else. They are not patriotic; they are not. All our political leaders, how many of them can beat their chests to say they are patriotic. It is just gimmick and pancake that they are doing.
They often say the youths are the future leaders of tomorrow; it is not true, because where are the plans they have for the youths; how many of them are truly educating the youths or giving scholarships? Look at the ongoing ASUU strike, then consider the amount of money the senators, presidents and governors collect, compared to what others are getting in Europe. And look at our schools, the citadel of learning, where the youths are supposed to be trained for the future of the country, that they claim is for youths. Why are they not sending their own children to those kinds of schools? And those who do not have enough money to take their children to Europe take them to Ghana and even Benin Republic. This is the problem we all have. And this is why corruption is there.
How many people are really serious to set the country right, how many? There is a lot of money to go round every member of the country, but just a handful of people are the ones eating it and they do not want it to go round. What kind of nation is this? It is painful, I am sorry I am shouting. Things are not like this before and we are allowing it to go worse and decay.
I cannot help my neighbour any more, because of, what will he give in return. In those days, when we were young, things were far better. People fought for this independence, look at the genuine politicians that we have then, they were all patriotic. Though it is not hundred percent, I can give them sixty percent and that put us in limelight. In those days, you could buy goods from abroad without sending money; just a letter and they will send it to you, after which, you send the money. Can that be done today, who born them? They do not even trust your green card and they say we have passport. I do not know where we are going.
Therefore, let them begin by trimming down the salaries of all those senators and other political office holders, cut them to basics. Then the nation will know that these people are serious and you will see how many people will go into politics, because it is the money they are after. Why are they afraid of organising a national conference, if they are truly serious, let everybody sit down to say, this is the way. There are so many committees and commissions that were formed, asked them where are the files? They are afraid of implementation. They just put the thing somewhere. At the submission of the committee report, they commend the members of the committee for doing a good job and promise to look at the issues, but nothing is done. So my brother, I think we have to be careful in this nation. But I know one day the messiah will come.
You said the messiah would come, that to unperturbed citizens?
Do you believe in the saying that only God can right the rough times? I never once in my life ever thought I would be where I am today. I was as timid as anything in my youth, but look at me today. I have to put myself where God wants me to be, I do not have to raise myself above his words. And that is not supposed to be; but this is what is happening in Nigeria. Look at all the houses, you see people struggling to build in Lekki, even around here, (Ikoyi). Yet many of the houses are empty. Is it bad economy? And do you think God is at sleep? He knows what he is doing.
Awolowo, Azikwe and Sardauna, when they left, everyone thought that was the end of Nigeria and now, look at this set of people that are governing us. This set will soon go. Unknown to them, where are the politicians of yester years; some of them that were clamouring and carrying briefcases looking for money? Also, where are those soldiers who laid down their lives, some of them are still alive. And some of them are even cursing the day they were born for fighting to defend Nigeria, because Nigeria does not care any more for them. Whenever I think of those boys, I feel like shedding tears, it is too bad. What kind of nation is this? The idea of God they do not want to hear, anything spiritual, no, they are not interested. And even the spiritual want to be like the lay people because of money, they damn the consequence. And I tell you; our heavenly father is watching each and every one of us. He has the last say and knows how He deals with people. You hear former so, so is sick in America, India or Europe, I always say, may God forgive us all. I also say, may God give them quick recovery.
Don't you think the system is contributing to the urge to be corrupt, because when people are unsure of their future, like you said, they become desperate?
Yes, that is it; you got it right. Look at the pensioners, many died because they were asked to bring their papers. They often create all those obstacles because they have stolen the money. I do not know, what is wrong with this nation. As if somebody who eats other people's money will not die. Open your eyes; you will see the way God is dealing with us. The money you think you are hiding for the future, you end up spending it on your child that is not making it or somebody in the family who is ill. Or the house you are trying to build falls or government comes to pull it down, saying this is residential not for commercial. This is because we are not giving what is Caesar's to Caesar and what is God's to God. Many of them are not charitable, which is not good.
The missionaries provided affordable education in those days, but now we have schools owned by religious groups that are very expensive, out of reach of members. Where is the charity of the Church?
Why should it be the charity of the Church, why not of government? Education is a tripartite thing; it is not just the Church that must provide it. It is government, church and the people.
During the time of the missionaries, when they came they saw that we were backward and one of the quickest means of preaching the gospel was by providing social amenities, which we lacked. So they started begging their own people to give them money to build schools and they also gave scholarship. And schools were cheap as anything. They started with making it free, but after sometime, they introduced some minimal fees and gradually it went up because they had to pay teachers. Even at that time, it was subsidised by government, because government realised that it was their own duty also to support the missions, because they were training their citizens. So they cannot leave it to the missionaries alone.
Yes, they built schools, but who destroyed the schools and the process, Nigerian government. Since 1967, when I came back to Nigeria, I was in charge of schools and until I retired, I was still looking after schools and I know what I saw. There was a time schools in Nigeria what nothing but shambles. The blood and sweat of the missionaries were destroyed overnight when government took over the schools.
And now, we have put in a lot of struggles to get our schools back. The whole process started with Gen. Buba Marwa Rtd, with the Parcelli School, he listened to me and he said that we should watch if he returned the school whether the people will raise any issue. Thereafter, he went to Parcelli School one day and asked the headmistress some questions on the history of the school, the headmistress could not answer, but the Reverend Sister provided the answers. Immediately, he asked the headmistress to go back to the ministry and the Sister should take over the school. And it took Lagos State government one and half years before the policy was gazetted. When Tinubu took over, he did something and returned some schools. Though he promised to be paying some allowance, he only did it for one year, after which he said that if we cannot run the schools, we should bring them to him. But by that time, many of the schools were going through renovation by the new owners and we could not go back.
Education today, if you have not got money, you cannot educate anybody. Some of the politicians take their wards to Benin Republic, because they now see that education is nothing but a sham in Nigeria and the few providing quality education are by private individuals and missions, but it cost money. They must pay these teachers to give their best; they must keep the structures. It is not run because of money, it is for the improvement of the nation.
So to run an institution today is not easy. And the government that should help to subsidise education is not ready, they say the money is not there, but look at their salaries. That is why I said, to eradicate corruption in Nigeria, they should begin from those people. They said they form committees, each member of the committee, you do not know how much they get. That is not their salary. Look at the projects by first ladies, it is because they are in money and have money to play with. But as soon as they are out of office, the projects are over. But if that money were spent on education, it would go a long way. We are not talking about the disables in the society, those are even worse hit; they are suffering. And those that are trying to run some schools, they will claim it is not good; where is their own that is good?
I remember when I was still in office, one lady came to one of our schools and was condemning things, then she wrote a report and I went to her office and I said, madam look at this photograph, look at the name of the school, approved is written on it. I said follow me, lets go to the school, you condemned my school, go and look at this one. The school is still running and my school was hundred percent better. And I told her to rewrite the report or I take it to the press, so that they could compare. It is easy to say you are not good, who is the model? So if you can only try to praise those who are doing the work, at least give them a little bit of the pat at the back, they will do better. And not to be saying this is not good, that is not good.
The issue of Boko Haram is a major challenge and many have said it is religious, others argue it is political; what do you think is going on?
When you talk Boko Haram, it is not religious. The Christians say they are not there, Muslims say they do not know them. So it cannot be religious. And the group is showing that they are neither Christians nor Muslims. It is a fall out of some of the statements from some of our politicians who want cheap votes. When they gathered all these hoodlums and drum rubbish into their heads, this is what you get. These innocent people that have little or no education, you put guns into their hands. Now you cannot control them again, they form themselves into a new body and those who wanted to use them are now using them. 2015 is not yet here, look at what some of our politicians are saying, look at what is happening in PDP. Look at the APC that was just formed. I read in the papers, I am talking about Lagos now, the Christians say they want a Christian governor, the Isale Eko says they want somebody from their area. So what is happening? We talk of Boko Haram; do we know the haram that is going to come next? Can you call APC a genuine political party?
The parties are chop, I chop like Fela said; they are all the same. If we are all patriotic, you do not care where the person who rules comes from and that is why I like the Catholic Church. If they care about where you come from, I am not supposed to be here, I am not a Lagosian. In the church, they do not look at faces. Why can't Nigeria build a nation like that? Why must we ask people where are you from. I am looking for job, but I cannot get the job simply because I am from a particular region. What is wrong with us? So, our political leaders should guide and guard their mouths, because some of the people listening to them are stark illiterates, they hear go they do not hear come.
But some of those clamouring for a Christian governor in Lagos are Christian leaders?
I do not think so and I have not read that. And I do not think they said it must be a Christian, no way. All they are looking for, according to them, is somebody who is genuine, a leader. And you should note that some of these our Muslim leaders, look at their wives, they are Christians, and some of them attended Christian schools. So it is about that mixture and it is one God, so why must we say my God is better than your own or how I serve my own God is better than your own?
Is it just lack of good governance that is responsible for the insecurity in the country?
It is not just good governance that is needed but good and sincere governance. You see the members of the Houses of Assembly or the National Assembly make a law and under 24 hours, the same people will still break the law they made. In Lagos State, when they wanted to open the Lekki road, look at all the troubles, because government did not make adequate provision. If I do not have money where do I go, does it mean, I must stay at home, no! You must not just think of one way, you must think of both ways. Consider the number of injuries and heads that got rolled, which were probably not published at that little fracas. So good and sincere government is what we need. If we do not have that I am sorry, and that is why we are having all these problems.
There is scramble for the presidency between the South and North of the country, should it be?
It should not be. That is colonial mentality and that is what they left us with. And since it profited one side, they have held on to it. If I say okay, both of you (reporter and photographer) take hundred million, I wish I have the money, will you divide it fifty-fifty, or you will probably say, no way, do you know what I went through to get this interview scheduled?
I do not know what is going to happen in 2015, whether I will be alive or not, but one thing is certain, the good Lord that put us together and gave us this name Nigeria, knows what he is doing, because there was a time everybody was talking about Nigeria, Nigeria and suddenly because of mismanagement, see what is happening. Our heroes, we do not even respect them, some of them that are still alive are lamenting. Some others that are not complaining of neglect are writing books on the war and saying what they did not do.
You said there was a time everybody was talking about Nigeria because of the potentials they saw and the progress recorded; at what point did Nigeria miss the mark?
It was a little after independence. We made mistakes, we did not correct them and so it started coming in gradually. There were political upheavals, NCNC-AG. NCNC is Igbo party and AG, Yoruba. If you found a Yoruba man in NCNC, you will ask what he was looking for. What is happening today, how I wish those who are supposed to talk are talking and not just talking, but also doing what they are talking.
The APC claims it is out to provide an alternative for Nigerians, do you see APC doing that?
The way I see APC, they need to regroup; the way they are now, I cannot see them providing the leadership. This is frank talk. The way they are now, with what I saw on the Internet about the formation and leaders of the parties, it is like they are already cutting off some people and how do you want those you are cutting off to agree with you, if you want to provide good and sincere leadership. They will not come with you; they will say this one does not love me because of my religion, so lets fire them; whereas, there should be that kind of mixture.
In those days, Christians will not want to marry Muslim, but today they are marrying as they are now seeing the wisdom. Look at Tinubu's wife, Fashola's wife, you can continue like that. So the new party will have to re-group, without that, I do not see them making it because the leadership we are looking for, it is a kind of father, who understands his children and ready to forsake many things for his children. That is the kind of leadership we are looking for today.
So we need a real father, ready to sacrifice all things so that these children are well brought up. Recently, The Guardian Newspaper published the number of Nigerian doctors outside the country, which is higher than those within, tell them to come home, they will not listen to you. Something is lacking and we know what is lacking. How can somebody who has just secondary school certificate earn fabulous salaries and you with your degree, you earn peanut, won't you go where they will accord you better recognition.
What is your position about Jonathan contesting in 2015?
If I were Jonathan, I will not try it because the writing on the wall does not favour it. We have not even got to 2015. There is so much sycophancy and flattery. It is like telling Okogie now to go into politics, 'come, you are the kind of person we want;' you think I'm stupid. Jonathan will be there for almost six years, there was a time, he was vice, and now president for four years, what is he looking for again. It is just like comparing it with Obasanjo; what was Obasanjo looking for in third term. You know what happened then. Apart from the story that Jonathan made an agreement that he would do just one term, if it is true, do you think those who were there when he said 'just one term' are stupid.
Can you give an insight into your war experience?
In the first place, I was not a combatant soldier. I only went there as a chaplain and chaplains, as you know, we only look after the soldiers, we do not care what side the soldiers come from. Generally, the situation there was horrible, horrible. You can imagine two friends in the same camp, and one of them got shot by the opposing camp, the very good friend, instead of sympathising with his friend, what he would do is to search the pockets of his friend and pack all the things there. And when I reported to the Chief of Staff, Brigadier Alli, he shouted at me to mind my business. 'All you are here for is to pray for us, don't you know that the soldier did the correct thing, keep quite,' he barked at me again. He then said if the enemies come, that all the ammunitions that the soldier collected from his friend's pocket would be used against them if not evacuated. So, I kept my mouth shut all the period I was there.
And you need to see how these guys suffer. I spent some of my times in the camp, most of them that were injured, the families that were looking for their husbands and fathers, we were there to comfort them and pray with them. And these are the people Nigeria is not even taking care of. It is not fair. You were talking of the charity of the mission schools, where is the charity of government. They fought to keep the nation one, how have they been rewarded. God will bless them. I cannot sit down I write what I saw, it is not good. You see somebody driving, going gently in his car; you hear an officer bark at him, 'common stop there,' he drags the man out and takes his car and the poor man will just be mopping. It was bad as that, not to talk of women. You know soldiers are ready to die any time, so they are very reckless in their way of life.
How much did they get and even if they got all the money, how many of them lived to enjoy the money; that is the trouble. And for those clamouring for war, God help them o.
Have we learnt lessons from the civil war?
We have not and it is due to greed and selfishness. I am the one; I must be there, ego. Why are they all trying to be in office and why are those there not willing to leave? No man is an island, give other people the chance and let us see what they can do. As I said, the messiah will come.
And what is the way out of all these troubles?
Love one another, which is what the Lord Jesus Christ said. Sincere love, genuine love, not corner, corner one. Many are not sincere, even among husbands and wives; only God knows the sincerity. 'I love my husband, I love my wife;' do they really? It is a sad case. Love your self and your neighbour and know that we all have one God. And whether we like it or not, we shall all leave this world and how do you want to die. You are not going to die with your money around you, neither with your children, even if you have ninety-nine of them. They may not even be there when you are going.
You said we have not learnt lessons from the civil war; to make a success of 2015, what should be the commitment of citizens to the process?
They should be able to talk because the nation belongs to all of us. So, we must handle it well, but are we handling it well now, we are not. It is a pity. People should be able to talk, Nigeria is a blessed nation and the good Lord is always on our side. Look at other nations; look at what is happening in Nigeria, if it were in some countries that what is happening in Nigeria is playing out, there would have been a huge crisis.
Ghana is learning from our mistakes, they have oil, but they have not started exploring it. Nigeria, greed is not allowing us.