2011: IT'LL BE DANGEROUS IF NIGERIA DOESN'T GET IT RIGHT â€“ OKOH, ANGLICAN PRIMATE
We had barely been ushered into the spacious room, wondering how long the waiting would last when he quietly walked in, totally devoid of the ecclesiastical affectations associated with the top clerical office he occupies. You could have been tempted to think he was a forerunner of sorts, until you heard the Church Secretary, Venerable Oluwarounmbi and the Director of Communication, Canon Foluso Taiwo, telling you to meet the man you had come to see.
Tagging determinedly behind the big church man was a little girl in her school uniform, who had gone ahead to settle in one of the seats without any prompting. Dumebi, eight, as she was to inform us later, is the youngest of the five children of the Prelate. Indeed, as the father would put it, she is 'far the youngest because she came almost 10 years after the last of the rest had been born.'
Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, is not a man of protocol. It was not surprising that his eight-year-old daughter, who sat through the interview, had, according to him, volunteered to be his personal assistant. Whether the Primate accepted the offer or not appeared to be the least of the little girl's worries this Wednesday evening as she watched her father fielding questions on sundry issues.
The Anglican Primate was grave without being aloof. His tone oscillated between hope and worry as he berated the nation's leadership for Nigeria's failure to take her rightful play as the leader of the black world. He fingered tribalism, religious dysfunction, corruption and the wrong concept of leadership as opportunity to be served instead of opportunity to serve as being the root causes of the nation's stunted growth. He warned that the country must get it right in 2011 or forget it. Excerpts…
What does the renewed Boko Haram attack in Bauchi mean for the country?
It means tension. It means insecurity. It means we have not yet got it right, and the first business of government is to provide insecurity. Whether you look at it from the social contract of political theory, or you look at it from the biblical point of view, which is Romans chapter 13, the business of government is to provide security for the people, so that when they are at peace and secured, they can pursue legitimate interests. It is because of that security that they decided to hand over all their powers. If there is insecurity, we cannot pursue economic or even political interest, and so there will be no progress.
Nigeria is celebrating 50 years of independence. In the next 50 years, by 2060, if we continue like this, maybe it will be an awful prospect to say there will be little or nothing to show. So my prayer, and the way I look at what is happening about Boko Haram and the people behind them, more so now that we are warming up for 2011…I have the impression that it is difficult to remove the hand of the politicians from the Boko Haram thing. I suspect them very strongly.
So you think government's response to this has not been adequate?
The report of what the government is doing is not known yet, so I cannot say that it is not adequate, because I don't know the details of what they have done since then. But the fact that it occurred at all again, after the last major incident in Maiduguri and Bauchi, is a signal that is very awful and fearful. And I want to call on those in whose power it lies to stop this thing that they should go ahead and stop it. It is in the interest of everyone that Nigeria should exist.
If we continue to drag it left, right and centre, then people will eventually tear the coat, and we will all be at a disadvantage. Let us work together to build it. We will be in a better position and our children will be happier.
Do you think the overhaul of the entire leadership of the armed forces and police had any links with the Boko
Again, it is likely the idea is to make the security people work harder. It does not necessarily mean they were responsible. It could mean that some section of the security outfit of the country had not worked hard enough. But again, at this level and at this stage, it is difficult to point accusing finger at anyone, unless there is a proper inquiry.
What is your assessment of Nigeria at 50?
For me, I am particularly happy to be alive. I am happy for Nigeria that we got independence in1960 and became a republic in 1963. We have gone through many ups and downs. In 1966 we were told that there was corruption in the country, and the corruption has had a long history now. Since 1966 to the present day, it is 44 years. So let's just assume for the sake of theory that corruption started in 1966 or it was detected in 1966. So it is 44 years old now and it is no longer a boy.
Corruption in Nigeria now is a big man, full-grown and very wise. Unless we – north, south, east and west – join hands to arrest corruption, it will arrest the country eventually. So my way of looking at it is that the country in the past 50 years could have done better.
But there are some good things. For instance, we fought a war and we survived it. Not every country (survives a civil war). If you look at countries in Eastern Europe, after their wars, they became fragmented. We not only survived our own, we were also able to reintegrate and we are reintegrating, even though not yet perfect. It's an agenda; we have something to do. I also think that Nigeria as a country, by being able to support the UN, sending soldiers to make peace here and there, is also something good. But in terms of developing our people, in terms of infrastructure development, in terms of purposeful leadership, we have not done well.
Why have we not got it right in terms of leadership?
One of the major reasons is tribalism. And it is this tribalism that has been afflicting us for many, many years. It has led to so many troubles in this country. When somebody is presented, the first question is, he is from where? And that determines whether he is going to be supported or not, no matter how brilliant he is. That is one thing I noticed.
Another thing is that we got the wrong side of religion; the wrong side in the sense that the way we pursue our religion is that we don't mind; wrong or right, the person is our own. Even when the person is a religious man and is not doing well, his people don't correct him. They believe that he is our own, so whatever he does is correct. This has been the trouble over the years, and you can remember how much time we spent fighting OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries), how much time we spent fighting so many problems: the Jos, Maiduguri, Bauchi crises, and all these things. They don't take us forward. The money meant for security will be increased, not for positive reason, but to attend to negative things. So, religious crisis is such a big distraction to good governance.
Tribalism, religious dysfunctions have contributed immensely to our setbacks. I also think the idea we have of rulership, the concept of leadership in the country is wrong. At the traditional level, for instance, the average traditional ruler has the understanding of leadership that people must serve him. The thinking of our own rulers in Nigeria is that 'my people will come and serve me. They will bring yam, they will bring goat, they will bring money to come and give me.' The concept of servant-leadership is entirely new to these people. So we look like people swimming against the tide, trying to sell the idea of servant-leadership.
Could that mean that the concept of servant-leadership is un-African?
I don't know. But let me say in some parts of Nigeria it is not. In some parts it is. You are from a particular area. You can help me look at it and say in my area, what is the role of a king? Does the king serve the people or the people serve the king? In Nigeria, in some of the communities, the people serve the king. They go to his farm; they give him everything.
In fact, he is born to be served and it is hereditary. That is strange to somebody, who is being told 'serve your people' (in line with) servant leadership, which is modeled after the leadership of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the scripture records, did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Thus, we struggle to reverse that concept from being served to serving, and it is a big crossroads for us in our struggle for good leadership.
As a religious leader, you have mentioned religion as part of our problem. Has the church played its role effectively?
When you say the church, unfortunately, there is no way we can divide and begin to isolate, so you are lumping everything together. In that case, I will say the church itself has done well in some areas. But in some areas it has not done very well. When you lump everything together, what do I mean? The church produced the elite who got independence for Nigeria in the sense that they established the schools, they brought most of the things, they erected the structures that produced the elite, and these elite fought for our independence. The church almost single-handedly ran the educational system of this country up to a point before the power was taken away from her.
So in that case, I can say that the church has contributed, even in the area of agriculture and technical education. But when you talk about the size of the church in Nigeria and the moral strength of the society, I will say there is a lot to be done, in the sense that a section of the church started to teach that money is everything and that for them to be blessed, they need to have money, nothing more. That type of teaching is dangerous and only leads people into more greed and more greed, and greed is not good for the society.
What do we do about this, because the church is supposed to show the light?
In every society, you have some people saying something strange. But if the majority has the grace to ignore that minority section and move on with what is right, then they will arrive. Again, I will come back to the issue of leadership. The leaders led the way; the influence came into the church, the church kind of developed a theory to accommodate it, which is prosperity gospel. And now it has become a wild power. There will be a change if there is a national rebirth, what we may call Jesus Revolution, in terms of moral rearmament that people should put on strength.
But I'm beginning to have more hope than before because the situation usually gets very dark before it can get brighter. It looks like Nigerians are tired; it looks like the moral failure in the society is about to destroy everybody. And so, they now know it is not easy to get employment; it is not easy to eat; it is not easy even to die because if you die and you don't do something for the mortuary attendant, your body will decompose. So in that case, people are now fed up and they want a better situation. And that is where I come to 2011. We must get it right in 2011. As a country we must get it right; if we don't get it right in 2011, then many people will sign off.
Looking at the 2011 election timetable released by INEC, do we have enough time for adequate preparation?
I think INEC doesn't want to take chances, because the more time you give to people, the more time they have to initiate fraudulent practices. They want to pursue them, seize the initiative, keep them on the move, and then get the best from them within a very short time. I think it is good; let's get it done and get it done quickly.
And you think the preparation so far is in line with the promise of free and fair elections by both the government and INEC?
There is nothing really to prepare about. Like you and I know, if the election is going to take place now in front of my house, we go there and cast one vote each. It doesn't require gathering these people. What is even the problem is the long time people have to scheme. Those who want to print false ballot papers will print; those who want to take loan will go and look for billions with which to buy people. So I think it is alright like this.
Mr President has promised Nigerians and the international community that votes will count. He has promised that one man one vote is going to be the order. What it remains now for me, as I see it, is for the President to make sure that the Inspector-General of Police is singing the same tune with him; the head of the Civil Defence Corps, the head of INEC, the INEC commissioners and the chairman of his own political party are all singing the same tune with him. He has to be sure they sing the same tune with him. What I mean is the tune of one man one vote, no rigging, your vote will count; that is the tune I mean. It is not only the duty of the President to ensure the elections are free and fair; he's just one man. One cannot be in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt at the same time.
You are not the President of Nigeria and might never be.
I am not aspiring.
But assume that it is in your power to address one single problem facing the country, what issue will you address?
The main issue I will address is leadership. If I can recognize a single person who can help us, who is determined that come rain, come shine I will do what is right; if I can ask Nigerians, please do this so that our country will no longer suffer reproach, then I will do that for Nigeria so that our children will have hope, the black world will have hope. Nigeria is the largest concentration of blacks in the world. The powerlessness of Nigeria affects the whole of the black world. The powerlessness that is afflicting Nigeria, the disorderliness, the arbitrariness with which we live our lives is afflicting the rest of the black man all over the world.
What is the hope for the poor in this country?
First and foremost, it depends on what we are talking about. You know the money in Nigeria is in the hands of a few. So the people you refer to as the poor are the largest by far. Most Nigerians eat very poor food; most Nigerians use second-hand vehicles; most Nigerians live in dilapidated houses. Go to our villages now, strangers look at us very strangely. Even in the urban areas, there is no urban renewal. The houses are dilapidated for a long time; you can see it even from the skyline. So what you mean by poor, let me tell you that the whole of the country can be classified as poor.
But we have a sprinkle of rich people, a sprinkle of people who made money, possibly not by fair means, and they use it to oppress the majority of the people of the land. My appeal to them is to realize that the common good is the good of all. They have children; whether they send their children to America to stay forever, they are still black; they can't find a permanent home there. They send them to United Kingdom or France, they will still be discriminated against.
Therefore, let us build our own here so that Nigeria and the rest of the black world will have strength. That is my appeal. They should come back with whatever they have taken away. Not that there will be no Nigerians anywhere, but let us be patriotic to our country and build it.
The British built UK; the Americans built America, Russians built Russia, the Germans built Germany, the Japanese built Japan. Nobody is coming here to build Nigeria; not the UN, AU or EU. No regional body, no matter how well-meaning can build your country for you, because if they build it for you and you can compete on equal basis, who then is the master? People want to be masters. If we copy from the Chinese and Indian experience, they thought for themselves and decided to close their doors to the world and found solution to their problems internally before they opened up again.
So we cannot think that we can continue to do what we like and things will eventually happen. No, it has to be a deliberate effort by Nigerians to develop Nigeria.
How has it been being the Primate of the Anglican Communion these past months?
What I can say is that so far so tough. I was an Archbishop in the area we call Bendel/Delta and Edo state. Then I was the Bishop of Asaba, combining the two. Then it was hectic, but now it is tough because you have to attend to the needs of the whole country. But it is a privilege, in the sense that God decided that I should have it.
So I am not complaining, since God decided that I should be the one that should be there. I have volunteered myself for it day and night, and I give God the glory for the sustaining grace.
What's your greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge is to hold my people together, so that we can move forward together.