NIGERIA TOYING WITH BLOODY REVOLUTION â€“ BISHOP GBONIGI
Bishop Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, 80, is a retired clergyman of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. In spite of his clerical calling, the man, up to a few years ago, engaged the authorities, calling them to account. In the tempestuous days of the June 12, 1993 struggle,
he was nicknamed NADECO Bishop. He was harassed and hounded by the power that be. It got so bad that he was later marked for
assassination. Well, it didn't happen because, according to the Bishop, Abacha died few days before he was to be assassinated. In all of this,
the man says he is not a radical; just doing what God asks him to do. He speaks on 50 years of Nigeria
as an independent nation. Excerpts…
Nigeria is 50. Looking at the country and all that we have gone through, what do you think we should be celebrating?
Really, we should be celebrating firm establishment of democracy. That is what we should be celebrating. We should be celebrating that we can see and we know for certain that democracy has been well established among us. A lot of things are connected to that because wherever there is true democracy there would be justice, and wherever there is justice there will be peace. and wherever there is peace, then working together for strong economy will be possible. If there is no peace, people cannot work together in order to have a strong economy.
So, we ought to have established true democracy, which would make other things possible. But unfortunately that has not been the case. We thank God for people in this country, Nigerians who cherish democracy, who fought for democracy. Those who have passed on like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano and the rest of them; those who are still alive, who really love democracy and know the value of democracy and are fighting for it; people like Professor Wole Soyinka and the rest of them. We thank God for men and women like them.
But it is obvious majority of Nigerians do not even understand what democracy is and more unfortunate is the fact that many who know what it is, including the lawyers who should be educating the rest of us about what it really means, are not practising it. Democracy really means power belonging to the people and people now give the power that belongs to them to their elected leaders to exercise on their behalf. But that is not what is happening in Nigeria.
What role have the Nigerian electorate played in the way they are being governed? Do we deserve the government that we have had?
Yes, we deserve it, to a considerable extent, the kind of government we have had, as many of our people sell their votes for money. Like Esau who sold his birthright to his brother for Porridge - small food. 'I am hungry now and I want food. You just give me food now. Birthright, you can take care of that.'
So, that is a problem. And involved in that is the problem of poverty. Wherever there is poverty, it is easier to manipulate people and either force the power from them or make them sell it. So there is so much poverty in the country. And closely related to that is ignorance. Many people in Nigeria are still illiterate. They cannot read and write. They cannot even read in our own indigenous language.
They know little or nothing about what is going on and the little they know, even much of that is deceit that what they hear from those who are called educated people. They deceive them. And when people don't have knowledge, they can easily be deceived. That is why people like late Chief Awolowo emphasized the need for education. An educated person cannot be easily deceived. An educated person will know his or her rights and claim them.
They will say, 'this is my right and I am not asking you for favour.' Lack of education goes along with poverty. So the civil servant, the politician who manipulate and deceive our people know about these factors of ignorance and poverty and they use it to deceive the people and wrest from them the power without the people giving them their mandate. They force it from them and use it the way they like. That is why I say that the democracy we have is counterfeit, spurious democracy.
You agree that we cannot continue in this manner, but what do we do?
What we should do is, well, as a Christian leader, we should continue to pray. But in addition to praying we should work. And what do I mean by work? We should claim our rights. By doing that, what would result is strong public opinion, people rising up and saying no to whatever people representing them are doing that they know to be wrong. They should rise and say no and unless you do what we want, will not give you our mandate to be our representative.
Unfortunately, we still have uneducated people in this country. Those of us who have had the opportunity of education in this country should be the voices that should fight their cause. We should say no when some people want to cheat them and take away their rights from them. We should stand behind them and be ready to suffer the consequences because people who stand for what is right will suffer one kind of insult or even attack or the other.
Sometimes even the people you are fighting for will misunderstand you because of their lack of education. They will behave in a way that says: 'Well, we don't want you to do that.
You just let them give me something. I am hungry. What I need is immediate.' They are not mindful about what happens the day after. It is the responsibility of the people who have education to say, 'my brothers, we know your immediate needs. We know you are suffering from abject poverty and therefore you want immediate gratification for your needs, but let us also think about the future because you may have something for now but next year you may find out that you lack things that are even more basic than what you are asking now.' That is Esau. He asked for porridge for now but after eating it and filling his belly, he became conscious of what he did.
So, strong public opinion is very necessary in our country. In addition to that, we must be ready to suffer for righteousness sake, for justice sake. There is no way we can win justice for people without suffering. We will suffer one way or the other. People will call us names, we will be persecuted and people who fight for what is just are sometimes denied their rights and certain things they ought to have enjoyed will be denied them. But we should be ready to make sacrifices.
It is said that one of the worst things the military did was to take away schools from missionaries and given to government to handle. How true is this?
I think there is much truth in that. When we were children, we went to primary and secondary schools, teachers colleges established by churches and a few by Muslims with strong emphasis on religious and moral education. This influenced our minds and the way we think. It influenced our hearts and the way we feel. It influenced our human relationship that we should be fair and just to other people. I may have my rights but I should realize that other people have their rights also. I should not be selfish.
So emphasis was on moral education. But when the military came and took away the schools from the missionary bodies, called voluntary organizations, because they were doing education voluntarily for the welfare of the country, and gave them to government where they didn't emphasize on moral education, immorality took the place of morality. That is the result we see now.
So all citizens of Nigeria who are about 40 years - maybe about 45 years and below to about 30 to 25 years - were born during the military era when the schools were taken over and the moral education was de-emphasized. We therefore produced, reared and nurtured boys and girls who became men and women, citizens of Nigeria, with very little moral education. And we are seeing the results affecting us in every way, in politics, in our social life, in education, in our economy, in every aspect of our life as human beings.
A sequel to that is corruption, because we can't divorce this from what you have said. How deep is it and what do we do?
As you have said, you can't separate corruption from the moral situation that came as a consequence of taking the schools from the voluntary organizations and giving them to government without emphasis on moral education. Corruption is not just a matter of stealing or embezzling money. It relates to every facet of our lives. It includes telling lies, living lies and deceit and every aspect of life contrary to the kind of life that God wants us to live. That is corruption.
Greed, selfishness; just wanting things for me alone, not minding what happens to other people and so on. So it is an aspect of it. Whereas in those days when moral education was emphasized, children who went to school were taught the bible and what God says in the bible, the kind of persons He wants us to be and the kind of life He wants us to live as well as the things that are contrary to His will. If you are disobedient to God, you will receive curse. By and large, we have been very disobedient to God, which has led to curses.
So how do we begin moral rejuvenation as a nation?
Now, those who realize that this sad situation we are in is wrong should remain in their position. They should not shift ground to join the majority. They should not say, 'that is what people are doing, let us join them.' People who do the right things are always in the minority and, indeed, will always be in the minority. But if they remain faithful in their position and live, as they ought to live, and be what God wants them to be, unknown to them, they will be influencing people little by little.
The other way is, we have to go back to what we were saying – strong public opinion, to cry out and shout. As the Old Testament prophets cried out and shouted against immorality, against corruption, against selfishness, against greed and against living in luxury while some people were dying in poverty. Some of them were arrested and imprisoned, some of them were killed by kings because they had the power to kill, but others rose up and continued the struggle. So people doing the right thing and the will of God should not give up, as they will gradually influence other people.
One thing we have to remember is that God is in heaven and He sees all the things that are happening and He is very sorry that they are happening because these are not the things He wants to happen in the world that He created. In His own ways He has been warning us by allowing our sins to bring suffering to us, so that we should reject sin and choose righteousness. God has been very patient, hoping that we will repent. The word repent means to make a right about turn, to change from sin to righteousness, from what is bad to what is good. If we persist in what is bad and we refuse to change, then God will come in judgement.
In the case of Nigeria, there will be revolution. I have been saying for some time that we have been moving gradually to a dangerous point in life where we can go into perdition. I think we have moved very close to the precipice and the next thing is that we will fall over. There will be serious revolution, a very bloody one that will strike people who revel in doing evil; to teach them evil has its own reward and the reward is terrible. So, I feel that very soon, God will bring about that revolution that will teach us that lesson; that will make us to stop, to think and change.
Isn't there a big irony here as this is a country that is populated by Christians and Muslims, churches and mosques sprouting like mushroom yet, we are talking about the phenomenal rate of immorality, perversion, corruption the manner we never had it in the past when we had less of Christians and Muslims?
There is a portion in the bible, which says: 'These people call me Lord, Lord but their minds are far from me.' They are just fake Christians and Muslims. They read the bible and Qur'an but they don't put the lessons to practise. They are very many. That is why we have this situation. But remember, but for the influence of the churches and their prayers and their vigils and their fasts, the situation could have been worse than this. So we should not talk as if the churches and the mosques have not had any good influence on our society at all. They certainly have had some influence for good. What we are saying is that it is not enough.
We expect it to be more because the number of Christians and Muslims has been increasing. And so, if we have had more of them and they have been reading the Qur'an, then there ought to be more people who practise morality, good living than we have.
Let's come back to political Nigeria. Nigerians still have not learnt to live as one. Gowon preached it during the civil war. He said: 'To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.' When the war ended, he said: 'No victor, no vanquished.' And, of course, our first national anthem said: 'Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.' Are we still standing in brotherhood?
Yes and no. Thank God the situation is not hopeless. But for the grace of God and the fact that by and large, we have been brothers and sisters to one another in this country, we would have been finished. Look at what is happening in places like Somalia, Southern Sudan, Darfur and other areas where they have been fighting endless wars for decades. But in our case, God has been so gracious and that is due partly to the influence of Christianity and Islam; that preach and teach brotherhood. And look at the different methods that we have adopted for growing together as a country, because we were not one country originally.
The British colonial masters merged us together through what they called amalgamation of 1914 by Lord Lugard. We don't speak the same language; we don't have the same culture and so on, but the fact that they merged us and we had this amalgamation, we have been forced to listen to one another and to become brothers and sisters to a considerable extent. But the old differences are there. If you notice over the years, gradually it is becoming less pronounced than it used to be because of the influence of religion and education; because we have all these national schools and colleges, federal unity schools and so on, federal universities so that people move from their own areas to universities in another area. And then the NYSC, people are not allowed to serve in their own area. So the Yoruba goes to the East, to the North or somewhere and he or she gets to meet people in those areas where he or she has never been before.
And then, some of them get married. That is what we are saying.
So, we should not allow the feeling that everything is bad to weigh us down. We should remember that there are instances of goodness in all of it. Gradually, God is using all these devices and plans to ameliorate the seriousness of our national situation and helping us to grow together.
However, what has affected the growth of our brotherhood is that soon after we became independent in 1960, we ought to have sat down and said, 'okay it is the Europeans that forced us together. They did it for their selfish reasons. But now, this is where we have found ourselves. Let us now think together, plan together and find out how we are going to be really one.' We didn't do it. Then the war came, but by the grace of God, it did not divide us completely. We ought to have sat down to say, 'look at what has happened to us.
We have killed ourselves; we have destroyed many of our young people. Part of it is because you are Yoruba, you are Hausa, you are Igbo, you are Efik, you are Edo, you are Fulani and so on. Now what lessons do we need to learn from what happened? How do we avoid this kind of thing in the future?' We did not do that, and then the military takeovers, the coups, when Aguiyi Ironsi, Fajuyi and others were killed and so on. If we had at sat down and do what we are asking for in 2002 to 2006, the Sovereign National Conference that Obasanjo refused, but at last, because of the pressure he organized a conference. But the way it was organized, we knew that nothing would come out of it, and you can see that nothing came out of it. But by God's grace we have not disintegrated. We are still one country.
Do we still need that conference, call it whatever you want to call it?
I believe that it is what we need now and not elections. I am convinced about that. We ought to hold this Sovereign National Conference now. That is what PRONACO is saying. And I am a member of PRONACO led by Chief Enahoro. This presidential system of government cannot pay us. It is too expensive.
Are you saying that democracy must be homegrown? Is it one of PRONACO's recommendations?
Yes, we can learn from the British system or the American or Japanese system and others, put everything together and come out with our own homegrown democracy, and it will be part of our culture – the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Efik or Igala culture. We put everything together so that we will look at it and say even though we have borrowed from here and there, at least we can see our different cultures. Nigeria is made up of many nations. It is a country made up of many nations and that is why PRONACO came up, suggesting 18 regions. That could be increased or reduced, depending on what the conference decides to do.
But let us have a conference to listen to one another and each area. And each nation be given the opportunity to voice its own desire. For instance, let the Yoruba come out and say, this is what we want in order to continue to be a part of the geographical entity called Nigeria.. Then go to the East, listen to the Igbo, listen to the Efik and others. After that, go to the North. Listen to the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Berom and others. Listen to them carefully, not just hear them. In counseling we call it listening with care.
After we have listened to everybody, you will say, for instance, people from Gwari in the North, you can have this much without it jeopardizing other interests, but as for other demands are you ready to sacrifice them? And then they go round. It will take sometime, but if they do it carefully and with active concern for the welfare of each nation, it will not be easy, nothing good comes easy. But if we do it and by the time we finish, it will be mutual agreement. And every nation in Nigeria will be satisfied that they had the opportunity to say what they want. That will be homegrown. You can't find that kind of thing anywhere in the world -mutual agreement.
But we need to do away with this presidential system. It is too expensive. America's economy can bear it but our economy cannot. Unfortunately, some people like it because it helps them satisfy their greed. For instance, look at what the Senators and House of Representatives members are taking for themselves. For goodness sakes, how can they sit and make laws and allot to themselves such moneys?
The salary itself is not much but when you see the kind of allowance they appropriate for themselves in different guise…to say they have quarterly allowance amounting to N27.5 million each. Meaning each of them will earn it four times and then to complain that it is not enough and should be increased to N42 million quarterly; four times a year! And this is in addition to the million that they take home. That is why people are saying it is outrageous; it is unimaginable and sinful, very sinful.
What do you do with this kind of money when millions are dying of hunger? When our children are coming out of universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and there is no work for them to do? Because they find nothing to do, Satan finds job for them. They are easily lured into crime and when they are caught they are taken to court. They hire other people's sons and daughters as thugs but don't use their own children.
So, we should drop the presidential system for genuine federal system, in which each federating unit, each nation in Nigeria will have its autonomy. That was how we started when we became independent in 1960. There were three regions – Eastern, Western and the Northern regions, and then the Mid-West Region was added. I think we had four subjects that were on the federal list. The rest were on the concurrent list. Each region organized its own economic system. That was why during the time of Awolowo, we had full free primary education and the other regions didn't have it.
The East said its economy cannot sustain it because then the Western region was using cocoa money, and Awolowo was saying to his friend, Michael Okpara, why don't you use palm produce and rubber? But Okpara said they couldn't go the whole hog at once. So in the East they started from primary one to primary three and then I think they did it for one year and increased it to primary four. So they were doing it gradually until the military took over. Each region had considerable autonomy in those days and it helped.
We must go back to that so that we will spend much less of the money on overheads, salaries and allowances and buying cars and the rest. We should spend at least 75 per cent of the total income on capital projects, education, health, roads and industries and 25 per cent for paying salaries. I have been reliably told by people who know that we are today spending 88 per cent on recurrent expenditure. It is terrible and very, very bad.
In what ways did military rule help to sustain the oneness and cohesiveness of this country?
Well, I may be wrong but as a person and as a citizen of Nigeria, I cannot say in what way the military helped to unite this country, to make it one and to work together for justice. The main emphasis is justice. Whenever they stage a coup, they will announce that they have come in to right the wrongs that the civilians have been doing. But when they get there, they did worse than the civilians. One of the reasons for that is because of the civil servants. Do you know that the civil servants have done worse in destroying the unity and the democracy in Nigeria than the politicians? And they are still doing things. Well, not all of them, but majority of them are doing it. The military will come in and the civil servants will tell them how administration is done and they taught them how to steal money from the treasury.
What do you envision for Nigeria, say in another 50 years?
My vision for this country 50 years from now is that, by the grace of God, it would have become so good that it would have become an example for other countries in Africa, including South Africa and Ghana. So my vision is that Nigeria will be so well organized, so peaceful and so good that we will be a model. Even in our poor condition, look at the roles we have been playing in other countries - in the Congo, in Liberia. So we have the human and material resources to be a great country and by the grace of God, we are going to be a great country. We should not lose hope. Nigeria is going to be good.
I repeat it; by the grace of God we are going to see that Nigeria will be good. But we should take some certain steps like jettisoning the presidential system and go for genuine federal system – the parliamentary system. So that way, we will make politics less attractive and people who go into politics will know that they are not there to enrich themselves but to serve and even make personal sacrifices.