• Covid-19 is a good teacher, a good lesson
Bishop of Nike Diocese (Anglican Communion), Enugu State, Rt. Rev (Dr.) Christian Onyeka Onyia, in this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU (Southeast Bureau Chief, Enugu), insists that leadership problem has retarded Nigeria’s growth and development. He argues that Ndigbo will suffer more if an Igbo man becomes Nigeria’s president in 2023, among others
What are your thoughts on 2023 presidency and the Igbo nation?
The problem of this country is not that an Igbo man is not the president. It is good to have an Igbo man to be president. My feelings, however, is that if an Igbo man becomes the president of this country, the Igbo will suffer more. Look at the way we relate with ourselves. Look at what is happening everywhere in Igbo land. If an Igbo man goes to Abuja, what do you think we can benefit? Look at the roads in this zone, and if you talk to them in Abuja, they will tell you that the money was signed long ago, that people have stolen the money. Our problem is not whether the person is Hausa or Yoruba; all we need is a sane mind, who can share in the feelings of the people. Buhari was voted into office because of his past antecedents, but the reverse has become the case. Jonathan went in and succeeded in building almajarai schools and forgot the sufferings going on in the Niger Delta. So, it is not about tribe, but someone who has brain to understand the yearnings of the people.
It would appear that there is no remedy for the country’s security challenges, despite huge resources spent and still being spent on it?
Nobody is comfortable with the security situation in Nigeria. We are all exposed. We are in trouble in this country. Nowhere is safe. People are being killed everywhere, people are being kidnapped everyday and whatever we called effort has failed to address the issue. So I can conveniently tell you that, as far as Nigeria is concerned, there is nothing like security. If governors are not safe, what are we talking about? What I keep saying is that our political elite and leaders soon leave office and they will come to face it. We are already in trouble because the blood of innocent people that has been wasted is speaking and everybody who is associated with it will pay heavily for it.
I don’t know how God is going to judge this country and its leaders, but the children of God are praying and I am sure that God will do something very soon. So, the point is that security has collapsed because there is no deliberate effort to address it. Those who should take responsibility feel unconcerned, simply because they have a retinue of police and army following them about. Until we begin to see it as a national emergency, it will continue to distort our path to growth.
Some have blamed the issue on President Muhammadu Buhari’s inability to act decisively on security chiefs who have overstayed their tenure. Is this legitimate excuse?
I share in this view. It is not just that these security chiefs have overstayed their tenure; they have equally outlived their usefulness on issues of security. Look at it this way: if you are a businessman and you put your money in a particular item, there is what is called stocktaking towards the end of the year. This assessment will help you determine if you are making progress or not. When it is known that there is stunted progress, you begin to think of a change to something else, because if you continue in that line of business, the tendency that you will go bankrupt and probably return to the village is there.
One philosopher said any unexamined life is not worth living. How many times have our people cried out that our leaders should re-examine the security of this country? It is not giving us what we want. The security architecture has failed. Let the government of this country rise up and do something and save the people. The Christians they are killing in southern Kaduna, soon they will finish with Christians there and then will look for another place. When they finish with those people and they don’t find another enemy to attack, they will start attacking their own parents. That is what will happen in this country if we are not careful. There is no reason for president Buhari to continue to use people, who ordinarily should be enjoying their retirement, to head the security architecture. Such is bound to produce poor results.
Talking about leadership, is it the problem of using old men or the followership that has become complacent?
I read in a book where they said in other countries, people work up to 60 years before they retire. They said that this is so because from the age of 60, a man begins to lose the ability to think right and be productive. At that age, he can sit you down and give you counsel, but asking him to be productively working, he may not do it well. They say when a man retires from active service, he retires with his brain. In other words, the man will begin to create problems if you bring him to active service at that age and will turn into a problem for himself and others.
This is what is playing out in Nigeria. Old men everywhere and this is affecting every sphere in this country. Nobody wants to retire; people falsify their age, even among the leaders of the church, because they want to extend their tenure. As you keep doing it, the young ones, vibrant people with brain, are kept in the cupboard and things can never improve. Old men everywhere in leadership positions, how can things work? People who cannot use computer, people who cannot use Zoom and internet; that is now the order of the day everywhere. Tell me why things should work in Nigeria?
So, we need current men and women in leadership positions in society and in the church. If you had told Orthodox churches before now that the aged people can stay at home and still follow the service, they would have contested and fought you. Today, Covid-19 has forced us to do it and people can see that it is doable, that it can work. It is just like that. When you put all these old men everywhere, they become a clog in the wheel of progress. I tell you if the president of Nigeria were to be a young man, they would have reshuffled the security chiefs long ago. The idea of putting old men everywhere has not helped us.
The country is mired in the controversy of excessive borrowings. Where does this leave us? How do we wriggle out of it and still fulfill the obligations expected of us as a country?
You know there is not much we (religious leaders) can do other than join others who are really speaking out to say that this is unhealthy for us; it is not in our interest. A few weeks ago, I read about the controversy over certain clauses we allegedly signed in securing Chinese loans. There is the controversy also of the probe, yet we are borrowing more. Nobody, except those in authority, knows when our borrowing spree would stop. When you get to a point that the money you owe begins to outweigh you budget, then there is danger. We are getting to a point where we are not only mortgaging the future of the people existing now but creating problems for the unborn children tomorrow. Nigeria can survive without borrowing a kobo if we so wish but the way we are going, I am afraid our leaders are not thinking in that direction.
Look at what God is exposing in Nigeria at the moment. Take it or leave it, we have more corrupt people now in government than we have ever had. It is not us saying it; it is getting exposed, and people are saying it. They will say this person siphoned money and they repatriated it and another person looted the money again. Is it not what we are seeing today and we are still talking about borrowing? I am not a mathematician, but the little I know, I said to myself, let the government stop investing on our behalf and share the money they budget yearly and we will all become millionaires. That is the truth.
So all the borrowing, what are they doing with the money? Do you know how much they have borrowed for ammunition for soldiers? What are they doing with it? People are getting frustrated and that is why a junior officer will pick up a gun and shoot a senior officer. Nigeria is rich; we have enough resources to make every common person here a millionaire, but the problem is like a cake on the table that each person will come and cut. It may finish before it gets to the people in the waiting room get there.
How can reopening of churches as we are doing now help government to curb the spread of the Coronavirus?
Reopening of churches has positive and negative sides in the fight against Covid-19. It is negative because it is difficult to control social distancing in the church, mosques and religious places, because you are trying to marry faith (which is invisible) with things you can see. You know, some people still don’t believe that there is Covid-19 and I see that as a major challenge. But the church should be a tool for social transformation. It could be positive when pastors lead by example and leverage the trust and respect they derive from their members to drum home Covid-19 preventive measures. The problem is that many pastors don’t even protect themselves; they don’t care because they have become more spiritual than the Holy Spirit. The church is a central place to spread information if the leaders will understand what we are talking about.
Have churches learnt any lessons from the few months closure over Covid-19?
Prominent of the lessons is vindicating me in my synod theme this year, that church is a movement and not a monument. This is because everybody wants to build structures and invite the primate to dedicate them, so that they will say you are a hard worker. Permit me to say that a hard worker is he who wins souls for Christ not he who builds structures. Let’s borrow a leaf from the westerners that brought the gospel here; the structures they spent millions of dollars to build in Europe have become monuments today. They don’t have people going there to worship God in these places again.
The strongest lessons for the church is that we have seen that if we miss it in chasing men and spend time in chasing material things, these structures will soon become mere monuments. They will be turned into shopping malls if we don’t take our time. So covid-19 is a good teacher; it is a good lesson. It has also created an opportunity for the church to return to its core responsibility of taking care of the poor and the needy, because many of them have the opportunity of being fed by the church. The church deviated from the call, but Covid-19 has taught us that we should go back and take care of the people rather than take care of structures and make name. There is no difference with what Pharisees did from what we are doing at the moment.