Former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, talks about former President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential ambition, President Muhammadu Buhari’s corruption probes and religious leadership, in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU
What do you want Nigerians to learn from the 2015 elections?
I think the first lesson Nigerians will learn from the election is that God was on their side. They prayed for change because it felt as if everyone was fed up with what was going on, and they got the change, they were looking for. But the problem is, are we really experiencing the change now? In less than four years’ time, (President Muhammadu) Buhari’s tenure will be over. Are we really feeling anything? The only thing people are talking of now is probe, probe and probe. Probe is not the only thing that we are expecting. We want to see change in the dividend of democracy; we want to see change not just in corruption. Corruption is not something to wipe out during this man’s time, I can assure you that. He can only try to lessen the rate of corruption.
Now that Buhari is the President, do you see him as a repentant dictator?
One thing people don’t understand about Buhari is that he is not a dictator; he is a disciplinarian. That is who Buhari is. This is not his first time of being the Head of State. Even in the Army, he did not like things to be done anyhow. Look at when he was the Head of State – remember Tunde Idiagbon and Operation War Against Indiscipline – he (Buhari) was a disciplinarian and you could feel it in the air. You dare not throw (pieces of) paper around, people will shout at you. But now, we are not seeing this kind of change.
Don’t you think people would have continued to tag him as a dictator if he had issued such orders now?
No. What happened during the time of Idiagbon and himself; he was the Head of State but he delegated the civil jobs to his vice. That was the command. What is his vice (now, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) doing? All that most people have been reading about him is that he visited places; that is all we have been reading. Is that the work for a vice? It is true that the vice should do whatever his boss asks him to do but is it only ‘if there is crisis anywhere, go there?’ That is the impression most people are now having about his vice. But there is much to do.
When the Peoples Democratic Party criticised Buhari for being slow in governance, the Presidency claimed that Buhari was busy clearing the mess left behind by the last PDP-led administration.
He has four years; before you say Jack Robinson, a year will be gone. Almost 100 days are gone now. All we are hearing is probe! Probe! Probe! Probe is not the whole thing we are looking for. It is good; it is part of the cleaning but it is not one-tenth of the cleaning that should be done. Look at the country, it is still dirty. Nothing seems to be moving. You are a Nigerian; I am a Nigerian, we cannot see it.
Do you think the President can move faster than this?
Of course! Even if he has not gotten his ministers in place, he can still do a lot with his assistant – his vice. Who is helping him to change the service chiefs, removing (sacking) this and putting (appointing) this? Who is helping him to do that? But he is doing it because he feels it is necessary. There are many things that people are expecting from him.
But it appears that he wants to first pay attention to the biggest problems – corruption and insecurity. Are you saying they don’t need urgent attention?
The emphasis right now is seen to be on one side; it is 80 per cent on corruption. The only side that I can give the remaining 20 per cent to is Boko Haram. That is all. If you come to this area (somewhere in Ikoyi) at night, it is dark. You will think you are in hell. And there is a police station not far from here. That was why when they were constructing this building, I told them to fix all these street lights you are seeing just to throw light around. I am paying for it. This is a government job but I cannot allow people to be dying or be kidnapped unnecessarily. Why am I here, when I call myself a man of God? For example, this month, I am paying N99, 000 all because of all this mess. This is just a street.
Insecurity is still there. Even if you say you want to handle corruption and insecurity, there will still be a parallel line of duties: ‘Oh my vice, help me to look at this side while I focus on that.’ I read in the papers that the service chiefs have been asked to ‘finish’ Boko Haram in three months; have they got the necessary instruments? That is one thing. The equipment, are they ready? And are they properly trained for it (terror war)? It is one thing to sit down and say this must be done, that must be done; another thing is action. We need actions now, not words. There are too many words. I think as an ex-military man – a soldier is always a soldier — he should come out really to say this is what we want to do. At least, let people feel that the trait is still there. If I remove this (my) robe tomorrow, my conscience will still be telling that ‘don’t forget what you were before.’ You have already imbibed it; it is there; it is now part and parcel of you. We want to see more of this (action).
I don’t know how people will take it but look at (former Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde) Fashola; he was going round. He was not just sitting down in a place, he moved. That is why Lagos is what it is now. I know that the APC has a manifesto and blueprint. In their states, it is only the stupid governors that will not follow the blueprint. And that is why anywhere (state) you go to, you can see the signs that there is progress. It was not like that in the PDP. Challenge me if you can!
With this example, do you believe that Nigerians are better off under APC?
You mean the entire country?
How many months have they spent?
But you just said it is a party with a blueprint, which the PDP lacked.
I said only a stupid governor will not follow the blueprint. How many of them are following the blueprint? ‘Let the money come out. Let them release the money,’ that is what we are hearing. Then, you will hear ‘there is nothing in the purse.’ Why do you go for elections if you know there is nothing in the purse? What did you do with the money? How did you campaign and win? Did you use stones or air?
Although there is a new administration, what are the things you feel the last administration left undone?
Jonathan was like a bird in a cage when he was there. Every time I still recall when he was vice president and he asked me to pray for him. I warned him, ‘I am not a seer; I am not a prophet.’ He said a simple thing, ‘Bishop, please pray for me.’ And I said, ‘What do you want from God?’ I asked, ‘Why are you asking me to pray for you?’ He said, ‘Don’t you know I will be running for election? This is 2011.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about 2011. You have won the election but you will not rule.’ He shouted, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Simply because the people around you do not want you to rule.’ And that was exactly what happened. When he first started, all the dead woods that Nigerians were talking about – that he made ministers – he relieved them of their duties. But unfortunately, he made the greatest mistake; he brought them back with different portfolios. And that is what Buhari too should watch out for. Whether it is Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, he has to be very careful. They are still there; they are watching like hawks. I think he is looking for saints as ministers. You watch the kind of saints he will get as ministers.
Does it mean you agree with Prof. Wole Soyinka that Jonathan was caged by those around him?
Truth is bitter but it must be spoken. Whether it was spoken by Wole Soyinka or Okojie or anybody, it is the same truth. What is wrong with us in this country? We always like to either sidetrack the truth or sweep it under the carpet until it becomes big. Then, we start shouting. I did not know Soyinka said anything like this. It is the truth.
But somebody like Prof. Tam David-West believes that if Jonathan was upright, he would not have allowed people with questionable character to surround him. Do you agree with him?
Let me give you an example from the Bible: Look at the time of Moses. You know how powerful Moses was. God was behind him but the Israelites were often against him. They wanted him to do their will; one against so many, because he had the all powerful God. If you are a leader – you call yourself a leader – and you are not close to God, you are useless. One with God is always majority.
Does that mean Jonathan was not with God?
I don’t know. I am not the one to judge. I don’t know but you can see from the actions. You can see what went on. You said I said what Soyinka said. He didn’t confer with me; I didn’t confer with him anywhere. I told him (Jonathan) when he was vice president that this is what was going to happen. What else do you want? You want God to come down and say so. One Father Mbaka said something like that. Suddenly he changed and he was very apologetic and everybody started castigating him. You cannot hide truth. There is no way, it will come out.
Should some of the blame go to the religious leaders for the role they played in the last election, as Jonathan went to several other clerics for prayers but it appears that they did not warn him like you did?
I went to him – as the vice president, not as the president – for something and after our discussion he said so (to pray for him) and he got my reply. Meanwhile, this (2015) was when the pressure was getting to his throat and almost engulfing him. That was when he started going around. And those he went to, if they were really men of God, they knew where the truth lied but they never showed him the truth. Did you see the photograph I saw; you saw him in the midst of obas; you saw the way they pointed their sticks (at him). If you are a Yoruba man, do they (monarchs) pray with that kind of thing? No way! ‘You want prayer? We will give you prayer.’ This means they were deceptive. I am not ready to do that kind of thing. If it is the last bullet, I will rather die and meet my God. This is one thing that is wrong with this nation: we have many people that are ready to do anything because of money. They don’t think about their neighbour.
If you think these clerics deceived Jonathan… (Cuts in)
I don’t know. I did not say they deceived him.
But you said they did not tell him the truth.
Yes. From the results, they did not tell him the truth and he will regret it now.
What then can you say of the Christian Association of Nigeria and how Christian leaders relate with politicians?
I was one of the founders of CAN. I was the President of CAN for eight good years – myself and Mr. C. O Williams. He is dead now, may his soul rest in peace. He was a Methodist. When we were there, anybody, any Christian that had any problem, no matter what part of country, must contact the secretary before coming to me. You will also find out that we didn’t depend on anybody except God. If we wanted to travel, we sourced for funds. After coming back, we gave reports; ‘This is what we spent.’ But no sooner than I left that place that the katataka (disorganisation) started. It was Sunday Mbang who took over from me. That was when the whole issue started. CAN was no more CAN, it was just an empty thing. Its operations started well but suddenly it started to fail. Then, people started shouting, ‘Catholic has done it (led the association); Methodist has done it; we too must do it.’ That is not how it was done; we always did it by election and the election was always on our own.
Then, they started asking government to come and help them to hold elections: ‘We need money because CAN is going to hold election.’ Of course, he who pays the piper calls the tune. And unless a free and fair election is held in CAN, CAN will be no CAN anymore. God cannot deal with falsehood, impossible. When you struggle for position — the power that God didn’t to give to you, you struggled and you got it — who gave you the power? It’s the devil. And the devil will be happy. What really pains me is that the people they (some clerics) are deceiving, they cannot use their inner eyes to know that these people are not speaking the truth. That is the problem. Nigeria is a very beautiful nation with so many people who are ready to move this nation forward. But those who are ready to destroy the nation are few. You can know from their utterances.
When is it too risky for religious leaders in their dealing with politicians, especially those in public offices?
They should speak the truth and nothing but the truth. But people are not ready. ‘What do I get?’ ‘I want my reward here now,’ like teachers used to say in those days. ‘I want my rewards now; I don’t want it in heaven. I don’t know whether there is heaven, just give me now.’ Look at the number of churches we have in Nigeria, for example. On this street – I don’t want to mention names – there are three churches. We have a church here, another one behind me and another one just right there on this same street. And there is a law in Lagos State that says two churches cannot be on a street. They are now talking of noise making; who makes the noise? Before, they used to accuse the Muslims. They brought it (the complaint) to us while I was in CAN. I said ‘Gentlemen, before we do that; before we criticise, it is like somebody pointing an accusing finger at his neighbour; look at the position of the remaining for fingers.’
Look at this small street, there are three (churches). Before the end of the year, we may have another one. I remember asking one of them who was coming out of that place, ‘I am a Christian and you are a Christian. Look at one, two and three; what is wrong with us? I worship in my little chapel here, do you hear my voice?’ He said ‘Bishop, you see, this is the problem with you Catholics.’ I said, ‘I am not talking of Catholics or no Catholics.’ He said anybody could do the way they wanted and I said okay. Let us wait and see what the Lagos State Government will do to them. They (churches) could not talk because Fashola wasn’t a Christian and he was hitting some of them. Now, Fashola is no more there; a Christian is now there and they are now spreading their wings.
Are you aware that the new administration recently sealed up some churches, mosques and hotels for noise and environmental pollution?
He has not done anything yet. He is just beginning. Just like schools, people are now seeing churches as a good avenue for making money, because of telling lies. Tell me of any church in the Lagos – I don’t know of other parts of Nigeria – apart from Catholics that will not tell you ‘we can work miracles, we can cure you, we can remove the devil or your enemy is after you.’ Some of them curse. Is that a church instituted by God? Only God has the right to curse, no human being has that right.
Why can’t religious leaders scold the elite among their congregation whenever they err rather than giving them special treatment?
He who pays the pipers calls the tune. Because they are the ones who pay the pastors or whatever they call themselves, anything they want, the pastor must give. And the more he attends to them the more money he gets. That is what the pastor is looking for; that is why he started his church. Do you blame him? He knows he is doing the wrong thing but because of the money he won’t stop. When we were in CAN, we went to the Corporate Affairs Commission and told them that they had no right to deal with spiritual matters. We had the body of Christians called CAN and we have a body for the Muslims. ‘If somebody comes to you and say he wants to register a church, say no, go to CAN or the Islamic body.’ But they (the CAC) never agreed. That was how the corruption came up. So, once a church is registered, the man can be a businessman; he can be a trader; he can be a rogue; he can be anything; he is registered. Let them continue. What business do they have in registering churches? Look at the atrocities now about marriages. They get man and woman and say ‘repeat after me: for better, for worse.’ After six months, he tells them ‘you are dissolved, go.’ Is that marriage? Where is the love? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. You cannot mix both together. That is the problem.
BY LEKE BAIYEWU, PUNCH