Methodist Archbishop, Kehinde Stephen speaks on religion, education and politics and governance in this interview by AYO-LAWAL GBENOBA, pointing out that the nation’s leaders failed to translate the free education they received under Obafemi Awolowo’s administration into positive gains for the country.
Why are the missions so bent on taking back their schools?
Government cannot run education as well as the missions. Look at the situation our schools are in now. They cannot pay teachers; they cannot maintain schools; they cannot do anything. What kind of life is that? They are not developing infrastructure, they are not doing anything and we are saying, return our schools. We are the people to run the errand. We would be the ones to call parents together to fashion out ways of running these schools. If we build two classrooms each year, in 20 years we would have 40 classrooms. So, there won’t be a year without a sign of development and this would cost little; N1, 000 or N2, 000 here and there and the school would continue to grow. And then, the teachers would be disciplined, there would be supervision, no delay in their salaries; no private businesses and everyone would be held accountable. You would be surprised that in five years, pupils who could not spell their names would begin to have ‘A’s. So, what else is the state looking for?
But government has always been running schools. For instance, many products of Awolowo’s free education programme in the then Western Region are in leadership positions today and….
(cuts in) That was then. All they do now is to play politics with education and they are calling the name of Awo. When Awolowo was running free education, he didn’t take over mission schools and government schools were still established. They had both, they knew what they were doing. You would not get to any classroom without chalks or scheme of work; everything was provided.
Sir, Awolowo was not dealing with millions of children; the population then was not as huge as what we have today.
If it had been like that, Awolowo would have generated more revenue and would have applied the increase in revenue toward education. I think something is wrong, and we have to stop playing with the future of our children.
Shouldn’t religious organisations face the task of spiritual awareness and revival?
God made religion; an educated Muslim child is a pride to the parents and the community. An ignorant Muslim becomes a problem to the community, the same goes for the Christians. If we want to play politics let’s play it after giving proper education to all our children; this would enable them play it better than us. Religion is important, but it is essentially a private business, do not make it a public thing, because we have religious organisations and bodies in education and that is what we have been saying. I have been saying do not sponsor anyone to carry out religious obligations. No government funds must be used to support anyone to carry out religious pilgrimage. No government funds must be applied for such things. If you have your money, you go and then the government can facilitate it, by ensuring that no one abuses you, that you know your right, or it provides functional services. The money the government is using to send people on pilgrimages and so on should be applied to educational infrastructures.
But the belief was that if government sent people on pilgrimage, it would better their orientation.
It is the business of religious organisations to make people become better. If that is the case, let governors come and mount the pulpit and start preaching in churches every Sunday or Friday in the mosque. If they cannot do that, then leave us alone to go after ourselves and place proper moral values; that is our own business. The business of the government is to govern and look after the citizens, to provide infrastructures and make sure education is in place. Government is dabbling into areas that should be left for the private sector and I believe that is why we have failed as a nation. Let me tell you, I think the 1999 constitution has to be rewritten. I want the state to have less power and even the Federal Government to have lesser power, but more power to the local governments.
Are you suggesting a confederate system of government?
No, this is common sense system. Instead of the 774 local governments in Nigeria, I would want us to have about 20,000. Let the power to grow and develop be invested in the grassroots; by so doing, this country would transform.
What about corruption….because the state governments would tell you that they are trying to control the local governments to avoid misappropriation of funds?
They are not controlling them. See, all these things should be taken care of by proper legislation. The leaders should be held accountable. If 20 million Naira was given to you for development, you would spell out how the 20 million Naira was spent and we would make sure it was spent on what it was meant for.
Are you saying there should be something like town hall meeting?
Not even that, but power should come to the grassroots. Look, nobody is managing the Ibadan Archdiocese, Methodist Church of Nigeria for me, for instance….
(cuts in) Sir, it is because you are a man of God. If power is given to the councillors….
(cuts in) Councillors are not lunatics. You won’t even see them. It’s because they are very few and the states don’t want them. Even the money that is meant for the local governments, they don’t give them. They only give them enough to gather themselves to share and leave everything undone. Nobody is holding them accountable. How many people know the names of the representatives of their areas? If the constitution is fashioned in that way everybody will know… After all, you have people in charge of cooperative societies. The cooperative society is very successful in Nigeria, because you know the people you are dealing with and if there is any problem you know the people to hold accountable. So, there would be progress. The state governments are just wasting our money, blowing sirens and wasting our money all over. And we do not know what they are doing; no one is saying anything. Even when the say that they have a town hall meeting, the hall is empty and no one knows what has come from the government. There is no serious accountability. What is happening at the central level is also there. To me, I believe the whole system should be re-arranged….
(cuts in) That is constitution amendment?
The constitution should be amended. A new constitution should emerge to checkmate powers.
What type of rearrangement, is it regional….?
(cuts in) We cannot run away from regional arrangement. We are suffering in this country because the military intervened in Nigerian governance. Before 1966, you had the Eastern Region, the Northern Region, Western and the Mid-Western Regions and they were all running their own affairs. Of course, we had the Federal level, but it wasn’t as powerful. Each region nurtured its autonomy and developed properly. We must go back to that kind of arrangement. The military has only one unified command, which is why they turned the entire country to what we have today. So, everybody goes to Abuja for allocation. No, this shouldn’t be, each state should generate its own revenue and decide what goes to the Federal and how much stays in the state. I think that arrangement needs to be done. If we don’t do the rearrangement agitations will not cease -Niger Delta, Biafra, OPC and all those kind of things. We must have the courage to rearrange the country and if we do, my own idea is that we must give greater autonomy and powers to local governments. We must create many more local governments and give them more powers while the states have limited authority, and the Federal Government, even smaller. The Federal can control the army and so on, but let the states have their own police.
There is darkness all over now, can you imagine if regions are allowed to generate their own electricity? We would never be in this kind of peculiar case. Nothing stops the South-Eastern region, which has coal, from generating electricity.
Does it mean we don’t have the ability and infrastructure to generate adequate electricity?
We do, but we discontinued doing well in that area. There are so many things we have that can power electricity.
So, you are also in support of implementation of the CONFAB report?
I think it would be inappropriate for any government to say that they do not have time to look at that. Governance is continuity; if the previous administration had done something right, those things must be allowed to survive. We must take a look at them. The people in the previous administration, whether they were serious or not, at least, called Nigerians together, so we must see to the report with a view of implementing it for the benefit of the country.
As far as I am concerned, Buhari is doing well fighting corruption, but he must look at the rearrangement of the country.
But, some people are saying he is only fighting the opposition?
Forget about those who are saying he is fighting the opposition. Wrong is wrong.
But, why is he not spreading it to others, even when they have the petitions?
You have to start from a point. If people had fought corruption the way it is being done now, if EFCC and ICPC had been empowered and made independent to prosecute and do things the way it should, we would have moved beyond this level. People would not have had such impunity to suck this country dry economically. They destroyed Nigeria; they killed Nigeria; many of them should never get out of jail. It is not a question of looking nice, or blaming the PDP or APC. Corruption has thrived in Nigeria for so long. So, I don’t care whether it is APC or PDP. If they prosecute PDP, at a point there would be no PDP culprits left and the attention would be turned on APC, and there is no way, if they do it very well, that the APC would not be involved. You start from the known to the unknown; they are the people who held power most recently, so, what is wrong if they turn the searchlight on those people. If they are looking for N2.1 billion or what have you, which was meant for the armed forces, and some people were said to have shared it, buying houses worth N300/N400 million for their children, and you are saying such move is sectional. What is sectional about that? If they continue to probe and if that consumes Buhari, good for the country! Subsequent people would know that being corrupt is not a way of life. Let them beam the searchlight on the judiciary, religious leaders, or anyone who has stolen from Nigeria. Let whoever has stolen from Nigeria return all the money they have stolen from Nigeria. They have set Nigeria back for decades. I don’t want to listen to the argument that what the present administration is doing is sectional; evil is evil.
What is your take on the imposition of taxes on churches?
I don’t know the basis for them asking churches to pay taxes because I pay tax. I am a member of the church and a bishop and my members pay tax. So, if as citizens of Nigeria we carry out our civic responsibilities, why should we come to church and be taxed again; that is double taxation. If they are truly collecting the taxes they ought to, they would not be thinking about churches paying tax. If any church is in business for profit, then of course, charge them in accordance with the principles of business for profit. If it is a non-profit making business, leave them alone, because the people who come to our churches are from different backgrounds. Some have job, some don’t have job, but let those who have job carry out the obligation of paying tax wherever they are. People come to church and make their contributions, so, what do you want to tax? How many times do you want to tax an individual? And, if I am running a clinic to extend service, what are you taxing in that? I don’t understand.
Like the church running a clinic? That should be taxable because you will charge people for services rendered.
If the church is running a clinic or hospital, what do you want to tax in that? What money, from which service? For the service that you ought to render? Social services are not there; without these religious bodies rendering these services the country would be worse for it. They are not subsidising anything for religious bodies; they are not giving us anything. I don’t receive any subsidy from the government. So, on what basis do you want to tax the church? However, if you have churches that are behaving in a way that is different from what is expected of churches, or which hide under the name, ‘church’ and are doing something different, investigate them. They have the right to know what is going on because they are the government, but, as far as I am concerned, wanting to tax churches is to have a way out of their laziness in generating revenue. A lot of people in high places don’t pay taxes. How many of the commissioners pay taxes? How I wish they subject people in high positions to the same kind of scrutiny they give ordinary Nigerians; then you will find out that most of the people in power don’t pay taxes.