Why Nigeria is retrogressing —Sokoto Anglican Bishop
Rt Revnd (Dr) Augustine Akinyele Omole, Bishop, Diocese of Sokoto (Anglican Communion), strongly believes the challenges confronting Nigeria today requires collaboration among the church and its leadership, as well as the political class, in this interview by Olakunle Maruf. Excerpts:.
With the general election over, what should the new set of incoming elected public officials do differently so that the country can reap the real gains of civilian rule?
We have everything we need to make Nigeria great; we have them in abundance-human and material resources. The trouble of Nigeria is man-made. It is directly caused by our leaders who are not connected to the people; leaders who will see white and call it black or those that see black and call it white. Leaders who will eat and eat and even make room for only their unborn children, whereas those they are leading are jobless. That is the problem and indeed the missing link.
What does it portend for the country? Don’t you think it constitutes a time bomb?
It is a time bomb. What is happening is such that when you catch a thief and ask him why he is stealing, he says it is because he has lost his job. It is a time bomb that we are preparing for the future of this nation. We are telling our youths that they are not useful for anything. They spend money, go to school, come out and there is no job for them. That is why we have all the so called-se Yahoo Yahoo (internet fraud). Jobs are not available for the youth. You ask them to go to farm, whereas there is nothing for them to work with. Our actions and inaction as leaders today are mortgaging the future of the country and our children. We are consuming what we are supposed to set aside for our children. We are creating a Nigeria, where children will kill one another, though it is already happening. Our politicians should know if we do not curtail the ugly things happening now, I give it another 30 years, we would witness a different aspect of Nigeria. But, God forbid. Our leaders should wake up from their slumber and do the needful. Anyone above 60 years should not be allowed to contest the Presidency of this nation again. We should look into the provision of the constitution that deals with the issue of age. Nigerians between 30 and 50 years can do better than all those elders currently in office. They have finished Nigeria, but I if we can put someone who has the interest of the country at heart and is committed to making life better for all, even those Nigerians already in their graves, will not curse them.
Most Nigerians are seriously worried by the level of moral decadence in the society, despite the high number of worship centres across the country. What specific role can the church play to reawaken Nigerians to those values that exalt a nation?
If we go back in history, we would see that the church played a very significant role in building Nigeria, and I believe that the same church can still do same. We should remember that Christianity, particularly the Anglican Church, for instance, came with schools, hospitals and many others which were pivotal to development of this nation. Also, we should not forget that some institutions and some hospitals that have played so much important roles in the health aspect of this nation are all products of the missionaries. Talk of Kings College or Igbobi College, both located in Lagos. All these things were what churches contributed for the building of the nation. Let churches go back to history and begin to do those things that were done in those days. I believe they can still contribute a lot to our nation-building.
The truth is that sometimes, we allow the issue of money to override the importance of the church. We look for money in a way that are not glorified by God and such attitude can not build a nation. I want to say that the church still plays a very vital role in building Nigeria, especially if we remember what we have done before. Things were good for Nigeria in those days and we want it to be better. So, the church must rise up to make further stronger impact in nation-building. We spread the gospel and that is what the kingdom of God demands from the church. We are the Light of the world, so, the church should to continue to preach the gospel, as Apostle Paul says it is the power of God. There will be sanity in the society if the church should rise up in condemning the evil tendencies that have taking over our society today. We should shine our light and preach the gospel if evils must stop, and if we succeed in that regard, there will be improvement in development, as the spate of kidnapping, killing and other forms of criminalities will be put to an end. What form of development do you expect in a crime-prone environment? So, the church must consistently teach and preach against those negative tendencies. I believe we will get it right and normalcy will return to Nigeria and the dream of a great country that we all want will be achieved.
With the benefit of hindsight, at what stage do you think things began to go awry in the church, particularly against the background of its positive role you talked about?
The first thing we must understand is that any society that leaves God out of its affairs is bound to decay. The government of this country some time ago took over mission schools. It administered them without recource to the fundamental ideas and vision of the founders. So, the takeover soon created a vacuum in moral instruction and other fundamental objectives of establishing the mission schools. The Christian Religion Knowledge, for example, has been removed from the education curriculum. When we discovered in the last National Examination Council (NECO), we wrote a letter to the Ministry of Education to complain. All they told us was that they would look into the complaint. The students sat the exam but it was discovered that their papers were not marked. That is to tell you the level at which the government is helping to destroy the nation. The other time, they said CRK has been combined with about five subjects and that the subject (CRK) can be taught by anybody, that is, such teacher doesn’t have to be a Christian. When you ask someone of other faith to teach Christian Religion as a subject, what do you think he is going to teach for God’s sake? If you remove Christian Religion from the school curriculum, it means there will be no moral instruction; there will be no morning assembly. Even in schools established by the church, there are government policies that have been put in place to make sure some of these things are not happening. Then, what kind of nation do you want to build? The church, which should have been the bedrock of this nation, has been put aside. We should remember that those days, it was the same church that helped to stop slavery Slessor. Have we forgotten Mary Slessor who fought the battle that twins should not be killed anymore? Was it not the church? The point is that when the church is hindered by government policies, anything can go wrong, because from what we know of the church, it is the light. The Bible says: “We are the light of the world.” So, when the church is not given its prime place in the society, then we are inviting trouble. Some of the things that have been happening is the fact that the church has been put aside and the result is what we are seeing and getting now.
Another issue of public discourse is the flamboyant lifestyle of a number of church leaders in the face of harsh economic challenges confronting their followers.…
When salt loses its value, it becomes ordinary sand. The trend you talked about is prevalent among many of pastors, not the notable ones alone; from the level of parish priests to evangelists who say they are leaders in the church. You want to pray for someone, you ask the person to go and bring his or her panties. What are those things meant for? You cannot do deliverance without touching a woman’s buttocks or other sensitive parts of her body. These are some of the things that demean a pastor as a man of God. You want to ride in the latest car; some pastors want to show who is ‘bigger’ in status and wealth.
They purchase private jets, helicopters and the rest of them. Some can no longer travel in the same vehicles with their church members because they want to put a line of demarcation. Who makes us superior to others? So, the act of worldliness has permeated the church and seated in the altar of God’s temple. It is the act of negligence and evil life of some men of God.
What the Bible tell us to do is to preach the Gospel, win souls, but what we are doing today is no more evangelism of winning souls but evangelism of highlighting and spreading what we have (wealth we have acquired) and what we are. We want to show other pastors that we are bigger; that we are superior. These things are demeaning our ministry because we are now eclipsed than heavenly in our outlook. Even other church members come to churches with dresses that expose the sensitive parts of the body of a man or a woman and they (pastors) condone such indecent dressing because of the money they collect from such individuals. These things happen today because we think we can compromise the Word of God. But you can only compromise your own standard. It is the word of God that makes you whatever you are. So, if you compromise the word of God, then you have opened the door of criticism for yourself and the church that you think you represent. And that is not a good omen.
But the church needs to survive, given the prevalent hostile economic climate in the larger society. How do you think the church, business and politics can inter-relate without any form of compromise?
The churches, business and politics, for me, is played by just one person; the Bible says, “Let your life show sign before men that they will see your good luck and glorify your father who is in heaven.” A Christian, for instance, must show himself as a true Christian in his business and politics. Politics is all about governance; it is about distribution. As a Christian, you must live a life that tells the people who you are. If you want to be a different person in the church, a different person in politics and a different person in business, that is not proper; things don’t work that way. For me, there is a link because the church is out to make sure that life is better for its members; then business too is meant to ensure that life is better for the people. So, the link is the three-church, business and politics. The issue is that there should be no difference because if I am a politician and at the same time, a Christian, I must allow the virtues of Christianity to reflect in my brand of politics. The problem we have in Nigeria is that we want to be Christian in the church; another person in politics and yet another person in business; that cannot work. That is why Nigeria seems to be moving backward. If I am a Christian and politician, anywhere I find myself, I must use my Christianity to make things better for the people. As a businessman, whatever business I do, I do it according to the rules and the tenets of my religion. There will be no fake drugs, Government will not give me money to do something and I will misappropriate it. I will not take bribe before I do my work.