Bishop Goddy Okafor, chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), South-East Chapter, in this interview with GODFREY OFURUM, bares his mind on insecurity in the country, marginalization of the South-East region and other national issues. Excerpts-
What’s your opinion on the incessant killing of Nigerians in Southern Kaduna?
The incessant killing of Nigerians in Southern Kaduna is disturbing. We are one people and we believe that we are one nation, but for these persistent killings going on in Southern Kaduna to keep occurring without the Federal Government (FG) doing something drastic to stop it, is disturbing.
So, we are beginning to ask questions; is it that the Federal Government of Nigeria does not know what to do to bring peace to Southern Kaduna and stop the killings or they do not have the political will to stop it? These are pressing questions.
Are you saying there’s no enough action by FG to stop the killings by bandits?
These people that are being massacred, day after day in Kaduna are fellow Nigerians. Federal Government owes it to them as a duty to protect them. The protection of lives and property is the responsibility of the government.
Every time there is killing; we blame it on some bandits. So, we keep asking, are these bandits human beings or spirits? If they are human beings, as we all have been made to understand, why can’t our law enforcement agents go after them?
Nigeria is a great country, but if we keep allowing things like this to persist, it will throw everyone into confusion and one will be wondering and asking, do I really belong here?
There is no way to explain why all these killings are going on in Southern Kaduna. Could it be that someone is interested in possessing land, belonging to Southern Kaduna people, so they want to wipe them out and take over their land? So many questions need answers.
Are the killings raising doubts among Nigerians on FG’s commitment to protecting them?
Let the Federal Government prove to Nigerians that there is no government connivance in these killings. Let them prove that FG is not in any way in support of what is happening in Southern Kaduna. Everyday bandits with AK-47, will go into Southern Kaduna and kill people and burn their houses.
They will finish and go freely and nothing will happen. When the Southern Kaduna people, who are being killed say let us try and defend our land and few of their men pick sticks, cutlasses, or even Dane gun, to scare away their invaders, they are the people the government will go after.
This is disturbing and South-East CAN have become uncomfortable with the killings and we are calling on the Federal Government to do their best to stop it.
What is the solution to the situation in Southern Kaduna?
Action is the solution. When the government is keeping quiet on things like this, they are simply telling the citizens that “you are on your own”. See, what they are telling every citizen, defend yourselves against bandits, but if you are found with a stick or cutlass you will go in for it.
Meanwhile, someone, who is moving about with AK-47 is free and nobody will go after him. The solution will be for the federal government to take drastic action to stop these so-called bandits and killer herdsmen.
The Governor of Kaduna State once said that he had a meeting with those evil bloodsuckers, destroying lives in Kaduna and even settled them at a time. So, if they know them, if they can hold a meeting with them, why can’t they arrest them?
Why can’t they do something drastic to stop these killings? Nigerians should no longer be massacred on the altar of religion or tribal differences. I have a farm and I one day, the farm manager invited me to the farm to see what’s happening there.
I was optimistic that I’m going to see something good from my farm. But when I got there, I saw how herdsmen brought their cows and damaged everything. Even as we tried to fence the place, they broke into the farm and forcefully moved in their cows.
One is helpless here. Who do we call on and who do we run to? You want us to grow food, but you can’t help us secure what we put on our farms. This is really disturbing.
Can the call by the National Assembly for the President to sack the Service Chiefs, be part of the solution to the killings?
This is not the first time the National Assembly is making such a call. If you watch our President’s body language, you’ll see that he’s not thinking along that line and that’s disturbing. You ask yourself, is he waiting for everyone to die? Perhaps the people who are dead, as far as he’s concerned are not Nigerians.
If the President cannot listen to the National Assembly, at least, he should listen to Nigerians and sack these Service Chiefs. We still have intelligent people in this country that can turn things around if given the opportunity to serve.
Why should the Service Chiefs remain there, while things have gone totally wrong? Nigerians had so much confidence in this President when he was about to be elected. That was why they gave him massive support. We are still waiting for General Mohammadu Buhari to show us that he’s still the same man Nigerians voted for.
Do you foresee changes in the Nigerian health sector post-COVID-19?
My worry is the rate at which our good and qualified doctors are leaving Nigeria for greener pastures in other countries. The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) has cried out to the Federal Government on several occasions that our best hands are leaving this country for better opportunities.
Should the Federal Government keep quiet and allow them to continue leaving what will be the future of this country? So, when I look at the rate at which our doctors are leaving this country, I get worried. We all are here seeing what is happening in this coronavirus era.
The government that could not build one standard hospital, because of COVID-19, every state suddenly woke up and we are now in a hurry to have Isolation Centres everywhere. My question is, after COVID-19 what next?
Personally I can’t blame the doctors for leaving Nigeria. But if we lose all our good hands when we fall ill, who will take care of us? The government should listen to NMA and keep the best doctors we have with us here.
If they are saying that the condition of service here isn’t favourable, then the government should listen to them and improve on that. If you know that when you stay in Nigeria, you’ll be asked to cut down an Iroko tree with a razor blade, but when you get into Cotonou or Ghana, serious provisions are made for such, there’s no way you will remain in Nigeria to suffer.
Nobody will ignore where things are easy to remain in a place that is totally unpredictable. Nigerians are suffering and it pains me.
There is an increase in crime involving youths, where are we getting it wrong?
When I look at our youths, something keeps telling me that the Federal Government has no interest in giving our children good direction and hope. We have existed as an independent country for over 50 years. I’m a Pastor and I’ve visited many countries of the world and whenever I come back to this country, I look at my children and look at the children of my members and I know that living in Nigeria is not easy.
I visit our universities and preach there. If you are a leader and you can’t give people a good direction, they will try to take another angle. Everyone is left to himself. Go to our communities and see how our youths are going deeper and deeper into cultism and drugs and you will begin to ask, what’s happening?
Our youths graduate from different universities without jobs. They walk our streets with no vision and nothing to assure them that their future is assured. This has increased the level of criminal activities our youths are getting into.
The other time one of our youths was arrested in Dubai and people were saying all kinds of things about him. Blame him till tomorrow, there are still such young men growing up on a daily basis. What’s the future of this country? What assurance to these youths that tomorrow will be better from what’s happening today?
It’s obvious that most Nigerian youths now see crime as the only option to escape hardship, any message for them?
You see, crime is not and can never be an option. Nobody should consider it a solution to any bad situation. My message to our youths is simple; you don’t have to be a criminal or go into internet fraud or yahoo to succeed in life. Our youths should be careful. A good name is better than all the riches in the world.
They should remember their future and their family name when thinking of engaging in fraud. Yes, the condition of living in Nigeria may not be fantastic, but they should know that every human being is gifted by God. They have to realize their own areas of gift and concentrate on such areas without going into crime and God will bless them.
They should not go into crime, simply because the government has failed us. Notwithstanding, we still need the government to establish level playing ground for people. I’ll also like to tell our parents to be careful to know the company their children keep and the lifestyle they have adopted. The Bible says “train up a child in the way he should go, so that when he grows, he will not depart from it”.
Crime is not the way out of any bad situation.
Police brutality, intimidation, and extortion are on the increase in South-East, what’s CANs opinion on this anomaly?
You see, we should have gone past facial guess works, profiling, or overgeneralization of people’s behavior, just because of their appearance, as means of detecting who is a criminal.
We should be talking about more intelligence, not torturing to get information. Applying intimidation on mere facial expressions, body shape, or just guessing. The manner in which police officers are grabbing our youths, throwing them into vehicles, and labeling every good looking young man, as Yahoo boy, need to be looked into.
As a Christian leader, I don’t support any form of criminal activity, but I’m calling for more intelligence than the current things we are witnessing now. Some persons look good and do good jobs. Rather than over-generalizing and intimidating our youths for looking good, why can’t the police do more of intelligence gathering and know who is who instead of dehumanization that is going on in our streets.
That someone looks fresh doesn’t make him a criminal. It doesn’t make him or her, a fraudster. You are chasing youths here and there, you want to know who is Yahoo boy and all that, but what have you, as the government put in place to ensure that such things are eliminated from the minds of our youths?
So, I want the Federal Government to do something. As a church leader, I look into the church and the society and I know what we can and cannot do. Please let the government do their job properly.
Have you been noticing the growing outcry on the dilapidated conditions of roads especially Federal Highways in Southeast?
Go through major cities in South-East, there is no good road. Go look at our roads. I traveled to Delta State the other day and on getting to Mgbidi in Imo State, along Onitsha-Owerri road, a federal highway, the road is impassable.
The whole road was blocked, because of a pothole in the middle of the road. And I asked myself when this thing was showing the sign, why didn’t the government do something. We were directed from one village to the other before we were able to join the highway again.
I asked myself, why are we suffering like this? We have the Federal Emergency Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), what is their job? If you have a meeting in Calabar, Cross River state, now, tell me, how you will get to Calabar? Look at Akwa-Ibom and Abia, they’re very close, but to go to Uyo now is a huge problem.
Do we really have any rights in this country? I want our leaders to know that we are looking up to them. If they want criminal activities to stop, they should show those they are leading that they care about their existence.
Every time you will hear and read that the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) recovered this and that amount of money, but we have not seen anything to show for it. Every day you parade people on television and tell people that you have recovered this building, that money, here and there all good, but show us what you have done with the loot recovered so far.
Do these points you raised above explain the much talked about marginalization of the South-East?
Aside from those points, you are talking about, things are not balanced in Nigeria. The Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) Gas Pipeline is worth looking into. You want to lay a gas pipeline from states, like Rivers and Imo to Ajaokuta, Kaduna, and Kano, for industrialization. And I ask, what about the cities in the South-East?
Aba also needs to be industrialized. Why can’t you put Aba in your budget? Why can’t you remember Onitsha, Nnewi, Enugu, Abakiliki, and Owerri? You cannot lay your pipe from Imo State, while Imo cannot feel the impact of it.
Again, they came up with the issue of “Western Rail Line” and want to run it from Lagos to Katsina. Why not do the same thing to “Eastern Rail Line”?
After all, nobody will enter the train and not pay. It will generate more revenue for the country. What have we done that we are neglected in everything? They have gone to borrow money that all of us in Nigeria will repay, so why marginalize South-East. I want to say to the minister of transport, he is our brother. He should remember that there are still people who live around this area and tomorrow he may benefit from it.
The Eastern Rail Line will not serve the people of Southeast alone. It runs from here, to Benue and down to Maiduguri. If they go to borrow money and don’t balance what they’re doing, people will feel marginalized. When people see that certain good things of life are located in just some parts, they’ll migrate to those areas, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Tomorrow some people will start telling non-indigenes to go back to their states, forgetting that the government made some areas terrible places to live. I want the Federal Government to take cognizance of these things and realize that God of heaven, the judge of all men are watching them. If they want to borrow money that Nigeria will make use of, let them allow everybody to feel the impact.
What’s your take on the $500 million commercial loan agreement between Nigeria and China with a clause that indirectly ceded Nigeria’s sovereignty to China, failure to pay?
The Chinese government has seen that some African leaders are very corrupt and that most of them are shortsighted. They don’t see tomorrow what they see is today. Some of these African leaders go after things that will satisfy them and their immediate families, today.
They are not thinking about tomorrow. China has taken advantage of it, to come into Africa. Nigeria is not the first country they have given such a condition. They are doing their best to take over Africa, maybe, because of their population. It could be that they are seeing what we are not seeing.
How can the Minister of Transport, see nothing wrong in that agreement that will see Nigeria lose part of her sovereignty to China if Nigeria is unable to pay back? How is Nigeria going to repay that loan? Must they accept every condition attached to a loan? Must they even borrow from China, simply because they want to see money for whatever reason? This present administration should not mortgage Nigeria.