• Monday, February 26, 2024
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Government must remove from the psyche of an average Nigerian the notion that criminality pays – Ukporhe

Government must remove from the psyche of an average Nigerian the notion that criminality pays – Ukporhe

Austin John Ukporhe, a Reverend and senior pastor of the Remnant Christian Network, Lagos, with headquarters in Makurdi, Benue State, in this interview with Zebulon  Agomuo, Editor, spoke on a number of issues ranging from the role of religion in the development of Nigeria; succession methods in Churches, and to the leadership problem in the country. He emphasised that as a matter of priority, the government must work toward removing from the psyche of an average Nigerian the notion that criminality pays. Excerpts:

As a cleric, how would you describe the role of religious leaders in the development of Nigeria?

The role of Christian leaders or religious leaders cannot be overemphasised. In my opinion, they have a strong role to play when it comes to the peace of a nation. Considering that millions of people flock to these clerics and listen to them, they have a significant influence on the population. They can direct and redirect the people’s motives, thoughts and actions. In keeping with national development, we must trust God for peace. A peaceful environment is a healthy environment that can bring about a good economy. It is a peaceful environment that will attract international investors. The piloting of peace is, to a large extent, determined by the religious leaders. That is one.

Two is that religious leaders can call the people to the arena of being watchful and patient and not carrying out revenge when they are hurt or offended. For instance, when there have been killings with reprisal attacks in the offing, even though the armed forces and the police are there to maintain law and order in society, it becomes easier if the religious leaders speak to the people.

Many people are quick to say that “religion is a scam” because of what they see in society. What is the place of religion in nation-building, and why does it seem that such roles are lacking in Nigeria?

I agree with you that many people are now saying that religion has become a scam in national development. But the fact that people are saying it does not mean we don’t need religious leaders. The fact that we have bad eggs among many people does not mean everyone is the same. As I said earlier, one of the roles of religious leaders is to foster peace. Where there is no peace, you cannot attract foreign investments, and the economy will not grow as it should. I give you an example, when there was unrest in the South-South, the Niger Delta region, the production of crude oil went down. Where there is peace, there will be an increase, growth, and establishment, and by that, there will be national development. Some people are saying religion has become a scam because the standards of our Christian faith, our values and our ethos are being dragged into the mud. But that cannot make one say religious leaders are no longer needed. Religious leaders are close to the people. In fact, they are closer to the people than any level of government. People gather and listen to the clerics, and they hold dear the words of the clerics. So, you can’t wish clerics away. However, there has to be a clear separation between religion and governance. A cleric should not take sides. The cleric’s job is to teach the people the tenets of faith.

Some people say that the level of religiosity does not match the level of righteousness in Nigeria. Do you disagree with that thinking?

When they say the level of religiosity does not match the outcome of righteousness in Nigeria, yes, I agree to some extent. Honestly, most clerics need to go back to the drawing board. I speak as one who is within the Christian fold. At some point, the prosperity message has brought undue pressure on people. When you hear that you are going to have a breakthrough, and the emphasis is more tilted to what you can get than what you can become, there is a problem. We need to understand that there is a becoming before a getting.

There is a kind of person God wants to see us become. It happens to be that that principle of becoming has been eroded in my sphere as a pastor. We need to go back to the basics of our Christian faith. You see, the Christian is trained by the scriptures to deny himself and to uphold the principle of self-denial. A Christian is trained to look out for the betterment of his neighbour. He is trained to be sacrificial. The reason there seems to be a missing link between the character traits of a Christian and what we see in Nigeria is what clerics are feeding the people. If the diet changes to a balanced scriptural meal, you will see a change in society. The face of the church is the face of society. The church’s message should go back to focusing on Christ. That is how to resolve this situation where you have lots of churches but there are still a lot of thieves, corrupt and compromised people. It’s unfortunate that when you see a list of the people caught in corrupt practices, many of them will be people from our churches with Christian names. If we change the meal, that is what we teach, we will begin to harvest fresh thoroughly bred Christians who will reflect Christ in their character.

The last general election nearly tore apart the Christendom. From what you saw, heard or read, does it seem to you that Christian leaders in the country are really heavenly-minded or they are after mammon?

Well, it is not just the last election, recent elections have put a strain on Christendom in terms of people having different political preferences and pushing those preferences to the extent of offending other Christians. I wouldn’t talk about Christian leaders being heavenly-minded or mammon-chasing. Like I said earlier, there are bad eggs among Christian leaders in the country. Our prayer is that every Christian leader will model Christ in everything and that every Christian will be an example of the believers in the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. It is an abomination for politics to be the basis for strife among Christians. It should not be heard.

The harsh economic situation in the country is really affecting the spiritual life of many members. May we know how you are reaching out to, or impacting the lives of your members?

It is true that many Nigerians, including Christians, are facing a harsh economic situation. But I don’t agree with the notion that it adversely affects the spiritual life of Christians. The life we have in Christ is eternal, it cannot be affected by variations of the circumstances in time. If anything, the difficult situation should drive us closer to God. We use tough times to build our spiritual muscles and learn to trust in God.

For us in the Remnant Christian Network, we are striving for the rebirth of Apostolic Christianity based on four pillars; doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, as expressed in Acts of the Apostles chapter 2 verse 42. As much as possible we make sure nobody among us goes hungry. We assist people among us with all manner of things from school fees to rent and so on, but we have zero tolerance for hunger. We have been doing that for years. We have been encouraging people in any way we can and in December, I did a series of teaching on how to deal with discouragement. We got a lot of calls and messages from people who said the teaching helped them.

Going by some of the things going on in Churches nowadays, e.g. how children of church founders, who in the eyes of society are not qualified to take over from their parents, are now succeeding their parents as though the Church has become a family business. What is your take here?

My take is that succession in ministry is by revelation. It is the Lord of the harvest that should determine who plays one role or the other in His field. From the scriptures, we can see that it is not hereditary. However, it is not impossible for a biological son to succeed his father in ministry, but it has to be that the Lord said so.

Over the years, Nigeria has been described as a potentially prosperous nation. But it has remained so for many years without the latent potential to produce something worthwhile. How best can you describe the country from your own point of view?

Nigeria is a wealthy country with poor leadership. God has blessed us abundantly with natural and human resources and good climatic conditions. There is no rational reason for Nigeria to be where she is economically. But here we are. Leadership is needed for us to explore, extract, refine and harness our resources and organise society in such a way that wealth is equitably distributed and enterprise is encouraged.

We will continue to pray and trust God to help us resolve this leadership problem at all levels, and we will continue to contribute our quota by doing our civic duties, and much more as God empowers us.

Nigeria is beset with leadership problems, with governance issues. From what you see now, is there any sign that the country will overcome this in the near future?

We are believers. I believe in the possibility of a new Nigeria. Though it may not look like it now, but sooner than you expect. God will turn again the captivity of Nigeria. I believe the prophecy by Pa S.G Elton that Nigeria will be known for corruption and then things will turn and it will become known for righteousness. I believe we are entering that era of righteousness. It will impact everything, especially political leadership at all levels.

Despite promises of delivering democracy dividends to Nigerians, poverty is pervasive in the country. What do you think may be going wrong with the new administration of Bola Tinubu?

I don’t think the time is ripe for me to comment on Tinubu’s administration. However, all indices show that the administration needs to make better decisions and adjust its policies to suit current realities. The government must find a more sustainable way to solve the poverty problem.

There is widespread corruption in government and those who steal public funds are not being punished which tends to promote corruption. Kindly share your thoughts on how Nigeria can overcome the menace?

Prevention they say is better than cure. I think the government has focused too much on prosecuting people after they have stolen public funds. I think a lot more would be achieved if government did more to prevent the stealing of public funds by building transparency and accountability into the system. The Bible says righteousness exalts a nation and sin is a reproach, corruption is a reproach. The government must as a matter of priority work toward removing from the psyche of an average Nigerian the notion that criminality pays. The government should promote the fear of God and righteousness as the national way of life in Nigeria and you will see how quickly things will turn around.