• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Without killing corruption, Nigeria’s development will remain a mirage – Umunna


Leonard Umunna is the bishop and founder of the Bible Life Church (worldwide). He is also an entrepreneur with chains of businesses, including schools. In this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, he spoke on the state of the nation, particularly the high level of poverty in the country and how the harsh economic weather has negatively impacted everything, including church attendance, members’ financial commitment and to some extent their spirituality. He also emphasized the need for the government to be transparent in its avowed commitment toward stamping out corruption out of the country for meaningful development to take place. The bishop also said that the war against insecurity may not be won unless corruption is killed in Nigeria as, according to him, there are certain elements within the government that are behind the insecurity. Excerpts:

In a few days, the new administration in Nigeria will be one year old. In your own assessment, how has the country fared within this period?

The response to this question depends on who is speaking and where the fellow is speaking from. If the person is speaking from the Aso Rock Villa, his answer will be different from another person speaking from outside the seat of power. Or if the fellow is even a non-Nigerian, a foreigner, the answer will be different too. What do I mean? There are different perspectives to one question. If the fellow is answering this question from the Aso Rock, he would tell you that they are overworking and giving their best, or are you not feeling the hard work of the government? A person answering from outside the seat of power will tell you that the President should let the poor breathe. He will tell you that this one has even gone beyond “let the poor breathe,” but that something is trying to remove their lungs and suffocating the throat, and that they are dying slowly. If the fellow is speaking from outside the country, he may tell you that some aspects of the country is coming up, but some others are still down. This person may be speaking on the standpoint of policies, diplomacy and others; perhaps, some connections here that feed him with reports on which he draws his conclusions. But if that same person could come into Nigeria today and sees what an average man on the street is going through, he may have a change of perception. Secondly, I think the President himself is trying, but nobody can do beyond his ability. I reflected on this issue before coming for this interview, I said to myself, if the President had deviated from the manner of Buhari’s appointments, Nigeria could have been better by now. I have told people severally that every region of this country has the best of hand for any job in Nigeria, sentiments and politics apart; forget about tribalism and individualistic tendency in our leaders- it is my turn; it is my turn. If we give people the opportunity to operate within the constitutional provisions, and without saying he is from that place or that place, the country will make progress, and we will have a better place called Nigeria. It is not that our leaders are not seeing what is happening in other countries; it is not that they are not able to replicate or even make things better, but our mindset based on what we have passed through, we have had Nigeria-Biafra war, but some are still ruling us based on the result of that war. They are telling us that everyone is alive and doing well, but that is not a true reflection of what is happening in the country today. We are saying eschew avarice, nepotism, political jingoism, but we are going deeper into those negative things. If they can purge their minds and spirits of all these evil things, Nigeria will fare well, and the country has all it takes to lead Africa. The Nigerian system is killing the Nigerian people. Nigeria is a great country going by the resources God has placed in our hands- human, natural and even the spiritual resources are so overwhelming that it seems to me that the world is laughing at us that we are unable to make anything out of those great endowments.

You are a man of many parts- a cleric, founder of many business concerns, including schools. What level of challenge has the harsh economy placed on your shoulders, particularly managing a Church with shrinking tithes and offerings and drop in attendance?

To say it as it is, it has been very challenging. But we have continued to weather the storm. I can tell you that for the past ten years, the school aspect of my business has not yielded kobo in terms of financial benefit to me; rather I have continued to spend on the school. The Church on its part is not paying me; I can tell you truly that it has been difficult to navigate all these. There are still other demands- you have to pay the staff, maintain the infrastructure with the high cost of materials these days. But we have continued to move on because Christ said that the gate of hell shall not prevail against the Church. To survive these days, you must become innovative; we must always listen to the Spirit of God for more insights. But the challenges are there. Members of the Church are Nigerians who are also being impacted by the harsh economy; they feel the pain in their individual families and homes. The workers in the Church are also workers in secular offices, who have been affected by the bad economy. They no longer find it easy to pay their tithes. What they have as take-home pay is no longer enough for them to take care of their family needs not to talk of paying tithe. A few that are now able to pay tithe are being bombarded by some less-endowed members for assistance. The population of those who do not have is far more than those who have to give out. You find out that the Church is no longer what it used to be. Despite the sharp drop in tithes and offering, the Church spends more money these days in keeping the fellowship going. For instance, if you are in a rented apartment as a Church, you still need to pay your rent; pay for light; if you have staff, you must pay them. All these are seriously impacting negatively on the Church. The way it is now, you cannot even bank on expected tithes and offering; you cannot budget on that, because at the end of the day, you may not even get the money to pay for electric bill and fuel the generators. Again, the number of people coming to Church these days has dwindled. You see empty seats every service day. It is as bad as that.

The food insecurity or food crisis in the country has been blamed partly on insecurity. Despite government efforts to rein in the scourge of insecurity, the problem has persisted. How best in your opinion do you think this can be handled?

The major problem is corruption. There is too much corruption in the system and it is destroying all the sectors, not just the food sector. Everything is affected. You may also wonder why the government is going here and there looking for investors and they are not coming. Once you are not tackling corruption, whatever you want to achieve, corruption will not allow it. They invest in electricity, corruption will make them vandalise everything; they invest in health, corruption will make the doctors and nurses to ‘japa’ or those who are not ‘japaring’ will open their own private businesses, clinics/pharmacies and carry the government drugs to such personal businesses. Unless the government is able to do the first thing first, take care of the right things first, nothing much will be achieved. I told you that they missed it by failing to hire the right people from across the country and they are still busy shouting ‘one Nigeria,’ how can there be one Nigeria the way they are behaving in government? I think that the preceding administration handed over a lot of troubles to the current administration. The current administration took off with very hard policy- so, so, so is gone! Since then, everything went. All the palliative items have been going down the drain. If the government had the mind to fight corruption, the opportunity presented itself with some newly appointed top officers acting as if they were not Nigerians with the money that belonged to everybody. Can you imagine a country where somebody will just take huge government funds and put in his/her private account, and nothing happens to such a person? Nigerians are good people if they have good leaders. Followers will follow well if the leader is leading well. It is what they see the leaders do they will do. Do as I do. Except the Nigerian leaders realise that it is the head that directs the entire body, things will continue the way they are, unfortunately. When I see what the leaders are doing to the people, I say to myself, did they not see the days of Murtala Muhammed or what happened in the days of Umaru Yar’Adua? The people from the oil producing states benefitted from Yar’Adua’s policies. It is not that our leaders do not know what to do but it is our inability to start a good thing and continue with it. Politics has made everything worse for Nigerians. Our politicians have no vision other than how they can bribe voters to win the next election and how to recoup from the government coffers. They are not after the good of the people or the development of the country. No nation makes any progress that way. The criminals that are causing the problem for the country are not even dealt with, and they are known. They are in the system. Former President Goodluck Jonathan said that some Boko Haram members were in his government. Bad eggs are in the system. The late head of state, General Sani Abacha said that if any insurgency lasts more than 24 hours, government has a hand in it. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is always trying to reinvigorate, but it amounts to nothing. They have even come out to say things are worse, because the elements that are causing the problem are not being dealt with. If these bad elements are made to suffer for their criminal activities, others will fear. But when those people who are supposed to be held down are the ones holding down the security agencies, even the government, you see that nothing will be achieved. That is what is happening in Nigeria. That is also why insecurity has continued despite all the efforts.

You have spoken so furiously about the high level of corruption in the country. If those who steal the money meant for the development of their states, or for the people’s good now rush to the court to get an order restraining anybody from arresting them let alone prosecuting them as we are seeing; is there any hope for a country that has such a judiciary?

Every tree bears fruit according to its nature. The nature they have imputed to Nigeria is squandermania. Corruption is their watchword. People in government are getting worse in evil doing. The message that government releases about the need for people to be patriotic and good citizens is not even being properly propagated or followed up with commensurate efforts on the part of same government to enforce the right living. It is a misnomer. Government is saying something to the people but it is doing a totally different thing. That is why when the European countries are advancing, African countries are retreating. Unless these things are properly addressed, Nigeria will continue to be a sleeping giant. And as long as Nigeria continues in that direction, the corrupt elements in society will continue to justify their evil deeds, this is mainly so, because the man they are looking up to is not living up to expectation. The judiciary is operating within the low-level standard the government is operating. They know themselves. That’s why I said, a tree will always bring forth its fruit according to its nature. The Bible says, by their fruit, you shall know them. The values are lowered; the standards are lowered, and unfortunately, they cannot produce anything better than the standards they have set for themselves. So, there is nothing we can talk about solving Nigeria’s problems without dealing with this issue of corruption.

The issue of state police has been a controversial one. The Federal Government is still working out the modalities to make it work. What are your thoughts on this?

It has been giving me a serious concern for decades now. I had said it long ago that Nigeria was mature for state police but some people said no. Now, we should stop talking about state police and talk about local government police. The local governments may say they do not have the money and personnel for it. Right now, we are told that Nigeria has about a hundred thousand (100,000) police personnel and half of them are serving wealthy people who can pay for it. One major problem I see with state police is the likelihood of abuse. Some state governors may use the state police to intimidate and go after political opponents. I am for local government police; to get the needed funding, the state governors should make available the security votes to recruit more personnel at the local level. These personnel can be sourced from the local vigilance groups (vigilantes), recruit them, train them. The Nigeria Police Force will give them some ad-hoc training, so that some of them may in the future handle gun. This must be enshrined in our constitution.

Mind you, I have always said that our Constitution needs to be changed. It does not need an amendment; we need a brand-new constitution. There are things in the constitution that do not just need overhauling, but total removal. That’s why new constitution is urgently needed for Nigeria to make any progress. We need a new Nigeria that will usher in the new hope we desire. Those that will be recruited from vigilance groups should be paid from the security votes. The reason I suggest this is because the vigilantes know the nooks and crannies of the local governments and they know the faces of everybody there; they can easily pick out strange faces. The recruitment should also be done through the nomination and recommendation of local or autonomous chiefs and traditional rulers. If your chief for instance nominates you, the chief will be held responsible if you commit any offence. With that arrangement, the chief who nominated you will always remind you of the need to be of good behaviour and good ambassador of the community. The chiefs should also be used to supervise the recruited young men. On the other hand, if nobody is nominating you, nobody is recruiting you.