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Nigeria’s problems cannot be solved until we have a proper federation – Aniagwu

Right Reverend Monsignor John Kanebi Asuquo Aniagwu is the Parish Priest, Saint Leo’s Catholic Church, Lagos and Vicar General, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, he proffers some solutions to the current crisis in the country. Excerpts:

What is your impression of the direction the country is heading?

I feel apprehension, I don’t know where we are going and I fear that the worst may happen if those who should do something fail to do what they ought to do. Every day we see agitation here and there and one doesn’t know where the next bad news is going to come from. Every day we hear of killing here and there. Initially, it was in the North East, we were all concerned, praying for them there, the crisis moved to the North West and now it is all over the country. So, I have great apprehension and fear about what may befall this nation and I am praying that the worst should not happen because the way things are going, it tells me that there will be escalation of all types of tension in the country, the violence in the different parts of the country simultaneously does not speak well for the country.

Do you think the church and the elite have done much to help the country manage this crisis?

The church is my primary constituency, so let me speak from that perspective. I want to say that the church has been like a voice crying in the wilderness. Our Catholic Bishops’ conference on the one hand and CAN on the other hand have been making interventions, speaking every now and then but it seems that the powers that be are not listening to the church. Sometimes, you get the feeling that they treat us with contempt as if we don’t really count and our voices don’t make any difference in the affairs of the country. We can only bark but we cannot bite because we don’t have any army nor police or force to coax anyone to do anything. So, we have been crying but those who should listen are not listening for their own reason, they tell us that our business is just to be praying. They just told us that we should not involve ourselves in politics. But we are Nigerians and we also work for Nigerians. People who come to churches are Nigerians and we feel their pains. We have family members and we feel their pains also. Eighty percent of people that come to my office on a daily basis are coming for one help or the other. It is either they don’t have accommodation or they don’t have food or they can’t pay school feels. Today, I signed cards for two patients to go to our hospital to get free treatments. We cannot be ruled out on happenings in Nigeria because we are Nigerians. We are stakeholders and we care for Nigerians and we care about them and hear their cries. We feel the pulse of the people and unfortunately, when we tell our political elite, they ignore us.

Did the church get palliatives to help the needy during the lockdown?

Let us take this coronavirus pandemic for instance; when we had the first lockdown which was very serious, I know that our Bishop of the Lagos Diocese made substantial donations to the government. We received palliatives here that came from the government through the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). My church has a population of about 8000 worshippers, but I received three bags of rice and half a bag of Garri. I felt like telling them to take the food items away. Since that first lockdown, as a church we were feeding the people here every day. When eventually they lifted it, they were doing it two or three times a day, but where is the government supposed to take care of the people? Food is the basic need of the people. Only for us to now discover that palliatives were being stored and hoarded in warehouses across the country. What was the purpose? Do they want us to die of starvation? The painful part was that it didn’t happen in one state but all over the federation. Up till now, I can’t get my head around it. Why would people do such a thing? Those who called themselves government were hoarding food meant for the people, what purpose was that meant to serve? We, as a church, are talking and doing things to ameliorate the suffering of our people and the citizens of this country. If you go to our hospital upstairs, you will marvel at the crowd there. We do our bits but unfortunately, we don’t have the kind of resources the government has. We don’t have subvention from anywhere, we have to rely on the contributions of our people but unfortunately also, because of the serious downturn in the economy, many of our church members no longer have the capacity to contribute, so our resources have gone very strained which have reduced our capacities; the things we used to do for our people, we can no longer do, those who were giving us are now coming to take from us.

When we talk of the elite, I think they mixed it. We have those that are comfortable, who are happy with the status quo because it favours them and they get all they get from the system, and obviously they are not going to challenge the system. There are also a substantial number of members of the elite who are speaking out and asking questions and desire that things need to change. We now also have socio-cultural groups who are talking and again, they too are not being taken seriously.

What are some of the discussions you have had with policy makers?

There are so many voices clamouring for change in this country. In 2005, President Obasanjo convened a national conference in Abuja, I was a delegate to that conference. We spent five months in Abuja during the conference, we produced copious reports and some of the things they are talking about now- restructuring, dissolution of powers, a new constitution and reform of the electoral processes. We discussed all those things. The National Assembly at that time said we have no locus status and our reports were never looked at; it is gathering dusk wherever it is. In 2014, there was another conference by the Jonathan administration that came out with far-reaching recommendations which the government of the day again refused to take onboard. So, it is not as if people are not talking but of course, the ruling government has to at least agree to look at these things on their merit. Whatever is good, take it, whatever is not good put it aside but to completely rubbish it and say we don’t want to see it; I think it is an act of arrogance as if they have the monopoly of wisdom.

Do you think the problem we are facing is with the constitution?

The problem is with the constitution; the current constitution we are using does not need a review, it needs a replacement. It is a severely flawed constitution. You said Nigeria is a federation, but we are not operating like a federation and the constitution is not a federal constitution. For me, it is an exercise in futility; for me, the National Assembly is just doing that to douse the agitations in the country. What we need is a completely new constitution; we need to replace it with a genuinely federal constitution.

What form of government would you want Nigeria to operate?

I have no problem with the federal system of government provided it is a federal system that is wellpractised. Let us run a federal system and ensure a lot of the powers currently with the Federal Government are devolving to the states. That is the problem, if we want to go back to the parliamentary system, it is okay too. In that case, you will have regions, I am old enough to know what happened in the First Republic with regions and those regions enjoyed a lot of autonomy. There were many things they were able to do because they controlled their resources and contributed to the central government. I remember that each of those regions had a representative in different countries of the world. In the UK, there were agent generals for the regions that took care of the interest of their regions. So, the problems of the country cannot be solved until we have a proper federation that cares for the people’s nationalities, not even the political systems.

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