The emergence of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Nigeria has unsettled all the sectors of the economy. Programmes have had to be adjusted and some measures rolled out to contain the ugly development. In this interview, Leonard Umunna, general overseer, Bible Life Church, proprietor and entrepreneur, spoke with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Deputy Editor, on a wide range of issues including the role of religious bodies in curbing the EVD, need for cooperation with government in the fight against the disease, among others. Excerpts:
Nigeria is battling with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD); can we say it is a divine affliction, a plague or just one of those diseases. And how can the country get out of the situation?
It is both spiritual and at the same time a physical matter. I see it as a plague like the Boko Haram; I see it also as physical because of our inability to be hygienic enough to ward off such things. Ebola has been with West Africa way back 1976 in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan; now just making its entry into Nigeria through Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American citizen. I took off a message on August 3, 2014, a few days after the outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria and I allayed their fears, reminding them that God made it clear to the Israelites that Egyptians’ diseases would not come near them as long as they did not stray out of the land of Goshen into the enemy’s territory. I told them that fear was the number one problem. By way of illustration, somebody asked Cholera, ‘why did you kill so many people, up to 50, in one swoop?’ Cholera said: ‘No, I only touched one person, and the rest hearing that I was in town died of fear.’ You know fear destroys the immune system. ‘Fear, the scripture says, ‘is a torment’. Ebola as I told them in that message is a disease of a virus nature but it first presents itself like bacteria such as malaria with severe fever, weakness (tiredness), joint pains and extreme dehydration. But when it gets to the secondary stage, there will be emission- vomiting, blood coming out from the mouth, noses and other openings in the body; diarrhea etc. It is important to let our people know that when one is having such primary symptoms, that the best thing to do is to report yourself to a medical personnel because at that point it is not yet a death sentence. It can be easily tackled. I told my prayer warriors that there should be no laying of hands on anybody who has come down with the secondary symptoms. I also told them that when ministering to someone whose nature of sickness is not yet determined, they should wear masks and hand gloves. Those who come in contact with people with primary symptoms of fever, weakness of the body, joint pains etc should thoroughly wash their hands in running water (tap water) with good disinfectants such as hand sanitisers. They should also maintain high degree of hygiene always as their cleanliness is next to godliness. In the event that somebody is sure he/she has contracted the disease, that person should do him-/herself a world of good by going to the designated institutions or appropriate medical facility. If such a person fails to do so, he/she is not doing any good to him-/herself, his relation, medical personnel, because he goes to the doctor who is not aware yet that it is an Ebola case and the doctor makes a prescription and passes to a nurse who now administers without knowing what she is handling. So, the lives of the doctor and that of the nurse are endangered as well as that of the patient because he/she did not tell them. So, to halt the spread, there’s need for proper and urgent information.
As a result of the development, summer lessons in schools were stopped by government, and until last Wednesday, government had also ordered postponement of school resumption; do you think such level of precaution is necessary?
There’s nothing you do in this world that you’ll not get divided opinions. Some will be speaking out of knowledge, some out of ignorance, some from God, some from Satan, and some from human point of view. All I am saying is that, like they say, ‘if you are not informed, you are deformed; the misinformed will deform others.’ If anybody should see what is happening from only the religious point of view, the fellow should understand that not all men have faith. Initially, government, having looked at the situation, said schools should not resume meanwhile, it must be understood. Nobody should, because he/she can manifest faith begin to kick against the directive. I run a group of schools. I don’t endanger the lives of pupils and students. I am an overseer of a large church, and I do not also want to endanger the lives of new converts or those with little faith. I try to follow the word of God in line with medical realities. People must be ready to obey all the rules of medical experts.
Now, disobeying government in order to prove you are exercising faith or bringing in your own views is not the best way to go. Again, my advice to those who contract the disease is that they should not wait until they become ‘Brought in Dead (BID).’ That does not mean we should not manifest faith, all I am saying is that while doing so; while praying, we must be very careful so that we do not endanger the lives of other people by not heeding simple medical instructions.
There is this thinking that if government and the opposition had collaborated the way they are doing on the issue of Ebola, the Nigerian nation would have made a lot more progress than what it has done over the years. What is your take?
The collaboration we see is because Ebola cuts across political lines. It is a matter of life and death. So, when life is involved, politics takes a back seat. It is life before anything else. Life has no duplicate. But beyond that, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the type of politics we play in Nigeria. I just came back from America; you see, over there, government educate people to be health-conscious, to take precautionary measures. Government in those climes takes proactive action to forestall danger, but here we are reactive in our approach to issues. Unless things have gone bad we don’t act. There, people are following healthy measures and are living a healthy life. It is unfortunate that here in Nigeria people are benefitting from the calamities of others. They are making gain out of other people’s misfortunes. It is not the right thing to do.
At every seminar and workshop, the refrain is that the major problem of Nigeria is bad leadership. Ahead of 2015 election some people are calling on churches to show more interest in politics by urging their members to vie for elective positions. Do you think time is ripe for such a thing giving the kind of politics being played in the country?
I will say yes and no. Yes, for those who are mature and can hold their own ground. No, for those who are naïve, sentimental and could even be bought over. The kind of politics that is being played here is the type that allows people to cheat on you and your children through your votes. There is no transparency. And people pay attention to things that do not matter. Forgive my use of what happened recently in Ekiti to illustrate my point. Somebody is busy trying to give them good education and other necessary things, but they judged him through their belly. The way of politics in Nigeria now; in fact, Africa in general, is not what a spiritually mature Christian can just dabble into. It is not the best of times for a good Christian to go into the murky waters of the Nigerian politics. By the way, I have repeatedly said that if you are a pastor you shouldn’t try it at all because a God-called pastor is greater than any president in the world. The reason is not far-fetched because when it comes to election, we are still practising selection. What we see here is that those who have been proven to do well are not being given the opportunity to occupy a higher position, but those who have no track record of (good) performance are the ones being selected to occupy leadership positions. That’s where the problem lies. The right thing should have been for Christians (I may be wrong, but that’s the way I see it) to align themselves with the civil society organizations to sanitise the society, make people accountable, and ensure that we run politics the right way.
Or if they are going into politics, they should come out as a united body. They should present their manifesto in unity. By so doing, they withstand negative influence of those who may want to compromise a principled person who is trying to go into politics. A broom stick is easily broken, but a bunch is not.
Impeachments appear to have been abused in the country in this dispensation. In recent times, we have seen such cases in Adamawa and Enugu states, and it is also threatening in Nasarawa. What does this portend for Nigerian politics?
Let us not be flogging a dead horse, Nigeria is not practising what it should practise. That’s why when the National Conference was in session, we were advised them to fashion out the best system Nigeria should practise. This presidential system is not the best option for now; it is not working. I think it should be tailored to meet the Nigerian need. The impeachments are being used to bring others into subjection (submission). The impeachment in Enugu or the one in Adamawa were aimed at forcing people to be submissive to certain authorities. For instance, someone was accused of rearing something within his official quarters and the person accusing him is also rearing something; that person is also accused of not representing his principal at functions – those things are matters that should have been settled privately. Even those lawmakers supporting such things, it could happen to them tomorrow. I have been in government before. The impeachment as they are using it now does not meet the purpose for which it was originally intended by those who fashioned it. In this present administration we have had threats about impeachable offences against the president; we have heard that against other principal officers- they are happening at local, state and federal levels- but they have not been able to impeach any of these people. In the Enugu case, the young man said it’s because he wanted to vie for the post of a senator, whether he was right or wrong, he has made many people to believe him because the reasons for his impeachment are not cogent and powerful enough. But one thing politicians must understand is that when divine impeachment will come, they may not withstand it. It is like a pendulum, it swings to one side in a moment, next moment it swings to another.
Recently, we heard about defections of big politicians from their parties to another. For instance, Nuhu Ribadu left APC for PDP, same for Buba Marwa. What in your views is the reason for these movements?
It boils down to lack of ideology. There is no true manifestos that separate the parties. All the parties in the country are saying the same thing. All of them are the same thing. They are just different by name. It is politics of convenience. Ribadu was looked upon as a man of principle, a man of integrity who should maintain his stand whether good or bad so far he has been seen in that light. He was seen as a public crusader against injustice, corruption and against fraud, but when someone begins to renege on people’s expectation of him, shifting from what is right, such a person begins to take wrong steps and loses people’s respect.
Nobody says he should not join PDP, what people are saying is that once he had chosen a party, and had even aspired to the highest post on that platform (ACN before now); any shift will give people strong reason to begin to doubt his motives, his credibility and integrity. Ribadu said he was a progressive, now he has left that ideology so to say. So, he has elected not to be a progressive anymore? The major problem as I had noted is that there is no ideological difference between the parties and it is very unfortunate. My advice to politicians is that if they are joining a party, they must look very well before they leap, not after leaping, they begin to turn back. It makes them unserious.
The abducted Chibok girls have been in captivity for five months now, and Boko Haram is still on rampage claiming to have captured a community in Borno State. What is your take on these?
Chibok, Gwoza, Bama, all put together tells us that they have politicised our lives. I think, and it has also been said in some quarters that when the Chibok school girls were abducted, some people did not believe because they said it was all politics and that certain people wanted to use it to discredit government and all that. This again is one of the problems I have discovered in the way politics is being played in Nigeria. A situation where government sees every comment, no matter how reasonable, from the opposition as a ploy to pull down government is condemnable. It is wrong. Again, opposition must not be seeing only the negative aspect of government. They must not only dwell on criticism. Again, reaction time of government to crisis is not always prompt, except when certain people’s lives are involved. This really does not help the image of government. What we have seen over the years is that whenever any relation of any government official is involved in some of these problems, concerted efforts are made to rescue such people as quick as possible. So, the opposition people are asking is: ‘why hasn’t government been able to do so in the case of these Chibok girls? If I were the president, the steps, I would have taken in this matter would endear me to the people. In the Yar’Adua administration we heard that Jonathan, as the vice president, had to go to the creeks of the Niger Delta to pacify the then militants. I don’t think the president has thought of drafting the vice president – Namadi Sambo to personally go to go speak to the Boko Haram members. Maybe, Sambo can do that or maybe they have even tried it. That is what leadership is all about – sacrifice. I think measures must be put in place either in the constitution or wherever, that whosoever becomes governor or president must not politicise our lives. There are certain things that should not be brought under political interpretation at all.
The constitution must compel elected public office holders to do certain things, take certain actions under certain circumstances even if it will involve their lives. This was why I felt unhappy when I heard that the recommendations of the National Conference would again be subjected to the Federal Executive Council. I said for what reason? These are the same people who have been there for years doing nothing; they travel abroad and see how human society operates, they come back here and continue the same way they have been. They can’t import all those good things they see abroad and apply them here for the good of the country. The National Assembly on the other hand, is it not a group of the people who have been there without the desired impact? They could not sponsor the bill to effect the correct changes in the constitution, but they allowed all that billions of naira to be spent on a conference, what do they have to say on the outcome of the conference?