In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’Evelyn Okakwu, Samson Ayokunle, a pastor of the Baptist Church and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, describes the 2016 Christmas season as the worst ever in Nigeria’s history, adding that the economic situation of the country is comparable only to that of a woman in labour pains.
PT: Five months after your appointment, how would you describe the journey so far?
CAN President: I have been in office for five months and we give God the glory. We are trying to reposition CAN. We are taking off from where the last administration left off. We have put almost all the principal administrators in place; we have brought new directors on board to lead the team. And CAN has been able to pay all the staff, without any outstanding, by the grace of God, including Christmas bonus. However we are appealing to all Christians, CAN is a very poor organisation, the blocs have not been responding, in terms of remitting their statutory dues to the national body, for it to function.
People like myself and the directors work on voluntary bases; we don’t earn salaries. But for us to be doing things, like travelling for official duties and getting accommodation, with payments from our own pockets, that is not good enough. That is a way to make life difficult for people you have put at the helm of national affairs. That is very difficult. I must not leave the system like that. I will need to work towards making CAN responsible for the people they are using to sustain the life of the organisation. No organisation can stand without adequate finance.
PT: Any Christmas message to Nigerians?
CAN President: My message to Nigerians at Christmas is that they should be courageous.
In the bible, in Mathew Chapter One, we see how, after Mary was found pregnant, Joseph decided to trust in God. He decided not be vindictive, but leave everything to God.
Let us leave the future of Nigeria to God. Let’s not try to be blaming one person after another.
Let us know that God knows the end from the beginning and that he rules in the affairs of men. We agree that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it and we are his creatures; and that his thoughts for us are for Good and not for evil; then out of our pain, something good will come.
We should learn like Sampson that all things work together for the good of those that trust in God. May be what is happening now is for self-examination, so that we can come out as gold that has passed through fire and shines later.
Let us take it courageously that a glorious done will soon emerge. That the God who intervened in the situation of the Samarian women through the words of a prophet, that same God can intervene in the situation of Nigeria. He is a living God and he rules in the affairs of men.
Let those who have and are better off, take care of those who do not have. The poor will always be in our midst and it is God that gives power to get wealth. We have never had it this hard and tough, never in the history of Nigeria. Our naira has never been so devalued, since our independence. Those who never felt the pain of economy before, are feeling it; you can’t get foreign exchange for those whose businesses are linked with foreign exchange.
Even airlines are closing down. Television houses are not operating. We had a radio in my church but because of the problem with foreign exchange, we shut it down. So things are really hard.
It is a very challenging time. It is a time of labour pain. You know that when a woman is passing through labour pain, it can be very difficult. But after surviving that pain, the joy of delivery overwhelms everything and does not allow the woman to experience pain again.
God is not taking us to 2017 to punish us. Nigerians will believe that with prayers and with the right advice to our leaders, as well as humility and the fear of God, which breeds selflessness, then 2017 would be better.
PT: How would you rate this administration’s approach to the challenge of employment?
CAN President: This administration like the past administration has neglected the teaming unemployed youth in our nation. We are turning them out of various tertiary institutions in millions yearly, but we have not planned on how to take them into employment. We look like a plan-less nation. A nation which has refused to borrow leave from the developed nation. What the advanced nations have is what they planned for. We are educated, but behave like illiterates because it appears that we are too short sighted. That is in leadership. This administration needs to work hard on how to get the youth employed, otherwise violence will continue in the nation, because the youth will demand for how they will feed every day.
The militancy in the Niger-delta is empowered by unemployment. People don’t get anything tangible to do; they have to be engaged by one thing or the other. An adage once said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. If people don’t have anything to do, they have to get something. Kidnapping was brought about by many years of socio-economic denial.
When we finished secondary school, almost certainly a job was waiting for you, you will get something to do. But when you finish university now, you are roaming the street. You see people finishing PHD roaming the street, looking for what to do.
Then the little employment you do is partisan employment, as if only people from a particular political party or group are the once that know what to do; as if they are the only ones that voted you to power. Our leaders need to be more broad-minded.
Immediately you come out of election and become a leader, you become a father to all.
You need to divest yourself of your ethnic grouping; of your religious grouping and be a nationalist. Broad-minded to make sure that justice is done to all religion and all ethnic groups.
I will not give this administration pass mark on balancing ethnicity in appointments and on the issue of religion. Everything has been skewed to one side.
Only a fool who is just partisan will say ‘No, don’t emphasise that.’ How will you not emphasise that when we are in a pluralistic society, and a sense of belonging is not given; and everybody is supposed to have a stake?
That was the reason we put federal character in our system of operation. This is not the first administration we have had. If the federal character is not respected people will complain. When it was not the issue; nobody was mentioning it. For example, the minister of education was changing the leadership of boards and parastatals in the ministry, about 17 of them; and 13 were Muslims. That is an insult for other religious groups; does it mean that all the competent hands must come from only one religious group? And you say religion does not matter; who tells you it does not matter? In all nations of the world, religion is a sensitive issue; because it has to do with the faith of the people and your faith has to reflect in the way you do things. So we need to know that the way to treat people fairly is to respect them and get them involved. Those who are advisers to our political leaders, I will blame them for not doing their work enough.
PT: Have you made a formal presentation to the president, regarding this?
CAN President: Our initial intention was to visit him; but the letter of notification to see him was written as far back as in July and the letter of invitation has not come till today.
We wrote that letter and had it sent on the same day that a similar letter was sent to the Vice President. And the letter sent to the Vice has since been responded to, despite the fact that the same channel was used in sending the letters and on the same day.
So what can we do; the only thing we can do is that when we notice something, we let it be known through the pages of the newspapers and you journalists have to give it priority. Because when we are talking, we are not talking out of sentiments, but out of objectivity. And we are talking because of all Nigerians.
PT: What is you take on the ongoing war against corruption?
CAN President: Well, in today’s administration we can say that the war against corruption is a plus, we are all happy about it. But the methodology is the question. It must not be done in a military way, it must be done democratically. Virtually all politicians before now are corrupt. Not politicians from one political party.
So what people who are not politicians and cannot be bought are saying is that for a rational human being, for critical minds, for objective minds, this war against corruption is too partisan. And this administration has to divest itself of that. EFCC will always have allegations against people who don’t belong to the ruling party.
They will not have allegations against politicians who have served or are serving, who belong to the ruling party. So the present administration needs to live above that. There is no Nigerian who is not happy about war against corruption; because we know that corruption must become a thing of the past in order for us to move forward. But it does not have to be partisan; and when we are talking of it being partisan, it is because of our deep knowledge of what partisanship is all about and the methodology, the way that the fight against corruption is going.
PT: You had talked about a vision you had before your election as CAN president, as well as your wife’s reaction to the vision; can you shed more light on this?
CAN President: My wife was afraid because of the negative criticisms that Christians usually hip on national leaders without proper investigations. Christians don’t weigh many of the things they say in the newspapers by their leaders before they say them. They wouldn’t get to the bottom of the matter, they would not ask for details. There is a lot of sensationalism in the newspaper, which may be far from the truth. A lot of this things have to be investigated properly, before comments are made. When you have destroyed your own leader falsely, you may be sincere, but you may be sincerely wrong.
When you have destroyed the image of your own leader, it will be very difficult, so this is why my wife said she did not want my name to be smeared, but since it was a revelation by God, I know he will handle it.
PT: Talking about allegation, and the manner of reportage of Christian leaders; there were reports about an alleged bribe was given to CAN leaders by the past administration to canvass support for former President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the 2015 elections. What is your take on that allegation?
CAN President: Nobody in CAN can make response to that, because nobody has been directly alleged; anybody that wants response should go the person that was alleged.
PT: What is your response to the manner of investigations and conduct of government agencies, regarding blasphemy killings in the country?
CAN President: The husband of Bridget, the woman that was killed in Kano has spoken again and again that he was there, when his wife was slaughtered and that he knows the people; that those arrested were the ones that did it. How then can Kano government that was not there, now make a case of no submission. I have been struggling before making my statement, to get a copy of that judgement. But the legal officer has been frustrated; we have not been able to get that judgement up till now; I would have been able to make more informed decision on the matter, if they had made it easy under the legal justice system.
That is not the only area where we see the issue of denial of justice; Christians have always been on the receiving end. And it appears that the situation increased astronomically in recent times. And that is the image that this present government needs to correct about itself.
On the street of Abuja, Nigeria’s city of power, for somebody to be doing evangelism and for life to be snubbed out. I don’t know where evangelism is a crime in our constitution. And up till now, the police are being paid, the DSS are being paid, with all the other law enforcement agencies not to be able to apprehend somebody.
PT: What do you think Christian leaders in government have done about this?
CAN President: I don’t know, you can ask them. Did you hear that recently, Emefiele was made leader of Nigeria’s international Islamic financial institution? What are we doing there, are we an Islamic nation? What have we got to do there in the first place? Who gave whoever did it, whether the president or the national assembly, who gave them the power? What type of provocative impunity is going on in Nigeria? CAN will take that up, we will not allow that to lie low.
PT: Before you were elected, so much controversy arose with CAN blocks with some leaders, even arrested. What efforts have been in place to address the controversies?
CAN President: There is no organisation, without ups and downs. We are trying to reconcile and it is not wise to continue to flog the issue; you only need to be praying with me, that we will be able to get everybody to agree together. There must be unity in diversity; the attitude of mutual respect, for us to move forward. Reconciliatory efforts are ongoing and it is not good to be apportioning blames here and there. Just pray with us that the Lord god will perfect things for us, with all the aggrieved parties, including the Catholic Church. But what I would say boldly is that: I did not fight with anybody, nobody is fighting with me. If anybody is aggrieved, I would like to know why.
PT: What is your reaction to recent incidences of Church building collapse in Nigeria?
CAN President: My advice is to all Nigerians. Let them engage thoroughbred structural engineers, because the lives of many people are at stake. Buildings have been collapsing here and there. There are some people with good certificates who cannot defend it. When I am talking of being thoroughbred professionals, I am talking of people whose works can evidently be seen everywhere, before we can employ them.