Presiding Bishop of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), Dr. Mike Okonkwo has spent over 30 years on the pulpit. He is a versatile Christian preacher who has held several leadership position in Nigeria’s Christian circle. He was the inaugural National General Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) between 1986 and 1995, the National President of PFN between 1998 and 2007, and the National Vice President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), between 2003 and 2008. Shortly after presiding over the closing session of the 2016 Leading Edge Conference, an annual leadership summit of the TREM Abuja branch, he spoke to select journalists, including Chineme Okafor, on developments in Nigeria, stating that President Muhammadu Buhari is going about his anti-corruption crusade the wrong way
Economic hardship confronting Nigerians
“We have challenges in the country starting from the economy. Prices of oil has dropped and you know that will definitely affect our economy. That alone is enough to affect us coupled with the problem in the Niger Delta, where we are not getting the quantity of oil we are to export because of insecurity in that area.
“So, that will contribute to the biting effects from our economy, but be it as it may, I want to encourage Nigerians that as bad as it is, we should try to endure it for the moment because really, what can anyone do on that. We have this situation in the Niger Delta and globally and so, our economy has gone crazy, we should endure it.”
On corruption and President Buhari’s approach to fighting it: “I think that Nigerians must come to terms that in fighting corruption, corruption is the name Nigeria not we are fighting corruption because we are corruption, every part of our system is corrupt. There is no one single area of our lives that is not corrupt, go to the market, you will see people selling fake drugs and no one to stop them.”
“There should be a fresh approach to fighting corruption, Buhari is just scratching corruption and I don’t see him eradicating it even if he does two terms. The only way is for us to have a fresh orientation and take to our citizens.”
“We should go to the kindergartens and nursery schools to begin to raise a new crop of Nigerians who will think patriotism because even in our primary schools, pupils are on the wing waiting to also gain in on the system because that is what we have promoted.
“That is what we have created, we have celebrated thieves and bandits and told people that hard work is useless and that working hard is not good, we tell them to steal money, spread it and they will be celebrated, that is the accepted body language in Nigeria.
“All hands are to be on deck because it is not what the government alone can do. Tourism alone can bring us more money than oil but during our rainy days we misused all the money we got from oil that should have been used to build infrastructure. We should accept that corruption has brought all of us on our knees and we should stop pointing fingers because this is not a party or personality issue. We have got to this situation and we all need to come together to work. We have this issue and all Nigerians should accept this.”
Insecurity in the country
“The same goes with insecurity in the country. The government should be bold enough to deal decisively with people who are creating confusion. Thank God that Boko Haram has been reduced but I don’t see any reason why cattle herders should go to villages and kill people and we are talking about passing a bill on that. We cannot pass a bill for somebody who is going to steal.
“You cannot pass a bill for somebody who will go to my backyard and kill me. We should first determine who they are and why they are killing villagers because this had never been the norm, we have always had Hausa-Fulani cattle herders and that is an indication that something is wrong. The government should be bold enough to deal with it instead rushing to pass a bill otherwise that will be another Boko Haram that will be raised in all the backyards of Nigeria.
“We should first sit down and examine this, we are still battling Boko Haram because it has not been pulled down completely and we now want to create another one in all the backyards of Nigeria. The government should be decisive on this.
“I also want to advocate on the issue of corruption because that was what stopped it in the developed countries. If somebody is caught for instance, how many people have been prosecuted or jailed? We only read on paper that they stole this and that, but if it is determined that they stole, the money should be taken and the person be sent to jail so that they will know that corruption is not attractive.
“Look at what we have in the House of Representatives, they are trying to redefine which one is adding or not. It can only be in Nigeria. My point is that, it is time to look again at our national assembly to determine if we need a full time legislators. What they are telling us is that most of the time, they are not in the House but only come when it is time to share money. We don’t need full time legislators, let us make it less attractive so that honest Nigerians who want to be legislators can be there but as long as it is attractive, they will fight and kill to get there because I have not seen the laws that they have passed that is beneficial to Nigerians.”
Clamour for restructuring
“This restructuring has been there since and I understand it was what created the issue of the 1966 coup. That is why I do not know why anyone should be against it. The Sardauna and other northerners were all advocates of true federalism. That was the reason for Ironsi’s killing, they said he instituted unitary government and abolished federalism and so he and Fajuyi were killed.
“Ojukwu went to war on account of true federalism, they went to Aburi on account of restructuring and they agreed but didn’t do it. Now, the chicken has come home to roost, we should do it. I am not advocating for destruction of Nigeria but let us have true federalism so that anyone ruling the country will come with ideas. It was in western Nigeria that Awo who had ideas built the first television station and others with cocoa money. So, we need such change and it won’t stop our progress as a nation.”
Annual Mike Okonkwo essay competition
“The Mike Okonkwo Youth Education Initiative is not meant for just Christians. It is meant for anyone who is proficient, indigent and smart and cannot himself. For me, I am happy because God makes the rain to fall on both the good and the bad. It doesn’t really matter because a lot of Moslems in my vocational centre have been assisted and sent to schools.
“For me, it is not about whether you are a Christian or not, as a matter of fact, we are supposed to help and be nice to the people of other faiths.”
Role of the Church in Nigeria
Prayers. This is not the time to start fighting ourselves. We have been so divided but now we have to mend fences and know that we are one and begin to pray, trusting God to help us. And to educate our people and members on good examples of how we should live.
“The society is made up of our members and if we don’t begin to teach them the right morals so that they can be the change that the country needs, it will not work”.