General Overseer of the Christian Central Chapel International and National Publicity Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Bishop Emmah Isong, spoke to journalists on government’s handling of the killingsâ€Ž of worshippers of a Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Anambra State, warning that the attack could recur except decisive action is taken against the perpetrators. Bassey Inyang was there and presents the excerpts:
What is the position of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) on the massacre in the Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Anambra State?
Human lives are involved, and the PFN, being a responsible organisation is concerned about human life because we preach about repentance of souls, and a soul would not have a chance to repent if he dies. The PFN is yet to take an official position on the issue. However, we condemn this horrifying act. Especially, as it happened Sunday morning, and inside the church.
Are you satisfied with the manner the federal government is handling investigation into the killings?
We are waiting for the preliminary investigation report. You are aware of the fact that the Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, and Acting President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, have promised to get to the roots of the matter. We believed that nothing will be swept under the carpet. We are also told by, hear say, that it involved drug barons from the community who had been in a long fight. We do hope that the investigation would not only end there, but also bring to an end other issues involving drug barons in this country because it is getting too much that human lives are wasted.
A lot of people are surprised that such a massacre can take place within a Christian community, and to worsen matters that it was planned and executed by people who are Christians.
No! Not, at all. Don’t take it that way. If you take it that way you would not understand what happened in Ozubulu. It is like saying, why should fire burn fire service? You cannot isolate crime. Crime happens on sea, land, and air. I think we should not see it that way. Don’t forget it was an external attack. It was not a case of people carrying knives to kill themselves. It was not an internal attack, but external. Somebody coming from outside and inflicting attack on a worship assembly; and don’t forget I am not even a member of the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC). I am sure the Catholic Church will speak for itself.
But, as a private citizen and the National Publicity Secretary of PFN, I want people to know that you cannot determine where a crime is going to happen. It can happen in the airport, church or mosque; even in the Government House. You can’t say this is where it is going to happen. I am quite sure this is going to be a big lesson to the security operatives to say oh, nobody is safe any longer.
Would you advocate the use of arms by security units of churches as a kind of protection for members?
Of course, if they are licensed, there is nothing wrong with them using arms. If they don’t use arms then why would they be asked to secure the church? If you are guarding my premises, I supposed you should use arms. After all it is in the rules of engagement. So if you are guarding my premises I think there is nothing wrong with you to deploy the greatest arsenal to do the job. It is acceptable that arms be used by security men so long as the arms are used within the rules of engagement.
How can government ensure that such killings do not happen again?
Nigerians are saying that when an offence is not nipped in the bud there’s bound to be a grievous consequence for a country like ours. Let me take you to the history of kidnapping. Kidnapping began in Nigeria around the Niger Delta region, and journalists were reporting it. Government saw it as restiveness of youths. Then it didn’t grow wings. White men were being kidnapped, and you and I were not worried because the kidnappers were basically kidnapping white men working in oil companies perhaps to proof a point to the international community that the people of the Niger Delta had problems that needed to be addressed by government of the day, and you and I were not worried. And now kidnapping has snowballed to kidnapping of neighbours, to the extent that people now kidnap themselves. It even became a booming business that someone like Evans abandoned drugs trade, and armed robbery trade for kidnapping. And then to a point we were also made to understand that we also have political kidnapping, whereby political opponents were being kidnapped and kept until election day elapses before they were released. It so bad to the extent that people can kidnap themselves and asked that money be paid into a particular account as ransom before they can be set free. If we don’t nip this in the bud, when it shows it ugly head, all of us will cry. The case of Ozubulu in Anambra state is a big matter that the federal government must deal with, expose, and make somebody pay dearly for it, so that it will not grow. So that somebody will not wake up again to tell another man that you are owing me N10, 000, I am coming to your church, where do you worship, I will be on my way to shoot everybody. Crime should be tackled. It should not be something that we use kid-gloves and then begin to say itâ€™s a fight by two brothers even when some lives have been lost, blood had been shed, the community has been desecrated, and the holy temple has been insulted. The federal government should deal with this matter squarely.
Boko Haram’s attacks seem to be on the increase. What do you think is responsible for this? Wha should government do to finally win the war against the insurgents?
Before I come to that, I hope you know that there is religious Boko Haram in Nigeria?
How do you mean?
There are certain elements who have infiltrated doctrinally; some Jihadists to Islamise Nigeria. Are you aware of that? There is also economic Boko Haram, the ones that they used to kill oil workers. there are people who are enjoying the big market, including the security money which was sent to the north east , who are saying don’t stop Boko Haram, we are enjoying the money, we are now rich. Just by the name Boko Haram we are seeing money that we have not seen before. Are you also aware of the political Boko Haram in which before the advent of Buhari some radical elements in the north were using it, as OPC (Oâ€™dua Peopleâ€™s Congress) and some aggressive youths in the Niger Delta we call militants, and some Biafra were using to negotiate that power should move to the north. Those are the three Boko Haram that existed. So, when you say Boko Haram is still on, I would like to know which of the arms that you are talking about.
Now you asked what government should do to stop Boko Haram. Before this administration came on board, they promised us two basic things. They promised us security, and fight against corruption. That’s the meaning of â€œchangeâ€. Good. Now let me call on President Buhari`s lieutenants. since Buhari is not well, and is out of the country to attend to his health, to know that perpetrators of this insecurity are using the absence of the president and indeed the vacuum in government to do those things that, if not properly checked, may destabilise the system. The acting president might not have enough power to check the cabals, and put certain things in proper position to move the country forward. Perhaps this accounts for the reason why certain elements went to Abuja to say come back now or resign. I think that’s why a lot of things are going on now. You must understand the psychological aspect of those involved in this agitation. It is very key, psychologically, for a leader to be at home because the light that shines farther must shine better at its best.
Recently the National Assembly rejected devolution of power to states as they voted to amend certain clauses of the 1999 constitution. What is your view on this?
I have always supported restructuring. Itâ€™s just that restructure like I said, is like magi and crayfish whereby both can be used for cooking of “Ekpang” (a delicacy eaten by the Efik in Cross River State), and people of Akwa Ibom State), and sometimes they can also be used for cooking of rice.
The issue of restructuring is getting fragmented itself because some people are using the issue to agitate for a return to regional government whereby you don’t need to go cap-in-hand to the federal authorities to beg. Some are clamouring for restructuring as a means of resource control, meaning that the regions will control and manage their resources and pay whether tax or whatever to federal government. Some are clamouring for political restructuring; that means weakening the presidency and strengthening the regional government so that we don’t continue to be a slave of any body. With such restructuring, you know that the agitations for regional control like Biafra, Oduduwa and Niger Delta and Arewa Peopleâ€™s Congress will end.
You know that if such restructuring is carried out, you won’t need Biafra again. Take for instance, if you are from the Republic of Ireland in England, what is different with you and the country. So, that why you hear people like Atiku, even Babangida recently, and some voices are saying maybe we can diffuse the tension that is on-going right now by power devolution. I think on this issue, I as Bishop Emmah Isong, and not PFN decision, I support restructuring.
And I said to somebody why not bring the 2014 confab report and implement it. If you think that the report has certain grey areas, you can amend it. Give it constitutional power. Give it some sort of seal.
According to what someone said, the National Assembly does not support devolution because some of them have presidential ambition and they won’t want to become president under a weak Nigeria. They want to be like (Olusegun) Obasanjo, (Muhammad) Buhari , (Ibrahim) Babangida, and Goodluck Jonathan; with powers to control the resources. A lot of persons sitting right now in the Senate have presidential ambition and so devolution of power is giving me an empty house to rule. So, even if, you become President of Nigeria and power has been devolved, the presidency would no longer become attractive because you are now like a coordinator of government.