Bishop Mike Okonkwo, the Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission grants a rare interview on politics and national issues. Adedayo Akinwale reports
In recent times we have started having all manners of preaching, talking about the role of the church in nation building, what’s your perception about that?
The church is the light of the world and salt of the earth. We are supposed to be the role model for the society. That is our position because if the church gets it right, definitely the nation will be positively affected. Many people who subscribed to the church have not sat down to be taught what their role should be. There are quite a number of people who believe that going to church and answering Christian names makes them a Christian. That is not true. The first port of call to become a Christian is to subscribe to Christ as your saviour and your Lord. Until you personally make that commitment, you can go to church in your entire life and still not be a Christian. The second category of people are those who subscribe to the person of Christ but have refused to sit down and be taught to know how they should live their life. This new life you have, how do you live it? Just like a woman who gives birth to a baby, the baby has to be fed, you have to train the baby until he grows up to become responsible, that’s the same way the life of Christ is. Majority who are going to church are excited about the drama and the spectacular and the things they say but they have not really sat down to say, where is that Christ manifesting in my life? These are some of the problems. That’s why the society does not seem to feel the impact of Christianity in this country.
One of the issues in our politics is that many politicians profess Christianity, in fact they are quick to say let us pray, how come we have been unable to fix Nigeria?
They just want to identify with Christianity, since they don’t want to worship idol, they will identify with Christianity, but it is much more than that. It isn’t just about identifying, have you received Christ into your heart? That is the issue. Once you have not received Christ, there is a problem. The people can never produce the fruit that is expected, every seed produces after its type. Until you have the seed of Christ in you, you cannot produce it. And then even when you have it, you still need to nurture it, that you put a seed in the ground, a good seed and a good soil and you don’t take care if that soil enough, it will not produce the fruits. Most of our politicians say they are Christians even those who are truly Christians, get into the position they don’t understand that they are moving into a shark infested water. Politics in Nigeria is like shark infested water. Immediately they get into power they disengage from the church, you won’t see them again, unless during ceremonies. They will now think that because they make donations and do some philanthropic works, it will cover-up for not living the life. That is another issue. Many of them are not connected to anywhere. They are not receiving instruction from anywhere. In the Pentecostal circle, most of the church leaders have interrogated this issue and we are very concerned, there is now a strategic and intentional plan that we will begin to train our Christian leaders who feel called into public service to let them know that when they are going there, they should carry God into that place. Others may do wrong things. Christians cannot because they represent God. We believe God that as we progress, we will begin to see the kind of fruits we desire.
As we approach 2019, are you surprised at the manner of turbulence in our political space?
We will still see more. I’m not surprised, I believe that before the election, if there will be any, we will still see more nonsense in the polity. I feel abused. I feel insulted by the politicians, I feel that they are raping Nigerians. You move from this party to the other, then tomorrow you move again, the same people and you are rubbing it on the face of Nigerians. I believe that through it all, God is up to something concerning this country. His plan concerning Nigeria will be fulfilled no matter what anyone thinks. In every tough situation, God knows how to bring out the good.
The US Congress reportedly cited Nigeria as one of the most dangerous places on earth for Christians, do you agree with that?
Of course, how else will you say it, with all the killings that are going on in the country. You can’t just sit down and begin to clap your hands and say everything is well. They must have checked their indices and come up with such report. Events in the recent past have shown there is something fundamentally wrong which has to be addressed and cannot be ignored.
Do you think that this current situation of herders/farmers clash can be resolved by sitting at a conference like you suggested?
There is nothing wrong in sitting together and interrogating the issue. I think we have not really gotten the true picture of what is going on. People are not telling us the truth. I don’t believe that Nigerian security is not strong enough to fish-out those perpetrating this evil., I know we may not be sophisticated as the western world but I still know that we have what it takes to do that. With the level of corruption in Nigeria, what if this issue is allowed to drag on so that we keep on asking for security votes. Have we thought along that line? Where are people getting all the billions they are getting? When somebody is caught, you will now see that he has stolen billions somewhere, where did he get it from? What makes you think that probably the army is not making money, top brass army officers and all these security people, since they know that government will want peace and stability in the country, the only way is to make it as if the thing will never end, and then we will stretch hand and begin to look for more money. There are several issues that are involved in this thing, if you tag it to one thing you will miss the whole point.
The Vice President blamed the church for the level of moral decadence in the country, saying church leaders only preach prosperity and that they are not helping President Muhammadu Buhari fight corruption…
The Vice President may have a reason for saying what he said. I don’t want to speak for him. Probably there is something he knows that I don’t know. He has all the security information on his table. If he’s saying so, as a pastor and a real spirit filled pastor, not just spiritually born again, forget about what people say that he is not born again, it is a lie. In this government there are about eight of them who are spirit-filled born again, this is the first time we are having spirit filled Christians in the government. If he really said that, then there must be some iota of truth in it that the church has not played the role it should play.
Do you see an Igbo presidency as realistic in 2023?
I’m an Igbo man but as far as I’m concerned I don’t believe in an Igbo call for presidency. Igbos should shut their doors and develop South-east. We are fighting for the wrong thing, Let’s develop the South-east. This nation needs restructuring. The reason everyone is jostling for presidency is because of the juicy largesse that comes from there, let every person go to his own region and develop, make the centre less attractive, unbundle this centre, if you have something to offer, go to your area and get it done. For me, I am not an advocate of Igbo-must-be-president, unless God does it supernaturally because there is something He wants to do, No doubt Igbos have been marginalised, I’m not speaking out of that, they have been deprived I’m not speaking out of that, my point is let us not use that as a bait as if we are doing Igbo a favour. ‘Vote for me so that I will give you in 2023’, I don’t like that. We are all Nigerians, everyone is entitled to rule this country. That was my joy when Jonathan became the president of this country. I was excited in the sense that for once let it be said that a minority can rule this country, I was happy that he came on board but unfortunately he played with it and this is where we are. For me, let’s even be thinking about restructure this country but if God decides that He has something to do through an Igbo man in this country in order for us to get to where we are going, I don’t have any issue about that, but let it not be the bait that we are offering you presidency, what makes them think if they say it, they will do it?
Should church leaders make prophetic declarations on political matters?
Anyone who makes a prophetic declaration let him stand by his prophetic declaration, if it didn’t come to pass let him come and apologise to the church that he lied. There is nothing wrong that you make a prophesy and it went over the bar, come to church and tell the church that you lied. What annoys me is that you come and begin to paint it, I didn’t say it this way because I said it this way, that is nonsense. You make a prophesy, it fails, you are a human being, come to the church and say I failed.
Where do you see Nigeria after 2019 general election?
Nigeria is on a course for greatness. I will never lose faith in the plan and agenda of God for Nigeria. There is no country in the world like Nigeria. There is no country that is as endowed as Nigeria. We are mightily endowed. Our people are relocating and occupying powerful positions outside this country.
To what extent do you think skill acquisition can help develop Nigerian economy when there is no enabling environment?
We just have to start somewhere. Skill acquisition is the direction to go if everyone develops his skill and plays a role. That is one of the things that helped China. When you hear me saying to Igbo, shut your door, go back to your South-east and explode, let the other states come and see what you can do. That is what I’m referring to. Use your gifts, stop crying like little children to Abuja. I have being telling them. I have said it to different Igbo groups, whether they like it or not my part is to tell them the truth, shut your doors and stop complaining and use what you have to develop your state. When you develop it others will come and see. The same way you develop other places rather than complaining and dying.