Pastor Tunde Bakare, Founder, Citadel Global Community Church (formerly the Latter Rain Assembly) and Convener, Save Nigeria Group, is a prophetic-apostolic pastor, who has used the pulpit to speak truth to power in Nigeria. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Bakare reflected on his conversion from Islam to Christianity, crisis of leadership that currently plagues the country, his role in the botched ACN-CPC alliance, lopsided federal governance structure and the controversies around his political projections, among others. Excerpts:
Just recently, you celebrated your 65th birthday. What are the notable moments in your life?
I can only thank God Almighty, who has given me life. When we look back, we can only thank God for what He has done through us and for us. We are eternally grateful to Him. Some people, who share the same year of birth with us, are no more. Others have been drowned away by the vicissitudes of life. We thank God for grace. And we thank God for all He has done for us.
How about you beam lights on some rare moments in your life?
Of course, there are many things. I was very young. I was about three years when I saw my father laying on the floor. I did not know he was dead and that they were going to bury him according to Muslim rite. That imagery has not left, because of the attendant consequences. I was born into clannish wealth, but raised in abject poverty.
Then, my world began to revolve only around my mother, who was there for me. She relocated to Sokoto. Also, I remember the day a lion came from the forest and wanted to destroy us. I just screamed, and the lion went back. The same lion killed several people that day, but we escaped. Apart from the lion’s situation, I had escaped death four times in my life.
As a young boy, I went to Ogun River to wash my mother’s clothes. I was swimming in a place in Abeokuta, where young people gathered. While I was in the water, my neck was trapped inside the rock. I thought the end had come. I heard a loud shout: “Oh God, it could not have been me.”
It could not have been natural human voice, because I was trapped. That place, I was told, has always killed someone or trapped someone every year. But I escaped that. When I came to Lagos, I had a major accident in 1974. I came in 1973. It looks like stories of woes I am telling you. I went out because I wanted to buy dog feed for the man I was living with.
A motorcyclist came from nowhere and knocked me at the electric pole and ran away. I was there for the death. But somebody had mercy upon. He treated me, and I survived that too. I remember when I was almost stoned to death by security guards inside the Railway Compound in the home of Toyin Peters. Toyin Peters was my friend. His father was a civil servant. I would always go there to pluck pear to augment my meal, because I was a sole survivor trying to fend for myself.
Unknown to me, I entered the wrong house. And they took me for a thief, when I was trying to pluck the pear. I went to that house everyday then. They were my friends. They had torn my garments. If they did not rush out quickly that day, I could have been killed. I also escaped death.
In 2019, I was air-borne seven times and seven days from Lagos to Abuja, Abuja to London and London to Atlanta for my son’s convocation. Then, I came back to Abuja to give lecture again, all within seven days. While I was giving that lecture, I slumped. It was God that did not let it become catastrophic. I had no stroke. I survive it.
These are what we could call hazardous moments. There are also pleasant moments. The day I graduated after a long wait in secondary school was a pleasant moment of my life. My primary school classmates were already four years ahead when I entered into secondary school. I had been taken to carpenter’s shield to learn carpentry.
My mother was crying the day I graduated from secondary school. I was also crying for joy. We thank God for that. I remember how I came to Lagos and survived all the ordeals that I went through. God saw me through till I finished my university education.
I was called to the Nigerian Bar. When I got married, November 24, 1984, oh what a day! I was just 30 years old. Then, my children started coming. I began to do tremendous exploits in legal practice before I came into the ministry. There is a lot to tell about my life.
You were born Muslim. You were equally raised the Islamic way. But you are now the Senior Pastor, Latter Rain Assembly. What’s the story of your conversion?
Known to God from eternity are all His works. My grandfather was the Chief Imam of Iporoseleke Mosque. My father was a core Muslim. My mother went to Mecca and Medina. I graduated from Quranic School on April 16, 1967. I had no desire to become a Christian. It was not that I was sick and I was taken to crusade ground. Not at all!
But April 10, 1964, I saw a clear vision the day I was circumcised. I was circumcised about age 10. That night, I saw this Pillar of Light. I still do not have vocabulary for it. It went high from Heaven to Earth. It was so bright. It was desirous of me to embrace that light. I got up to embrace that light. I was circumcised in the morning.
As I began to go, I saw it well. Suddenly, the path became block. There was bush here. There was also bush there. There was a well before me. But I got to other side. I was happy, still pursuing this marvelous light. A python came from the left side and held my left leg. And the struggle began and I had nothing to kill it. Eventually, I was able to take off my leg from the python.
Remember I was circumcised in the morning. As I was struggling, the circumcised part of my body was bleeding. A lot of blood was oozing out of me. Few metres to the Pillar of Light, there was water. I did not know how to swim in 1964. I started learning to swim in 1966. But I waded through the water. About 10 metres to the Pillar of Light, there was fire. I went through the fire and I woke up.
I became hysterical. I lost blood. I did not know what was happening. But I recalled the vision very clearly. Everybody just thought that I had a nightmare. But there was an elderly man there. We call him Baba Olodo, because he came from Olodo. He said all that you said was something in the future that pointed to greatness.
I did not fully understand him. But I left it that way. I arrived Lagos July 13, 1973. I was still a Muslim. So, on September 24, 1974, a friend of mine, who was also a Muslim before he became a Christian, wanted me to cover a baptismal service at Yaba Baptist Church. I was a freelance photographer then. I told him: “Are you crazy? How can you tell me that because you are now Gabriel? What did you put in your head?” He said: “Do you want to cover it or not?” But I needed the money.
I went to Yaba Baptist Church. I just finished praying my Muslim prayer. I put a small cap at the back of my head. They said I should remove it. I said I was not a Christian. One elderly man said: “In Rome, you must do what Romans do.” I then removed the cap and sat at the back. I was angry with them. They started dipping them inside water. That was the first time in my life I saw it.
I went back inside the Church. I said these people were crazy. You could not wash yourselves inside and you were now doing it inside, dipping men and women into the same water. That was what engaged my mind. The reverend that baptised them came out of the water. He announced that there would be communion after the service.
Anyway, my friend said I should wait to take the photograph of the communion service. This reverend gentleman, Rev. Emmanuel A. Alade, came out and stood on the podium. He said: “Before we take communion tonight, I have a short exhortation titled Jesus Christ: the Light of the world.” That was the last statement I heard. The Pillar of Light, which I saw in my dream in 1964, stood by him.
I thought the whole Church said it. I saw myself maneuvering through the well, struggling with the python, wading through the river and going through the fire. My camera was shaking on my shoulder and I shouted: “I have seen Him before. I have seen Him before. I have seen Him before.”
Again, they all thought I was crazy. That is how Christ arrested me. It was not easy at all. Going back home to tell them I had become a Christian was not easy. I hid it for few days until October 14, 1974, when I could no longer hide. I was reading my Bible secretly.
On that day, they said I should pray in Muslim way. I said: “I am not going to pray in Muslim way again, because I am now born again.” They gave me five minutes to leave the house. That was how I was sent packing from the house. The rest is history.
Consistently, you have been using the pulpit to speak to the authorities. Is there any connection between your ministry and your pulpit advocacy?
Grace is given to all of us by God to do different things. From childhood, I could not stand injustice wherever I saw it and wherever I still see it. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons I went through the long process of studying Law. I believe we cannot just fold our hands and maintain civil silence in the midst of oppression and wickedness. It is not peculiar with me. Many have done it before.
In Africa, we have Desmond Tutu. In America, you have Martin Luther King Jnr. All over the world, there are those who when they spoke, the ground shook. Everyone has grace to contribute his quota to nation building. The opportunity and the platform God has given, I will use it to serve God, mankind and ensure that we do not maintain civil silence in the face of oppression.
Despite sustained advocacy against oppression by all and sundry, Nigeria is still not a functional system. Are you not worried that the country is not yet out of the woods?
Well, if we are thoughtful, we have course to thank God. First, my advocacy has not robbed off my life, because I have been threatened. I have been arrested. I have been detained not as long as others. My passport has been seized. I have been harassed. But it is not possible to see the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, whom I worked with and others, who have advocated changes in our countries not being inspired by their selflessness.
I have not seen much change. But we can thank God for some things. We accomplished some things. We got some result. My attitude to the fulfillment of desire is rooted in the Bible. The Bible says: “hope deferred makes the heart sick. But the desire, when it comes, is a tree of life.”
If you recall, that was the only thing the man did not eat out the Garden of Eden. He ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He ate other fruits. But he did not eat from the tree of life. God says if your hope is deferred and you hang on there, whether the desire is fulfilled, you will be like the tree of life to your generation.
The Bible also says: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf shall not whither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
We can find this in Psalm 1. What I am trying to bring out is that there is a season when the desire will be fulfilled if we do not give up. I have seen some success. It is not 100 per cent. We cannot say we are where before, though it is written all over the world that we might be heading for another disaster. But we believe God will avert it. He will not allow Nigeria relapse to another deep crisis.
What does Nigeria get out of the woods?
The people deserve the type of leaders they get. And leaders deserve the type of people that follow them. The people that have been harassing and oppressing Nigerians are not foreigners. They are fellow Nigerians, who think the purpose of power is for personal benefit, forgetting in is entirety that the 1999 Constitution, as bad as it is, still stipulates that the welfare and security of our people in this country is the purpose of the government.
That is one angle that the people deserve the type of leaders they get. There is another angle that if you continue to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result, it is called insanity. I pray our country will not become an asylum of the mad. You can blame politician if you want to. If they beat the drum and we do not dance, the party will stop.
But they have a way of injecting money into the system. A young man, who should stand up and insist on what is right, sells his birthright. We are always clamouring for somebody else to fight our battle. That is the problem of Israel until the likes of David and Daniel rose up. The things going on in this country can be stopped.
By the time they call us into a room and drop bags of dollars in your booth when you are going, you sing a new song. There are praise singers of every government from inception to today, because they are beneficiaries of the loots. A time will come by the auspices of God Almighty Himself that the people will say enough is enough. We are getting there.
How do you know the country is close to when her people will rise and say, enough is enough?
We are close to the rage of the poor. Look at the number of young people, who benefit now from the proceeds of crime instead of hard work. Kidnappers are Nigerians, though they may have external collaborators. But what else will you give them to do? An idle man’s hand is the devil’s workshop. They have to survive.
Now, if we get to the tipping point when the people say they cannot endure it anymore, it will be difficult to escape their rage. Look at Hong Kong. Look at how it was sustained. There is no government that can survive that, not even in this part of the world. Nobody wants to die, because the government has the monopoly of violence, a lot of us are chicken-hearted.
They do not want any hardship or inconvenience. It will continue forever. When you have some daredevil human rights advocates like Gani Fawehinmi and Beko Ransome-Kuti, these young people will follow them.
It is not difficult to bring these people down. Not at all! You know what is helping them. It is the philosophy: if you cannot beat them, join them. But the day you join, you cannot beat anymore. So, God will have a remnant. Look at the history of the nations on earth. Ours is not peculiar.
A good number of socio-cultural leaders have been calling for restructuring. Can restructuring save the country from what you called the rage of the poor?
I will not say I have been in the forefront of restructuring campaign. But I have contributed my noble quota. I will still continue to do so for some reasons. First, the destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends. What we have is destructive. It is not only lopsided. It is not federalism.
When Gen. Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi promulgated the decree in 1966, he said: “From this day, Nigeria ceases to be Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is now Republic of Nigeria.” From that day, there have always been cosmetic changes. From that day, we have not had true federalism.
Yes, we created some states that have brought the nation to death. Many of these states are not viable. And we cannot think if we cannot go forward, we should go backward and reset the country on the right track. It is not working.
And you know what? Any constitution that will not bend will eventually break. Where is Soviet Union? It was held together by force. Where is it? Those who do not learn from history will definitely repeat the blunder of history. They will become history themselves.
How do you think Nigeria can go about restructuring?
My own emphasis is geo-economic restructuring. Let us begin with devolution of powers. The centre is too crowded. It is too loaded. What is the federal government doing with agriculture? Why should the federal government have the Ministry of Agriculture when it does not have land? The land is vested with the state. It is the state governor that has the power to issue certificate of occupancy.
A local government chairman hardly has anything to do. You call a governor, the Chief Security Officer of his state, but he could not give instruction to the Commissioner of Police and he obeys. That is the problem that we find ourselves. From Sokoto, you deploy a police officer in a terrain he does not understand in Abeokuta.
It does not make common sense. Let us begin with the devolution of powers. Let us make the centre less attractive, not weak, strong state and strong centre. And states that have commonalities in culture, ethnicity, language and proximity can come together and form geo-political zones without disrupting the structure. But let them put their resources together to develop their own area. Nothing stops us from having six Dubais in Nigeria if we have the right thinking people and if we really love this country, and want it to progress.
The 2019 elections revealed a lot of deficiencies in the electoral system. How can that be fixed ahead of the 2023 elections?
Do you know what we have been doing? There are leakages in our roofs and we patch it since rainy season has gone. During the dry season, it will look as if it is working. When rains come, storm will blow it away. It will start leaking again. We can only get it right when people are ready.
We will get there the day the citizens of this country become a prime objective. We will get there the day the people realise that they are the most important persons. We will get it right the day the people realise the sovereignty lies with them and not those who are holding power by all means.
Closure of borders has culminated in unprecedented rise in inflation with many people lamenting on a daily basis. What alternative is feasible other rather subjecting citizens to undue hardship?
At the beginning when the border was shut, they advanced good reasons for their decision. They justified their decision on the grounds that Nigeria was becoming a dumping ground. They also justified it on the ground that our neighbours relied on smuggling goods into this country and making huge revenue from it at our expense.
They equally justified it on the ground that oil was leaking through the borders. When you hear these reasons, you will agree that we can stop this mess. But the truth is that in a globalised world, how can you have your borders closed for a long time? That is one aspect.
Few days ago, Mr. President was in Egypt and said Nigeria is now an all-comer territory. Once you are an African, you do not need visa to come to Nigeria. You can just come. There will be influx of people who think Nigeria is a land of American dream. Are we getting the same benefit from South Africa? Can we take our passport now and go to South Africa? South Africa will not say that, because they know what influx of people can do to them.
You close borders for goods not to come in, but Africans can come in. By the time they start coming in, you cannot even manage population explosion that will come as a result of it. It is good we have free movement within the continent and free trade within the continent.
But what this lopsided policy – shut the border and bring the people – will cost us will surprise you if not reviewed. When the time comes, we’ll sit again and say maybe we should approach it gradually.
Do you share the argument that the policy might have been conceived to change election demography?
Those who are behind should say what the reasons are. If it is meant to change election demography, those who are saying so should advance reasons so that the rest of us, who do no know, will know. I just know that no nation should be an all-comer territory, because the good, the bad and the ugly will enter.
And they do not need visa to come in. Criminals will enter. They might escape from somewhere and enter Nigeria. And without visa, they can enter. At a time, you did not need visa to go to Britain from Nigeria. In the 1980s, I went to Britain without visa.
But the British authorities changed the policy when they saw the characters that were coming from Nigeria. The federal government needs to put checks and balances. Yes, you can come to Nigeria. But in the final analysis, everyone has to go through a system and we can refuse you entry if we think you are not the person we want in our country.
In 2011, you participated actively in politics while most men of God see politics as murky. What actually inspired you then?
What inspired me then is still inspiring me now, not to sit and fold hands like an armchair critic. I want to contribute my own quota to nation building. I have not let it go at all. It is just that we will do it with the right people at the right time.
Whilst discussion between the ACN and the CPC was ongoing ahead of the 2011 polls, unconfirmed reports had it that you refused to sign certain documents that if CPC eventually won, you would resign and an ACN nominee would step in as the Vice President? Is that narrative correct?
If that has been the agreement, probably it would be considered. But that was not the agreement. The truth was they came and asked me to resign in advance. They wanted to sign a post-dated letter of resignation. I am not a fool. You want to resign as the Vice President, an office I have not occupied. That is perjury. I told them I could not do that.
I told them I would resign as the running mate and I did. I will properly document what happened in my memoirs. Back then I remember they said they were not prepared to lose one finger. Lai Mohammed said he could issue a post-dated cheque. When the day comes, he could cash it. I said Lai Mohammed could write a post-dated cheque as Lai Mohammed.
When the day of cashing comes, if it bounces, he will have to look for money. If it does not bounce, he is right. If Lai Mohammed will sign as Governor of Kwara State, he is a rogue. That is perjury, because he was not the governor. They were asking me to resign from an office I have not occupied. I did not beg you that I wanted that.
If the alliance between the ACN and CPC had then worked, do you think they would have won?
I am not sure. But eventually I move the motion for the merger of ACN and CPC at Eagle’s Square. In retrospect, there are some things that we did right that we will continue to do. There are some things we did not have sufficient facts. But now we are better informed. We’ll do things differently. In our group, Save Nigeria Group, at that point in time, because of the attitude of the CPC to restructuring Nigeria, we thought Major General Muhammadu Buhari, as was then called, was the only man standing that could do this for us.
Then, the CPC made restructuring the first agenda on its manifesto. I still have copies of the manifesto. But time has shown that perception and reality can sometime fall apart. If that was the CPC, this is now APC. The APC also believed, because some of the things that were in the manifesto of the CPC were also in the manifesto of the APC. Now that we are in the saddle, it is not in our agenda.
Were you consulted to replace Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the time he had crisis?
I know nothing about it. Nobody discussed such thing with me. I stood publicly that he should not be disgraced from office except he has violated his oath of office. I will not be dragged into such controversies. I have not held meeting with anybody to be anything. Do not forget, if they penciled down your name in Nigeria, the person, who has the pencil, has the eraser.