From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Rev. Akpen Leva is the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Benue State chapter and also the Pastor in Charge of NKST Church, Iyortyer in Makurdi. He spoke on various issues in this interview.
As CAN Chairman for Benue State, what is your reaction to the political atmosphere in the country ahead of the 2023 general elections?
It’s quite unfortunate that in Nigeria, we keep on having problems everyday. Whenever you wake up, you have new crop of problems popping up; hunger, bad leadership and so on. But this is the only country we have. We can’t run away from Nigeria. We have to stay here and salvage this nation together. It’s not easy to assess the political situation in this country because I can say that politicians have sold out our country; they have sold out their conscience to the extent they don’t even care about the welfare of the common man. And this is creating tension everywhere. There is tension in and around all the states of the federation and nobody seems to be putting this into consideration. Instead, everybody is politicking, looking for one post or the other. Look at ASUU on strike, students are at home, tired, frustrated; parents are also frustrated, everybody is frustrated, yet nobody is doing anything to solve our problem. Everybody is campaigning for one political position or another. It’s so unfortunate and that’s why some people are not even sure whether we are going to have 2023 elections or not because of what is happening around us especially this issue of insecurity. You can imagine the broad daylight robbery, kidnapping, terrorism and killing of people including security men in this country. Look at what happened recently in Shiroro, Niger State where over 40 military personnel were killed in cold blood. We are getting closer to a general elections and you can see the level of insecurity in the country. Who knows whether that day, all the polling units will be surrounded by bandits and kidnappers kidnapping electoral officers, kidnapping everybody that goes to vote. However, as a man of God, I have hope in this nation. God will see us through. In as much as the political atmosphere is unpredictable, I know that God who controls the universe, who controls Nigeria will definitely control the affairs of this nation, and we will have peaceful elections and peaceful transition to another administration.
Among all the candidates at both the federal and state levels, can we say we now have messiahs to salvage this country and bring it out of the current unfortunate quagmire it has found itself?
I can’t say a Nigerian will be a messiah. The only messiah I know is Jesus Christ who can take care of all our problems. That was how everybody was clamouring for a messiah in 2015. Many then thought that Buhari and the APC were our messiah. See where we have found ourselves now. Where is that messiah who will rescue us from poverty, lawlessness, from insecurity and from all that are happening in Nigeria? So, I can’t talk about a messiah but I know that God will give us servant leaders who will come and help us to solve some of these problems. I wouldn’t say I Have seen a messiah among them but God who knows our heart and everything that is happening in this country will surely come to our aid and give us the best.
From what you have been seeing in Benue, which party do you think will win Benue?
I want to place it on record that in Benue, we don’t vote political parties, we vote candidates. Let me give you this example, in 2015, our governor, Samuel Ortom came on board on the platform of the APC and we supported and queued behind him and he won. At the expiration of his first tenure, he switched over to the PDP and we voted him. He’s still there. If he had gone to Labour Party or any other party, we would have still voted him because that’s how we vote in Benue. We vote for candidates and not party. Once we see a credible candidate of our choice, we go after him and support him so that he will win. For 2023, we are still looking at all the candidates. We will screen them and we will support anyone among them who is our choice and he will win. Our choice can come from any party, whether PDP, APC, LP, SDP and so on. As far as that person is our choice, we will vote him and he will win. So, for now in Benue State, only God knows which party will win.
What’s your views on Muslim/Muslim ticket as being canvassed by some political parties in the country?
I will say without mincing words that the APC should never think of bringing a Muslim/ Muslim ticket because Nigeria has gone past that era. The era of Abiola/Kingibe has passed and we can never have such again. That cannot work again in Nigeria because statistically, Christians are more in Nigeria and I know what I am saying. Christians have that population but we have that principle that if a Christian is president and his tenure has ended, you give it to the Muslim. We expect the Muslims to do the same thing. So, let them not try that Muslim/ Muslim ticket because it won’t work. We have been hearing what they are saying and we are seeing the feelers that they want to have Muslim/ Muslim ticket. As the leader of the church in Benue and one of the leaders of the church in Nigeria, I strongly say that Muslim/ Muslim ticket will not work. It will be better for the APC or any party at all to do their homework very carefully. If not, driving this nation on religious lines will not work. We need to balance it up very well because after all, we have more Christians than Muslims in the National and State assemblies. So, what yardstick will the APC use to bring the Muslim Muslim ticket? It will be a slap in the face of the Christians in Nigeria. So, it will not work.
So, what’s your advice to Christians ahead of the election?
My advice to all Christians in Nigeria is that they should wake up from their slumber and go and register to obtain their PVCs. First of all, let us analyse the political situation in the country. Once we have our PVCs, we can vote candidates of our choice. Politics is a game of number and we can’t be in that number without our PVCs. We must all obtain our PVCs to vote for our choice candidate. If it’s a Muslim that is credible, we will vote him. And if it’s a Christian that is credible, we will vote that person. Once we have our PVCs, that is all. And this is a challenge to the church in Nigeria. I encourage all Christian leaders to mobilize their members to get their PVCs. And if possible, in our worship service or any christian gathering at all, we can take a census of those who don’t have PVCs and encourage them to get theirs. I was happy when I watched a clip recently where a Reverend Father stood by the gate and was checking for those who have their PVCs and those who did not. He asked those who did not have to go back home and should not attend the Mass. Recently, I had the Holy Communion in my church and I told my members to come along with their PVCs. They were screened at the gate and those who had their PVCs were allowed in. I encourage all Christian leaders to do same in their various churches. Even during weddings, if somebody wants to wed, let him not be wedded until he shows his PVC. I think that is one way we can compel our people to go and get their PVCs. 2023 is not something we should joke with. We have to get ourselves prepared.
Still on the issue of insecurity, it is sad that no one is safe anymore. Military personnel and even men of God are being kidnapped or even killed and some are only released after paying heavy ransoms running into hundreds of millions of naira.
What are your views on insecurity situation in the country?
It is very unfortunate that insecurity in this nation has continued like this. But I must say that as a patriotic Nigerian, I join other people to express my dissatisfaction with the activities of the government of the day. When this government was coming on board in 2015, they promised that within three months, insecurity would be tackled. They promised that power issues would be settled in less than six months. Education and so on would be looked into. I am sorry to say that from the promises that were made, this government has taken us so many centuries backward. Because, look at the issue of insecurity, for instance, if you are fortunate to wake up, you don’t know what may happen the next day. Even when you’re traveling on the road, you’re traveling out of fear that maybe kidnappers will be on the way, maybe they will kidnap you and take you to the forest and if you’re not able to pay the ransom, maybe they will butcher you and so on. And this ransom is always in millions. Then I keep wondering, don’t we have the gadgets to track these people where they are in the forest? Is our military incapable of doing this? Is it that our intelligence unit not able to discover where they are? These are some of the questions trudging the hearts of Nigerians and begging for answers. Now, they are moving from house to house killing people. Nobody is safe in this country any longer. The worst hit is the church because this has taken a religious dimension. Imagine the number of worshippers that have been killed right inside the church. This is aside many who have been abducted and taken to the forest for ransom. A few days ago, two catholic priests were kidnapped and many of them have been killed. This is the high level of insecurity we are talking about in this country. Even our military men are not safe. They are being killed in hundreds. In fact, there are some killings that are not reported by the media. Apart from insecurity, look at the economic hardship Nigerians are grappling with everyday. Everyday, you wake up to go and queue to get fuel. No fuel despite the abundance of petroleum products in this country. Prices of food stuffs have escalated. Go to the market and buy something for N300, after one hour, you will go again and buy the same thing for N500. Our farmers cannot go to the farm because of insecurity. The other time, over 50 farmers were killed in Borno. In Benue State, farmers are afraid of going to the farm. If you go, they will kill you. And so, there is hunger in the land. You take your children to school, no money to pay school fees. Public universities have been on strike now for about six months and government is carrying on as if nothing is happening. We are completely disappointed with what is happening. When the present government came on board, they talked about tackling corruption. This is where you see corruption in high places. What can we say are the benefits of democracy? It is quite unfortunate. But we are praying to God. Let God arise and rescue Nigeria. Because some people are already feeling that maybe in the nearest future, there will be no Nigeria again. But I think our God is on the throne and He will help us, no matter the level of insecurity, no matter the level of poverty, no matter the level of lawlessness and division. Nigeria has never been this divided. Nigeria has witnessed division and religious sentiments in the highest order under this present administration. Well, I will not talk much because when you start talking about Nigeria, you can talk for days and in the end, you will be provoked the more.
Are you still of the opinion that Nigerians should begin to defend themselves?
Yes, the constitution gives us the right to defend ourselves. So, self defence is constitutional. If you know that somebody is coming with a matchet to cut your head, if you have a stick, you can beat his hand so that the matchet will fall down. You’re defending yourself and it’s allowed. You cannot just sit down and be looking at somebody who is coming to cut off your head. You need to act by defending yourself. That’s why I’m happy with the call by the Zamfara State Governor asking all the people to defend themselves against bandits. I think we should have the right to own guns. Everybody should be given license to own a gun. You will discover that many Nigerians don’t even have anything to defend themselves such that somebody with only one or two guns can scatter a whole community. But if we have the license to own guns, at least, we will be defending ourselves if government cannot protect us. If we are licensed to own guns, maybe one day in our churches, we can tell worshippers to come into the church with their guns. You saw what happened in the US, somebody went into a church with a gun, before he could shoot people and leave, a worshipper shot him down. So, if we are allowed to own guns, I think I will like to hold mine while I preach in church, so that if I see anything, I will just shoot the invaders and continue with my preaching. I think we need to protect ourselves. It’s very important. And I think by now, we should have state police to complement the other security. In a nutshell, what is happening in Nigeria right now is calling for self defence. And this has to be legitimate. Give us license to own guns so that if armed robbers or bandits come in the night, you can tell your wife and children to take different positions with their guns and together all of you can confront the invaders. I think we have come to that level now. I want to appeal to the Federal Government and relevant authorities to issue us licenses to own our guns. Even if it’s Dane guns, let us have it so that we will be able to protect ourselves.
In the next few months, the Buhari led Federal Government will be winding down. We would like to know what is your assessment of APC under Buhari?
Well, I know that it’s not easy to be a leader. And when you’re a leader, you can’t be everywhere at the same time. I think Buhari as a person may have good intentions for this nation but his lieutenants have not been able to translate that into reality. You have Ministers and many other people that he has appointed in MDAs and parastatals. And maybe if he gives an order, they would not be able to carry it out. I may not know because I’m not at the Federal Executive Council. But what baffles me is that all the policies of this administration are against the church. Look at CAMA policy. It’s against the church and the church had to file a suit challenging it. Look at RUGA; that should be established in all the states. Look at the Water Resources Bill that keeps on coming and coming. We can’t accept that bill. Again, do we have only one tribe in Nigeria? We have so many regions. Why then is it that the roll call of all the positions at the Federal Executive Council given to the North? And even if you go to this North, you see that most of those manning these positions are Fulani. Look at that level of nepotism. Don’t we have Christians that are qualified to man these positions? Must it be only Muslims and your close associates? Sometimes, you will feel that the President is not aware of these things but he sits and presides over these people. Even if he’s not the one that has chosen them, can’t he question? That is where this administration has taken us to. And this has made the people not to have confidence in APC again. And you know, when you don’t have confidence in somebody, it is very difficult to build that confidence again. Now that this administration is winding up, I think Nigerians need to sit and talk. Where is the quota system again? Quota system is no more there and the power sharing formula is only favouring a particular tribe. This is the predicament of Nigerians and.many people are afraid to talk. This is democracy, the government of the people, for the people and by the people. And in democracy, we are supposed to air our views when things are not going in order. I would like to advise the presidency that before they go out of government, they should be able to make amends by listening to the agitations of Nigerians and be able to settle some of the issues so that we will score them high. Also, I want to challenge the Christian brothers and sisters that are there to begin to talk. Some of them are not talking. We don’t hear them complaining or moving out of meetings when they don’t accept the resolutions. We can do that. Our Christian brothers and sisters in positions have only left a few governors to be talking. People feel that Governor Samuel Ortom is stubborn; he is not. That is how a Christian is supposed to behave in the midst of confusion in the nation. You have to speak out. So, Governor Ortom has been speaking out over the injustices meted to Nigerians. He doesn’t speak for himself, he speaks for the Nigerians and also for Benue State. I want to call on our Christian brothers in high places that they are there for a purpose. If certain policies are not palatable, they should voice out. A situation where they don’t voice out and they are being used as stooges of the Federal Government, they are not being fair to the church.
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