Okoh: Fighting corruption is good, but let it be felt in states, councils
He keeps a tight schedule day and night, with additional responsibility as the Head, Global Anglican Future Conference Primates Council (GAFCON). Yet, the pulpit imposes on him multiple and complex tasks, which he must perform at record time. For the Primate of Church Of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), the Most Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh, uneasy truly lies the head that wears the crown. That was the impression FOLU OLAMITI and IDOWU SAMUEL gathered during this interview with the Primate on sundry issues in Nigeria.
What is your daily routine?
I wake up very early to enable me have morning devotion with my family, because that is another church. During devotions, we don’t just read the Bible, but also listen to comments. We seek the young people’s opinion on the scriptures and then I give my own. Beyond the scripture, we also look at family issues. If there is anyone that has any issue, we discuss and pray, and that church closes. The next thing is to go for my exercise. I usually go to a park, where I jog and trek as far as my strength can carry me. After that, I have a little rest, which leads to breakfast. Thereafter, I have my bath and get ready for the office. All these things are done before 10am. At the church, we start from 10am and sometimes leave at 6pm. After closing, we have meetings, which usually drag to late night.
What is your new role at GAFCON?
GAFCON is Global Anglican Future Conference, and it came to be in 2008, when homosexuality became an issue and some churches in the Anglican Communion refused to go to the Lambert conference because of that. Instead, they went to Jerusalem to hold their own conference, which was planned in Nairobi under Archbishop Peter Akinola and executed in Jerusalem. That conference adopted a statement, which is commonly known as the GAFCON statement and Jerusalem declarations. That is the creed of the body of Anglicans, who objected to revisionism agenda, that is to say, it is not just about homosexuality and lesbianism, but has to do with the attitude to the Bible and people who hold the Bible very dear. There are some people who think that their culture and interpretation should supersede what is in the scriptures. But the GAFCON group said no, and that is what it is all about.
So, my duty will be to organise them as the chairman and ensure that we move forward. For example, five years after the conference we had in 2008 at Jerusalem, we had another one in Nairobi and this time around, we are going to have another one in 2018. Efforts are being made to get the venue, but we have not succeeded. During the last conference, it was decided that because GAFCON will be 10 in 2018, it will be very important that we return to Jerusalem, in order to observe 10 years of its existence, and after the next five years we could go to another place.
What is the membership strength of GAFCON?
In Africa, we have Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and other associates from some parts of Australia, UK and US; especially from a part we call ACNA, which is a province. Those are the people who also say no to this way of life as church leaders. We also have members in south East Asia.
Why is homosexuality ruling the world today?
Secularism has a lot to do with it and the philosophy of relativism, which means that what seems good to you, may not be good to another. Homosexuality is ruling the world today, and so you shouldn’t be surprised that we are where we are now. It is a very difficult situation, when people are accepting what used to be a serious aberration and it becomes a way of life. The quarrel is not that people have not practised it before, or that it has not been in our society. The problem is that they are now saying it is good. If the people practising it had said ‘we are weak, we have sinned or done what we shouldn’t do,’ the problem may not grow. But when people commit adultery, and they insist it is the way, then people who were not committing adultery before will start seeing it as stated.
The fact is that God has made adequate provision for human sexuality, so it is not an accident or a new thing to have sex. He made an arrangement for it, in the human and animal world and everywhere. What is making the evil of homosexuality more difficult is that it has become a political ideology. They now use it for campaign. They now do gay pride parade and those not doing it are being encouraged to join. There were comments about the new Muslim Mayor of London to the effect that he won because he accepted homosexuality, just to gain popularity. That is the world we are living in now. Young people particularly think whatever an elder does is also good, especially as America has legislated on it and their Supreme Court has taken it up, same with the UK and France. So, anyone who says homosexuality is bad is looked upon with suspicion. And our church leaders in the West criticise us and look at us as wrong people for opposing such a thing.
Some people are of the view that the devil has infiltrated the Church…
Yes. What is happening is that the enemy is fighting from within the church. The devil knows that fighting outside is not enough. He has to recruit Archbishops, Bishops and Pastors to say homosexuality is the way of life. So, what else can Satan get other than what it has done? The solution is for the remnant of the church to hold on. In every generation, people look onto the remnant church, so that in the face of evil, they should not bow or yield, they have to remain dogged. They may be ridiculed and scoffed at, but even at the threat of their lives, they should remain focused and steadfast.
What are your plans for the Church?
My first assignment is to my diocese, which is the Abuja diocese. Our programme is to continue to raise new churches and ensure that they are properly led by pastors who will provide good spiritual diet for the people. Following that, based on our vision in the church of Nigeria, and our church being a caring church, that means we must provide schools and hospitals. That is why we are negotiating for land in order to establish a hospital for the sick. This is our area of interest. More than that, we are moving out during the synod to rural areas. We are going to lay more emphasis now on the rural areas in the city suburbs, because that is where the people who matter are. They are the people that need the message and pass it on to their children, so that the gospel can be domesticated there.
What is the theme of this year’s Synod?
The theme is: the Poverty Of Riches. We are taking that from Revelation 3 verse 17. In that passage, the Laodecians were very comfortable and rich in money, but they did not please the Lord. So, he condemned their attitude, not a single thing was said in their favour because they trusted so much in their wealth and all around them. But the Lord said that they were poor and wretched in the midst of their wealth. So, we want to bring that out. For instance, in comparison with other part of the country, we have many things in abundance, but there is poverty here, both spiritual and material. We must use this to judge ourselves to see how we can improve in our service to God.
Is the Church of Nigeria waiting for Buhari’s invitation?
If you had watched the TV, as a member of the peace committee, I had taken part in all the discussions held to ensure that there is peace in the country. We wrote letters and invited the authorities to Akure, but they never showed up. We invited them to Kubwa; it was only the Vice President who came. The Anglican Bishops wrote to the President that we wanted to visit, but we did not even receive an acknowledgement, let alone an invitation. What we concluded is that the letter might have gotten lost somewhere, because we could not imagine why it could be dishonored in that manner. We are thinking that we should allow him to settle down some more, and then we can make more effort to get in touch. We have written three times to get his audience, but it did not work out fine. That is not to say that we are not with them, we are because of the work they are doing. We believe what the President is doing now is very good, especially on the issue of corruption.
The fight against corruption is very good. If not for corruption, maybe we would have risen far beyond where we found ourselves today. If all the money budgeted had been spent on the people, then we could have gone very far. We are body and soul with Mr. President in this agenda, because it is for the people. It is for the interest of our communal life. No Christian worth his name can be against an administration fighting corruption. It is very important. God is just and righteous, and fighting corruption is righteousness. But the battle is an ongoing one; it is not over, so we are available. We are part of the crusade against the evil in the land.
What we consider to be absent now is the fact that the states and local governments are not being carried along. The real effect of government is at the local level. All the money they collect on monthly basis, what do they do with it? Who are those embezzling it? The states need to be carried along in order to make the war against corruption effective. If you succeed with the federal, what happens to the states and local government?
How about Insurgency and damage to the Church?
Not much has been done to restructure or review the trend. In Damaturu, we have not been able to do much because even the Bishop himself is in exile in Jos. He lives in Jos and only goes to Damaturu to see things. A lot was damaged in Mubi area under Yola diocese and Maiduguri. These things take time, and we hope that the effort being made by government to rebuild the Northeast will also include rehabilitating the religious facilities that were damaged by the Boko Haram insurgency. So, it is not just their houses or farms that were affected, there are other facilities that were destroyed.
How would you rate the anti-graft war?
It is still at its elementary stages. The President has a long time to rule, so this question would be very appropriate at the end of his term. With just one year of administration, you can see that he has ruffled everybody. What I mean is that people are not comfortable with their loot. So, if anyone wants to steal money now, his/her family will tell him/her to please take it easy.
What’s your take on the Prime Minister of Britain’s comment that Nigeria is fantastically corrupt?
The fault in that statement is that it has no time frame and you cannot conclude that Nigerians are not corrupt. There is hardly any area, where corruption is mentioned and Nigeria’s name is not included. Look at the Panama documents, Nigerians are mentioned there. That is why I said the fight against corruption is at its infancy. It will have to go very far for the impact to really be felt in the society. Firstly, it has to go from the federal to the states, then to the local governments, the universities, to the markets, the industries, banks, churches and everywhere else. It is a comprehensive crusade.
What is your reaction to the rampaging Fulani herdsmen?
The Fulani herdsmen are a common sight in any part of Nigeria. Everywhere you go, you meet them and they have always been used as good examples of diligence, devotion and dedication to duty in the way they graze their animals, while they eat scanty food. You couldn’t really fault them and so they were a welcome sight in any village or community with their stick and so on. Sometimes, they carried musical instrument and radio, feeling very happy in the bush. But in recent times, what we are seeing of them does not give us the confidence to refer to them as herdsmen. We are dealing with terrorist organisations that are devoted to killing people.
What is of grave concern to us now is that the main policy of this government on economic revival hangs on agriculture. But people cannot go to farm anymore. They can no longer eat because somebody is waiting with a rifle in the bush to kill and rape. That is brigandage. We appeal to government to quickly intervene because these are not the Fulani herdsmen we were used to. Something has happened and we do not know precisely what that thing is.
This problem could have arisen from government’s negligence in guarding our borders. People cross over into our country to perpetrate evil and we must watch it. Whichever way you look at it, it is the government’s responsibility, whether immigration, Customs, military or police, they are all government agencies. At what point did this people come in? Are they foreigners or Nigerians? When we take that approach, we will see that something evil has entered the country. Nobody can solve the problem, but only the government. That is why it is important to solve the problem.
One element in human beings is the need for survival. If I come to your village today and kill 10 people, then I go away only to come back and kill the same number of people. Those whose people are being killed will not wait patiently for you to continue to come and kill. They will find a way to stop you, even if it means sacrificing their children. Before we get to that point, where security becomes the affairs of ethnic nationalities organising their militias, there is a need for government to look into the matter with the urgency it requires before things eventually degenerate.
What are the challenges facing the today’s Church?
One of the major challenges is tribalism and because of this, we find it difficult to really understand the true message of the gospel and practise it. Another is the gap between what we preach and what we practise. There is a yawning gap between profession and practice. Thirdly, the church finds it very difficult to unite. People get into disagreement and because of that they leave the fold to start a new church. This disunity is really becoming a big problem.
What is your view on state of the economy?
First and foremost, we have been told in the media that due to the fact that the budget has not been released, money has not been flowing; economy has not been properly fixed. They said what they are running are programmes of the past administration and there is a disconnect between that administration and this one. Our hope is that now that the budget has been signed, we give it a while to see whether the approval of the budget will bring new life. If it does, then we clap hands and rejoice. If it does not, then we begin to think more and more of where to find our salvation.
How would you score the Buhari administration?
To be frank, everybody is surprised at the revelations coming as per the amount of monies stolen from government, how much money some individuals took away. On that note, we have to congratulate the man because he is fighting the evil and doing his best to uproot it. How well he will succeed remain to be seen, but we pray that he succeeds because he made a lot of promises. If he choses to fail, people will lose hope in governance. So, he cannot afford to fail.