Omobude: Nigerians must be committed to the Nigeria project
REV Felix Omobude witnessed the hoisting of Nigerian flag and lowering of the British Union Jack at Independence, 56 years ago. Now, 70 years old, the National President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and General Superintendent of Gospel Light International Ministries (a.k.a New Covenant Gospel Church) is reminiscing his pre-and-post Independence era experiences. He recently spoke with AYOYINKA JEGEDE in Benin.
What are your pre-and-post independence experiences?
I believe it was good we had our independence. There is nothing like freedom, where we rule ourselves, but I can remember that even before the independence in 1960, Chief Obafemi Awolowo already had the idea of free primary education and had set up the Western Television. The leaders, who fought for Independence, had in mind the view of a great nation. Alas! We have not been able to accomplish their dreams.
I remember that as a young person, there was free feeding in the schools. But presently, we are talking about it as a national policy. Then, every school had free rice, free food to celebrate the independence. It was an orderly society and there was very minimal agitation, unlike what we have today.
The post-independence challenges we are having are those of a growing young nation, and though we expect to have gone pass them by now, but we still have every reason to thank God.
Have the expectations after independence been met?
I cannot tell you that we have met all our expectations. We had a lofty idea then. Those of us that were young then thought of a nation that would grow and become great like the United Kingdom. We thought independence would elevate our status and, of course, become prosperous politically and an economically free nation. I think that to some extent, some of the expectations of our founding fathers have been realised, but there is still quite a lot to be done.
Our expectation then and now is that Nigeria would become a powerhouse to be reckoned with. We are not yet there, but I would say that we are gradually on our way.
What are your prescriptions for the future?
If after 56 years of independence, we are still a nation with power supply of less than four hours a day, over 70 per cent of the population has no access to potable water, many cannot access health care, salaries in most part of the states are not paid, and many Nigerians cannot afford two meals, then we have not lived the expectations of our founding fathers. But though the challenges are monumental, there is still hope for Nigeria, if we would rededicate ourselves to the course of nation-building, and put selfish interests below corporate interests.
What have been our high points and low-ends?
Nigeria still remains a major stakeholder in the international community. If you want to deal with the black world, you cannot sideline Nigeria. We have come a long way and there is still room for growth. Years ago, we had three or four major universities, now we have both private and public universities, all over the place. There is the good side, which we must highlight and celebrate. We are still together, though not close-knitted.
The low aspect is the issue of poverty, which must be urgently addressed. Nigeria has no business being this poor, so a lot of things must have gone wrong. It is sad that at 56, the Naira is at its lowest ebb and there has been no serious attempt to rescue it. It is sad, as it affects the nation’s pride.
Do you really believe there is unity in our diversity?
People have had different opinions about our togetherness. I personally think if we allow equity, justice and fair play to take their places, it would be better for us to stay as a united entity than be apart. This is because our diversity can become our strength. Our population is an asset, just like the landmass, geography and the ecosystem around us. All these are big assets that can make our nation far greater than that of those who once ruled us.
Is our unity worth celebrating?
I believe it is, because Nigeria has gone through a lot. Many nations did not go through half of what Nigeria has gone through and they are fragmented.
Some are still in civil war, but Nigeria is still strong and vibrant.Nigeria is not the worst nation to live in. I believe that this nation is blessed and I am happy to be a Nigerian. Nigerians all over the world are very unique; they stand out and I’m happy about that.
Has PFN helped to strengthen our independence in any way?
The church preaches liberation and stands for freedom. If you look well, you’ll see that the church has been involved in education and healthcare services. When a man comes to Christ, he is set free from superstitions, he is taught to love his neighbours, as he loves himself. He is also taught to be sacrificial in giving to others, and that is the role the church will continue to play. We reach out to the downtrodden and render humanitarian services, which we do up till today in diverse forms and degree.
The church is there, when people are happy, just like it is also there, when they are sad. And we’ll continue to play our role in the society.
What are the institutions we need to strengthen growth and development?
I believe we need to strengthen institutions that make for healthy democratic system. These are our democratic institutions, our educational institutions, our healthcare system and social services, which need to be strengthened. If there is a provision for all to have equal opportunity, go to school without parents paying and such others, the tendency to loot or stack public funds for children yet unborn will be reduced. Our social system and the judiciary should also be strengthened.
All Nigerians should join hands together to move the country forward. Political leaders must know that they are the custodians of the country and its people’s values and treasures. The president of this nation is the president of the entire Nigeria, and not president of a section and he must be seen to live and administer like that. The governor of any state is not the governor of a party; he is the governor of all the people and must be seen to be like that.
We must endeavour to build a nation, where our values, honesty and integrity are upheld. We must understand that Americans built America, the British built Britain, and the Europeans built Europe. So, Nigerians must doggedly be committed to the Nigerian project; lets build Nigeria together. Our fore fathers’ vision for Nigeria was that someone from Benin could go to Sokoto and vice versa to do business, live and feel at home.
They desired a nation, where Christians and Muslims could freely worship God without fear and molestations. We can still achieve all this, if we agree to work together to build a very strong and prosperous nation.
What are your views on the current fight against corruption and the urgent need to revamp the economy?
If we were to be honest, we’d acknowledge that corruption has set us back in no small measure. If we want a nation of our dream, the fight against corruption is necessary. I only feel that it must be fought holistically and with a human face. It must be fought right from the kindergartner to the highest level of our educational system. We must teach our children the lost golden values and government must play its roles. It must be taken to both the private and public sectors.
It is hard to turn on public taps and see water running. What does one expect in a situation, where every citizen has to sink his/her own borehole, and operates his/her own electricity? It’s nothing, but corruption.
So, to fight corruption, government must try to provide the basic necessities of life— good healthcare facilities, quality education, water, sanitation and employment, among others. Government should create the enabling environment for businesses to grow.
This nation is great, and Nigerians are not asking for too much; they just want the basic things of life. So, providing all these is a major approach to fighting corruption. When we were much younger, there wasn’t much luxury, as obtains now, but people were happy and contented. There was food on the table and all these importation of this and that wasn’t there.
What is your advice for government and Nigerians?
Certainly, this is a difficult time, especially when one looks around and sees what is happening. At 56, we are not where we should be and this is painful. But if I, as a pastor, decides to live upright, and not encourage evil, by doing my job appropriately, and you, as a journalist, would do your job with the fear of God, with or without a brown envelope, and we all decide to do right in our little corners, Nigeria would soon become the nation of our dream.
Those seeking political office should be selfless. I believe we can turn around this nation. We should be tolerant of one another and commit ourselves to the course of nation building.
What do you think of the agitation in the Niger Delta?
The agitation there is based on the premise that people, from whose soil the major resource that sustains a nation is produced, are neglected. I think our consciences should prick us. When you go to cities, such as, Abuja, Benin and Kano, to mention a few, and you know that part of the resources used for developing these cities come from Niger Delta, and then you visit these communities and see the effect of environmental degradation, you’ll know that they have been unfairly treated.
Due to years of neglect, these communities cannot be accessed by land. They have no drinking water or functioning schools. It is only fair that they take their share of those things produced on their soil. The Federal Government should meaningfully engage the people in dialogue for development and peace to reign in the region. What will solve this agitation is massive development of the region.