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‘Religion and politics are two sides of a coin’

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Bishop Oscar Ossai

Senior Pastor, City of Refuge Ministries International, Bishop Oscar Ossai is a stakeholder in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He contested twice for a seat in the National Assembly, but failed. In 2015, he was also a gubernatorial aspirant. He spoke with KEHINDE OLATUNJI on the state of the nation and other topical issues

Buhari’s endorsement for second term by a group of Northern Christians
The Church of Jesus Christ in Nigeria does not know those who endorsed Buhari for second term because there is no credible voice of the church among the visitors.

The church has not taken any position on Buhari’s second term’s ambition. It is praying and seeking the face of God for direction on the matter. The church, which is made up of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other coalitions, is yet to decide. So we don’t know those who visited and endorsed Mr. President for second term.

State of the country amidst complaints about poverty, insecurity, killings and other vices
The fact is Nigeria is not where it should be. The political elite have failed Nigeria considering the demographics at our disposal. Look at the unemployment rate; there are about 65 percent Nigerians that are currently unemployed and out of that number 40 percent is unemployable leaving only 25 percent that are employable but without jobs. They cannot handle the tools at work. This is a nation whose active population is the youth.

Someone recently published something that our population is over 180 million. There is a lot of danger in that. Look at what is happening in Europe, simply because Libya failed. Imagine what will happen to the world if 187 million people are destabilised. Look at the spill over from Southern Cameroun that is affecting Cross River, just the failure of parts of Southern Cameroun. If four million people from Lagos leave, you can be sure that Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, will be messed up. So, we need to get a bit more serious. That means we need to go beyond rhetoric of politics and or even the church. We need to know that there is an emergency situation in the land. We need to create opportunities for the teeming population of Nigerian graduates that are leaving school.

We need to create opportunities for those who have left school but are still being supported by their parents. When I went to school, if you graduate, you will quickly take up a younger sibling. I have trained at least four of my younger ones through school, right from the year I graduated.

Rating Buhari’s government in terms of performance
The All Progressives Congress (APC) said it has done a lot, but what we see is unemployment and lack of basic amenities. Life in Nigeria is rough. The political leadership in Nigeria, in all of the years that they have had access to power, the last administration comes out better than the one before it. That is the Nigerian story.

What I’m saying is that the aggregate result is that there is a leadership lacuna. The solution is allowing institutions to survive. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS); I don’t know what they are doing, because it is these structures that have the capacity to arise and take on the leadership direct.

Religious leaders and the courage to speaking truth to power
That is my primary constituency and I want to say that we have not done so well, as far as lifting a standard for Jesus Christ in our country is concerned.

Anybody can disagree with me, but my view is that the church has not done as much as it should do with respect to insisting on righteousness in leadership. Switzerland had a very bad economy in the days of John Calvin. He was a church leader that brought a turnaround in Switzerland. He started the Calvin Institute where he began to teach the rights of man and his teachings became the basis of discussion in the Swiss National Assembly, as a result of which the Swiss economy began to turn around.

Geneva, where the headquarters of most major international organisations are today was a city of pirates, drunks and prostitutes. It was teachings of men like Calvin that reformed Geneva. He gave us the platform for discussing democracy in the church.

Church involvement in politics
I am in the forefront of insisting that religion and politics are two sides of the same coin. You cannot separate the two. The concept of separation of church and state as discussed in America is not to stay away from politics. No. It is rather that politics should not determine for church how the church should be run.

That is the spirit of the First Amendment of the American Constitution. It was a statement made by a former American President, Thomas Jefferson at the Danbury Baptist Convention in 1804. But the Church leadership understood it to mean that there is a difference between church and politics, so we backed off, look at what we have. If the scripture says all power belongs to God; is political power not power? Why should we isolate political power? Everybody, every church member should get involved. You cannot be a church member and just come and read the Bible and go home.

Are you saying Christians in Nigeria should form a political party?
I have done politics. I have run for national elections. Why I backed off was because I saw that the church was not ready. There is a critical mass we need for us to change the pattern.

It is the way. It is because the number of people who are insisting on what is right is infinitesimal in the Nigerian context. If every Christian will get involved and the critical mass is built up, we will change the pattern.

Politics is not dirty. The problem is that the people playing the politics are dirty. Just like church. In the same way, the politics of some churches is more dangerous than party politics. Where Nigeria is today, Christians cannot have the pleasure of waiting till we can form a structure. If we can troop en masse into existing structures, we can form a solid structure in it and have a say.

If we come into APC or PDP, for instance, in large numbers, we can influence what happens in APC. We have waited for years, listened to failed promises. It is time for all hands to be on deck to change the situation. We should declare a state of emergency over leadership.

Buhari’s second term ambition
I am a church leader and a voice in the nation. Looking at the antecedent, we can see that there are so many failed promises made. I had expected that the president will quietly retire, but now that he made his decision known, let us hear what more he has to present and then we will decide his fate at the polling unit.


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