‘Those still voting along ethnic lines are doing more damage to Nigeria’
ThirdForce Is Most Refreshing Option For Nigeria – Pastor Ituah Ighodalo
Pastor Ituah Ighodalo is a stakeholder in the Third Force movement and the Managing Partner at SIAO, a Chartered Accountants and Management Consultants firm. He’s the founder and Senior Pastor of Trinity House, Victoria Island, Lagos. In this interview with CHIJIOKE IREMEKA, he spoke on state of the nation and how young people can salvage the situation.
One major issue in the Nigerian political space today is the high cost of elections. Going by what obtains, how confortable are you with the amounts pegged for expression of interest and nomination forms by the two leading political parties in the country?
IT’S unbearable and if you ask me, I would say that Nigerian politics has become very transactional and the owners of the parties or those who control the affairs of the parties are a bit insincere. They are now using the N100 million and N40 million fee to prove who is serious and shut out some people. But this has corrupted the entire process and made the parties look very unserious.
Of course, it also shows that parties are mere platform where anyone who has money can put himself forward as a candidate. In those days, when the parties were parties, before people come forward for party candidature, there has to be some kind of discussions and nomination process. They would have known that for governorship candidate of this party, in this particular state, there may be four or five people who were more qualified for the job and they would be encouraged to pick the form. But today, everybody comes up to do any thing he wants.
Of course, it’s an open society where anybody can decide what he wants, but there must be some kind of decorum, structure, organisation and evaluation in such a way that party itself does not become unserious where too many people are jostling for one position and none is asking where the money is coming from?
Today, people are coming up with N100 million and no one is asking where it’s coming from and what is their tax incidence. Even if it was donated by a group of people, who were the people that donated them and what is their tax incidence as well as their corporate behaviour? It’s quite unfortunate.
If Nigeria has over 90 million of her population described as poor, would you not think that such move is discriminatory and a technical way of disenfranchising millions of Nigerians with better leadership competence?
I agree with you 100 per cent; it’s very discriminatory. Wealth and having money, even popularity, does not necessarily mean leadership competence, which is why I said there should be an evaluation process. It means, of course, that if you are genuinely a Vice Chancellor or a lecturer and you’ve led before, there’s no way you would have been able to save the sum of N100 million with the salary you are being paid, or be able to come forward for presidency, even if you are a minister for the Federal Republic of Nigeria or a general in the army.
If you total your salary and living expenses, and let’s say you’ve managed to build a house, the living wage is still not comparable to what we’re asking people to donate together for you to run for presidency.
Would you say that a government with the mantra to eliminate corruption in Nigeria is actually interested in fighting the menace of corruption? Do you feel this whole episode would encourage or reduce corruption in Nigeria?
It definitely encourages corruption. The reason is that we can tell, even by the people who have come out, that most of them have been in government in one way or the other. And where did the money come from? If it came from them directly, it’s corruption. If it came from people who feel obligated to them, there’s a reason for that obligation also. Then, if people contributed to give you this sort of money and you’re lucky to get into position, somewhere, you have to benefit them also and that’s corruption.
If you don’t get into the position and somebody else gets in there, most of you will negotiate that you’ve spent so much in running for that position for you to step down for them. There must be also some kind of compensation for that, which is also corruption. So, definitely it’s endangers corruption.
A lady ran for counsellorship in the United Kingdom (UK) and became a member of parliament. Usually, when you become a member of parliament, you’re halfway to becoming a Commissioner, Minister, Secretary of State and then halfway to becoming Prime Minister. The total amount spent on the election was about 1000 pounds or so, which was the cost of buying stamps, posting letters and going from door-to-door to offer yourself to people. And almost anybody within that vicinity can offer himself or herself to be an MPA counselor.
But in Nigeria, that is totally impossible. So, it’s very discouraging for a lot of people, and it really will not get the best in terms of quality of mind, capacity, or manpower. In fact, it’s almost a culture now that the only way by which you can really make money in Nigeria is by being a sycophant or a contractor to government, or running around with people without adding much value, or playing politics.
And the politics we are having now is the kind where delegates are just waiting to take their pound of flesh. They just wait so that each aspirant will pay them and then it’s a salary payday. It just does not bring the best in terms of intelligence, hard work, background ethics, values and competence. So, a serious country must collectively come together and arrest this situation.
The first thing is that we want genuine political parties with visions and manifestos. They should have a way of doing things and have rules among them, including having who rules within the party. They should bring out who they consider to be the best in terms of capacity and offer them for service. We also need to educate the electorate and the citizens that wealth does not mean competence. And therefore, when we are trying to choose a leader, we should vote for somebody who can do the job. Somebody who has been a genuine civil servant all his life, and has great administrative experience, and then wants to go into politics based on his salary, minus corruption.
With what is happening in the country between the government and ASUU, do you think this administration is serious about improving the educational system in Nigeria?
I don’t think this administration is serious in improving most things in this country, because if they are serious, we should have seen it. They’ve tried in one or two areas, but in most of the areas, they have not really been serious. Education is critical and they did not pay ASUU enough attention to try and resolve this matter and get our children back to the school. And there are many other areas where they have not shown seriousness at all.
Again, it’s all about transactions and making money in government. They are not really leading and serving the people. So, they should please try and serve the people and make life better for them.
On the issue of the insecurity in the country, what solution would you proffer?
Nigeria has never had this level of insecurity, and the evidence is there. This is the first time people are walking into other people’s houses, carrying them away, bombing them, and killing them. This is also the first time that train tracks are being bombed in Nigeria. It is also the first time that people are abducted and kidnapped, and there’s no response, manhunt or outcomes. So, everybody’s frightened.
Anybody who has half an opportunity is ready to leave Nigeria; the embassies are full. Everyday, people are checking out of this country if they have the opportunity to do so. Therefore, it’s just a sign of the state of the environment. So, it’s an appeal to the government that they should please do all they can to solve this problem for us.
What’s your position on zoning of the presidency?
Actually, what we need is a competent president. If the person is competent, it doesn’t matter where they come from. And we must create an environment where every single Nigerian, wherever they come from, must be able to aspire to leadership in this country. Our criteria for leadership evaluation, follow and support should not be based on tribe. If we’re still talking about things like that today, it means that we have not made progress to unify a nation. And no one tribe should oppress the other.
So, if we say we are zoning, it means that we’re hoping that this person’s presidency will benefit this zone or this section more than others. That’s what we’re basically alluding to, and that we prefer certain people because of where they come from, and not because of what they can do. There’s no way you can really effectively lead a nation based on those criteria. The starting point is that everybody is welcome and can aspire. People in Nigeria today who are still voting along ethnic lines are really doing more damage of dividing the nation.
But this is the reality of our nation now, in that, it has appeared over the years that certain sections or tribes of Nigeria have been excluded from leadership in Nigeria deliberately, maybe because of the Civil War or previous coups. That section of Nigeria needs to be assuaged, reassured, convinced and reintegrated. So, with this reassurance, presidency can be given to them just to reassure them that you have nothing against them. Let us do that once and for all and forget zoning. That is my own suggestion, to find a way to prove to them that nobody is deliberately excluding them from what should be their right.
In fairness, the reality on ground is that the southeasterners have been a little bit excluded from the centre of power in this country, based on facts – appointments, leanings and body language of certain sections of Nigeria; both in the north and the west. The body language, utterances and so much analysis have been like that.
Also, the evidence in terms of critical appointments has also been like that. A lot of competent people have been passed up in some of the military and police formations, it seems as though it’s because of where they came from. There’s been a bit of a dominance of a certain section of Nigeria, in almost all the key positions in Nigeria.
We cannot say that the dominance is based on competence. It has been based largely on the section of Nigeria that the person who is in office has come from and therefore, if we are going to tell ourselves the truth, we need to re-address the issue.
Concerning the Third Force, which you are a member, what has happened to this movement? Can it rescue Nigeria from sinking?
I think the Third Force is realistically the most refreshing option for Nigeria. We have tried the PDP and they failed us. We’ve tried the APC; they have also not done well. Today, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the PDP and the APC, because they’ve all crossed boundaries and they are one. So, I think if the Third Force can gather itself together, it might just be able to do the trick for Nigeria.
When you mention the Third Force, what does it entail, especially to a common Nigerian, who has never heard of it?
For me, a Third Force means a collection of people or a fresh set of faces, which have hitherto not been enmeshed in leadership failures in the past. A lot of the people who have been involved in political leadership have clouds of corruption, incompetence and inability to perform hanging on them. So, they should give a bit of room for other people who possess the competence and exposure to come forward and offer themselves as a fresh pair of hands for Nigeria.
Coming back to your political ambition, what has happened? Have you given up on it? What are you waiting for to re-launch yourself into Nigerian politics?
Well, the leadership of Nigeria is not something to be taken lightly. It’s something that you must research, prepare and work hard for. And it is also not an inexpensive venture. I have worked hard all my life; I know how much I have within my resource or my capacity. So, I must make sure that I have enough support, clearance and direction to venture into this kind of thing.
What I have done is make my views known, make people know what is possible as best as I can, tell people what is wrong in Nigeria, and to see and gather myself together with a few people to make plans for leadership in Nigeria. Sometimes, the timing may not be right and you may not have gathered enough resources and support. Sometimes, the atmosphere may not be conducive, but we’re watching, we’re looking, and we’re working.
We’re talking to ourselves; we’re seeing whether we can gather enough resource to, at least, aspire to some level of leadership in Nigeria, either personally, directly or with groups of people or even support somebody else.
What is most important to me is that we get leadership right in Nigeria and it’s not necessarily a personal thing. If Nigerians feel that someone like me has the skills and the wherewithal to provide good leadership and they’re willing to support someone like me, I’m willing to make the sacrifice to serve Nigeria. And it’s indeed a sacrifice; it’s service and people like us want to serve. We’re not going there to acquire or for ego reasons. We’re going there to try and make life better for the average Nigerian and that has been our track record in most things that we have done this far, in supporting and helping other people.
So the bottom line is that you are still very interested in Nigerian politics if the coast is clear?
I’m still very involved in leadership determination in Nigeria, and I will always be, as long as I have breath and energy.
Many businesses in Nigeria are relocating to the neighbouring countries. As a Chartered Accountant, what does this potent for Nigerian economy?
It’s still the same problem. Once we don’t get leadership right in Nigeria, it’s going to be an issue. That’s why a lot of people who have been criticising, talking, and commenting are getting frustrated. Most of them are just wasting their time. The source of Nigeria’s problem is very clear.
The original source is the state of our families. Our families are not very strong, or ethical; families produce the people, and the people produce the leaders.
So, until we can get the best that leadership and family have to offer Nigeria and put them in leadership and hope that they can now cascade down a new culture for Nigeria, in terms of service for leadership and making things right, nothing is going to go right in Nigeria. Security won’t go right neither will the economy, education, infrastructure or the environment.
A man cannot give what he does not have. So, leadership is influence that gives direction as to how and where people should go. Until we get that kind of influence and direction, we’re not going to be able to get the right results for Nigeria.
Are you of the opinion that the moral decadence and the breakdown of family values and norms brought the country into this precarious leadership quagmire?
I think this is probably one of the biggest problems in Nigeria and in the society today. The society is based on the family, and what we see in Nigeria is a reflection of the state of our families, where the father and the mother are absent, there are no rules, and there’s no discipline. They don’t look after the children; everybody goes their different ways to come up with all sorts of ideas and does whatever they want.
Now, these children have grown up to be adults without discipline and control. Money is what drives them; greed, lust, corruption, partying, enjoyment and drinking have overpowered them and they’ve lost all seriousness. It is simply because the family unit has been broken down due to the British or western influence over our society, and we’re taking all these things without taking the discipline that comes with it.
We have just been unfortunate that a few people who were not well brought up, with corrupt minds have found themselves in places of leadership in this country, and they brought their influence to bear in an unbearable way for the rest of us and they are setting a different standard for our children. We must bring those who are a bit knowledgeable, to begin to fight back to reverse it so that we can have a sane society.
It took one person to rise up in Singapore to change the thinking of the whole nation, because he was thinking right. It took one man in Dubai to rise up also and change the thinking of the entire United Arab Emirates, because he was thinking right. I think it’s time also for one man in Nigeria who is thinking right to rise up and change the entire thinking of Nigeria. It is doable.
Pentecostal pastors are gradually becoming traditional rulers in their communities. Is this part of priestly callings or something they carved out for themselves?
The problem with us in Nigeria is that we have a mindset that everything traditional is fetish, occultic, or concerned with idol worshipping. It may have had that influence in the days of ignorance, where that was all we knew. But traditional leadership should be simply leadership. Why can’t a pastor aspire to the leadership of his community, town or village? He only needs to make sure that his tenure or reign as a leader excludes anything fetish or of idol worship.
David was a prophet, and eventually became a traditional ruler, king of Israel. In those days, priests combined both roles as in the case of Samuel, Gideon, Elisha, and Elijah. As a matter of fact, every ruler of Israel before Saul was a prophet; it was called theocracy. God ruled through the prophets, so, there was no grandeurs king. It was just a simple prophet; more like what you would call a Judge who just looked over affairs and who both spoke to God and spoke to men.
It was later on that they wanted a separation, wanting a king, and a prophet. So, there’s nothing wrong for a pastor or prophet to aspire to become a king or ruler.
Would you give it a thought if you were called upon to be a traditional ruler of your community?
If I feel that it would be a way of making life better for the people and influencing people in the right direction compared to what I’m doing right now, I will give it a thought. My own aspiration in life is to make things better for others and serve others better.
So, if for instance, in my church now, I’m influencing about 5,000 people on a regular basis through my activities, and I feel that as a traditional ruler, I can influence up to 30,000 people in a better way, then why not? It doesn’t stop me from pastoring my church if I so choose. It’s just another way of influencing people. And as long as it doesn’t compromise any of my beliefs or my faith, of course, I will.
Before now, the youths were believing, hoping for a better Nigeria, but all hope seemed lost by what the politicians are currently doing and are all seeking opportunities to get out of the country. How do we navigate this?
For the young people, they shouldn’t be discouraged. And they should know that statistically, they have the power and the number. They should just speak to themselves, meet among themselves and agree on what they want for Nigeria, and who they want to lead Nigeria.
If for example, young people are 75 per cent of our population, this would mean 75 per cent of our voting population can gather together and say they want a particular person to be the president and that they are not going to take any kind of inducement like they did during #EndSARS. They can say, we have decided that we’re voting for Kenneth or we’re voting for Joe or Joy, or Cecilia. Then that is it because it is one man, one vote.
So, they should realise that they are very powerful and they shouldn’t be discouraged. Money happens and money is important. But people don’t know what to do, and they are being paid and influenced through money to go in one direction. They did very well in #EndSARS. Don’t pay us, don’t induce us, #EndSARS now! That same spirit, with which they did those things, is the same spirit with which they want to now go into the ballot boxes and into voting. Let’s gather ourselves together and meet, don’t induce us, don’t give us money, we’re not interested, and this is the person that we want to lead Nigeria.
And if this person is interested, they should stand up and be counted, and then join a political party. If this person were accepted into a political party, he or she would be voted for. And this person should be made an independent candidate. This is what we want. If they say to Nigerians the same way they said #EndSARS, and they mentioned about three names, those will be the names that will become president of Nigeria.
They should realise the amount of power that they have. If they could organise themselves for #EndSARS, they should organise themselves again for the coming elections, and make their position known. If they do that, Nigeria will stand a chance and not wobble the way it is now.
All other groups of people can do exactly the same. Religious organisations such as mosques and churches can do the same, instead of folding their hands, and almost selling or giving away our nation to these so-called moneybags who made money originally from our own national resource and are using that money, which is all our money to oppress us and tell us that can buy a few of us.
They can only buy a few of us, but that few seem to be the most active. So, those who they cannot buy should stop being inactive and passive. They should rise up and spend some time and energy in this project called Nigeria. They are just inactive, feeling that they can’t do anything and they remain in the background.
These are the sorts of people I want to offer myself to lead. And if they’re listening to me, they can gather together and work out a plan. It is not a difficult plan, it is a doable plan that we should gather together and call up a few names. Let’s agree that these are the names that we want, and let’s decide that we’re going to vote for them whether the Federal Government of Nigeria likes it or not, and the matter is done. Maybe they haven’t heard somebody say something like this before. Maybe this is the time for me to say it.
The same way they did #EndSARS, saying there’s one thing they want, they can also say collectively with their PVCs that this is the person that they want as the President of Nigeria.