‘Nigeria is not cursed but…’



Regional Secretary, International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES-EPSA), the Rev Gideon Para-Mallam, works in 24 African countries. The Jos-based widely travelled cleric speaks with Sunday Oguntola on the state of the nation. Excerpts: 

What’s your assessment of the state of the nation? 

I believe the most pressing challenges facing us are the sovereignty of Nigeria and socio-political upheavals. Sometimes, appearances belie action. I am aware that intense efforts are on in the background to checkmate these needless outbursts from IPOB, Northern Youths, Oduduwa Youths, Nigeria Delta Youths, etc which seek the division of Nigeria into tribal enclaves.

I also believe a lot is being done to stop this unfortunate development at this time in the life of our nation. There are northern, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaws, middle belt leaders doing a lot behind the scenes to bring sanity into the discordant voices of division and confusing ringing loud in our nation.

I believe the president’s return last weekend and his address to the nation on Monday should bring a measure of assurance and stability to Nigerians. More importantly, the president’s address points us in the right direction – we all should be routing for a united Nigeria.

The president needs to act through policy and appointments in showing his call for unity beyond words. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, then acting president, swung into action by his meetings with various leaders across the political spectrum of Nigeria. He is to be highly commended. There is hope for Nigeria.

IPOB does not have the rest of Nigeria with it. It’s the same with the Northern Youths. IPOB’s disparaging comments about northerners is to be condemned in the strongest terms possible and same goes for the genocidal inciting statements credited to some ethnic jingoists in the north.

The government should continue doing her best in creating an environment for constructive dialogue in this and other matters.

In essence, the religious quit notice issued by Boko Haram in December 2011 has in some ways motivated these politically toxic ethnic-driven quit notices being witnessed in Nigeria today.

These groups are capitalising on the precarious security situation in Nigeria. Our youths should not follow the failed examples of issuing quit notices because it simply will not work. They can be different. No romanticising with Boko Haramisation. Quit notice is an ethnic-cleansing agenda reminiscent of the tragic events of Rwanda and Burundi.

So, you believe the quit notice won’t stand? 

It’s won’t stand because the Army is a no push over. They have done a lot and should also be commended. Defending the territorial integrity of our nation is not in doubt. It is the ethnic radicalisation of our youths that worries me and for which we all need to rise-up and say NO!

I hope it is not true what is credited to the Northern Youths leader who said they were asked by some elders in the north to issue the quit notice. That will be unfortunate, if indeed true. Had Nigerians risen in unison to condemn the pogroms of 1966, the unfortunate civil war of 1967-1970 may have been averted.

Quit notices are only pretexts for laying the foundation for xenophobic attacks on fellow Nigerians and our president and the Commander in Chief has said NO. We all need to queue up behind him on this. This is not the time for politicking but standing up for Nigeria.

The young people of Nigeria are frustrated, very frustrated with the systemic corruption on display in Nigeria, but I can assure you that they are no allies of either IPOB opportunists or Arewa radical elements. Most of these agitations reflect incompatible interests between our political leaders and those they govern.

There is nothing wrong in having such political pressure groups in the country. However, such groups lose their legitimacy to advocate for the people if they start becoming violent. Their resort to political threats and blackmail is unhealthy and should not be countenanced.

Do you believe in how the president’s health issue has been handled?

Anybody can fall sick, even presidents. The secrecy with which this is being handled is reminiscent of the Yar Adua days and this is worrisome. I still believe the president should come clean and tell Nigerians exactly what the issue is with his health. He will get more respect and empathy in the long run. The silence and secrecy hurts him more and his presidency.

I am glad our president is back and feeling good with his health. We wish him speedy and full recovery. However, I believe we should find a Constitutional solution to the issue of Mr. President’s prolonged absence due to his medical condition.

The fact remains he is the president of Nigeria and his health is no longer a private matter. I will humbly add that without being politically correct, Buhari’s sickness is affecting the soul of our nation.

What’s your take on the restructuring debate?

We must not always politicise everything. Nigerians today are far too sophisticated politically to be deceived by sweet talkers, who cajole and threaten as it suits them. Truth telling is a scarce commodity in Nigeria’s political landscape. We talk about fighting one another and war as if this were going to a tea party.

I favour a peaceful restructuring of Nigeria with sincerity and openness through genuine dialogue among Nigeria’s constituent members. Sometimes, I quietly ask myself and now I am asking in the open – ‘who is afraid of restructuring Nigeria and why?’

I think this nation stands to gain more by restructuring than remaining the way it is today. Issues of socio-economic tensions are bound to be eased with restructuring. It should be clear to all that Nigerians are tired of this dominant – command and control – centre. True federalism requires functional autonomy at the lower levels.

The nation needs to undergo what many in development circles call Organisation Development (OD) overhaul. We need to keep asking ourselves what are the present strengths and weaknesses of Nigeria? Let’s do a national environmental scan (appraisal) and together agree and find workable solutions, going forward.

Is Nigeria cursed based on where we are? 

Nigeria is not under any curse. I will also like to ask under curse by who and for what reason? We are where we are today because of sheer greed and thirst for political power for the wrong reasons.

For example, policy making should be about benefiting our countrymen and women. This does not seem to be an operational guide to our politicians. The wealth God has blessed this country with is enough to go around if shared equitably and with a high sense of justice which is rooted in fairness. Instead, what are we witnessing?

Our wealth has been looted, misused and mismanaged in favour of the few who are in the political class and their cronies. Some of our politicians behave more as merchants than as servants of the people. Leadership is about vision and service. But what we see is more of the me first or my family/cronies mentality from our politicians.

Majority of Nigerians feel marginalised and this perception is growing with each passing day. This is regardless of what political party they belong to or whoever the presidential occupier is at Aso Rock Villa.

The present occupier, Muhammadu Buhari, whose change agenda brought him into power, remains so far, a lost golden opportunity unless something tangible is done to bringing change to Nigeria.

The change platform on which APC campaigned in 2015 has become an illusion for a majority of Nigerians – even as 2019 approaches.

Do you think Nigeria is redeemable? 

Nigeria is definitely not beyond political, economic and spiritual redemption if the issue of greed is addressed. Leaders who promote sectionalism and religious bigotry will continue to keep this nation backward. The populace needs to reject blind allegiance to ethnic and religious champions, especially those who masquerade as quality leaders but in essence are not. Rejecting them will see this nation moving on the path of redemption. Nigeria is redeemable!

What should Christians be doing at a time like this? 

You have asked a good question. The point is the Church needs to engage in double-listening – to God and the issues of which confront our nation and in introspective reflection on happenings around us rather than be reactionary.

Christians should pray and by their act, promote a corruption- free Nigeria. Christians should work assiduously for the unity of Nigeria. Christians alone can make a redemptive difference in changing Nigeria. Pastors should never allow themselves to be bought over by the government.

The love of money in the name of prosperity gospel is so high among pastors in Nigeria. Prosperity is not unbiblical but its pursuit has resulted in the promotion of a gospel of materialism and consumerism. There is so much entertainment and motivational preaching rather than sound doctrines.

What’s been happening in IFES-EPSA lately? 

IFES-EPSA has witnessed significant growth with many university and college students coming to faith in Christ. This represents bright hope for the future of Christianity in Africa and at the global stage. God-fearing Christian students represent God-fearing leaders for the future of this continent.

The region has experienced modest but steady growth since inception from less than 10 student movements in 1960. Today, EPSA has presence in 24 countries. In July 2008, there were just 100,000 students.

By April 2014, the number rose to 155,450. Today, EPSA has 185,000 students, who are followers of Jesus Christ on the university and college campuses of Africa. EPSA students constitute 40 percent of the entire student membership in IFES.

The student ministry context in the region has changed rapidly over the last decade as countries experience population growth, urbanisation and economic expansion. The number of higher education colleges established has increased and so also access to education.

Others have witnessed extreme persecution and political repression. The 24 national movements in EPSA are at different levels of growth.

The Nation

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