S/West, S/East problems will worsen if Nigeria breaks up — Bishop Gbonigi
Bishop Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi
•Narrates how some Yoruba leaders frustrated the efforts of HID Awolowo and his to uplift Yoruba
•‘For criticizing govt, Buhari men tried to jail me’
•ADDS: Senate is drain pipe, scrap it; says God is waiting to help Nigeria
By Dayo Johnson
A former Bishop of Akure Diocese of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Rev Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, had, at least, three encounters with security agents during the military era because of his positions on national issues. In this interview, Gbonigi reflects on the encounters and speaks on national issues including the agitations for secession which have become loud in the South-West and South-East geopolitical zones, and the place of the Yoruba race in the country.
You apparently had some encounters with security operatives during the military era because of your stance on national issues. Can you reflect on them?
President Muhammadu Buhari and I are friends. Between 1984 and1985 when he was military Head of State, I wrote regularly about what his government was doing. He accommodated my criticisms, but his deputy, that man from Ilorin (Major -General) Tunde Idiagbon, didn’t like it. He wanted me to be thrown into detention.
He ordered the military administrator of Ondo State then, the late Mike Akhigbe, to get me locked up in detention. I was invited thrice by the head of the then-National Security Organisation (NSO) to his office. The first time I went there, I had prepared for detention.
I packed along paraphernalia that I would need, but they didn’t know I was aware they wanted to keep me in their custody. So, when I got there, they said their superior was sent for by the military administrator. At different intervals, they would come to tell me that their boss apologised for keeping me waiting.
The third time they came, I told them not to bother as I had prepared to spend the night there. They were shocked. So, later they asked me to go. There was another time; they invited me to their office. That day, the Head of State was to visit Ondo State, so they were keeping everything secure. As usual, they asked me different questions and they wanted to detain me.
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I was shocked when I saw many people outside. Members of the public, including taxi drivers, were demanding my release. They insisted that if I was not released, they would not go home despite the efforts of security officials to disperse them. When they realised that the people would not budge, they released me.
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The last visit to their office was different. They came to my residence with the official vehicle of their boss and said I would go in the car to their office. But they met the Registrar of our church who was a lawyer with me.
I can’t remember his name now, he is from Ilara. He insisted on going with me. They said they only came for me, but he said since he was present when they came, he would not allow them to take me without going with me.
Eventually, they agreed that he should be allowed to come with me. When it was late in the evening, they told the Registrar that they prepared a place for only me to sleep, but he said he would spend the night sitting on the chair. At one point, they surrendered and allowed us to go home.
You and others fought for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria…
I will say that what is practised is not true democracy. What democracy means is that power and all the things in the country belong to the people. The people are the owners of the power and all the good things God has bestowed on us.
To use these things well for the welfare of the people, the people have to elect a few people to represent them. This is what we call the legislature. For instance, at the national level, we have the House of Representatives. They are there to represent the people, their constituencies and not to satisfy themselves.
They have to listen to the people and do what they want. And they need to work hard so that people get what they need. We also have the Senate. The Senate is expected to do the same thing.
They are to represent the people and use all resources God has bestowed on us in such a way that the needs of the common people are met, especially the poor, the needy and the unemployed.
What do you make of the security situation of the country?
People are afraid to leave their houses. Children are afraid to go to school, even teachers are afraid to go to school and tertiary institutions to teach.
And farmers are afraid to go to their farms for the fear of being killed or kidnapped.
We have read about instances where doctors were kidnapped and taken away by gunmen who asked their relatives for ransom in millions of naira if they want their loved ones to come back home alive.
Is it appropriate to describe Nigeria as a failed state?
Government, as I said, is not what it ought to be. It is not serving the people the way it should serve. It is not protecting lives and property.
The type of government we have now is not a good government, it is camouflage. It is highly deceitful.
In a situation when people want to run for election, they go to the bank to borrow money to buy nomination forms, not to talk of what they pay to their parties, and even the money they spend during campaigns.
When Buhari asked to be voted for as President in 2015, I thought he would do well. But the things we are experiencing are not what he promised.
Do you think secession is the solution to Nigeria’s problem as some Yoruba and Igbo elements are advocating?
I do not believe that the way out of the crises is for everyone to go his own way. In 1914, the ethnic groups were joined together by our colonial masters. They joined us together by force. And we had what is called amalgamation.
And we have been struggling since then to be one country. Well, it is better for us to pray together and ask God for the grace to help us out of our problems so that we can continue together as one country because, if we break-up, it is not going to be as easy as some people think.
There will be fighting among states and countries over borders. Look at some of the states in the country, the people fight over land boundaries and, sometimes, it becomes serious. So, if we now break into smaller countries, our problems will be more serious.
My appeal is that we should not break into small countries. It will not help; rather it will worsen our situation. Let me remind you that those who seek election for possessions are still there, they will be the one jostling for power and still not make things better.
But if we pray to God, cry to him that we have made mistakes and have done what we ought not to do and repent and change from being selfish, greedy, heartless, lack concern for the needy, and change to become servant leaders, things will change for good.
What is your view about the different arms of government that we have in Nigeria?
Let me say this, we don’t need the Senate. We copied it from the United States. America’s economy is strong enough to accommodate two chambers of the National Assembly.
But, in Nigeria, we don’t have the financial strength for such. We copied it from them and we our situation has become worse and we don’t have as much money as America, and our senators take home millions of Naira monthly.
And they have not come out to clearly state that it is not so. In a country like ours with no good economy, our senators to take home more than N20 million each while our young, able-bodied, educated citizens are without jobs, and the Federal Government is even contemplating how to reduce workers’ salaries which they do not even pay regularly.
What has become of your group, Yoruba Unity Forum?
I am no longer a member of the group. I left when I found out the group was no longer fulfilling the reason for which it was founded. It was founded by the late Chief (Mrs.) HID Awolowo.
She invited some Yoruba leaders to Ikenne, it got to a point she sent a message to me through an archbishop who is now retired. I told him to kindly tell mama that, at my age, I was now retired.
I said I was more than 70 years old and that what I wanted to do were three things: rest, read and write. God gave me 70 years to serve, I wanted to rest, read and write. She kept pestering me. She said that even if I was in a wheelchair, I should join her. She kept appealing to me to join them
She said this body that had just been established, they hadn’t named it then, they had made me the chairman and told me I had the freedom to choose the deputy chairman and I told her I needed someone I could trust and was agile and could speak the truth.
Our emphasis was to work hard to make sure we protect Yoruba culture, because psychologists said if the culture of a people dies, the people die. We cannot allow Yoruba culture to die.
The most important aspect of the culture is the language, and we could see that Yoruba language is dying. Mama said she saw how passionate I had been about Yoruba culture; even when I was a teacher; I had taught Yoruba language to the children on how to do their pastoral job in Yoruba. So, the group was named Yoruba Unity Forum.
But instead of us working together to protect Yoruba culture, I realized that the majority were using the group as a stepping stone for political offices. And it happened before.
There was a group called Yoruba Parapo. I was made their chairman. We did very well, but after a while, I found out people were using it to get political offices in Abuja. I was still the Bishop in Akure.
I called them and advised that we work together for the good of all and, in doing that, the good would go round instead of chasing personal ambition.
Most of the time, we held meetings and assigned work to people to help us achieve what we needed to achieve for the welfare of Yoruba people and Yoruba as a whole, but people will just go without carrying out the assignments.
Do you think the Yoruba race has a future in Nigeria?
Yes, we are part of the nation. If we do what I have said, repent and do the will of God, God will help us. We have been very selfish and greedy.
In fact, when you look at what we do from time to time, we are heartless, we don’t have pity on our children, the sick, the weak. They just think of themselves alone and that’s all. If we repent, God will help us, and all things are possible for him to do.
All powers in heaven and on earth belong to God. But we are like this because we keep doing our will and not His will. If individuals surrender their lives to Him, He will help us and we will be surprised and glorify Him.
God is waiting to help us, let us go to Him, and Nigeria will become a good county. Nigeria is going to be great.