• On Dividends of Democracy: Let every Nigerian count
• Speaks on misplaced priorities of government
• ‘The people whose future we have destroyed, we turn around and call them hoodlums’
• ‘We have about 60 million Nigerians who have no work’
Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation speaking on the recent youths uprising across Nigeria, blamed it on failure of government to integrate the youths appropriately and give them a place in the scheme of things. “We have so reduced our young people to such a level of destitution that people can risk their lives to look for one carton of Indomie noodles,” he lamented. In this interview, Rev. Fr. Ehusani, theologian, teacher, speaker, poet, musician, human rights activist, social commentator, bares his mind on the recent youths nationwide uprising, structure of inequality, restructuring, unemployment, governance, rehabilitation of ‘street kids’, and the way out of the political, and socio-economic logjam among others.
During the #EndSARS protests, we witnessed an escalated menace of hoodlums that wrecked havoc on both private and public properties. How did the country get to this level of frightening incidence of hooliganism? Some have blamed government and the political class for promoting hooliganism through engagement of ‘Area Boys’ as political thugs who later return to the streets as criminals and hoodlums. Please share your views.
I dealt with what has just happened. In fact, I called it looting and vandalization: Our guilt and our shame. The guilt of Nigerians, and the shame of Nigeria. When you see those crowds of people who are scrambling for cartons of Indomie noodles, people are falling into the gutter, struggling to get bags of rice, Indomie noodles; even policemen struggling to also cart away some of the loots. People are talking about criminals and vandalism, and so on, but what I am seeing is different, and I expressed it. We have so reduced our young people to such a level of destitution that people can risk their lives to look for one carton of Indomie noodles.
Their age mates in China are producing electronic equipment. They are producing cars. They are producing all kinds of things such as apps that we are buying online, and so on. My own people are here struggling for a carton of Indomie noodles. What have we done to our young people? The people we are calling hoodlums that is a misnomer, it’s sad those we are calling area boys, area girls, vandals; these are our children. They didn’t come from Burkina Faso. They didn’t come from Guinea Bissau. These are our children; the children we neglected. Those who are begging on the street before, and we call them Amajiri; they have now grown up, and they are able to grab AK47 from the hand of a policeman, and use it to kill him.
The people we have neglected to train; we didn’t train them. We didn’t give them parental care. Many of them never grew up in proper homes, so, there is no parenting. No good parenting, no education, not to talk of good education. No home that you can say this person has a home. So, these young people have nothing to lose. The reason why they can burn down the Nigerian Ports Authority, the reason why they can go to Lagos City Council and burn it down, is that they have no connection with any government infrastructure; there is no emotional connection. Nigeria has never done anything for them. When you talk of Nigeria, it’s very distant. Look at the American that was kidnapped between Nigeria and Niger, and the US Government mobilized all the resources to rescue that person.
Every day, you are hearing that 20 people died, 15 people died, and for years, SARS has been gunning down Nigerians, and nothing happened. They (SARS) will even tell you, ‘I will kill you, I will waste you and nothing will happen, and indeed, nothing happens. So, the Nigerian people can see that their lives don’t matter before government. So, you come and tell them this is government property. I mean, it doesn’t mean anything to the Nigerian.
Let’s look at parenthood and growing up. What do you think happened in the course of parenting and growing up of these hoodlums?
Well, the point is this. There are a number of these young people that literarily grew up on the street. I lived in Lagos for twelve years. I only left in 2008, and I know there are area boys who literarily lived under the bridge. I wrote a number of poems; I wrote articles about this.
Where do they come from?
I said they are Nigerian children. They come from everywhere. There are people who leave Kano, who leave Abakiliki, who leave Calabar, who leave various villages in search of work, and come to Lagos, and come to Abuja, and go to Port-Harcourt. They are ashamed to return after five years to say they are failures; they couldn’t find anything. So, they remain in those cities. There are no unemployment benefits. There is no career development that is organized by anybody for them.
They come to Lagos with not much skill, education in the villages is not high standard, so, they arrive Lagos or Port-Harcourt or Abuja with very little skills, and then, they have no job. And then, of course, you know what housing is in Lagos; they are thrown out. Now, when people live on the street, even if there were some attempt by the families at home before, but when one, two, three, four, five years, people live on the street, they have lived like wild animals.
The streets are not places for any human being to live. When people live on the street, then, why are you complaining if after a few years, they begin to behave like wild animals? The street is a jungle. You know what Ajegunle is in Lagos. You should know what Ariaria Market in Aba looks like. You know what some of these places look like. So, for people to actually live there, after a few years, let’s not be surprised that they begin to behave like wild animals
. Like I said, this country has 50 to 60 million people out of job. No job. Many of them left their homes very early. At ages 12, 13, they have left home because the parents can hardly feed them. They have left home to go and fend for themselves. So, the parents you are talking about; the parents lost their authority long before. When a father cannot provide for his children, he soon loses authority over them, and very early, they leave home to go and fend for themselves.
And as they leave home, since they have not been properly educated, and in fact, there are people who went to a number of our secondary schools in the villages and even around the cities; to poor secondary schools, who can hardly write their names after secondary school. So, you say are they not from homes? They are from homes, but even those homes are some kind of homes because like I said, when the father has no job, when the father cannot raise these children, he loses authority immediately.
During the #EndSARS protests armed hoodlums attacked the protesters twice in Alausa, Lagos. They were alleged to have been sponsored by government. Initial attacks carried out by hoodlums in Lagos were also alleged to have been sponsored by government to discredit the protesters. May we have your views please?
That is very correct that the protesters from the beginning to the end of the 12 days of the protest were peaceful; the protest was peaceful all over the country. We are all witnesses to the fact of how well organized, how sophisticated the planning, the organization, the compassion that featured in their organization, the discipline. We were all aware. So, this violence that just occurred all over the country did not arise from the protesters.
The protesters did not engage in any kind of violence, but, there are interests. There are people who felt threatened by the protest. There are people who felt inconvenienced by the protest, and they organized to violently disrupt the protest. When the disruption was going on, we saw some of the pictures in the video, of SUV jeeps belonging to agents of government dropping these people with knives, cutlasses and cudgels and woods; weapons, ready to deal with people.
Now, when mayhem was created, when the confusion was created, then, there are people who have been waiting, there are criminals who have been waiting anyway. The criminals who have been waiting, now found a field day. In Lagos for example, you declare a curfew, and then, there are no policemen who are manning the curfew to ensure the curfew is kept. So, the next morning after a declared curfew, the area boys came up and began their destruction; their burning and arson, and so on, and there was nobody to curtail the situation.
You told people to stay at home, but nobody monitored the area boys that were on the streets. We saw it all on TV. And in some places, we didn’t even need a large crowd of mob. I saw places on TV where only two or three people went and burnt down, but since you have people out of the street. So, you legislated a curfew, and you did not arrange for how the curfew was going to be monitored. So, the responsible people stayed at home, the criminals came out and committed all the mayhem. Clearly, and this is a truth that must be told. I see a lot of media houses continue to say, ‘Oh, the protest turned violent.’ It is not true. It is not the #EndSARS protest that turned violent.
In fact, the people who carried out the violence were not part of the protest. There were parts of this country where there were never protests, but violence occurred. So, it has no relationship with the people. The only relationship is that some unscrupulous agents of government wanted to scuttle the peaceful protest, and they hired the same people they use for election, the same poor young people that they used for violence in the elections; they are the same ones that were hired. Those are people that are ready thugs in their hands, they are on drugs, they have weapons; weapons given to them during the last elections have not been withdrawn from them.
The weapons supplied to them now are still with them; and they are still going to use it. So, perhaps, the people who instigated this, did not know how wide it will be. My people say it’s only a mad man who will set up fire here, and when the fire is burning through the hill, the mad man will say, ‘no, this is where I put fire, I’m not the one that put it on the hill.’ It’s only a mad man who doesn’t know fire you put here will spread to the hill. So, that’s it, the people who started this, may not have known how wide it will spread.
But with social media, people in Calabar seeing what is happening in Lagos, they took it up. There are poor disenfranchised, hopeless, despairing youths in every part of the country. So, they took it over. A lot of the people who organized the #EndSARS protest, a number of them were trained overseas. They are graduates. They are workers. They are responsible people. They are the kind of people who donated millions of naira to help do the protest, organize the protest. They are the kind of people who volunteered, supplied cooked food to the venue, and so on and so forth.
So, they are not the ones. It is indeed, and the truth must be told, and this country will not have peace until we fish out the culprits, until we have the political will to fish out those who were responsible for this. In Abuja, some of those who are responsible, are known; they are known. And I’m sure in Lagos, some of them will be known too. If the authorities do not have the guts and political will to fish out those people and punish them, then, this thing will repeat itself. It means it will happen again.
What happened in the last two, three weeks is a warning. It’s a warning signal of what can happen, and it could be worse than we have witnessed. We are shouting, ‘Oh, a lot of violence’, well it could be worse because those people who took one carton of Indomie, the indomie will soon finish.
During your homily on Sunday, you recommended that your viewers should adopt a child from the street, as a means of curbing hooliganism. Is it safe to take that street kid into your home?
No child deserves to grow up on the street. I have between 12 and 15 children that I have adopted. I adopted them from the slums. They could have ended up in the street. I put them in elite schools. One of them is reading Medicine, and two are reading Law now in the university. And I have others in the Senior Secondary school, in Junior Secondary School. I have two or three who are going to begin now.
But they are street kids, how did they fit into an ideal home?
No. there are no kids that are street kids. If you do not take care of a child, he will end up on the street, that’s what I am saying. If you don’t take care of the basic needs of a child, if you don’t put a child in school, and ensure they are well cared for, then they will end up in the street. There are no children whose names are street kids now. It is children that are neglected that end up on the street. And I say, no child should grow up on the street. So, what you do is there are a lot of poor settlements around Lagos, around all our cities. The poverty in our cities is worse than the poverty in our villages.
We have slums, terrible slums around our various cities. Now, it is to stretch our hands to those slums and adopt a few children, and foster them. Help in their education. Help in their medical bills, and so on and so forth, so that they don’t end up on the street. So that they can have skills, then, raise responsible families, so that they don’t go ahead and raise children that will be on the street. I mean, the children that I am involved in their lives now, my hope is that they will finish University, and they will be able to help other kids. In fact, that’s my contract with them.
I signed a contract with them; my contract is that you do very well in school, graduate, so that you start doing what I am doing to you now, to many children. That’s my agreement with them. I remember a few days ago, I was discussing with the new one, I have three who are going to secondary school, and I said, by the grace of God, I won’t need you to come and repay me, but what I will need you to do is to adopt people like this, and help them to go to school. And I say that if everyone of us that is privileged can stretch their hands to help one or two; If 50 million privileged Nigerians can stretch out our hands and help one or two, then, we can take the 40 or 50 million young people who are jobless and homeless, we can take them off the street, that’s what I mean.
That we cannot continue to live our life as if the world is about me, myself and I, as if it is only me and my family. Well, we have been living like that, but the poor people will make it impossible for us to enjoy our wealth. Before, we thought it is by having walls and iron fences and barb wires that we are going to be safe. What happened in the last two weeks shows that no matter how high those fences are, they will pull it down. If they cannot get in, they will burn it down.
So, it is in our interest, it is in the interest of all of us who want to enjoy our life, and enjoy our old age, who want our children to be able to come back to this country if they are overseas and be with us. It is in our interest to do something to help the poor children around us. And we need to help even if it’s one or two people. We also need to look into the structures of our society, see the way our society is organized or even disorganized.
Why should we be living an apartheid system? Every town in Nigeria today is divided between the rich and the poor. I mean, you go to Lagos, you see places like Makoko and other places near Akoka. You see Maroko, you see Ajegunle area; the living condition is not befitting of human beings. Then, in the same Lagos, in the same Nigeria, you have Banana Island, you have Park View Estate, you have Ikoyi, you have Victoria Island, you have Victoria Garden City, you have all those. Some of these places are like first worlds, and others are like fourth worlds, in the same country.
And it is the same resources of this country that those people use to live like that. You cannot organize a society like that and have peace; it is not possible. I have been saying this for years. I’m just using what has happened in the last two weeks now, to help Nigerians recognize it, that look, it’s almost like final warning that we are getting, if we do not do the necessary adjustment. You cannot organize yourself where you have islands of wealth amidst a sea of poverty; it will not work, it will collapse.
And I want those who are in leadership, the government to recognize that dividends of democracy are not about roads, it’s not about bridges, it’s not about building big infrastructure, including railway from here to Niger. It is about letting each Nigerian count. It is about each Nigerian feeling a sense of belonging. If Nigerian young people can burn down the Nigerian Ports Authority, and burn down the BRT buses, it means that they don’t feel any connection with the State. So, all leaders must be concerned, ‘How do I make young people feel connected with the State, to feel a sense of belonging, to feel when they say Nigeria, they say yes, I’m proudly Nigerian because Nigeria cares for me, so I will protect the properties of Nigeria.
How did we come about the huge gap between the rich and the poor?
Well, the white men came here and they came to exploit us. They didn’t come to organize a democratic society for us. They didn’t come to organize the society of equals for us; no, they came to exploit our resources to go and develop their own place, and organize a welfare system in their own place. So, what they did is, they put road to places where they are getting cocoa and groundnut, and palm oil, and so on and so forth; anything to make them exploit they put. Of course, they didn’t see themselves and ourselves as equal. So, they built GRAs, and they took care of those GRAs, put all the infrastructure; water and everything, and they abandoned the other places because they are not equal with us. They didn’t see themselves and us as equal. So, the society was like apartheid. The horrible mistake that we made that we are going to be paying for, is that when the British went away, my own people, our own people took over, and decided to maintain the structure of inequality. The structure of inequality was based on the fact that the white man didn’t think he and the black man are equal. The black man took over from him. Rather than look at the structure, and restructure it seriously to recognize the dignity of the least in our midst, no, the black man, the Nigerian that took over reinforced the inequality. The white man was collecting all kinds of allowances, so that the white man can pay five pounds to the labourer in those days, and he collects 100 pounds. Now, the black man came on and continued to pay himself 100 pounds, and pay the labourer five pounds. So, the inequality that came from this season; apartheid, the black man continued it. The white man paid himself bush allowance because he left England for this place. The black man continued to pay himself bush allowance when he is a senior person, and gave the poor person that five pounds for everything. That is why you now have the situation where the Chief Executive, where the Director in the Ministry, the Permanent Secretary, the Commissioner, the Minister, the Senator earns a thousand times more income than the labourer. So, people are sitting down in the government house arguing about their inability to pay 30 thousand Naira to junior workers, and are taking 30-million-naira home. So, this thing, we took it from the feudal system. Of course, before the British, there was feudal system where the king owned the whole village. But even the traditional feudal system was even better because the poor person can go and eat in the king’s house. This one, we now started making walls and fences, and then, the poor person cannot go into the big man’s place to eat. And then, they are completely neglected. So, we took our cities and divided them into poor areas and rich areas. In the traditional African society, there was no difference between where king lived and where blacksmith or the butcher lived. There was no difference; they lived together. But we have now created such an apartheid that as I do say, what it means is that the poor people who we are calling hoodlums, they know where to go when it is time for destruction because they know where their enemies are living. And it is only the rich that live in those areas. The poor people are not going to be destroying Ajegunle; they know where to go because we have so segregated our living conditions in a manner that is totally unacceptable; unacceptable to the gospel. All these violate the Christian gospel. They violate the teachings of Jesus Christ, who says if you do these to the least of my brethren, you did it to me. The Gospel says blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the weak. These are the very people that we are continually oppressing, violating our gospel values.
Let’s get back to the area boys. We have had instances where the current and past States’ Governments, even the Federal Government organized skill acquisition programmes for these area boys, and after the programmes, some of them still went back to the street. What do you think went wrong?
You will see in my homily, I asked a question, who are those hoodlums? Who are those street children? Madam, I just want to illustrate it. Is any of your children on the street?
Thank God But they can’t be on the street.
None of my nieces or nephews is on the street.
Reason? I said it yesterday. One of my nephews is 33 years old; he is a Magistrate. One of my nieces is 23 years old; she is a Doctor. So, because my own brothers have the privilege of raising their children in a proper school, in proper whatever, none of their children is on the street. But 75 percent of Nigerians did not have that kind of privilege. So, when we say they organize whatever, what did they do? Do you have unemployment benefits for anybody in this country? If any of those people can just crossover to England, as soon as they file their papers, they will be entitled to unemployment benefits every month.
Why is it that Nigerians are preferring to die in the Mediterranean Sea every day than remain in Nigeria? The conditions here are so callous, they are wicked. We have put in place a very wicked, callous system, social system, economic system. It is the economic system that has pushed people into the street. We are the ones that have sent them into the street, and that is the point I was trying to make yesterday. We are the ones that have put these people into the street because we have nothing for them. We have made no provision in our economic system for them.
We have about 60 million Nigerians who have no work. What is the priority of our States’ Government? What is the priority of our Federal Government? The amount of money they share every day. Each State Governor in this country has a minimum of 250 million naira every month for so called security votes. They are not providing for the police; they are not providing anything. They are so powerful because of the amount of money they vote for themselves, and all they do is to arm these boys to be used as political thugs for elections; that’s all they do.
And I am one of those who believe that, as I said yesterday, nature does not accept such a wide margin between the rich and the poor. No, it’s against nature. Nature is about balancing. Nature is constantly balancing things. And nature will balance it anyway. Nature will balance our present situation. Nature will balance it because it is not possible to continue like this. Nigeria is not poor. Nigeria has been impoverished. Every inch of soil in this country is full of resources. So, it’s not a poor country. Nigeria has been impoverished through bad governance. And then, the people whose future we have destroyed, we turn out and call them hoodlums. We turn out and call them hooligans. May God forgive us.
Aside from all that you have mentioned in terms of rehabilitating them, what do you think government can do. What else can government do?
There must be a major reorganization of the Nigerian state; major, major reorganization. The priorities of the government should be completely overhauled. I heard recently Federal Government wanting to create new airways or Nigerian airline; putting railway to Niger, putting this, refurbishing the National Assembly. We should now take our budget and tear it to pieces and write new ones, anything that can create jobs for the boys. What we should get now is how do we get our textile factories working? How do we get our product processing factories working so that you produce tomatoes, you produce maize and the rest? What kind of processing industries can we put in place that can employ? Every place should now be considering, what can I put in place to employ 10 people? To employ 20 people, to employ 100 people? That is the priority we should be having now, not any luxury thing, not building houses of assembly. You can do your parliament meeting under the tree if there is security. It is not spending money on any luxury thing. Now we are sitting down planning Banana Republic; right? These guys will burn it down; they will burn down that place. This is not a time to carry Nigerian money, and going to a place. Nigeria is very large, you have not finished developing Nigeria, you start sand-filling the Atlantic Ocean in order to get an exclusive place for the rich. We are just wasting our time. We are not a serious people if we are sandfilling the Atlantic Ocean in order to get an exclusive place for the rich, our priorities are wrong. We need to learn lessons from what has happened, and sit down and think how we should use the resources in this country to build up this country for the majority, not for the two percent, three percent. Am told that plots of land in Banana Republic are 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 million. Do you know the amount of cottage industries that the cost of one plot in Banana Republic can do all over the country? The number of cottage industries can employ 10, 15, 20 people. So, we are not serious. We are still in a dream world. You are in this country with this level of poverty, you want to build a new Dubai. In Abuja, there is a place they are calling Centenary City. They want to build a new Dubai here that will cost billions and billions of Naira. Well, if you don’t take care of the poor in the environment, then, one day, they can burn them down because like I said, nature is about balancing. If there is too much imbalance, that organization cannot sustain.
Over the years, we have had this call for restructuring of Nigeria, and at the weekend, elder statesmen and some social cultural groups’ leaders called for restructuring of Nigeria, warning that the country is bleeding from bad leadership and poor policies. Do you agree with them? What’s your take on this?
What I have been speaking about is restructuring from point of view of the financial economic arrangements. Restructuring is required in every sector, in every area, in every dimension. What people are talking about is if we are going to be a federation, let it be a federation. Let there be a measure of autonomy in each region or State, whatever we call it where people generate their resources. A situation where if I find gold under my soil, it belongs to Federal Government, then, it does not encourage anyone to work hard to look for something under his soil, on the land on top of which he is living. It doesn’t encourage anyone. So, people are saying no, that unitary system, which the military brought, which is important when you are fighting a war, to have a unitary system where you can rally round people very quickly. But we are not fighting a war now; we don’t need that unitary system. Let’s go back to a federal system, and then, all this numerous states that are not viable because part of the reason we have serious economic problem we have now, is that we are spending over 75 percent of our income in overheads in recurrent expenditure. How can we have 774 local governments with 774 Chairmen of Local Government who produce nothing, but who are earning big money every month with eight or 10 Councilors? Then, we have up to 25 Ministries now, and we have over 500 departments and agencies on the federal level, and the same kind of thing at the state level. Then, we have Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Special Advisers, Senior Special Advisers. Those ones are in thousands all over the place. By the time you have DGs, and Permanent Secretaries and Chairmen of Boards, and so on and so forth, and Chief Executives, which now run into thousands and thousands. Each one with big houses and big cars and servants, and police orderly, and so on and so forth, there is nothing left to develop the country. We need restructuring. We need to reconceive our administrative setup, our economic setup, our political setup; we need to reconceive it, so that we can have a workable Nigerian entity. What we have now cannot work, cannot deliver.
Last week, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) slammed nine million Naira fine on Channels, AIT and Arise Television, and SERAP, 261 Nigerians, civil societies and media groups have filed a law suit against NBC over the fine, which they consider illegal and unconstitutional. We will like to have your views on that?
Well, there has been the gradual shrinking of the civic space. Efforts were made by the present administration to curtail free speech through the bill they wanted to introduce. What they call Social Media Bill. It was defeated by an outcry from the public, then some sections of the CAMA 2020 law, still an attempt to reduce the capacity of the civil society to function to do their work. Yes, during the #EndSARS thing, there might be one or two publications of the news media that may be wrong, but if they are wrong and immediately, they announce a correction, there should be nothing that anybody is fined for it. I support the efforts by SERAP and other organizations to sue the government to reject that kind of fine. Where they are going, if the government is not careful, after some time, then, it is the social media that will flourish because in the modern world, you won’t be able to fine individual people who are publishing things from their phones; you won’t even know easily where it was generated from. So, because you can locate AIT, and locate Channels, and locate this, then, you start fining them. Be careful because after some time, people will just switch over to social media. So, those ones that you can still regulate, you better be careful how you over regulate them because if you over regulate them out of existence, then, it’s the social media that everybody will rely on. So, of course, it is the same fake news, outlandish publications that brought the present regime into power. They were helped by all these things. The kind of protest, massive protest that helped them to defeat the Jonathan regime and come into power, they now are so hard against those protests to the extent of organizing the kind of violence against them. And now, they are taking on the news media, and so on for so called fake news. One of the allegations is that ok, there was the fake news that a Church was attacked, and the Church was not attacked, well the next step, the news recount it and said, ‘Sorry we made a mistake.’ That should be the end. And then, you just warn them to be careful and confirm their news before going to press. That should be it, not placing a fine of 10 million on anybody.
Recently, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mrs. Ali Macaulay, took a swipe on the youths while the house had a plenary on looting and violence that trailed the ENDSARS protest. In her words she said, ‘We need to begin to orientate our young people. They are high on drugs all the time, most of the time.’ And some people have said that this statement is inciting and callous, we would like to have your views on this issue.
Well, I don’t know the lady. I don’t know much about her. But, the point is when people make statements about youths, you have to be careful because if some young people are on drugs, it’s definitely not all young people that are on drugs. So, there are blanket statements people do make. Oh, about Igbos, oh, about Hausas, oh, about Yorubas, oh, about youths that are unverifiable, that are clearly not true. So, people need to be careful, especially, people who are leaders. I mean if any other person gets up and makes such a thing, no consequence. But if you are a Parliamentarian; you are a Member of the House, and you make such a statement in a civilized state, you can be recalled from the House because you have your facts before you make such a statement. But we have a lot of unenlightened people who are our law makers. Before getting up to make such a statement, she should have her facts. Am sure she herself is regretting not formulating her statements properly. If she had said some of our youths are on drugs, nobody would have quarreled with that. Before now, we Catholics are used to going to Church and the Priest comes after the readings, and delivers his homily, he talks, talks, at the end of the day, we have few minutes of silence to meditate over the readings and the homily, and the Mass continues. But you changed the rule of the game where we now have a situation where you deliver your homily and you engage the congregation in such a way that your homily is well received, in such a way that they participate in the delivery of the homily. I would like to know what spurred this exceptional style of homily presentation that is easily received, not just in Abuja because it’s aired across Sub-Saharan Africa.
You have a lot of large following. Am one of your followers; it was my daughter that introduced me to your programme. So, I would like to know what spurred this exceptional style.
Well, I don’t know if it is exceptional style. When Jesus was teaching, he engaged his disciples. I mean, look at the way he talks, told a story, ask them question, told the story of the Good Samaritan, and ask them who among the three was a neighbour to the wounded man? He didn’t just deliver teaching and go away, he constantly engages them, he asked them questions. I mean, when he rose up from the dead, he met the two men on the way to Emmaus who were arguing, and he said what are you people arguing about. And they talked and talked to him, and he said, ‘Ah! Is it that you people don’t understand? He engaged them, well, I used to be a teacher, I used to teach in a teachers’ Training College, and I have done some studies in the psychology of a human being, how people learn, and I know that people learn better when they are part of their own learning process. People learn better when they say okay, what I hear, I know; what I do, I understand. Meaning, if I am part of it. If you get children in a primary school to be part of planning the next lesson, and then, whatever you need to organize the next lesson you get them, ‘Okay, you bring this bucket, you bring this paper; they will understand that lesson more because they are part of planning the lesson. So, human beings learn better that way; psychologists have demonstrated this. Psychology has been able to demonstrate it. People learn better when you don’t treat them as just passive recipients, when you acknowledge that they have something to offer. That is why the young people in my Church for example, they prepare the homily. I have children who are eight, nine, ten who read commentaries before the Sunday on the Sunday readings. They go on internet to download commentaries on the readings. They prepare, they read encyclopedia. They prepare so that they even preempt my question. They will ask themselves what question is Father George likely to ask on this gospel? So, by the time I read my questions out for discussion the children have their hands up immediately because am not the only one that has prepared, they themselves have prepared. So, by engaging the people, I have been able to find more and more of members of my Church who on Saturdays, are preparing the readings like me. So, there is ownership in the learning process. I got to a stage where I knew from all my studies and exposure, I knew that people learn better this way. That’s all. I didn’t think I was introducing anything new. You know that the homily time at Mass is catechesis time. It’s the teaching time, and because it is the catechesis time, the teaching time, the teacher has the prerogative to make his lesson better understood, using all kinds of methods. I mean, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was the first that we know in the modern world using chalk and blackboard to demonstrate. As he was teaching, we have videos and videos of Archbishop Fulton Sheen doing that. Before, people just used to teach, monologue. But things changed because the modern world has provided us with tools, and I don’t believe that I am the only one or the first person to begin to ask questions and engage the people. It’s just that it was not very widespread. But I saw the need to do so, and it turned out that it makes a lot of impact, and people finish from the Mass, and they really understand what the readings were. They really understand what they have discussed because even if some individuals don’t answer questions or contribute, they are sitting near somebody who is contributing, and that helps them to understand because some people, all I am saying, he is not hearing me well or understanding, but what his neighbour sitting next to him is saying, he catches it more easily, and challenges himself and says if this my neighbour can understand the First reading and explain like this, what am I doing?
Let’s come to your foundation. What are the goals of your foundation, the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation? How have you fared in realizing these goals?
I set up the Foundation in 2009. When I left the Catholic Secretariat, I came to Abuja to set up the Foundation to contribute to leadership training in the Church and leadership training in the society, and that’s precisely what we have been doing. Even these ones you are referring to, as in the Chapel is still part of training people within the Church as to how better to present the liturgy of the word, how better to engage them because it is part of what I do. Part of what I do is training Priests and religious on doing their work better. That’s part of what we do. So, even what you see us doing in the Chapel, is still in advance of the aims and objectives of the Foundation. We do training for Bishops, for Priests, for religious, for lay people, for government agents, for students, for teachers, we have four categories; teachers of nursery, primary schools, of secondary schools, teachers in universities. We do training; we train them on modern skills and methodologies for teaching to achieve results. We do leadership training from point of view of actual leadership and management, training of administration of Churches and religious congregations. So, all forms of leadership exposure we do. Then, we have an institute that we also set up called the Psycho-spiritual Institute, which does training in Psycho-spiritual therapy. Meaning spiritual directors and Psycho-therapist; they do masters’ degree in that one. We do trauma healing, Psyco-trauma healing. So, we train people to help counsel people who are traumatized, and soon and so forth. There are a number of things we do; training of religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim religious leaders on how to use religion to fight corruption, how to use religion to help build unity, and so on and so forth. So, there are a number of things we do.
You are a priest, a teacher, speaker, poet, musician, human rights activist, social communicator and a writer; how come?
I don’t know all that, but I know am a Priest who uses my God-given talents to do my work as a priest as best as I can. So, if you look at my poems for example, I used the gift God gave me to be able to put things in writing to use to further my teaching, to further my mission. So, whether it is poetry, whether it is music; the various things that I do are still part of my priestly calling. It is like somebody who has a message, and the person speaks Igbo, and he speaks Itshekiri, and he speaks Hausa, and he speaks Yoruba to still communicate the same message. So, I don’t even see it as numerous talents; I just say it is my calling to be a priest, to work to the glory of God and betterment of society, using all the skills and talents God gave me to communicate.