These are not the best of times for Nigeria. For over two weeks, Nigerian youths spearheaded widespread protests demanding an end to police brutality, torture and extra-judicial killings across the States of the country as well as expatriate Nigerian communities around the world. In this interview with the Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU, Most Rev. Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese and Chairman, Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa (SECAM), speaks on pressing national issues and charges government to confront the reality of proffering practicable solutions. Excerpts.
Soldiers have been alleged to have opened fire on protesters at Lekki Toll gate on Tuesday evening leaving several persons injured. Governor Babajide Sanwo Olu said that there was no fatality. Your views please.
Well, it seems there is no way of getting a commonly accepted verdict in who took the dastardly decision of shooting down unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll gate, talk less of having a precise date on the fatalities or casualties. There has always been a trust deficit between government and the public. This needs to be urgently redressed. I, like many others have a heavy heart that what we feared and wished and shouted against could not be prevented. Whoever was involved in these killings has hurt the nation and our future deeply. May God rest the dead in perfect peace and comfort the bereaved. I feel we all perhaps could have done a little more to prevent this mayhem.
Our country is on fire. Don’t you think so?
I think that Nigeria is in motion, in metamorphosis, in transition, in trouble but not yet on fire. If this is well managed, I think this country will move just that one important step forward in the growth of democracy. Things are still not out of control. Thank God for that
Who do you think is setting our country ablaze? Where are these problems coming from?
I guess every Nigerian can point out someone who is setting the country ablaze. I know that very few Nigerians will volunteer to be the persons doing the damage. But let us shift to issues. It is the systemic injustice, escalating insecurity, the greed of our leaders, the silence of the President, the nonchalance of the government, the brutality of the security agencies that Nigerians face daily, the apathy and corruption of the civil service, the prostitution of the political class, sycophancy of the elites, the hypocrisy of religious leaders, all these things and more are setting this country ablaze bit by bit. The conflagration is what is now emerging.
How did we get to this boiling point?
We got to this boiling point because of the neglect of duties by those charged with discharging them. I believe that when the institutions of government and those chosen to be our leaders fail to discharge their responsibilities, when government is unresponsive to the yearnings and concerns of the people, paying propagandists to tell another story that makes it dance to a different music from that which people are hearing, heating up the polity is inevitable.
The height of hardship has gotten to an intolerable point. Nigerians are angry: the youths have relocated to the streets on protests until their demands for good governance, prosecution of killer cops, overhaul of the entire police force and release of all protesters in detention are met. Where is Nigeria heading to?
We all have work to do to determine where Nigeria is heading to even in our anger this includes the protesters. I have said that we all, every segment of the society must identify with the good intention of the protesters who have taken to the streets to compel the authorities to listen and act. But we all must also help to provide the conducive space for government to do so. We all must understand that both the government and the protesters are “us”. Whatever we choose to do or not to do will determine where Nigeria heads.
Where is the Church in all these? The Church is the conscience of every nation. Why did the Church not stem these challenges in the nick of time?
The Church is essentially everybody who believes in Jesus Christ and it exists to bring people closer to God and to their salvation. The Church’s main weapons are prayer witnessing and ministry to the needy and poor. Of course, it proclaims the word of God and preaches conversion. It has been pricking the consciences of those who need that service but few listened. It is remarkable that the Church has even occasionally occupied the streets in Nigeria for concerns that are similar to those being raised right now, namely, insecurity, violence, corruption etc. That is as far as the Church can go. The Church does not have an army with which to force things and cannot arrest people who refuse to do what is right. So, the Church tried but here we are at this point. Often, I fear that as Church we could sometimes be engaged in too much activism, thereby leaving room for those to whom it really belongs to merely sit back and call for help or do nothing. That is why in Nigeria we often have Churches organizing protest marches and rallies while politicians organize prayer sessions and crusades. This is absurd.
The Church instituted the Justice, Development, Peace Commission (JDPC) to look into issues of Justice, Development and Peace. But we can hardly feel their presence in these perspectives. What progress has the JDPC made in these regards?
You have thrown a good challenge there and I often ask the same questions. The issues which the Justice, Development and Peace Movement is set up to address are many. It is actually dealing with so many things and the scope continues to widen: Political Education, Election Monitoring, Human Right issues, Rural Development, Children’s Rights. Women Empowerment, Youth Empowerment etc. take a lot of energy and resources. Perhaps most importantly, the JDPM is charged with infusing society with what we call the Catholic Social Teachings (CST) and diffusing its essential elements. Some of the most important principles are: Human Dignity, Solidarity, Subsidiarity and the common good. You are right that all these are yet to be impactful in Nigeria. This is also probably an indication that the publicity of the huge work which is being done by the JDPM in helping the poor, prisoners, farmers, women, children youth etc. need to be better publicized and more clearly presented. No doubt the current realities require more passionate engagement in socio political issues by this arm of the Church which is meant to increase the interest and participation of Christians in the political sphere
What is your view on the counter protests going on in some parts of the country?
My view about the counter protest going on is that it is part of a healthy democracy. There will always be differences in our views and interests. The best leaders are those who learn to balance and coordinate such divergent views where they exist and for the different parties to present their views in as convincing and as coherent a way as possible in order to win adherents and attention. Of course, all must be peacefully executed.
The Northern Governors say they want SARS in spite of the severe weight of allegations of violations of human right and extrajudicial killings against this disliked unit of the Nigeria Police Force. What’s your take on this?
It is their right to make whatever claim they choose. We must examine the claims of every side. Evidence of police brutality is not easy to hide. The media are in a vantage position to help with this. If the Governors can be faulted through hard evidence and date, it would be difficult for them to hold a position if it is made clearly untenable.
What solutions would you proffer to these issues?
The scrapping of SARS is at best a scraping of the problem. Please note the difference between scrapping and scraping. It is not “the solution”. You may take it as “first aid” to buy time to sincerely address a much larger problem. Maybe we should all be having an “#END CORRUPTION” or “#END SECTIONALISM” “#END YAHOO YAHOO” protest marches. We must comprehensively address the deficient kind of institution in this case, the police system of governance, the moribund justice system, the false federal structure which we operate, which have given birth to such a monster and try to be honest about changing things where necessary. Let us revive the rule of law applicable to all in an equal manner. John Cardinal Onayekan has said and I agree that protests, no matter how well intentioned they cannot replace government. While declaring my support, I propose that the protesters reassess their purpose and focus and not just revel in the growing numbers. We should help government to act correctly and so it might be wise to take a break, having presented clearly all the demands. The protest marches are occasionally turning into a mob. Mobs generally have no direction and no control and can become lawless and destructive. A break also helps the protests to reorganize and re-strategize and ensures that the general public does not get disenchanted. Let the government bite the bullet and deploy all legitimate means to secure meaningful, honest and productive dialogue. It must pledge to be more responsive to the citizens’ yearnings. Many issues must simply be dealt with, like insecurity, corruption, poor infrastructure, high unemployment, high cost of governance, sectionalism and unfair distribution of privileges and position.
What is your advice to the protesters and Government?
We must do all we can to appeal to the protesters or to the arsonists to please be pacified. Everything we destroy eventually redounds on our society and city and state and possibly even relatives. Shall we thus burn up the entire Southwest, Abuja and nation? I beg them: Your anger may be justified but please exercise restraint and give peace a chance. We have all applauded you now please take some time off so that redress can be made. Stop destroying and burning, no matter whose property it may be. I appeal to the government not to tire in pacifying the protesters and calming down the streets in spite of the great damage already We got to this boiling point because of the neglect of duties by those charged with discharging them. I believe that when the institutions of government and those chosen to be our leaders fail to discharge their responsibilities, when government is unresponsive to the yearnings and concerns of the people, paying propagandists to tell another story that makes it dance to a different music from that which people are hearing, heating up the polity is inevitable done.
This is what governance and leadership is about. The good sailor is known only when the sea is rough. Please government at all levels should act responsibly, now! We got to this boiling point because of the neglect of duties by those charged with discharging them. I believe that when the institutions of government and those chosen to be our leaders fail to discharge their responsibilities, when government is unresponsive to the yearnings and concerns of the people, paying propagandists to tell another story that makes it dance to a different music from that which people are hearing, heating up the polity is inevitable “Government must pledge to be more responsive to the citizens’ yearnings. Many issues must simply be dealt with, like insecurity, corruption, poor infrastructure, high unemployment, high cost of governance, sectionalism and unfair distribution of privileges and position.”