•CAN, PFN never directed anyone to vote any presidential candidate •Tinubu will have problems over rising cost of things
Bishop Charles Ighele is the General Superintendent of Holy Spirit Mission, otherwise known as Happy Family Centre, a Christian ministry based in Lagos. He is also a former Chairman of the Financial Accountability Commission of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN).
In this interview with GILBERT EKEZIE, the cleric says the church in Nigeria is not against the person of President Bola Tinubu but against the Muslim-Muslim ticket choice of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February presidential election. He also speaks on other issues.
How true are insinuations that the church in Nigeria is against President Bola Tinubu, dating back to the campaign period when he ran on the Muslim-Muslim ticket?
I will like to state it very clearly that the Church of God in Nigeria has nothing against Present Bola Tinubu. Yes, few pastors prophesied that one thing or the other would happen to Tinubu before or after the elections. But if you carry out your investigation properly, you will find out that the pastors do not belong to the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria or any of the five groups that make up the Christian Association of Nigeria. Even if any of them belongs to the mainstream Christian groups, they did not speak on behalf of the church. PFN does not prophesy that way. CAN also does not prophesy that way. Yes, some prominent pastors spoke openly in support of Mr. Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party. Some campaigned for Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). You should not also forget that the bishop of one of the well-known churches in Lagos was the vice presidential running mate to Senator Rabiu Kwankwanso, presidential candidate of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP). From a meeting I attended, and as far as I know, PFN or CAN did not direct me or any church to vote for any of the presidential candidates during the 2023 elections.
However, I cannot deny that PFN or CAN did not direct churches to vote for certain governorship candidates at the state level. In some states, they voted for PDP, APC or Labour Party depending on the local issues. As you should know by now, political behaviour in Nigeria is determined a lot by local factors and not necessarily national interests. For most Nigerians, local interests are permanent while national interests are ephemeral. And politicians exploit this political illiteracy of the average Nigerian a lot.
I do not think that the Christian Association of Nigeria, Borno State chapter will tell churches in that state to vote for Peter Obi or Atiku because the President of the Borno State chapter, Bishop Mohammed Naga, has always spoken of how the current Vice President (Senator Shettima) was of help to churches in Borno after Boko Haram onslaughts. I could not, therefore, have seen him telling churches in Borno to vote for any other party.
In fact, he was very happy that Tinubu won the election on February 25. He told me on the phone. The bishop could vouch for Shettima. It is therefore completely not correct to say that the church is against Tinubu.
What the Church was completely against was the Muslim-Muslim ticket. And the church will forever be against the Muslim-Muslim ticket. I was against the Muslim-Muslim ticket. But some of us Christian leaders who studied political science in the university or understand Nigerian politics know that if Tinubu really wanted to be President, it was politically expedient, politically necessary for him to pick a Muslim from the North as his running mate. When I personally studied the scenario, I made up my mind to do as the late Bola Ige did “Siddon look”.
For the first time since I started voting in I979 when I voted and always voted for the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I did not vote nor did I instruct any of our branch churches in Southern and Northern Nigeria to vote for any candidate or party. I left them to vote for any party or candidate of their choice. I am not also aware and neither do I think that our highly respected father, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, told members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God to vote for any candidate.
The claim has been made in several quarters that the Muslim-Muslim ticket could be a prelude to an agenda to Islamise Nigeria. What do you think?
It is a wicked insinuation to say Tinubu will Islamise Nigeria. If he will Islamise Nigeria, he would have long ago Islamised his wife. His wife is a known member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. If Tinubu is a violent Islamic expansionist, he would not have allowed two church-going governors to govern Lagos after his tenure and that of Fashola. Ambode and Sanwo -Olu are Christians. I cannot tell whether there is a plan to Islamise Nigeria in future through the capture of political power. My advice is that if there is no Nigeria, there will be no religious or political gathering. Christians and Muslims should, therefore, use the instruments of persuasion to win converts and not to use the instruments of intimidation and state power. Let us live in peace as it used to be. I did my higher school in Sokoto in 1974 and it was peaceful and enjoyable. Let us go back to those days again. A peaceful Nigeria is one of the greatest legacies any true Nigerian can give as an inheritance to future Nigerians.
Do you think Christian groups will support President Tinubu administration?
The mainstream church as represented by CAN and PFN (to which I belong), will cooperate with Tinubu in building a better Nigeria. Why? The Bible tells us to seek the peace wherever we are living. CAN will cooperate. PFN under the immediate past President, Dr Felix Omobude, did not declare war on Buhari. The current President of PFN, Bishop Wale Oke, will certainly not declare war on President Bola Tinubu. The Nigerian mainstream Church should cooperate with Presidents that do not declare war against the church, and I do not see Bola Tinubu declaring war against the church when he has not declared war against his wife and Lagos State governor who are Christians. Once the President has the interest of Nigeria and the church at heart, the mainstream church will make sure that there is a religious tension-free atmosphere for him to make Nigeria better.
The administration is over one month old and many think the president has hit the ground running while critics say some of the policies he has in place are anti-people. What is your take?
I think he can succeed if he decides to be in charge of his government and does not also allow his mind to be swayed against enemies or perceived enemies. Instead of fighting enemies the way Robert Mugabe fought his white enemies and became globally unpopular, he should try to win over or peacefully tolerate them the way Nelson Mandela gained global applause by the way he loved and treated the white people who unjustly imprisoned him in South Africa. Little men are vindictive, while great men are not. Under former President Buhari, the forces of centrifugalism were illiteracy unleashed on Nigeria to the extent that Nigeria became more disunited since the end of the Civil War. His appointments disunited Nigeria. His utterances disunited Nigeria. His economic policies further pauperised Nigerians to the point of transferring the aggression to fight themselves. Nigerians, having been traumatised into frustration and attendant unreasonable aggression, fought each other along ethnic or religious lines over Naira swap.
Tinubu should, very quickly and steadily, unleash the forces of centripetalism to bring healing to Nigeria.
What do you say about the appointments President Tinubu has made so far?
I think the appointments he has made so far are quite strategic. For me, appointing an Igbo man from Enugu State as Chief of the Naval Staff sends a message of an inclusive government. I am not an Igbo man, but I think that the Igbo people will feel better. The other military appointment that is highly strategic is that of the Chief of the Defence Staff who is from Zango Kataf Christian minority tribe in Kaduna State. This appointment will give the minority tribes and religions in Kaduna and the whole nation a sense of security and belonging.
The Tinubu I saw in I999 when he took over from then-popular Buba Marwa as Lagos State governor is a strategist and, when he identified a fellow strategist in the person of Dele Alake to be in charge of strategy in Lagos, he was able to triumphantly swim out of the rivers of Buba Marwa’s popularity and established himself. With Dele Alake still with him to handle strategy in Abuja, he will have no problem in running a government that is by far more civilized than that of Buhari. I told people in the year 2000 when I was still living in Benin-City to watch out for Tinubu and that he will go far in Nigerian politics. It was not a prophecy. It was something I knew. Where the President will have problems with the masses is the rise in the cost of living. I know that the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress are already negotiating with the Federal Government on the issues that triggered the cost of living. But this government will be making a very big mistake if they think increasing the salaries of workers in the public sector, the organized private sector and palliatives will be enough to prevent the anger and eventual protests that will build up if the majority of income earners who do not belong to the public sector or organised private sector are not financially, economically, educationally and socially lifted up in an all inclusive package that will redefine easy access to the four factors of production – land, capital and the labour force being churned out of our schools and universities.
The last ENDSARS protests were not led by labour unions. Yes, negotiate with the labour unions, but the labour unions and other unions ceased to represent the interest of the masses long ago, unless they have decided to change now. This government has to search for ways it can use to know the feelings, the frustration, the hunger and inbuilt anger of the millions of unemployed Nigerians. The Federal Government should, in conjunction with Lagos State government, also very quickly, find solution to the very high cost of house rent and public transportation in Lagos. This is an area where a lot of anger and frustration is already building up.
Rent laws that will be more effective than the rent edicts of the military era should be considered. How can a city inhabited by the world’s largest number of poor people pay rent and have among the world’s highest cost of purchasing land after cities like Tokyo in the Island of Japan?
Some people think CAN and PFN should be ashamed of themselves as they subtly supported Peter Obi who did not win the February election. Could you react to that?
I do not think so. Personally, why should I be ashamed when I did not campaign for any party? Why should I be ashamed when I did not collect one single naira from any politician to campaign? In fact, all my life as the General Superintendent of the Holy Spirit Mission, despite our numbers, I have never collected any money or any gift in kind from any politician for campaign or any other purpose. And I will never. First and foremost, I am a man of God and not a man of the people, but politicians are men of the people. It is when a man of God remains a man of God that he gains the respect of the men of the people. It is only then that politicians can have faith in their prayers and regard for their utterances. And I think that the real men of God that I know will not change their colour to Tinubu colour or APC colour just because Tinubu is President.
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