Archbishop of the Enugu Anglican Diocese, His Grace, Most Reverend Emmanuel Chukwuma, in this interview with IHUOMA CHIEDOZIE, sheds light on his sermon during the burial ceremony of Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme
What inspired the message you delivered at the burial of Dr. Alex Ekwueme?
What inspired me, I should say, was the legacy that was left behind by Ekwueme – a legacy of commitment, politics without bitterness, endurance, and faithfulness to his political party. And also, for accountability, and for posterity, because each one of us, as I have said, was created by God, we have an assignment in Nigeria and the world. It is important to know that one day, as God has sent us, he will call us back, and we will give an account of our stewardship. So I was inspired by the need to let people know that this world does not belong to anybody. It is a matter of you doing your best, performing your own role, for the goodness of humanity and development of humanity, knowing that on the last day when you give account of your stewardship, you will now be commended by God. I want people to know that whatever position you are occupying, they are occupying it on behalf of God to reach out, to salvage, and not to destroy, so that on the last day as we depart from this world and we are being buried, we will not have any regret on the judgment day.
Nigerians believe that clerics have kept quiet for too long in Nigeria. Why do you think most clerics have not been speaking out against poor governance in Nigeria? Do you think that clerics – Christians, Muslims and others—should speak to power more?
Yes. Men of God are oracles, and as I said that day when I was speaking from the book of Kings, chapter 20, when God spoke through Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hezekiah was a king, and God said to him ‘Go and tell Hezekiah to put his house in order because he is going to die’. Isaiah did not mix the message of God, he spoke it verbatim, and the man cried and wanted more years. Now, in the Bible, we also find some of the prophets – Isaiah, Joel, Amos – they spoke against injustice and unrighteousness in their time without fear or favour. Elijah even faced death in the hands of Ahab. And you find in the New Testament too, the apostles, even Jesus Christ, spoke about righteousness and spoke with boldness. So many of the apostles were even imprisoned like Paul, Peter, they suffered imprisonment for speaking boldly. That should be our focus in the preaching of the Gospel, because as we are in this world today, we are still representing that apostolic succession. We have to continue to preach, teach, exhort, and rebuke with boldness and let people know their wrongs because nobody in this world will say he is perfect, we are all striving towards perfection and righteousness. So if men of God refuse to speak out, they will be part of the judgment. Why are we there? Why are we keeping quiet? So any man of God that fails to speak the truth boldly will end up in hell fire. Why are they not speaking out? Many of them have been compromised. I have nothing to hide, I am not a contractor. I speak boldly because I believe that is the only thing that can save Nigeria. I speak boldly because I feel, if we don’t speak out now, these things will continue. The only people that can speak the truth and tell those in authority that these things are wrong are the prophets, and we are the prophets of today. So we must not mess ourselves up with politicians. I don’t belong to any political party, and I don’t depend on any political office holder to survive. Even though they are my members, that doesn’t mean that if they are doing wrong, I should not rebuke them, they should even be happy that we tell them the truth because only the truth can set you free. The thing is that men of God should stop compromising, and they should stop being prayer contractors, or degrading themselves in their relationship with politicians. When you cheapen yourself before politicians, they won’t respect you. When you go to beg them for money all the time, you will not be able to speak to them. So I believe time has come for all of us to speak out boldly.
What do you think of situations where, during elections, when politicians are contesting for an office, some clergymen come out openly to endorse one candidate and oppose the other? Is that proper?
No man of God should be partisan, because you find in a church, people of different political affiliations. People of different political parties are in our churches, therefore you should not be siding one. You should be particular about the personality of the person. I usually tell people ‘whoever is looking for political office, please be righteous and honest’ because when the righteous is on the throne, the people rejoice. But when we see those who are righteous, irrespective of political party, men of God should support them to get into office. We are bound to condemn those who are doing wrong, and encourage those who are doing right. We don’t act on the political party, we act on the personality, the pedigree and the performance of the person.
You seem to be disappointed by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government’s fight against corruption, even though Buhari was recently named as anti-corruption champion by the African Union. What are your reasons?
Yes, I am not so impressed because he is only exposing corruption, he is not fighting corruption. He is not fighting corruption in a genuine way. You can only fight corruption when the people involved are arrested, prosecuted and dealt with as a deterrent to others. But when you say you are fighting corruption, and you say you have recovered so so money, and we don’t know those people who the money was recovered from, and then, some of them who are accused of stealing money, when they switch over to your party, EFCC will no longer go after them, is that fighting corruption? When people who have stolen their states’ money to help you during campaign are also given ministerial posts and positions in your government more than those who did not contribute much money, that is not fighting corruption. Those people that have been indicted in their states, why are they not being prosecuted by the EFCC? So there is selective negligence, party spirit treatment, that is why I don’t support the way he is fighting corruption. Again you cannot say you are fighting corruption in the midst of hunger, galloping inflation, unemployment and irregular salary. These things have to be addressed. To fight corruption, you must eradicate poverty, you must eradicate hunger, there must be employment, there must be regular salary and then those who are serving should be encouraged. In the midst of that, people in government must be selfless and sincere. All those who are in government today are not sincere, and I mean it. All of them are so selfish and materialistic, they are only after money. Even those in the military, nobody is sincere and that is why the country’s security is not in proper shape.
You said this government would find it difficult to fight corruption because some state governors assisted Buhari to get there using state funds. Could you expatiate on that?
In this government, some people were given three ministries; we want to know why they were given three ministries. Look at the two former governors that were given three ministries each, let’s be frank and sincere, Lagos and Rivers must have spent so much money (on Buhari’s election). Are their hands clean? Now when cases came up against them, you killed the cases and then you gave them three ministries. One is then wondering, why were they given three ministries? Are their heads more than others? The man in charge of solid minerals, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, why was he not given three ministries? Was he not a former governor of Ekiti? Maybe he was just given one ministry because of the little he contributed or something. I am very sure the former governor of Edo State will be given something tangible.
You mean Adams Oshiomhole?
Yes! We are watching. The thing is there are governors who embezzled money and they joined APC and suddenly their cases went comatose. And we are wondering, how can you be fighting corruption in the midst of all this mess? The fight against corruption seems to be against those who are not in APC. How many former governors who are in APC are being prosecuted this time round by this government? Let them mention one or two. Now many of them are in the party, being hidden and being covered. We are worried about this and until Mr. President can explain this selective negligence, we cannot trust his fight against corruption. He is only exposing corruption. We are now aware that there is corruption everywhere, he has exposed it but he is not fighting it.
Before Buhari became President, he was generally believed to be a man of integrity. About two years into office, do you think that has changed?
He was one of those people that thwarted the government of Ekwueme and Shagari and we don’t know why. But his government at that time with Idiagbon, was a disciplined government – and I must tell you, it was Idiagbon who really influenced him, so that was what people were looking at. Yes at his age now, he is not looking for anything, he is an old man, he should be contented, he is wealthy but the people around him bring unnecessary policies for him to sign because they are eating from it. Thank God the issue of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation became so popular that he could no longer handle it and he (SGF) had to be dealt with, just like the NIA DG, who was involved in the money that was discovered in a Lagos building. We are praying for him (Buhari), the thing is that, even when he was head of the Petroleum Trust Fund, maybe he was honest about it but if you look at his age then and his age now, it is a different thing. His age now is being corrupted and polluted by the people around him, so that is the problem. He is not as strong as before, coupled with his illness. That is why I say it is better for him to go home now with the good health God has given him and fully recover than to continue to stress himself so that it will not be like Hezekiah in the Bible. When God said go, and he said he would not go and in the end, even the more years that he prayed for were worse than before. We pray that people around him will not mess him (Buhari) up. That is why we are happy that God did not allow Ekwueme to be messed up in the current political dispensation, his record is clean. And that is why I am telling others of his age to quit politics now, so that these other people don’t soil their name and destroy their integrity.
You criticised the practice by public servants to seek medical attention abroad and the lack of adequate equipment in hospitals in Nigeria including the State House clinic, describing it as a disgrace and an embarrassment. How do you think we can get out of this situation?
Was the situation in the State House clinic not exposed by the wife of Mr. President? I don’t know why we have not been hearing from her, it is like they don’t allow her to talk again. A lot of money has been budgeted but nothing is happening there, there are no drugs, no facilities, even the few available are not working. It is corruption, it is an indictment. Beyond that, haven’t doctors been going on strike? I take UNTH Enugu as an example. Go there, you will be sorry; there is nothing to write home about and that was why, when Ekwueme was sick, he was taken to a private hospital. If UNTH was equipped properly, he wouldn’t be taken to a private hospital, he wouldn’t be taken abroad. Even our President was taken abroad when he was sick. Why was he taken abroad when doctors here can treat him? That is corruption. The hard currency that is being spent on all these men that are going abroad for treatment is a waste. What of the poor that do not have the resources to go abroad? They should all die? It is time we began to take our health sector very seriously – we need to equip our hospitals and develop the personnel. That is what Nigerians need now, once you do that, there is no need to travel abroad for treatment.
You were very close to Ekwueme and you were with him most of the time in the hospital. You said he did not want to be flown abroad. Can you shed more light on that?
Yes, on the day he was to be moved abroad, when the air ambulance came, and they wanted to move him into the ambulance, which would take him to the airport, he refused, his pressure went up as if to say he didn’t want to go. Maybe he felt it would be a waste, and it was a waste. But we had to talk to him and the following morning, he stabilised and they had to fly him abroad. They flew him even when he was on life support. He was on life support for the one week he was there (abroad), and I am sure the people have not told us the truth that he was already gone. I am quite sure that when they now saw that they could not do anything, the life support was removed. We must stop deceiving ourselves. I think it is time that, if somebody is dead, let him remain in this country; there was no need to put him on life support just to waste money abroad. That money would have been used to do other things but we thank God that it now made the burial to become international, especially considering the befitting way that the ceremony was held in Abuja. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
Looking at the burial ceremony, do you think the Federal Government did enough to honour Ekwueme?
They must have done their best but I hope it is not true that they spent N1b which I did not see. Ekwueme was a man of accountability. I know some people made money from Ekwueme’s burial, let me tell you that. The Federal Government officials who made money from it should confess and ask God for forgiveness. There are also people who made money from the burial at the state level, up to the family level. They should all confess and ask God for forgiveness because one day, they will die and be buried. I see no reason why people should be making money from burial. I feel the Federal Government did its best by paying his hospital bills, making sure that he was flown abroad and brought back. We thank Buhari, we thank the present Vice President, we are grateful to them for the part they played. They could have neglected the man and nothing would have happened.
In your message during the burial, you pointed out that Buhari removed Ekwueme from office and took over, and 32 years after that, Ekwueme died when Buhari is in power again.
It is ironical. It is ironical that 32 years after that, it is during the government of the same Buhari that the man (Ekwueme) died. You can imagine somebody who was in office 32 years ago still being in office today.
What do you think is the significance of such a development, considering that in your sermon, you said that 70 years should be the retirement age of politicians and that anyone above 65 years of age must not be President of Nigeria?
Such a politician is already expired! Thirty two years ago, you told the youths that they are the leaders of tomorrow and 32 years later, you are still there. The youths that were 32 years old when you told them they are the leaders of tomorrow 32 years ago, when will their time come? Where is the tomorrow? Time has come when our elderly people should give chance for the younger ones to lead the country. You said the young shall grow, how will the young grow when they are becoming old and you are still there? As a bishop, at 70 years, I will retire. Catholic bishops retire at 75, judges retire at 65 and 70, so why can’t you retire from holding political positions when you are 70? At 75 you still want to be there, and 32 years ago, you were there and after removing this man (Ekwueme) from office and then you put him in prison, 32 years later, you are still there and he died and you still want to continue? Ah ah! I think that it is unfortunate and ridiculous. We don’t want the spirit of Robert Mugabe (former Zimbabwean president) here, we also don’t want what is happening in South Africa to happen here. There will come a time when youths will rise up against these elders who have refused to go. That is why I keep saying if they don’t treat the youths well by making Nigeria better and create employment, these sirens they are blowing, there will come a time when the youths will block them on the roads saying ‘Enough is enough!’ People are suffering, there is hunger.
So you are saying that politicians that are up to 65-70 years and above should not aspire to be President?
No, what I am saying is anybody who is going to be a President should not be more than 65 so that by the time you finish your term, either four years or five years as a term, you are up to 70. But after 70 years you still want to be the President of this country, it is not acceptable. Seventy is the age of retirement, so anybody going for any political office in Nigeria should know that once you are 70, you are not qualified anymore. You are already expired, so you should retire and become an adviser or a consultant. You can contest at 65 but anybody of 70, as our President is 74, and he still wants to continue, it is not advisable. It is advisable that he should retire honorably now when the ovation is loudest than staying on for people to mess him up.
So you are ruling out the major prospective candidates for the 2019 presidential election like Buhari and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who is 71 now?
All of them are old cargoes!
Atiku Abubakar was there the day you delivered the sermon at Ekwueme’s burial.
Yes, I know and I don’t have any apology for anybody. Old wine cannot be put in a new wine skin. A new Nigeria must have new spirit, with new people. All these people they are talking about, they don’t have anything to offer. They are all among the people who spoilt Nigeria, so I don’t think we need anyone of them who was in government before. We need a new spirit, we need people who are intelligent enough. When former President Goodluck Jonathan came, we thought probably as the first academically qualified president, he would do very well. But Jonathan did not do badly, the people around him are the ones who messed him up, just as the people around Buhari are messing him up today. Jonathan was a good President but people around him messed him up just as today, the people around Buhari are messing him up. Buhari may be good but he has to be conscious of the fact that the people around him are bad. We are saying they are bad and they should give way, if not, Nigeria is in trouble.
Considering the number of governors and other current and former political office holders that were present when you delivered the sermon, has anybody called you or reached out to you to express reservations about your message?
No, rather I have received commendation from Nigerians all over the world and I have noticed that Nigerians, wherever they are, are yearning for a better Nigeria. They were saying that more people should speak out like me and I will not stop there. I hope the Federal Government will take corrections from what I said. Probably they will say arrest him, I am ready for arrest but if they arrest me, the whole world will come after them and I will become a hero.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable or reticent when you have to speak out in the presence of political office holders?
No! They are human beings and I am older than some of them. I am 64 years, some of the governors are not 64. Why should I be afraid of them? I think I am in a higher position, I am an Archbishop for that matter, they are occupying temporal positions. I have been a bishop for 29 years, who should I be afraid of? Is it Mr. President or who? They were voted in, they will be voted out! I will not be voted out because I will still remain a bishop until I am 70. I only respect them, I don’t fear them. I only fear God who is the giver of life. Like I told them that day, when God wants to withdraw your life He will do it, no matter what you are. You can be distinguished but God is the one who can extinguish you. Men of God should not fear anybody who is in political office, they should also respect us because we all voted them in. If you are a thief, I will tell you you are a thief, it is for you to defend yourself. I have been speaking out, this is not my first time. Even among the Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 when they wanted to allow homosexuality, I was the only bishop that spoke out to condemn homosexuality, that we will not accept it in Africa. And I am still strong and I believe that if God be for us, nobody can be against us.
What do you think about the way this government has handled the killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen?
The President had not come out to seriously condemn the killings until when he recently went to Nasarawa State to say he is going to deal with them. That is what we want to hear but he should also put it into action. The way the government has handled the herdsmen killings has not been impressive at all. The Federal Government should declare them as terrorists and deal with them as terrorists. Arrest them and prosecute them to serve as deterrent to others. We are covering evil by not arresting and prosecuting them. Are they ghosts? Until the government is sincere enough to arrest and prosecute them, we will not be fooled. Not when you are covering them because you too have cows. Most of these cows are owned by retired Generals, let’s be sincere to ourselves, and that is why they have AK 47s available to them.
You said any governor that approves cattle colony in the South-East will be resisted.
Yes, and I mean it. Any governor that tries that, we will mobilise the church against him and if he is looking for second term, he will not get it. It is a caveat. I am telling you time is coming when the church will rise up against any bad government, it happened in the Philippines. Marcos was driven out by the church. If I mobilise the Anglicans and Catholics with all pentecostals against any government, that government will collapse. I am looking forward very soon to a revolution in this country when Nigerians will stand and say ‘This is enough’.
You said Audu Ogbeh should take the cattle colonies to Daura and Sambissa Forest. Why?
I feel that is where he should take it to since the President wants cattle colonies, but we don’t want it here. He should take it there so that when they colonise Sambissa Forest, Boko Haram will disappear; when they colonise Daura and the President goes back, he can look after the cows there. For us here, we don’t want it. As far as we are concerned this is a Christian zone and they should allow us to exist in peace. We don’t want any war. We want to live in peace.
Some Nigerians have criticised the Federal Government for having northerners heading almost all the security agencies. Do you also consider it as a problem?
The President has not been fair to us, no Igbo man is a service chief, they are all from his area. Buhari’s appointments have been lopsided. If you are saying we are one Nigeria, then you make every post available to all Nigerians, it should be a mixture of all. Even the Inspector General of Police is doing the same thing, in most of the states the commissioners of police are from the North. How many Igbos and Yorubas are commissioners of police?
The problem is selfishness, self-centeredness, everybody wanting to be the leader, nobody respects anybody and unwillingness to accept anybody as a leader. Until we understand that somebody must lead and others must follow, we will continue to have problems. The Yoruba listen to the Ooni of Ife, the Hausa will follow the Sultan of Sokoto, who among us Igbo will follow any traditional ruler in Igbo land? Everybody wants autonomous community and all that, even outside Igbo land, we have Igwe Ndigbo in every town and city. There is too much arrogance and pomposity among the Igbo. That is why we cannot come together. We need to recognise those who are leaders, encourage them and make them speak on our behalf, and stop this ‘pull him down syndrome’.
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Source: Coal City Connect