Buhari Should Be Systematic In His Fight Against Corruption – Cardinal Okogie | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Faith, LIFE

Buhari Should Be Systematic In His Fight Against Corruption – Cardinal Okogie

Posted: Jun 6, 2016 at 7:43 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

As part of activities to celebrate his 80th birthday celebration and 50th priestly ordination anniversary, his Eminence Anthony Cardinal Okogie, Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, hosted journalists at his Ikoyi residence last Tuesday. He spoke about germane national issues. CHINYERE ABIAZIEM was there for Independent Sunday.

How has life treated you thus far?
It has not been all that smooth, the beginning was fair and I thank the good lord for it. I was brought up in the Christian way and was taught by my parents that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. My parents instilled in me that once I have the fear of the Lord everything would work out well, which is what has been keeping me.

Tell us about your most memorable days?
In my secondary as a priest when I was asked to go to the warfront, I trembled and ran to my bishop thinking that I would be assigned somewhere else, but he said I should go, that there are human beings there. Another time was when my junior, was promoted and I began to wonder if I would have to start calling him “my lord”, the small boy of yesterday. He came to the cathedral and I asked him what I should be calling him. Then he told me that in two weeks’ time that my own would come. In the same month I was nominated and made the auxiliary Bishop of Oyo and I was rejected by my own people. It is one incident that I try to forget, but thank God it did not drag for along. Two months later, when everything was calm and I was doing my work I was brought back to Lagos as an auxiliary Bishop. I was finally made an Archbishop in 1973.

In your estimation, has Nigeria’s democracy fared well?
You would recall that a large chunk of my years as the Archbishop of Lagos was devoted to speaking out against all forms of injustices and oppression of the downtrodden by those in positions of authority. Though a clergy, I have always believed that it is the right of every citizen to aspire to actualise his God-ordained destiny within the frame work of the larger society. It is also my firm conviction that one should never be silent or docile when his or her fundamental rights are being unjustly trampled upon by those who have sworn by the constitution to safeguard the welfare of all law abiding citizens. These, to a large extent, have for years defined my guiding principles, actions and utterances as a clergy and a citizen of Nigeria. For instance, during my years as president of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and also as two-term president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, (CBCN), during the Babangida military era, I did not shy away from saying the gospel truth whenever it was obvious that the country was being led stray by the leadership. How well these agitations have been sustained to achieve set goals over time is a topic for another day.

Many would expect that you should be relaxing after retirement, why have you chosen to speak on the state of the nation?

Well, it may interest you to note that though I may not be as visible as I used to be, I have however not relented in my commitment and desire to see to the entrenchment of a truly egalitarian society where justice, equity and fear of God would reign supreme. These have always been my desire. You may say that at my age, since I am near the departure wing to heaven, I should by now be indifferent to the numerous challenges confronting the country. I beg to disagree. How can I remain quiet when 17 years into our democratic dispensation, the ship of our nation is being tossed about by self-inflicted storms that are drowning innocent lives by the day? How can I keep mute when Nigerians have continuously been taking for a ride over the years by our politicians, who rather than serve the masses, chose to play them like the game of chess? I want to affirm here that as long as the good Lord gives me strength and the breath of life, I will never remain silent while this country is in turmoil. On Sunday, May 29, we marked democracy day under the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), but is there much to really celebrate about? 17 years into our democratic dispensation, have we really matured as a nation? What lessons have we learnt from the errors of the past and what efforts are we making to avoid a repeat?
The swearing in of President Muhammadu Buhari last year was perceived as a major milestone in the people’s quest for positive change and improvement in their quality of life. But a year later, the people are still grumbling. Indeed, the hardship has even doubled. I want to make it clear here that I do not belong to any political party. I am only a concerned Nigeria who is saying it as he sees it. Buhari may mean well for the country, but so far, his actions and utterances have failed to help put food on the table of the average Nigerian.
I think this government needs technocrats. For a long time people have been talking about farming and they gave it deaf ears now they are talking about it but how much money have they given to farming to improve it? What are they doing with the money they are getting from the looters?

The Niger Delta youths are returning to pipelines vandalism, what is the implication?
For the years that Late Musa Yar’Adua and his successor Goodluck Jonathan held sway, we saw a drastic reduction in the activities of militants at the Niger Delta region. Unfortunately, the militants are now back to the trenches under different pseudonyms. Their recent attacks on oil facilities in the region are daily crippling the country’s capacity to produce oil optimally. The oil and gas pipelines ruptured in Warri West Local Government Area have also worsened electricity generation plan of government. How long would this continue? One fact is certain. Ours is a mono-economy that relies solely on oil for our foreign exchange earnings. With the sorry state of our economy, we cannot at this crucial time afford a further break down of oil productions at the Niger Delta. That would further place the country’s finance in a precarious situation. There is a popular saying that to jaw jaw is better than to war war. I am equally aware that President Buhari has vowed to deal decisively with the militants. Some days ago, the dailies reported that the military invaded Gbaramatu Kingdom believed to be the home town of a wanted ex militant, Tompolo. While condemning the disruption of our oil facilities under any guise, I equally want to stress that the use of military force is not the best solution.
How can the herdsmen’s situation be curbed?
One of the most contentious issues facing the present administration is the carnage that have allegedly been linked to Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the country. We are all too familiar with the Agatu killings and that of Nimbo in Enugu State. First, I want to use this medium to express my sincere condolence to families of the deceased and pray that the good Lord will comfort them in their period of grief. The loss of lives in any form is very sad, particularly if such lives are cut short in such tragic circumstances as the attacks by the herdsmen. Such barbaric acts only dehumanise us. Some have opined that the failure of the president to make a public pronouncement immediately the issue came to national discourse is borne out of his affinity to those concerned. That aside, I want to reiterate that it is the responsibility of government to safeguard the lives of its citizens. No life is more important than the other. The questions many are asking are: who provided the herdsmen with AK 47 weapons? Are the herdsmen truly Nigerians or extension of the Boko Haram sect members particularly as global terrorist watch have listed them on the terrorist list? However, I am glad at the outcome of the recent courtesy visit of the Catholic Bishops to the President during which he gave an express order to the law enforcement agents to quickly fish out the perpetuators of the dastardly acts and bring them to book. In addition, if the identity and judicial trials of the perpetuators are made public, it will also assuage the grief of the affected communities in the knowledge that the justice has been done.

What is your view on the present administration’s fight against corruption?
One of the major campaign slogans of the APC last year during the electioneering campaigns was the fight against corruption. Coming at the wake of alleged endemic looting credited to past administration, cleansing the land of supposed corrupt elements was perceived as a sure way of stabilising the country and entrenching speedy growth and development. The past one year has seen the present administration making spirited effort to recover looted funds and prosecute the offenders. Despite these, Nigeria’s perceived reputation as one of the most corrupt nations on earth was re-iterated by David Cameron of Great Britain in the eve of an international parlay when he branded Nigeria as fantastically corrupt. The psychological impact of that statement made before Queen Elizabeth is still fresh in the minds of many of us. While it is true that corruption has become endemic in this country, I also want to stress unequivocally that there are still men and women of high integrity who have not sold their birthrights to the monster called corruption. I want to commend the President for his commitment to clean the polity. There is also need for him to be more systematic in the fight so that even after he leaves office the structure in place would make it difficult for corruption to thrive as has always been the case. There have been complaints by members of the opposing party that the fight has been selective and only targeted at the PDP. The President must respond to this proactively by allowing the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), to truly work independently, based on facts and figures at their disposal.

How would you advice that the Biafra Agitation be handled?
Many of us who witnessed the pogrom that is the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 to 1970, are yet to come to terms with the devastating effect that war could have in a society like ours. That is why it is imperative that we do not have a repeat of a Civil War, God forbid. Mr. President should therefore do the needful by releasing Mr. Nnamdi Kanu as a sign that he is ready to dialogue with the group. He must remember that it is the right of any group to peacefully seek for secession if they feel marginalised in their present abode. The use of force is never the right approach to quell such agitation.

As a two term President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), are you satisfied with the current image of the association?

I was there for eight years, some persons were not satisfied because they had hidden agenda and were questioning if it has to be catholic alone. Years ago, almost everybody respected CAN, both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria. We lost our birthright when Sunday Coffie Mbang made a very bad mistake by selling us to Olusegun Obasanjo, since that time OBJ lost respect for us. Whenever we wanted to hold a meeting we sourced for the resources from our pockets, we do not go to meet government for funds, because if you are serving God would take care of you. I’m sorry to say what is happening there is a disgrace to Christianity. And it is going to be on until when a God fearing person will come in.

What is your thought on the yet to return Chibok girls?

It is good news to hear that some of them are back though people still doubt if they were among those that were taken away. I do not really know how the rescue is going to take place, since government is not willing to give in to their abductors term.

There was a time reports had it that Father Mbaka allegedly said some persons wanted him dead, do you have something to say about that?

As a priest, I was thought that nobody can take your life except if God permits. Who told him he is wanted dead? Were assassins sent to him or did he see a vision? It is highly contestable. Why must he fear death, what skeleton does he have in his cupboard that is making him fear death?
Why is he a priest, if he is saying he is unhappy with his transfer? I was asked to go to the warfront at a time. So this is it, if he is not happy with his transfer then there is something wrong with his priesthood. His priesthood must be questioned.

What is your opinion about President Buhari describing Goodluck Jonathan as a patriot for conceding defeat?

The truth cannot be hidden. I can remember what APC said about him during the election campaign and what people are saying about him as if he did nothing for Nigeria. Coming from Buhari I think it is an open confession and he too has to be very careful because people are watching him.

What advice do you have for the President?

The task of building a viable nation is one that calls for the involvement of every one of us. As it is said, evil thrives when good persons stay aloof. We must therefore continue to hold our nation accountable. The days of impunity are over. We must prove to the international community that there are good people amongst us; that we are not all corrupt as some believe. We must call our leaders to order when they err and commend them when the need arise. So, my advice to Mr. President and his associates is this: do not take the goodwill that you enjoy from Nigerians for granted. He should do all that is necessary to revamp the economy before things get out of hand. The economy in particular needs the input of tested experts. There is no shame in seeking for help in order to formulate policies that would attract the much needed inflow of foreign investors that would shore up our economic fortunes.