Bishop Dr. Emmah Gospel Isong is the National Publicity Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Remedy for Victims of Religious Persecution and Discrimination Initiative. He spoke with AYOYINKA JEGEDE in Calabar on 2023 and other national issues.
There have been arguments about the region that should produce the next Nigerian President in the forthcoming 2023 general elections. Do you think emphasis on zoning will jeopardise merit?
Zoning is a word that we should not start with in our political questions, but it can end it. It is childish democracy to argue about which zone to produce the president. It is very irritating to be hearing which zone should have the presidency/governorship seat, even at state levels.
Number one question should be who can rule us as a country. We should be doing debates by now. Politicians should be addressing the media now telling us their capacities and capabilities. Aspirants should be telling us what they could offer to make the country a better place. We are so backward that they throw this narrative to us and we buy and debate it till they finish eight years with no improvement in security and the economy.
Elections are run based on credibility, merit and party manifestoes, but it’s worrisome that political parties in Nigeria have no manifestoes.
Zoning is not constitutional, so why is it a topic? I understand how this zoning agitation works. It is usually fueled by personal interest. For example, if I am from Ekiti state in Yoruba land and I want to be president, I will start shouting to you people that they should zone it to Ekiti. When I am talking about Ekiti, I am actually referring to myself. Many of these zoning agitations mean zoning to somebody, who will be the greatest beneficiary. For instance, if I want to run for governorship, I will insist it must be zoned to Ikot Enobong. In saying that, I am actually trying to be the beneficiary.
That is the politicians’ perspectives. I will like to push Nigerians to discuss electorate’s perspectives because we have the most ill-enlightened electorate in the whole world. They are not proactive. They have no say, but like to collect rice, umbrella, T-shirts and face caps. We don’t challenge and confront our politicians. It is very sad because it has been happening from the 60’s, but I am sorry, the youths are going to disappoint us this time around.
The owners of that #EndSARS protest are about to end bad governance and I am very sure we may not have it as business as usual. I am prophesying to you that all these politicians coming to deceive us all the time will end. It is not about the parties, because all the political parties are the same in Nigeria, whether the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the All Progressives Congress (APC). All of them are the same. Those who were in PDP are now in APC, while those who were in APC are now in PDP. We don’t even have new political ideologies. They have no new players so to say. All those politicians who participated in the first republic are those in the second and third republics, except the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Shehu Shagari and a few others. All those who were governors two terms ago are now senators. We are in a vicious circle. We are in trouble politically and democratically, and nobody wants to admit this because of the need to eat and survive.
I am not saying we should jettison zoning, but zoning should be secondary. Even if we have two brothers, one President and the other Vice President, I don’t mind. I want to be free from ISWAP and Boko Haram and I want to have Naira back to at least N100 per dollar. I want a country where I can sleep and wake up and greet my neighbours. All these are political lacunas created by the political system. We don’t even have real problems in Nigeria. What we have are political problems. Insecurity and economic challenges are both political problems.
It is high time we started with fresh questions of who are qualified to rule us? We should collectively sit down together, engage ourselves in consultations, associations, building bridges across the Niger and Benue rivers as Nigerians to decide on what we want as a nation.
After that, we then look for who has the capacity to give us what we want. We should not start with zoning. We are just starting wrongly. Somebody is asking Bola Tinubu where he got his money from, does it mean that if Tinubu answers the question he will become president of Nigeria? It doesn’t still qualify him.
This political process is starting wrongly. We are putting the cart before the horse. Those politicians presenting themselves are not coming from the masses. If we don’t raise the alarm now, they will present to us generations of mediocrity and we have many intelligent professors and so many PhD holders, political engineers and social influencers watching. We all know the problems of this country and we must all join hands to fix it.
What qualities should we look for in aspirants before voting for them?
Capacity, integrity and accountability! Those must fit into the age and qualifications of any aspirant. No matter your age, do you have the capacity, integrity and accountability? We need candidates/leaders that will fit into these three categories. Any leader that wants to rule at any level in Nigeria ahead of 2023 elections should pass these three exams no matter the age.
Again, the Civil Right Organisations and the traditional rulers from your village must clear such men/women as fit to rule. The monarchs must clear you that you are a man or woman of impeccable character. Religious leaders from either Islamic or Christian stocks should clear the fellow on either of their platforms. Number four, all Anti-corruption organisations, including inter-faith anti-corruption bodies and activists must clear you that you can contest and number five, your local people such as your wards, your political class and then your political party. They must clear the fellow before he or she starts consulting. I can tell you, many people will not pass these five classes of exams. They will collapse. That’s where the process should start. The way we are starting now means that occultists are meeting themselves, people are doing sacrifices, some might have even declared themselves winners because I have heard people already declaring themselves as the next president.
Nigerians should take away democracy from these fellows because democracy belongs to all of us. This is not a military government. Nigerians should wake up and take their destinies in their hands. I have interacted with politicians and I know their problem. Their problem is self-aggrandisement and pseudo-stomach infrastructure. They believe that we are hungry and that we need food at the point of elections, and that after four years, they owe you nothing. That’s the belief of Nigerian politicians. We need to change the narrative of politics in Nigeria. We have to let politicians know that they don’t make us, rather we make them!
Should religion determine how people vote?
I hate when somebody says we need a Muslim or Christian to rule us. Will you use the Bible to develop the country? When it’s time for National Anthem, will you sing Chorus? Why should a Moslem rule Nigeria and why should a Christian rule?
We should not use religion to approve a candidate. Can we rather insist that we need a Christian with capacity, integrity and accountability? When you say we need a Christian/Muslim President, then let’s make it a Religious government. We are not competing.
I will not criticise President Muhammadu Buhari because he is a Muslim. I’ll criticise him because he’s not putting food on my table. I will not support the incoming President because he is a Christian. I will support him because he has the capacity, integrity and accountability.
We should not support somebody because of the religion he is professing. The religion any politician professes has nothing to do with his or her character. For instance, this government is a Muslim President/Christian Vice President hence they should take joint responsibility for what is good or wrong in the government. To me, the books of religion should be exempted from our debate because it is an insult to Almighty God.
I even propose that those that win elections and have appointments should never swear by Quran or Bible again because they don’t read the Bible or Quran they swear with. The Bible says ‘don’t steal’, they are stealing. The Quran says ‘don’t kill’, they are killing. I want them to stop swearing with either Bible or Quran because it is mockery.
What’s your view on vote buying and vote selling?
Vote selling and buying persist because nobody has been punished for it. If you tell me how many politicians in the last elections went to jail for vote buying then I can promise you that in 2023 there’ll be no vote buying and selling.
That’s also part ignorance on the part of the electorate that we are talking about. Politicians keep you constantly in ignorance. It is the joy of politicians to know that the electorate are in ignorance, poor and misinformed, that will give room for politicians to perpetuate their nefarious electoral activities. That’s why in a political process they will never pick someone who is too intelligent, who knows his onions and who knows his right from left. They will always pick somebody who does not know anything.
Poor leadership has always been the bane of this country. How do we get out of it?
The day Nigerian leaders will be held accountable by those they lead, bad leadership will end. The electorate should hold their leaders accountable when they are in government.
There are some who have maintained that something is fundamentally wrong with the 1999 Constitution. Is that where to begin from?
I don’t think that’s our first problem. It is not that nothing is wrong with our Constitution, but do we have respect for even our Nigerian flag not to talk of obeying the Constitution? We don’t obey road signs, we don’t respect simple instructions, we don’t have public etiquette and we are uncontrollable. In this country, anybody can do anything and go away with it.
From what we have seen, corruption has taken central position in public space. What’s your advise to the next government on how to deal with it?
I am a co-coordinator of Interfaith Coalition against corruption in Nigeria, a group run by religious leaders, anti-corruption organisation sponsored by the United States Consular General in Lagos and funded by Mac Arthur Foundation. We have had different activities in different cities in Nigeria. We have gone round this nation. We have interfaced with Christianity, Islam and traditional institutions. We have worked for five years now and we are still working.
I can summarise the corruption in Nigeria to the following: Lack of political will to handle corrupt practices and the compromising attitudes of Nigerians to corrupt leaders. We cheer and praise corrupt leaders. Most media houses give awards to corrupt leaders. The media are the ones singing praises of these corrupt leaders. You hear things like ‘most active governor of the year.’ International community cannot help Nigeria in her fight against corrupt practices, only Nigerians can help themselves.
Nigerian institutions fighting corruption also need religious and traditional leaders in their boards as well as in their affairs. They should interface with traditional rulers and religious leaders to help them. Our anti-corruption laws are too weak. They should be tightened and strengthened. In Nigeria, many corrupt cases are buried in Ocean of forgetfulness because they are really politicised. It is systemic corruption we are running in Nigeria, that is the problem and not individual corruption.
The most corrupt part of Nigerian system is the civil service. They are the collaborators with the politicians. Without a Permanent Secretary, an accountant, a commissioner, Federal Minister or Governor cannot take one penny out of government coffers. Civil servants are the ones showing politicians the way, bending corners and twisting the rules.