Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, founder of the Word of Life Bible Church in Warri, Delta State, and president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, spoke with FRIDAY OLOKOR on the state of the nation and other issues
What is your feeling about the presidential proclamation of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, which were almost being taken over by Boko Haram terrorists?
I think this is probably one of the best moves President Goodluck Jonathan has ever made. He has made a move in a very proper and right direction to proclaim the state of emergency because the situation was getting worse before our eyes. It is either people who ought to know didn’t know or they knew and were pretending that they did not know. Two weeks before the proclamation of emergency, the situation had gone out of hand in Borno State, where I think there are about 27 local governments. Almost 24 of the councils were under the control of Boko Haram. As a journalist, you can go and carry out your independent investigation. In fact, in some local governments, Boko Haram members brought down the Nigerian flag, set them ablaze and raised their own flag. What they were gradually going to do was to proclaim an Islamic Republic just like what they did in northern Mali; that was where they were heading to. But thank God that Mr. President made the right move at the right time. I think the governor of that state was wise when he went to the President to inform him of certain things.
But a lot of critics have argued that the President goofed by refusing to replicate the example laid by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, who in his time allowed the sitting governors of Ekiti and Plateau states and other democratic structures to step aside for the military to take over.
Well, for me, what we see happening right now shows that the President’s decision was a right one because the sitting governors have not in any way hampered the movement of the military. The military men are doing what they are supposed to do. And by the way, because of how intense the situation was, nobody is moving about freely in those states right now because there is a curfew all over the place. Even the government is not functioning the way it would have functioned. Back to the constitution, does the law clearly state that when you declare a state of emergency, all political structures must be removed? Does it really say that? I don’t think so. My belief is that what the President has done is to continue to respect the political structures while at the same time getting their cooperation to make sure they do not disturb the military from achieving their mission. What we are looking for are results. If we get the results, we will be happy. From what we have observed and seen, we are getting the results.
A lot of people see the Boko Haram issue as a blend of religion and politics. What is your opinion?
Let me say it again that the issue of Boko Haram is fundamentally and basically religious. It is a jihadist and fundamentalist organisation, formed to propagate and promote a particular religion. Now, it has been like that from the beginning. We all know that there were politicians who said that if Jonathan won the 2011 presidential election, they would make Nigeria ungovernable. In my opinion, what they did was to find ways to give support to Boko Haram. In their calculation, if they give them the support, then obviously as Boko Haram is killing and destroying, it makes Nigeria ungovernable. We are seeing it happening but that does not make the Boko Haram menace a political issue. We have listened to the leader of Boko Haram again and again. He has never minced words and there is no ambiguity in all he has been saying. He has always been clear that their aim is to establish an Islamic state. So, what they actually want to do is what they did in northern Mali. That is the purpose and you see, for terrorists, any kind of support or assistance they can get from anywhere, they will gladly welcome it and use it to establish their purpose as long as it is coming from the Muslim community. It is not that there are no good Muslims. Nigeria has very good and wonderful men and women who are good Muslims and who believe in the unity of this country. Muslims have also been killed and I have said it many times that the primary target of Boko Haram is to kill government agents, including security agents, destroy schools because they believe it is a sin to go to school and churches because churches to them are also tied to western ideology. These are the people that they are primarily against.
What is your advice for Christians?
My advice for Christians is that they should believe in Jesus Christ. But believing in Christ does not exempt us from troubles; it does not necessarily separate us from hardships and persecution. So, what we are saying now is in the Bible. I will say to anyone who is a child of God and a Christian: Don’t give up your faith for any reason; hold on to what you believe in. This will not last forever. Recently, the Secretary of CAN in Borno State (Rev. Faye Musa Pama), was killed in his own house before his own daughter who pleaded for his life. They refused to spare him. It is unbelievable but I said to Christians: that man of God is a martyr, a hero and heaven has received him. My prayer is that God will not allow more to go like that. I believe that there are two situations we must look at now critically in this country. The first one is what we call Fulani herdsmen who are operating freely across this nation today. No one is seriously looking at this situation. It is building; Fulani herdsmen are another version of Boko Haram. We need to take this matter seriously and start doing something about it. When I was growing up, the best you can see Fulani herdsmen with is a dagger and their sticks. But today, they carry AK-47 rifles. Who taught them how to use AK-47? In fact, who bought AK-47 for them? These are questions begging for answers. Let me take you further. People in London, people across Europe, even in Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, don’t they eat cows? Do we see cows on the streets of London? Do we see people leading cows? For God’s sake, this is the 21st Century. We cannot continue like this. Government at every level, with a little help from the Federal Government, should go to where they came from and establish modern ranches. It is very possible, it can be done and they can be trained. The thing has to be handled quickly because if it is not, I can tell you that the atrocities of the Fulani herdsmen will be more potent than those of Boko Haram. I say this with all seriousness without anything against any tribe. Let me also say that I believe Nigeria has reached a point where we must sit down and discuss. Call it anything, all the tribes that make up Nigeria. We must sit together and discuss.
Do we call it a Sovereign National Conference?
Those are big words; I said let us meet and discuss. Sometimes you can use words that aggravate things and offend the people. But I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in results. I just want something to happen, we must talk. I plead with Mr. President, I plead with all those in the National Assembly to please consider this. This one we are saying goes beyond politics.
You have received commendation for being the best president ever produced by CAN. After Oritsejafor, what type of successor would you gladly welcome?
God has arranged it for me to be the leader of His church at this time; He has already planned for the person who will take over from me. I believe there are people who will do better than me. That has been my prayer and it will happen because the church has actively participated in the establishment and development of this nation called Nigeria.
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, what type of President and leader would you wish for Nigeria?
I believe Nigeria needs a leader first and foremost, who believes in God because any man who does not fear God will not care about man. That is part of the problems of this nation. I believe Nigeria needs a leader who will not only fear God but will, out of the fear of God, consider the ordinary citizens of this nation; a leader who will realise that he is a servant while the people are actually the masters; a leader who will truly fight this thing called corruption and attack it with everything that he has. But a leader who is strong and at the same time compassionate is also necessary in Nigeria. We need a leader that can hold everybody together and do away with all forms of tribalism.