PUNCH NEWSPAPER—–In this interview with JESUSEGUN ALAGBE, the founder of The Latter Rain Assembly and convener of the Save Nigeria Group, Pastor Tunde Bakare, shares his thoughts on the country’s 56th Independence anniversary, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and other issues
Nigeria is marking its 56th Independence anniversary today. Is there anything worth celebrating?
If you ask a sick man who has gone through a lot of problems in his health and has made it through the Intensive Care Unit and is now beginning to live again, ‘Is there anything worth celebrating?’, he will answer you and say, ‘You should try to be in my previous predicament for you to know where I’m coming from and then you’ll see the reason for my celebration.’ There’s a lot to thank God for. We are not better than many nations which have broken into pieces. We are not better than many nations which have gone through bloodbath, but God’s grace and mercy have helped us to still forge ahead. It’s worth celebrating and when I say we should celebrate, I’m not talking about frivolity or spending the money that we don’t have to pay the workers or the money we could spend on much better things. I’m talking about having a sober moment to thank God and ask for a new opportunity to do it again, a new opportunity to build our nation so we can get the best of what God has in stock for this country.
If someone asks, ‘What is there to be celebrated about Independence in the midst of an economic recession? Why should I be happy?’ What will be your response?
First, we should thank God that we are alive to witness the 56th Independence anniversary. I was in school when the first anniversary was celebrated. I remember the fanfare, the flag, the jollof rice that we cooked to mark it. That was in 1961. And now, 55 years after, there are many individuals who have benefitted from this country. Such people should have moments of sober reflection to see how they can contribute their quota to make this country great again. I have a deep-seated feeling, you can call me an incurable optimist. I have this feeling that the future of Nigeria is more glorious than our past, all because of the intervention we expect from God and a change of heart from the leadership and people of our country. So we should thank God that we’re alive to see the future despite the challenges we might be facing. We must not give up on our country. There’s no other nation we can call ours. I remember that God who predetermined the boundary of every nation at the time of their creation also distributed to each nation gifts, endowments and gave each an inheritance. So it’s high time we located what ours is and maximise it. Nigeria is too rich to sell its assets at this time…
So you are against the sale of assets?
We must think beyond selling our assets. We are too rich to say we want to sell our national assets like the prodigal son did and we should not be little-minded like the elder brother of the prodigal son by saying we have little. There is much more in our ground. There’s so much in our human capital to be developed. I met a Nigerian recently who is a great designer of automobiles. He’s from Sokoto State and is making a huge impact abroad. He’s thinking about how to replicate what he has done abroad here at home. I look forward to a time when the resources of the best and the brightest — North, East, West and South — would come together to make this country great again.
Could this country be great again without restructuring?
It depends on what you mean. There are many people who are touting it and don’t even understand what it means. Restructuring is not about dividing this country and asking each region to go into disintegration. This is it: We have 36 states and not up to four among them can stand on their feet. Why do we create those artificialities that will keep on wasting our resources? In the past, the golden era was when the regions had opportunities to create, according to the law, and to maximise the potentials of their ground and their resources, and then paid taxes to the Federal Government through the federating units. But what we have now is what I call the ‘satellite shops’ of the Federal Government. They can, whether they sell or don’t sell, go with begging hands to Abuja to collect monthly allocations, whereas if you give this country, say six geopolitical zones, and say let there be decentralisation of power for those zones or regions to begin to maximise what’s in their grounds and pay tax to the Federal Government, we will have strong federating units. That’s the restructuring we are talking about. If we don’t do that, we are just postponing the doomsday because we cannot continue to sustain what we are doing right now.
When you visited President Buhari recently, did you discuss this issue with him as his friend?
The things I discussed with the President are very private. I learnt this from Dr. Billy Graham: You don’t throw on the pages of newspapers privileged conversations, but you can be assured that President Buhari means well for this country. He loves the country and in spite of all the challenges, he wants to give it his best shot to turn around the fortune of this country. I can say that to you. If you ask him what his vision is, he wants to fight corruption to a standstill. There are challenges because of the judicial system that he inherited and because of the investigative arms of the government, but we will get there. People may think it will not happen. It’s going to happen. When justice is not speedily executed, the hearts of men are settled to do evil. So there must be examples that will teach the next generations, ‘Hey, don’t go there. Don’t do this.’ Like I said, he wants to fight corruption to a standstill and second, he wants to ensure that Nigeria is secure. Third, he wants to diversify the economy into agriculture. Those are his three main visions.
Some people believe the President’s focus on fighting corruption is affecting other areas of governance like the economy. Do you think people should go hungry because the President is fighting corruption?
In fact, I don’t think President Buhari is the one fighting corruption. I only said it’s his vision. He’s not the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, he’s not the Attorney General of the Federation, he’s not the Inspector-General of Police. What needs to happen is to have a formidable team with clearly stated responsibilities. The President is one man and can’t do all the things I’ve enumerated on his own. When you have a team that is working together, things will improve because you cannot say this is what I will do and leave the other areas to suffer. It’s not going to augur well for the country. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere. However, in the month of October, I’m sure we will begin to smile. We may not laugh but I’m sure we will begin to see certain changes in certain directions.
You talked about the President having a formidable team with clearly stated responsibilities. Some people believe that the economy is bleeding because he put square pegs in round holes in the formation of his cabinet. Do you share same view?
If you believe so, you have to show me the square peg in the round hole and the round peg in the square hole. It took him six months to form his cabinet and do some things he had done. We should realise that governance is a complex thing. Do you know how many decisions he has to make and how many files are on his table on a daily basis? The quality of decision that a leader makes is contingent on two things — the information at his disposal and the people surrounding him. If the people surrounding you give you wrong information, you will make wrong decisions. For example, I was there (I wasn’t told) with two other people inside the Presidential Villa with former President Goodluck Jonathan when they called him from the Army headquarters that they had found the Chibok girls. While on the call, they told him that they had seen 85 of the girls. Meanwhile, it was a lie. I left the place that day thinking that solution had come, but unknown to him, it was a lie. In a proper society, what do you do to those people? Well, it depends on a number of factors. But you need to ask, how did those people get to where they were? Were they competent? I’m just saying all these because in the process of trying to kill the mosquito, you don’t smash yourself. These are issues that are complex and I’m not doing double-talk. Is it possible that mistakes have been made? It’s human to make mistakes, but we must have the will and the courage to correct them. I don’t know who’s a square peg in a round hole and I don’t know who’s a round peg in a square hole, but I do know there’s a clamour for change and I’m sure Mr. President is giving it its utmost attention.
Talking of former President Goodluck Jonathan. In 2012 when he increased the price of fuel, you — through the Save Nigeria Group — led many protests to ensure the price was reverted. But President Buhari did the same thing in 2016 and there was not a single protest. You even gave reasons why it was the right move to make. Is it because you’re President Buhari’s fan that you didn’t protest against his action?
You can’t be close to a man and go and fight him in the public. The fight begins when you have a leader who is unresponsive and irresponsible. For as long as they are showing you their cards and you know they are responsive and responsible, you don’t fight your friend in the public. You can fight behind closed doors and you shut your lips and you go out there and do what you need to do. I’m a very good friend of President Buhari, but I was not also unfair to the former President. In fact, eternity will reveal at the appropriate time the role we played to ensure there was no bloodbath and why the concession was that easy. I will leave that for posterity to judge.
Some say you perhaps want an appointment from President Buhari. So if he’d like to give you one today, which position would you want?
I learnt from childhood not to count my chickens before they are hatched and I don’t sit down and start contemplating, ‘This may happen, that may happen.’ When we get to that bridge, we will cross it. I’m not at home praying that God should give me this or that. What God has made me is already awesome and I’m contented. I’m fulfilled. The kind of access God granted me to President Jonathan and much more to President Buhari is not common and I would like to use that for the benefit of his administration. His success is my success. I don’t want him to fail at all neither did I pray for President Jonathan’s failure. He (President Jonathan) is coming up with a book soon and you’ll see what he wrote about me there. I was President Buhari’s running mate. You don’t run with a man at that level and then turn your back and walk away. You keep on supporting him, giving him your best. It’s like you have an uncle or you have a son. Do you abandon them because certain things are not going well? You keep on doing your best because you hope that one day, they will rise. When I was born lame and was crawling on my buttocks, everybody abandoned me. Only my mother stayed and played with me. On my third birthday, I had started running and I am what I am today by the grace of God. If she had poisoned me because of my condition, she would not have anybody taking care of her now. So let’s not give up on the leadership of the country and don’t forget, people deserve the kind of leadership they get and the leaders deserve the people who follow them. They are not foreigners, they are Nigerians. The wastage and the stealing that characterised the past administration are phenomenal. They are mind-boggling, but gradually we are coming out of the woods and I’m sure things will turn around for the better. So if I have to do anything with any government, it has to be by the direction of the Holy Spirit and it must be something that I’m equipped to do so that you will not tell the whole world tomorrow that I’m a square peg in a round hole.
Still on fighting corruption, some Nigerians would tell you that the fight is not fair as it is mainly directed at the members of the opposition. Someone even said recently that if you’re an All Progressives Congress member, you’d be in the President’s good books…
I remember the prophecy I gave when we lifted the ban on the election in 2015. I said those who hoped that the Peoples Democratic Party’s loss would be APC’s gain should think twice because after the election, PDP’s loss would be APC’s pain. Now there were PDP governors who switched over to APC and they are now ministers and there are APC senators who also switched over to become PDP senators. In every nation, democracy takes time to nurture. It takes time for it to mature. You can’t compare ours with that of other countries. The other day when my wife and I were watching the first United States presidential debate, you could see one thing that was evident in both candidates’ answers. Despite their political differences, they want their nation to be great again and they want to give it their best shots. That’s what we also need here. Nigeria is the only country where I know armed robbers remit money abroad. Recently, I was in Manila, the Philippines and when I landed there to preach, I saw red carpet from the stairway to the immigration portal. When I looked at the people walking on the red carpet, they were wearing beach slippers and were casually dressed. It caught my attention. I knew they could not be diplomats. So I went to the end of the red carpet to see what they put up there and there it was written, ‘We welcome our citizens who are working abroad and sending money home to ensure that our economy is buoyant.’ I’ve been to several nations, but this is the only nation I saw as unique. In our country here, an average Nigerian wants to buy the best house in California, US, and then they take all our resources out of the country. People like that hate our country. It’s not wrong to have houses abroad. By the grace of God, I have some here and there too, but this is the place I find peace and rest. My wife will tell you that anytime I travel abroad and it’s getting to 10 days, I find it uncomfortable again to stay there. In spite of the turmoil here, this is the only place I feel maximum protection. I fear nothing. There’s an inherent goodness in an average Nigerian, but we tap into it and bring it forth. I believe that with the right set of leadership, this country will be great again. I remember eight years ago when Barack Obama won the US presidential election, Nigerians made fabrics with Obama on them and they were buying drinks and were merry. I asked them, ‘How is Obama presidency going to affect you here?’ It was then I realised that social mobility is not frozen in this country. It’s quality leadership that is lacking. Look at our youths who are jobless, if you create farm settlements for them and you ask them to go and serve there and pay them what is commensurate with their labour, we will feed the whole of Africa in no time. Meanwhile, the future doesn’t belong to job seekers, but job creators. We can start small. You can do something to contribute your own quota. I agree totally that we should not begin to tell our youths, ‘Do not ask what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.’ You can quote John F. Kennedy a million times, but for JFK to have said that, he had benefitted from that country. We must put social amenities in place that will alleviate the suffering of especially our youths.
Some argue that this cannot happen when this administration has no clear-cut policies which propel it to excellence.
It will be absolutely wrong to say this administration or the APC has no policies in place. I’m not saying this because I’m a policymaker for the party because I’m not. I have never joined any party. In 2011 when I was the President’s running mate, I was just called to come and serve. That was when they prepared a card for me. I am a nation builder. But I know there are policies in place. People like Dr. Kayode Fayemi (the Minister of Solid Minerals Development) and others put in their energy to help in the formulation of the party’s policies. However, I agree that the implementation has been extremely slow and the reason for that is probably because of the rot they inherited from the previous administration. I know this shouldn’t be an excuse to hammer on all the time because you must at least have some ideas before you seek power. But if you find contrary things, then you must make sure you find a way of fixing those issues and then implement your own policies. If people say the party has no policies, then maybe PDP had and we can see where it has landed us. The time will come when we will stop the blame game.
When will the time come? Isn’t it depressing to keep hearing that PDP did this or that in the last 16 years?
Are those things true or false? No good doctor will treat a sick man without first diagnosing him or else he will use the medicine used in killing ringworm to cure leprosy and the doctor will realise he’s not making any lasting impact. I’m not saying they should keep saying they inherited so-and-so problem from the PDP because they knew they were going into problem, to start with. The economy was artificially buoyant and everybody thought we were good, but when the whole thing opened, we saw that we had been doing some juggling. Now we are faced with the reality, but should we now throw the baby away with the bathwater? If you look back, there were some things the past administration did well which have kept us going. Let’s hold on to those ones and remove the bad things. I believe strongly that surgery is better than tragedy. That’s why the Bible says if your right hand offends you, cut it off so you can still have the rest of the body to use. So let those people who know what to do be there. A great leader does not mind who takes the credit and he doesn’t mind who is more accomplished.
Concerning the ‘rot’ that President Buhari inherited from the past administration, do you think he’ll be able to fix things before 2019?
The human memory is fickle and we forget things easily. In the past administration, in Borno State, how many local governments were seized by Boko Haram? They were many. But today, not a single one is being controlled by the sect. We forget so quickly because our expectations were so high. The change mantra was so real to us that we thought those who were tenants would become landlords overnight and those who were riding ‘okada’ would just own Mercedes Benz cars. Things don’t happen that way. If it took God seven days to fix the chaos in the earth, please give us a break because a day with God is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. Is this government working or they are just sleeping? I love what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said recently. He told us how he inherited a low foreign reserve and then went ahead to get the best and the brightest people to build it. That’s what is needed here. A good leader must have wisdom and courage to take those actions that need to be taken. What I’ll implore President Buhari to do is to let Nigerians know concerning the things that will start happening in October. He should let them know that, ‘See, this is where we are and this is where I want to go and to go between here and there, there’s a gulf and we need to blow the bridge. These are the materials we’re using to build the bridge. These are the men I want to use and I’m giving them so-so timeline to deliver.’ This will encourage the people to know their president is talking to them and we pray that the communication should continue, but as far as working is concerned, the man is working himself to bones. I also think the APC should put its house in order and stop fighting because when a chicken starts to eat its intestine, the end is near.
What should Nigerians be doing as we celebrate the country’s 56th Independence anniversary?
They should be thankful, prayerful, sober and ask ourselves why those we were above are now above us. See countries like Malaysia and Singapore that we were far ahead and now they have become better developed. We should not be a stupid giant of Africa. We should be wise and put our house in order.