Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon is the secretary-general of the Anglican Communion Worldwide with its headquarters in London. He is also the chairman, Kaduna State Peace Commission. He speaks with ISAIAH BENJAMIN on an array of state and national issues with emphasis on security and other matters
Insecurity is on the increase across the country particularly in the northern part. As part of measures to address insecurity, many have called for the rejigging of the nation’s security architecture, some have called for the sack of the service chiefs. As a cleric, what’s your take on the matter?
First and foremost, kindly accept my condolences on the death of the founder and chairman of your newspaper, LEADERSHIP, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah. As you know, we were close and good friends just as his late father was with my late father, Rev. Canon E.Z. Fearon. His late father, who was working with the New Nigerian Newspapers then, encouraged my father to write a weekly column for the paper. Your brother also encouraged me to write occasionally and he gave me a voice. May his soul rest with his maker and redeemer, Amen.
For our security in the northern parts of the country, important steps certainly need to be taken. Firstly, there is a need for all the states adjoining Kaduna State to cooperate and join hands with Kaduna which is at the centre of their various borders. There is a need for cooperation between the governors and security agents in each of these states. Secondly, the federal government needs to give special attention to these states and direct the armed forces, particularly, the army and airforce to supply the necessary support to whatever the police, DSS are able to give. The third essential thing we must do is to request the cooperation of our traditional rulers to encourage vigilance and their people to report any suspected collaborators and criminals in their domains to the security personnel who must guarantee their security and confidentiality.
On the sacking of the service chiefs, there have been calls on Mr. President by every facet of our nation on this issue, all I would add is to request Mr. President to assess the psychological effect on the officers who have been retired, those facing retirement as a result of the continued stay of these service chiefs in their positions. Mr. President is now faced with a moral issue.
Many have accused the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari of not doing well particularly in the area of security; what is your candid assessment of this administration?
I have always maintained that though security is the sole responsibility of the government, yet, it is the duty of every citizen to support the government by cooperating with the security agencies and reporting every suspected activity and movement to the agencies responsible for maintaining law and order in the country. I would want to seize this opportunity to call on all Nigerians to play their roles in making the country a safe place for all. Has the government of President Buhari done well in the area of security? Certainly, there is insecurity particularly in the northern states of our country as we are all witnessing today. There is a lot that needs to be done in order to give assurance to Nigerians that they are safe in their country. We do hope that Mr. President will listen and respond to the various pieces of advice from Nigerians on how to make the country safer.
Many have accused Governor Nasir el-Rufai of bias in terms of appointment and infrastructural development between the North and the South. As the chairman of the State Peace Commission, don’t you think this is capable of creating mistrust among the people of the state?
Every administration has a road map and the chief executive has his plans. Governor Nasir el-Rufai has his plans as well. Knowing that he has eight years to convince the people of Kaduna State that he can be trusted to provide security and bring development to every part of the state is his assignment. He understands that he is not an APC governor but the governor of Kaduna State with other political parties and members. Gov. el-Rufai understands that after his second term in office there will be an election to elect his successor and therefore, I would want to believe he has that in mind. According to what we know, he has concentrated on the city of Kaduna in order to attract investors to the capital of the state and provide jobs for the indigenes of the state. He did promise to move to the other zones as you would see in Zazzau and Kafanchan where the road networks are now in progress. He has also attracted investors to these other cities. My appeal to the zones that feel left out is this, create a peaceful environment in order to attract development and investment by entrepreneurs.
There is no doubt Kaduna State is experiencing relative peace in terms of communal crisis, thanks to the Kaduna State Peace Commission under your chairmanship, what is your commission doing to sustain the feat?
The Kaduna State Peace Commission’s achievement is due to two major factors namely, the encouragement by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the state governor, who has directed his staff to meet the essential needs for our activities in the state. The second factor is the commitment of my colleagues, the permanent commissioners under the daily administration of my colleague, the executive vice-chair. The latest brainchild of the commission, is the newly inaugurated “House of Kaduna Family” made up of influential religious leaders from the major mosques and church denominations from the three senatorial zones of the state. This body is chaired by Sheikh Ahmad Gumi and Apostle Emmanuel Kure, the team has visited zone three and held a very productive stakeholders’ meeting in Kafanchan.
Another major achievement of the commission is the local peace initiative from the people, particularly in zone three and between two border communities, Atteng and Atak communities. They are the two communities at the border between Plateau and Kaduna states. We pray and plan to sustain the relative peace we are experiencing in Kaduna State, especially in zone three.
At this point, it would be important to state very clearly that this commission was not given the mandate to fight banditry and kidnapping as sources of getting rich. We would again appeal to all in Kaduna State to see security as the responsibility of everyone, report suspicious persons, be considerate in their utterances and avoid acts that would lead to the disturbance of the peace in the state.
Political permutations have commenced with calls for the presidency to shift to the South. Do you think who becomes the president of the country should be a function of where one comes from or on the basis of merit?
When I served on the Presidential Commission (Sheikh Lemu) following the crisis that erupted after the 2011 elections, one of the recommendations we made was the need for freedom within our political parties. We recommended that dictatorship and god-fatherism should be stopped so that transparency and freedom would be instituted. I still believe in those recommendations.
For Nigeria to enjoy progress and develop, we must all fight against the negative use of religion and tribalism. Secondly, our politicians need to remove the centralisation of power at the centre at both the national and state levels. This is a major reason for the clamour to be at the centre of governance in Nigeria. My position has always been that Nigeria deserves the best leaders at every level and religion, ethnic, tribal profession or origin should be secondary. The consequence of this is that our constitution should not allow any particular religious or traditional leader to seek any political office at both national and state levels. A bishop, apostle, prophet or overseer already has a constituency and there is no reason to believe that such a person would not be biased in his/her administration. For the same reason, a Sultan, Oba, or Emir should not aspire to contest for any political position at both the national or state levels.
Nigeria is presently adjudged the capital of poverty, and unemployment is on the increase, what do you think is the way out?
Poverty should not be an excuse for what is going on in our country today. There are poorer nations in the world and yet, the rate of criminality in these countries is far less than what we are experiencing in the northern states where banditry, kidnapping and daily killing of citizens are now the order of the day. Yes, the leadership must, as a matter of urgency, address these criminal activities by creating jobs for our youths but it is also important for the government and particularly its Ministry of Education to promote a form of education that would graduate students who would create their own jobs and not wait on government to employ them. As such, our polytechnics need to be well equipped for such forms of education. Education alone would not provide a safe society; our country is a religious country with two dominant religions- Islam and Christianity. The government at all levels should promote and encourage Nigerians to live out their religious teachings at home and places of work.
How do you think the church is faring in Nigeria, and what is your take on insinuations that President Muhammadu Buhari wants to islamize the country?
I am not quite sure what you mean by church, however, if you mean as an organisation, there seems to be a regular growing number of various churches with different leaders who seem to be seeing different visions for politicians and wealthy people in Nigeria. A good number of these churches have become commercial centres where the leaders compete with our politicians in the cars they ride, the houses they live in and even their appearances in the church services. Unfortunately, the impact the churches are having on our national life is very minimal due to misplaced priorities. The prophetic voice, “Thus says the Lord” is today missing and our pulpits have been turned into political platforms. For some of our members who are in search of political positions from the position of the president to the National Assembly! The question of President Buhari wanting to Islamise the country is not new, whenever there is a Muslim president, we hear this cry and should the president be a Christian, there is the accusation that the president is favouring Christian courses in the country.
Personally, I do not believe there is any grand plan to either Islamise or Christianise Nigeria, it is the cry of the lack of fairness and the feeling of marginalisation by those in authority in our country. Until there is equity, respect for the individual irrespective of religion or tribe, we will always have to experience this cry of Islamising or Christianising the country by any president of the country or governor of any state.
2023 Presidency, the Igbos and Yorubas are clamouring, and the North it was gathered is also allegedly planning to retain power, what is your advice to the political players?
My advice is that there should be a level playing ground for all the candidates, the political parties must be encouraged to allow internal democracy as we proposed in Sheikh Lemu Commission following the 2011 presidential riots. Politics in Nigeria should revert to ideas and manifestos and not be left to those who have enriched themselves at the expense of the people of the country and then use this money to buy positions and votes. Furthermore, political parties should field candidates that are willing to serve the country and not those who want to gain power and become tyrants in politics to enrich themselves. Nigerians deserve candidates who would not use religion to divide the country but use it to unite the country. Therefore, we need not a Muslim or Christian president but a president who would be a Christian or Muslim in governance.
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