In this interview with PUNCH, 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?