The Archbishop of Aba Ecclesiastical Province of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Dr Isaac Nwaobia, has advised Nigerians to add work to their daily praying and fasting, to liberate the country from the present hard times.

He called for urgent tactical measures devoid of paying ransom to bandits as panacea for reducing insecurity in the land.

In this interview with OGBONNAYA NDUKWE in Aba, the prelate also urged the Igbo to take their destiny in their hands beginning with pursuing regional development as a people with shared dreams and aspirations including criminal marginalisation and neglect.

Earlier in the year, you said the past year, 2023, was a bad one for Nigeria and further painted a gloomy picture for the incoming, 2024. Three months on, how would you describe the situation in the country?

Yes, I said 2023 was a bad year for Nigeria and I won’t yield to saying it is now over. No! Not at all. We are daily living on the mercy of God Almighty. With the exchange rate going for over N1000 to the American dollar, it is evident that things are not well. You will also notice that more people are now resorting to committing suicide these days out of frustration. The situation is becoming that many Nigerians, on seeing that they can no longer cope nor find solutions to their problems, kill themselves. That is evidence of things being very stressful in the land, never mind what those persons in the corridors of power, including those in the National Assembly, who see and touch money every day, tell us. The people in business do not see such inflow of cash into their businesses. I have a knight in my local church who is in the clearing and forwarding business. Two years on, he has not done a single transaction, yet he has three children in the university. He is now selling his old property to train those children.

President Bola Tinubu and his men have repeatedly urged Nigerians to persevere, promising that things will get better with new policies presently being implemented. What’s your take on that?

Let them hasten up with the results before we all perish of hunger. They should hasten up because I have not seen any sign that things will be better, though that had always been their language. They should, this time, match it with action, so that we don’t all perish before the results start coming. During his time, former president Muhammadu Buhari said we should endure for a while. That song is an old one, not new to us, Nigerians.

Nigerians strongly believe that God will solve our national problems. People of various faiths across the country engage in prayer sessions yet the problems get increasing instead of being surmounted. Is it that our spiritual level as a people is very low or that we pray amiss?

Even biblically, Jesus, taught us, Christians, to work and pray. Illustrations from St. Luke’s Gospel said anyone going to build a house must first calculate if he has the materials to build, so as not to stop halfway and his enemies begin to laugh at him, which means common sense is required in a situation we have these days. It is not about praying, praying without working for what we need. We need to work to correct the ills that are working against us. God has given us the country, Nigeria. Everywhere is greenish, fallow land here and there and we have good weather. At a time, it is rainy for the benefit of our crops. At other times, it’s sunny, also for our overall benefits. There are countries whose weather is hot all through the year and others very stony, like Israel, in the Middle East. Yet, whatever they eat there is mechanized. So, we have no excuse not to live lavishly the way well to do countries do. God has blessed us. What we only need is to work our salvation out.

How do we work it out? How do we start, seeing ethnic divide in all facets of our national life?

We’ll do that through planning, sincere planning. Let the government sincerely plan for the future of the country and its people. Our leaders are not sincere, that is our problem. Even when they enact a law, they create loopholes to enable them thwart such laws. It is not that we don’t have those laws, we have them. One of the examples is that of the Federal Character Commission (FCC). How many of our leaders obey its provisions? Recently, we were told that in a certain department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), 99 percent of the staff are children of eminent personalities from Northern Nigeria. They get deployed in the department because money is coming out from there more than the others. So, if I want my son to work, I will choose and tell the officials to deploy him there, no matter what he studied, whether Geography or History, whether he read the appropriate course or not. So, let our leaders be sincere to themselves and the country they claim to govern. Government should allow itself to function, even at the rural community levels.

Here in Abia, like the governor has said, local governments should be allowed to operate. It is because they are not functioning that there seems to be no development in the communities (grassroots levels). The development that ought to be harnessed there are not being realised or imparted. The local governments should be empowered, given their allocations to function, grade roads, fill potholes, tar major rural roads as they are capable, handle primary healthcare, basic education and rural agriculture.  They know how to relate with traditional rulers, community leaders and check crimes and maintain internal security within the communities. Even if they engage in sharing revenues allocated to them, it will go to most of the residents in such communities, unlike when committees are appointed by the state to oversee their affairs. It has been discovered that those appointees often collect and share such monies among themselves and leave the entire councils bare.

Some months ago, the Abia governor, Alex Otti, swore in some rich men, as transition committee heads of the 17 LGAs and christened them as ‘Mayors.’ Are we seeing any positive impact on what they have been able to achieve in their various places of deployments? At this point in our country’s development, do we still need transition committees in the LGAs?

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No! We don’t need transition committees in local governments, anymore. During his campaign for the Abia governorship position, Dr Alex Otti promised to hold council elections as soon as possible, if elected into office. He said he will do it to empower the councillors to work. Now, to me, the scenario of bringing a ‘big man’ to work as transition committee chairman in a local government council is yet to be proved. It is a hypothesis which we cannot prove at the moment. Many of the chairmen are close to me and are now going about with four to five security bodyguards as escorts, instead of one. They now leave their businesses and the question is, who is paying for the bodyguards following them? You see that they are now having increased expenditure around them. I don’t know the feasibility surrounding that project. Let’s sit down and watch where it will lead us to.

Abia seems to be quiet and better in terms of banditry now. Not much is heard about that presently. Can you suggest any possible reason why it is so?

Abia people have decided to pocket their hunger into their stomach. It is said that a hungry man is an angry man. So, we’ve decided to respect ourselves and get quiet on the impact of what we are seeing today. There’s an increase in good governance emerging in the state. The government has been trying to do some palliative work on the roads, uplifting the people’s hopes. However, in a situation where fathers see their children dying of hunger, they will resort to doing many negative things, including banditry, kidnapping and other criminal activities. We still need to improve in providing succour to the downtrodden.

A new dimension has been added in armed banditry, especially in the northern states, which is the invasion of schools and abduction of pupils and their teachers. What does this portend for Nigeria as a country?

In fact, there’s a problem. You know that was the reason the then President Goodluck Jonathan intervened in the kidnappings in Aba, when Osisikankwu and his gang abducted a school bus with children and their teachers on the way to school in Osisioma area. The UNICEF alerted the government that it was pulling out and wanted schools closed. Jonathan intervened to end the menace, end insecurity in Aba and Abia. Now that they (bandits) have resorted to this, I believe that their end has come. Secondly, I wish that governments in the north should stop paying ransom to secure release of kidnap victims. I read from the papers that they were looking for N16 billion. That’s their demand – 150 Hilux vehicles, 400 motorcycles, or they give them cash equivalent. It is like one empowering his enemy to come and fight him because once they get the ransom, they will use it to procure further arms to attack the people. So, let them stop ransom payment to bandits and kidnappers. Stop responding to them in that regard.

What do you suggest the government should do to ensure that victims are released and ultimately check the menace?

The security agencies should, as a matter of urgency, engage in increased surveillance and intelligence gathering as well as train more operatives. Now that community policing is coming in place, let it be funded to be able to wage the war on banditry and kidnapping. This is what I feel should be done instead of waiting for calls to negotiate ransom payment to the bandits and empowering them further to do more harm to the society.

Recently, the Federal Government came up with what it described as interventions to make the South-East have a feel of its development programmes. Vice President Kashim Shetima held meeting with leaders of the region, commissioned the Geometric Power Plant, and then there was passing of South East Development Commission (SEDC) Bill. Will these bring the desired industrialisation of the zone?

No! No! No! Like I said earlier, the government is not being sincere with the people. What we actually need now is unity among the South-East governors to be able to achieve our desires. When one crosses Enugu and sees the dilapidated state of the Presidential Hotel, you see Nkalagu Cement Factory in ruins, and other joint venture industries and projects like Emeabiam rubber plantation, Avutu poultry farm and so on, with no results, one then asks what the problem is with our leaders. Let the governors of the South-East states come together. The land space is not too wide and we are interwoven with each other. By the time one crosses Okigwe, he crosses Imo, enters Abia again, into Enugu, that’s the geography. A joint taskforce, an effective one, will redeem South-East from insecurity and other anti-people problems. Let the governors sincerely come together to fight our challenges head on. What we are preaching from Alaigbo, “Aku Ruo Ulo,” let everyone start thinking about South-East homecoming. Again, I want to emphasize that what the government can’t help the society achieve, can also not be achievable by individuals, no matter their level of wealth. There are basic things governments are supposed to do – security, electricity power, building road network. These must be provided by the government. No matter how anyone gets money, there are protocols and approvals to get before individuals or groups outside the government can be authorised to handle certain projects.

On the issue of geometrics and the people’s demand for 24-hour power supply, we must realise that on the day of its commissioning on February 26, the company and even government, didn’t promise that it will come on immediately. The investor needs to spend about three years before beginning to gain from what he has invested. He has to be patient with the consumers, while on the other hand, the consumers have to also exercise patience with him because, what is involved is technical. One belt moving from where it is fitted can stop the entire machine from turning, operation. So, what we are asking for now, out of the 24 hours in a day is 10 solid hours, and we’ll clap because we have not had it that way in the past. This is a pivotal project which if it works here in Aba, Lagos, Onitsha, Enugu, will now copy and do theirs.

In one of your meetings, the Southern Bishops Conference, warned northerners to stop heating up the polity. It warned that if the north continues to stop lorries carrying food to the south, the south would retaliate by stopping oil flow to the north. What was the reason for such comment and were northerners stopping the trailers from coming south?

Yes, we read in the news that some northerners were turning trailers carrying foodstuffs from coming south, in Jebba, Niger State, and so, we had to react. We said that if they stopped food coming down south, we will stop the oil from going up to the north. This brings us to the question of restructuring the nation and having regional governments. Let each region produce what its people need and then use it to exchange what it does not have but are existing in other regions. We are one country, therefore, one group ought not deny the other its resources, while coming in without stress to get that being produced in the other regions.

There should be no restrictions on the movement of foodstuffs and other goods and services across the length and breadth of the country. We should be careful in whatever actions we take, including statements being voiced out of desperation at this time of stress in our country. For us in the south, if the north at any time, stops foodstuffs from crossing Jebba to the southern states, we will retaliate by stopping oil movement from Bayelsa to the north. What we ought to be preaching at this time is unity of the country and not the use of tribal youths to threaten people, terrorise for one act or the other. Nigerians should work together to salvage the country not fanning north, south dichotomy.