Pastor Tunde Bakare, Senior Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly and former running mate of Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari in the last presidential election, speaks with KUNLE ADEYEMI and ADEOLA BALOGUN on some burning national issues
One year after the fuel subsidy protests, when you look back, would you say the protests achieved their goals?
When there are clear goals and objectives for any movement or protest, then you have the opportunity of judging whether those goals are attained or accomplished. We didn’t just rush out; if you recall, the increase in petrol pump price took place on January 1, 2012. Like a sadist, the President gave us a cause to be sorrowful on the first day of the year; even those who didn’t even have vehicles of their own and had to pay through their noses to move from one place to the other. The Save Nigeria Group sat down to analyse the situation and joined the protest in Ojota with its allies. There were pockets of protests here and there; there was a general strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress; then we sat down and set the objectives clearly: that the increase in pump price was not our problem but corruption. We said the time had come for us to educate and enlighten our citizens and unblock their minds as to the root cause of the continuous increase in petrol pump price all the time and the affliction and oppression inflicted on the people of this country. That’s why we came out with the watchword, “Kill Corruption and not Nigerians.” And I leave it to you as journalists to see whether or not we accomplished our objectives because immediately we began to hammer that, probe after probe, live on television came out. There is no Nigerian anywhere in this country and in the Diaspora that does not know that filthiness is in our garments. Corruption is the bane and we have unmasked the masquerade.
It was alleged that you led the protest because your party lost the election to the President’s party.
You cannot tell clueless people not to reason wrongly. Did all the people who participated in that protest run for an election? All the musicians that came there, all the artistes that came there without taking a penny from us, did they run for any election? And even if you are going to judge me that it was because you rigged an election that you said we lost, that led to the protest, did I ask you to increase the pump price? And if you are to judge me, judge me by my overall character; did I stand for you when you were being oppressed, Mr. President? Was I a politician when we led and took to the streets in Abuja and Lagos where we stood against every form of oppression and injustice because injustice to one is injustice to all? Were we sponsored by politicians when we took to the streets in January, 2010 after the prolonged illness of (Umaru) Yar’Adua? You can’t help people who don’t engage their brain to think; they are entitled to their opinion. But let me tell you the truth, there was no political motivation of any kind to that protest. We rose to protest an injustice being meted out to a people deserving not only respect, but those whose welfare should be the primary concern of a good government. Everybody is aware now that somebody is watching somebody. With all the exposure of corruption in high places, everyone is careful and they are so scared. In spite of threatening to increase the price of PMS, they couldn’t, although they are doing it illegally by allowing people to sell at any price they like. But it is still illegal and that is why I dared them three days ago to come out and increase the petrol price without cushioning the effect and providing alternative for the people. They will know that it is for the dog to wag the tail, not the tail to wag the dog; people will tell them enough is enough.
Don’t you think that 2015 is still far away for campaigning to have started?
They have signalled the campaign by going to kneel down before Pastor Adeboye (General Overseer, Redeemed Christian Church of God). See, I am not saying that pastors should not pray for presidents, that man was representing an office; a whole nation crumbling before men of God because of political advantage they think they can get. And if the prayer will bail him out, let us wait and see. The truth is who is preparing for 2015, which faction of the PDP? Is it the (Olusegun) Obasanjo faction? Or IBB faction? Or Jonathan faction? The governors’ faction? Because PDP is a house divided against itself; it’s a chicken that has begun to eat its own intestines. By going to kneel down in the open before the pastor, the man (Jonathan) did not even recognise the dignity of his office. If it were a private thing, it is okay for you to crawl or kneel but it is a whole nation. That office has been diminished by a man who does not know the worth of it and does not deserve to stay there for one more day.
What then should be the role of religious leaders like you in the affairs of the nation?
I am not a religious leader. I don’t believe in religion; religion is deadly. Jesus Christ did not start a religion here. He began a relationship with God. Let’s separate the two. Religious leaders don’t think any more, they lose their brain. Paul said, I speak the words of truth and reason. What is the impact of the church in this country other than to pray for men who have stolen the treasury and wealth of the nation and coming back to give us different kinds of gifts; giving us jets and all kinds of things that will silence us so that we cannot speak the truth to power? I know the church that Jesus Christ is building will continue to wax stronger but this synagogue of Satan will fold up soon. I hate religion with passion.
How will you assess the Jonathan administration so far?
Under Jonathan’s leadership, Nigeria as a whole has become a titanic ship on sail to hit the iceberg and sink. Right-thinking people must rise to rescue the helm of that ship from his (Jonathan’s) hand before he wrecks the entire nation. We have promoted men who have no mental capacity to do what we ask them to do. At a meeting we had on Monday to mark the anniversary of the protest, the Chairman of Punch Editorial Board brought this to my consciousness by describing leadership of Nigeria as inept. He said we have put men who have been promoted beyond their mental capacity in position. That is our problem.
Many people believe that the PDP has become an albatross to Nigerians and that is why there is a clamour for an alliance among the opposition parties in order to wrest power from the ruling party. What do you think has been hampering such alliance?
You have put me on the spot and I will only be truthful. In order to steer the ship of Nigeria aright, there must be a handshake across the Niger; between the North and the South. But it must be of like minds; the best of the North and the best of the South. How that will take place is a function of many factors. An alliance is not the way forward. In a presidential system of government, there is no opposition; it’s winner takes all. If the party in power has a majority in the National Assembly, they don’t need anybody. That is the weakness of the presidential system of government. Each time they talk of opposition, I think we are so much inundated by our past experience with the parliamentary system where the prime minister can be removed from the parliament and nothing will happen because the system allows it. But the presidential system does not brook any opposition, except only when they don’t have the majority. I think the way forward is a merger of all the so-called opposition parties especially the Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressive Change. But I realised recently when the ACN said PDP is a party of rogues and thieves and criminals, the PDP replied that there are more criminals in the ACN than the PDP and there was no response thereafter. I read all that in the newspapers. If there is going to be a merger, between who and who-between rogues and criminals? Can light and darkness co-exist? Let’s pray that men and women of goodwill will rise and do the needful. However, having said all that, I am of the firm belief and conviction that there will be no election in 2015. I am of the firm belief that this house of cards will collapse before 2015. As it is now, what we have does not have what it takes to drag Nigeria along; and anything can happen anytime from now. And I pray that it would be what would be for the benefit of the entire nation. Each time we have spoken that way, some have thought we are calling for the military to take over. What did the military do for the nation before? Don’t let me be misunderstood, except we have a kind of Jehu revolution, where the worshippers of bell and the worshippers of the altar of greed are all dealt with as it happened in Ghana. Then, there may be some hope there. Our people may revolt, which can happen so unexpectedly. Remember what happened when the Shah of Iran ran away from that country and the Arab Spring? It would be worse here because they have pushed people beyond limit. Look at the level of insecurity, daylight robbery; you are coming out of the church and they are pointing a gun at you. North is not safe, there is Boko Haram; South-East is not safe, there is kidnapping; South is not safe, there is pipeline vandalism. And fire is now ravaging everywhere. People have been pushed beyond limit and there may be a people’s revolt. Beyond this, there is God almighty, who may say the cries of the people have come up to Him, enough is enough.
When you as a man of God says there will be no election in 2015, is that as a result of a vision or what?
Leave that to me but by the time this nation is 100 years old in 2014, God will answer the prayer of the people of God and there will be a new beginning. The madness that is going on everywhere now is that God is hardening the heart of Pharaoh.
The President warned a few days ago against statements that could destabilise the country such as this.
Is the nation not destabilised already? What have we said that will destabilise the country? Let’s call a spade a spade and not an agricultural implement.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo also warned against a revolution recently going by the way things are going…
He said the truth but he would be the first victim that it would consume because he caused the problem; by forcing the weak and the sick on the nation. A few days ago, Adamu Ciroma came out to say that Obasanjo knew that the late Umaru Yar’Adua was sick. Just wait, the result is about to happen. He did that as a way of revenging on Nigeria for the collapse of his third term agenda but Obasanjo will be the first victim of the revolution. I presented a lecture on Sunday that Obasanjo had the greatest opportunity to put Nigeria in proper shape and to leave a legacy for generations unborn. But he chose not to do that. I had the privilege of launching a book in honour of a venerable man, Chief Akin Olugbade, an Owu, to mark his centenary birthday if he were alive. I said Owu as a kingdom had produced angels in human flesh like the late Akin Olugbade, whose generosity and philanthropy benefitted a person like me. I went there to say that this is a return on investment and I gave the little that I had. If Obasanjo dares, let both of us walk through Itoku Market in Abeokuta even as an Owu man without any aide, or the streets of Sokoto among the almajiris. That is why I told them that Owu kingdom has produced angels and demons such as Obasanjo, who incidentally is called Ebora Owu. Ebora means demon and demons are to be exorcised. Our job is to cast out demons of Owu and that we would do by God’s grace.
How do you see the rift between Obasanjo and Jonathan; probably Obasanjo has realised his mistakes and now thinks it is better to fight on the side of the people?
Obasanjo does not realise anything. I think Jonathan has surpassed him in misgovernance and he is frightened. It is only a thief that knows the footprint of another thief on a rock. How did he come by his big house? How much was Obasanjo worth when he left the prison, how much is he worth now? How did he come about his big investments? How much was he paid as President of Nigeria. Let him explain. What we have is a government of crooks by crooks.
In the last election, you tried politics. What should we expect now?
I didn’t try politics. I was invited to assist a person whom I thought was a honest man and would be surrounded by good people and then we would fight corruption. That was the only reason. I was a running mate; I wasn’t a member of any party. I was invited but I am back in my element to keep doing what I am doing. That ended there; if the opportunity comes to serve my country in any capacity, I will but I am not forming any party.
What did you see in Maj.-Gen.Mohammadu Buhari before you joined him?
His integrity and his anti-corruption stance stood him out. He is the only head of state alive who made the public statement that in his entire public service career, as a governor, as a commissioner (now minister), as a commandant of different army formations and as a head of state, he never touched one penny in the public treasury; that he can account for everything God has given him. His mother’s house was built through a loan both in Daura and in Kaduna. The one in Lagos, he had to sell to fund the one he took a loan to build in Abuja because he didn’t know how to steal. He is very forthright and honest; that’s all I saw and if we can surround such a man with people who have the capability and the capacity to run the state and the treasury is safe and there is no more stealing and Nigeria is no longer haemorrhaging, we can salvage it. That was why we assembled a change team that we thought would be allowed but they rigged the election.
Some people believe that if somebody like you becomes the President of Nigeria, there will be more evidence of despotic actions in governance. How would you react to this?
The only way to judge that is to come to a church I have headed for more than 20 years and see whether there is any evidence of despotism. Then you come to my house and see my wife and children to see if there is an evidence of despotic actions. I am not a despot and in fact, how can you be a despot in a democratic setting? Don’t forget I am a trained lawyer; I would not violate the rule of law. No true leader should be a despot.
Apart from corruption, security is another challenge facing the country and the Presidency has had to change the head of police several times because of this. So far, how would you assess the present IG, Muhammed Abubakar?
There is nobody you put there who can accomplish anything about insecurity because the fish starts smelling from the head. If you say corruption is not the problem, what leads to insecurity if not corruption? The IG can give orders but the men at the toll gates and roadblocks are there to perpetuate corruption. Corruption and violence are Siamese twins and in Genesis, God said He was grieved in His heart that He created man, that the earth was corrupt and there was violence everywhere. You can’t find corruption and not see violence. I do not approve of what Boko Haram is doing but if you grant amnesty to those who were vandalising the pipelines because of fighting for what they claimed was legitimately theirs, and Boko Haram are saying their governors are not taking care of them, who are you to judge them? Why have they not been able to fix the problem?
But it has always been argued that Boko Haram is faceless and so it would be difficult to engage its elements…
Boko Haram faceless and yet Obasanjo met with them? I don’t know them but the President of Nigeria said Boko Haram members were in his cabinet. Who are those he alleged were in his cabinet, are they ghosts? What led to the removal of the late Gen. (Andrew) Azazi as National Security Adviser? They are totally insincere. There is PDP Boko Haram. Let them not fool you. They arrested some people in Jos and elsewhere, why have they not been able to prosecute anyone with all the arrests? Do you think it is the Boko Haram that started in the Borno area that are the ones planting sophisticated bombs everywhere now? Please let’s think; there is security Boko Haram, there is political Boko Haram and there is criminal Boko Haram.
Recently the government came out to say electricity has improved a bit but the way you are talking, it’s like it has not done anything.
If a man told me a lie yesterday and I believed him but it turned out to be false; and he told me a lie a day before, how long am I to continue to believe him? Nigerians have been told of improved electricity in recent months but how many parts of the country have you travelled to? They are putting electricity where you make noise so that you don’t bother them. I still burn diesel in my house everyday up till now and my budget for diesel both in the church and in my house has increased with all the noise they are making. And by the way, how much have they invested in electricity generation and how much electricity have they produced?
But the government has been trying to put electricity generation into private hands for improvement.
I have had the opportunity of living in both Britain and America for six years each and I never met the electricity officials. All I had to do was to pay my bills; that was all. All the privatisation noise they are making is fraught with deep-seated corruption. They sell everything to themselves. They have been mentioning privatisation when I was still in my mother’s womb. Once upon a time, there was ECN and there was stable electricity. They are insincere and they sell everything to themselves.
How do you see the politicking involved in the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project, where a lot of lives have been lost? Soon after the contract was withdrawn from Dr.Wale Babalakin, he was arrested for alleged money laundering.
Evil is self-destruct. That’s all I see there. If Babalakin is being tried for something, the question is, is it true? If it is false, then the trial will fall on its face. I have told you that it is only the thief that knows how to trace the footsteps of another on a rock. They know what they are doing. If you remain in our camp and you don’t attack us, you remain our friend. Babalakin used to be the solicitor for Obasanjo, have they fallen out? Was there anything between Babalakin and the minister and is there a fall out? But the truth is, can they come and revoke a contract that I have not seen or can they come and charge me for money laundering? My accounts are in the open and if you access them, you will see that it has been regular. And every business I have done, I have gone to the banks for legitimate loans and I have paid back those loans. If you have done no evil, you need not fear no evil. So, if Babalakin has done no evil, no evil will befall him. But if he has done it, then let him find a way of reaching out to them before they wreck him completely because they are vicious. What is going on on that road is the failure of the entire nation. Leadership has failed Nigerians. That is the main road that connects the South and the North and any serious government should have done something about it. I am aware that the South-West governors showed an interest and met with the President but I don’t know why they were not allowed to do it. There is more to it than we ordinary citizens know.
As kinsmen, people would expect a kind of rapport between you and Obasanjo but you are one of his critics. Is there something personal?
Apart from answering questions about him in interviews, I don’t think or talk about him at all because he does not even occur in my thinking. If Obasanjo is my kinsman, does it mean that if he does evil, I should keep quiet? I have no personal hatred for him. Let me tell you something, I don’t know whether he knows but I am saying the truth and it can be verified. When he was in prison, one of the pastors that went to minister to him, I sent him. He was a member of our network. When he was in prison, two of his children were brought here because their school fees could not be paid by one of his wives, I paid the fees. I have nothing against him.
On a personal note, do you at times regret leaving the pulpit and venturing into politics?
Look at me, as the Lord lives and when the opportunity presents itself, because of my interest in an orderly society, I will do it again. I have no regret. When good men leave politics alone, evil men will continue to traumatise the nation. And by the way, I never left the pulpit, in all the months of electioneering, I was absent in church only one Sunday because it caught up with me in Borno and I couldn’t get back. Gen. Buhari knew that by Friday night, or latest Saturday morning, I must be back in Lagos to feed the flock.
Supposing the President chooses to come and fellowship at your church, what would you do?
Let him try it. Jonathan dares not and if he does, he will sit at the back.
What is the Nigeria of your dream?
The Nigeria that works in my lifetime, that is the Nigeria of my dream. My ears have heard about this great nation, my eyes will see it in my own lifetime. I am not an ambitious person and that is why I can come back here.