[ By CASMIR IGBOKWE]
Mr. Konbowei Benson is worried, seriously worried. Each day he wakes up, he sees or hears the exploits of kidnappers in his constituency. Armed robbers operate with impunity. Pirates, ritual killers and rapists are on the prowl. The worst is that the youths of the region struggle to acquire powers of invincibility. They have transported many idols, evil deities from other parts of Nigeria to their region and covenanted with them. The ‘devil’, so to say, has established his kingdom in this unfortunate area.
“Owing to this unholy marriage with the devil,” Benson regretted, “destinies have been shifted/destroyed. Darkness now is hovering all over the region, respect for constituted authorities is relegated to the background and these criminal activities have continued unabated.”
In case you don’t know, Benson is the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. His constituency is Southern Ijaw Constituency 4, comprising 29 communities.
To root out these evils from his place, the lawmaker discovered a master strategy. He has hired a powerful man of God called Dr Uma Ukpai to prepare for a battle with the criminals. The major instrument for this war is a three-day crusade. This, he believes, will put a stop to all the criminal activities in the region by divine intervention.
Benson is not alone in his belief. When you talk to five Nigerians, at least three will tell you that prayer is the only solution to our problems. “This country needs divine intervention,” is the usual cliché.
Numerous religious bodies in Nigeria are living up to this expectation. For years now, the Catholic Church has been saying prayer for Nigeria in distress. The chant of Holy Ghost fire by Pentecostal churches can bring down a roof. Every year, government sponsors some individuals to Mecca and Rome or Jerusalem for pilgrimages. All these are to seek divine intervention in our affairs.
Amidst these prayers is the usual call for tithe and seed sowing. And the pastors are smiling to the banks. It is such that Nigerian pastors are among the richest in the world.
Even the Catholic Church, which used to emphasise on salvation of souls over tithe/seed sowing, has joined the fray. In almost every parish now, the authorities devote some Sundays for tithe offerings and seed sowing. There is a new one now. They call it first fruit offering.
In my parish the other day, some representatives of the Charismatic society of the church came to the altar to sensitise us about the importance of first fruit offering which we have not been observing in the Catholic Church. First fruit means your first income of the year. Quoting some portions of the Old Testament, they told us that offering our first fruit would usher in prosperity and bountiful blessings from God.
Every month, some churches ask those marking their birthdays to come to the altar for prayers. After the prayers, the priest will ask them to “cut cake for the Lord.”
A lot of people give this cake to the Lord not because they so much love to do so, but because they believe that when they do that, God will multiply their income. This belief in divine intervention is such that some people, who don’t do any work at all, go to prayer houses every day, hoping and expecting some manna to fall from heaven.
This is one strong indication that government has failed in its major responsibilities. There is a lot of fear and anxiety in the land. Almost everywhere you go, you see terror; you witness hardship/acute poverty; you encounter poor leadership.
Currently, the menace of herdsmen in different parts of the country has dominated discourse. They are on a killing spree. Sometimes, even pregnant women and their foetuses are not spared. There is no need recounting other gory incidents of terror and crime Nigerians contend with everyday. So far, the best President Muhammadu Buhari has offered is a tepid response.
In the area of economy, Nigerians don’t fare better. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Many of those who are working are either underpaid or owed arrears of salary. Some are so dejected that they either commit suicide or attempt to sell their children to survive.
In October last year, a 54-year-old Director in the Kogi State Civil Service, Mr Edward Soje, committed suicide. The man decided to take his life barely 10 days after his wife of 17 years gave birth to a set of male triplets in a private hospital in Abuja. A Grade Level 16 Officer in the Kogi State Teaching Service Commission, Soje was being owed 11 months’ salary arrears as at the time he took his life.
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke the minds of many Nigerians when he lambasted President Buhari for not living up to expectation. Obasanjo capped his assessment of the present regime by asking Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019.
What we must cast out from our system is negative thinking, laziness, clannishness, self-centredness and illiteracy. We need to seek practical solutions to practical/physical problems and leave the ‘men of God’ to handle the race for heaven.
Advanced nations of this world seek solutions to their problems by engaging in scientific research and innovations. Already, they are gradually replacing fuel cars with electric ones. Research is at an advanced stage to build flying cars. And we are here casting and binding imaginary witches and wizards.
Religion should be a personal thing. As a Catholic, I go to church on Sundays and any other day I so desire to pray to my God to crown my efforts with success. I also go to bed and wake up praying to God to give me His divine protection and blessings. The dialogue is between me and my God.
Speaker Benson and other lawmakers were elected to enact laws that will bring order in the society. The executive arm of government is there to execute these laws. If the chants of Holy Ghost fire were to solve our problems, by now the so-called devil would have since gone extinct in Nigeria.
My happiness is that the Bayelsa State Governor is not thinking like Benson. He is doing his best to bring practical solutions to the problems of his people. For instance, he has transformed education in his state such that Bayelsa now has the best of public schools in the country.
The Governor believes that a refined and educated mind will hardly think of heinous crimes to commit.
During a recent inter-ministerial/agencies briefing to mark his six years in office, Governor Seriake Dickson said his administration placed much premium on security. He noted that in the absence of good security architecture, all segments of the economy would suffer a devastating blow.
After establishing the state security outfit, Operation Doo Akpo, the state government went to Doo Akpo Marine and conceptualised security boats. Most of these boats are currently being used by security forces in the state.
As presently structured, the security agencies in the country will not find it easy containing criminal activities in some of our localities. For instance, Bayelsa State has only 4000 policemen to police the state. Out of this number, only about 20 per cent are active and working.
As the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 5, Mr. Rasheed Akintunde, put it recently, a study by the police headquarters indicated that only 20 per cent of policemen in Nigeria were active and working. Every ‘big man’ wants his own security. “Even religious leaders want personal security. So after all that, we find that it’s only 20 per cent remaining to guard other places,” Akintunde regretted.
Besides, the Federal Government is in charge of the police, the army and all the other major security agencies in the country. This shouldn’t be so.
The Federal Government should facilitate the establishment of state police in the country. This will go a long way in curbing incidents of crime in the communities. It is improper for a governor to wait for the Inspector-General of Police to tackle crimes in his state. Imagine if Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has control over the security apparatus in his state, by now, the terrorists masquerading as herdsmen would have learnt a lesson or two on how not to invade innocent people in their domain.
Policing should be brought down to the grassroots. I’m happy the Presidency is thinking in this direction now. Recently, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo spoke in favour of state police.
Even the new Commissioner of Police in Bayelsa, Mr. Don Awunah, understands the importance of community policing. Speaking after assuming office in Yenagoa recently, Awunah vowed to deploy community policing strategy to reduce crime in the state.
Let the honourable Speaker remember that it is not prayer that made China and Singapore what they are today. It is good leadership. Crime is not a spiritual thing. So, we must seek physical solutions to physical things and leave spiritual matters for the spiritualists. Besides, no matter how many times we chant Holy Ghost fire, spirits don’t die.
Mr Igbokwe is the publisher of NewsProbe. This piece was first published in his column in The Sun of Monday, February 19, 2018