Bishop Stephen Adegbite, the Lagos State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, talks to ALEXANDER OKERE about his recent endorsement of Bola Tinubu, the party’s presidential candidate, despite the ongoing animosity among Christians toward the Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Some clerics have cautioned their colleagues against turning their pulpits into campaign platforms. What do you think about that?
The pulpit is not to be abused. Any day we mount the pulpit and turn it into a campaign platform, it is an abuse of that pulpit and God will never be happy with us. When people want to campaign, they should go to campaign grounds and talk to whoever they want to talk to. But that does not mean politicians cannot attend church services. They can come for prayers and we can pray for them but they cannot campaign in the church. That is our stand.
Recently, you were quoted as saying that God would not forgive you and your followers if you don’t support the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu. Can shed some light on that?
I was at a programme where Senator Oluremi Tinubu gave an account of her stewardship after 12 years in the upper chamber and I gave a goodwill message. I started by telling the world that Oluremi Tinubu has delivered. She has done well as a senator representing Lagos Central where I lived for more than 20 years. She empowered young people, assisted the aged and the vulnerable and did many other things. As a former First Lady in Lagos State with her husband, they have done a lot for the church and more for the body of Christ.
What did they do?
They were mentioned and I will tell you again. Bola Tinubu gave five plots of land to CAN for a secretariat in Ikeja – not in Badagry, not in Alimosho, not in Epe, not in Ikorodu but in the central business area of Ikeja and that is where we are going to have our secretariat. In 2000, I was a member of a committee when Bola Tinubu returned missionary schools to their owners. Among them were St. Gregory’s College; Holy Child College, both in Obalende; Methodist Boys High School on Victoria Island; Methodist Girls High School in Yaba; Igbobi College in Yaba; Baptist Academy in Obanikoro; African Grammar School in Ifako and many others. Today, those schools are the cynosure of all eyes among secondary schools in Lagos. My children attended two of those schools and are graduates today.
This same Bola Tinubu made sure that the pilgrimage ad hoc committee that has turned into a board now was created in Lagos and many children of God went to the holy land on government’s sponsorship. When the time came for the Christian body to demand a Christian governor, despite the objection of the sitting governor to it, Bola Tinubu accepted that a Christian must also rule as a governor and that was why we had (Akinwunmi) Ambode. After four years of Ambode, he was removed and was not given the opportunity to rule for second term, Babajide Sanwo-Olu won the election. He (Sanwo-Olu) narrowly escaped not being allowed to go for a second term but the church in Lagos also stood and approached Tinubu that he should be allowed because Muslims have ruled Lagos State for 15 years, so Christians should continue at least for another four years and he (Tinubu) agreed and that is why Sanwo-Olu is contesting again. So, those were the things we mentioned at that event that Tinubu had done. For anybody to say he (Tinubu) has done evil to the Church will be a disservice to ourselves and God will not be happy if I accept such.
I never said that God would punish whoever does not vote for him. How will I say such a thing? Do I have their (voters’) ballot papers? But the media (not PUNCH) want to sell their papers and whatever, that was how they put it. But I have said to people that that was not what I said. We in Lagos cannot go against him because of his antecedents and what he has done for the Church.
When you say “we,” who are you referring to?
The body of Christ, religious bodies, not only CAN, both Muslim and Christian in Lagos, because of what he has done. I did not speak at a service. I did not campaign; that (what I said about Tinubu) is telling the world what he has done for the Church. People wanted to paint him as if he had done evil for the Church. He has not done any harm to the Church.
Do you think Christians in Lagos should, therefore, vote for him because of that?
That is based on people’s opinions on that. They have their minds on what they are going to do at the polls but the Church cannot go against him? No, not in Lagos.
Is your support for Tinubu not an endorsement of the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket that has been criticised by many Christians in the North and South?
Let me clear the air on that. We said no to same-faith tickets, whether Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim. That was our stand. Even when the Labour Party chose Doyin Okupe to be the running mate of (Peter) Obi, we said no. But the Church is not a political party and we don’t have any right to decide for the political parties. They have made their decision and explained to us why such was taken. We also told them we should have been carried along if they had respect for us and they apologised. Having said that, we agreed that we are fathers to all and will not tell people who to vote for or not to vote for. No.
Does CAN think the apology changes anything and has the association, therefore, accepted the decision of the APC to field a same-faith ticket?
That is what they (APC) want to adopt and the position of the vice president is not the only position in a government. The vice president acts on what the President tells him to do. If you look at the Constitution of Nigeria, the vice president has virtually no responsibility. There are other offices we must concentrate on; that is why politics is about negotiation. So, if we are able to sit down with them and look at those offices and take care of the other religions and balance it, we will have a better Nigeria.
How did other members of CAN react to the report which you debunked?
Because I was quoted out of context, some of them called me and I explained to them. I sent to them what I said and some have apologised. I was referring to myself as a person on my feelings about what this man (Tinubu) has done, there is no way I will speak ill of him. If I do, God will never be happy with me. Nobody can deceive God. God is the righteous and perfect judge. It is after the election that we will know whether the decision taken by the APC will affect them or not. Let nobody run down anyone and nobody should use sickness to talk down on another person because no one knows what will kill them. In Yoruba, it is said that someone who has not died cannot know what will kill them.
As political parties begin their campaigns for the general elections, what should be the role of religious leaders?
For us in the church, our first duty is to pray for our nation and leaders and also to pray for God’s guidance as we approach the 2023 general elections, that God should elect for us a leader that will take Nigeria out of the woods, and bring the dividends of democracy to the citizenry. We deserve a greater Nigeria and it will be the joy of every Nigerian that everything (challenges) that we have been experiencing will become something of the past, especially in the area of banditry, shortage of power, poor health facilities, bad roads, and decaying national amenities. So, we will continue to pray for a greater Nigeria and we know that God will answer our prayer. As politicians go about their campaigns, they must play the game by the rules. We don’t want violence in the coming elections. We don’t want rigging in the coming election and we want them to campaign with issues, not personalities.
Nigeria is a multi-religious country; every Nigerian should be allowed to practise their religion the way they know how to practise it. None should be compelled to join a religion other than theirs and it is not going to happen in Nigeria. Nobody can Islamise or Christianise Nigeria. Nigeria is a social nation.
What are the issues the electorate should focus on to shape their opinions as politicians go about canvassing for their votes?
We encourage Nigerians to devote more time to issues and not personalities. Nothing will come out of destroying one candidate or another. Let candidates prove their worth through their manifestoes. Let them tell us what they have done before and what they are going to do again. Those are the things Nigerians should look for – ability, capability, and capacity to govern a complex Nigeria.
The first issue is about the integrity, ability, and commitment of the candidate to a greater Nigeria. Once we can see these, we can go for such individuals. The body of Christ will never tell people who to vote for or who not to vote for. Let every Nigerian decide with their conscience who they want to govern them. By the time that happens, nobody will blame anybody because every Nigerian has the right to vote and should possess a Permanent Voter Card. We have been saying that in the church, so whoever fails to have their PVC should blame themselves if anything they do not desire happens after the election, and that will be for another four or eight years. That is why we educate our members to obtain their PVC. This is not the time to watch Telemundo or African Magic or play football on the streets. Our youths above the age of 18 must participate in the elections and ensure that their votes count.
How worried is CAN about the plethora of problems bedevilling the country?
Every religious leader is worried about the state of affairs unless we are deceiving ourselves. We know that the centre no longer holds and things are falling apart by the day. The naira is gets devalued every day. I was told that a dollar goes for N750 now in the black market. However, there is inflation all over the world, partly because of the Russia-Ukraine war and other factors; but that notwithstanding, we deserve a better Nigeria and that is why we are telling the government that things have to change, real change, not just change by mouth.
Earlier, you emphasised the need for Nigerians to get their PVC. Are you impressed with the level of political participation among Nigerians in the South when compared with their northern counterparts?
I will agree with you that people are more serious about collecting the PVC in the North than in the South. I observe elections and during elections here (in the South), you will see that a polling unit won’t get up to 100 votes (cast) but when you go to the North, votes are counted in thousands in one polling unit, not a local government area or ward. That is why we are telling our people not to be docile but to be involved in electioneering and elections in our nation. Now, we are facing the consequences of saying that politics belongs to the Devil or it is dirty. If you allow politics to be played by politicians who we believe are dirty, we are going to be governed by those people for four or eight years. But I believe our Christian communities are coming alive and we hope that in 2023, we will have a better outing. We encourage our members to join political parties and be involved in their activities.
Some presidential candidates are banking on block votes from certain regions where they think they or their parties have enormous support. What is your opinion on that? Do you think they are missing the point?
That is very wrong. Anyone that wants to lead Nigeria must be a detribalised personality and must be accepted in the North, South, East and West because they are going to govern the entire nation. Nigeria is bigger than one region. When we had regional governments, each region had its premier but now, what we have is a president for the entire country. Whoever wants to rule Nigeria must have the love of Nigerians at heart, must be unbiased, address situations as they are without any favour. That is the type of person we want as a leader to move our nation forward.
Religion plays a major role in elections in Nigeria. How can Nigerians create a balance between religion and political leadership?
As CAN, what we have advised Nigerians is that they should elect leaders based on competence because if we don’t do that, we might get the wrong persons into office because of religion. Some people call themselves Christians but they are not; they are just Christians by name. One can be a Christian or Muslim without having the fear of God. We want a child of God to lead the country and God is the one that creates Muslims and Christians and we must live together. In the South-West, you will agree with me that Christians and Muslims are interwoven. My grandmother was a Muslim and I grew up with her, so there is no way anybody will tell me to fight my siblings or my family in my place. So, that is why we live in harmony in the South-West and religion is not an issue that causes animosity. That is what we want Nigerians to experience. Let us live together in peace; let us know that God has a reason for putting us together.
Once we have the fear of God, we will have a better country and put the right peg in the right hole. Political appointments can’t be lopsided anymore. People who will be in key positions cannot come from one region. No. Nigerians will say no to that. We will resist it and we are going to talk to anybody that is going to emerge as President; they must deliver, there must be accountability and we are going to come after you and you are going to give us answers. We deserve better treatment.