THE GUARDIAN Newspaper- Niyi Bello

Eighty-year-old Bishop Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi was the Bishop of the Akure Diocese of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, during the difficult days of the struggle to retrieve the military-annulled June 12, 1993 presidential mandate of the late business mogul, Chief M.K.O Abiola. In those dark days, Ondo State became one of the most vocal axes in the pro-democracy struggle, with Owo, hometown of the late Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the Afenifere and NADECO leader and Akure, hometown of fellow compatriots, Chiefs Olu Falae and Reuben Fasoranti the epicentres. In several instances, Gbonigi had to bring the pulpit to the frontline of the trenches thereby earning himself the name, 'NADECO Bishop' and many unpleasant brushes from the military authorities. But since the return of democracy in 1999, a year before his retirement, Gbonigi has found a new passion in the development of Yoruba politics. At his Akure home, the respected cleric bared his minds to NIYI BELLO on the state of the nation and the efforts at forging Yoruba unity.

WHAT is your assessment of the current democratic dispensation particularly with the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua and the controversy over an Acting Presidency? What do you think is the way out of this issue?

The current democracy has suffered a lot in the hands of politicians but what we have is better than a military government. Military government is an aberration. They (officers) are not trained to govern. They took over government and for a period of about 31 years, they governed this country. And each time they took over from the civilians, they ended up being worse than the politicians they claimed to have come to correct.

God gives the power to the common people not to the military. That is what we call democracy. The power belongs to the common people. If they had allowed the common people to treat the politicians how the Constitution says they should be treated, we would have passed the stage we are now.

They (military) cannot do better than the civilians. In fact, if we continue fumbling and wobbling, as we are doing now, if there is no interference, a time will come when we will get it right. It is a learning process. We have one or two examples but a glaring example is India. It is not that there is no corruption in India; wherever there is poverty, there will corruption and there is plenty of poverty in India. The population is about 1.2 billion and it is the second largest country, next to China. The military had never tried to take over there, as they have always settled things among themselves. And India has been developing. I understand its economy is developing at a wonderful rate. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today.

You made a very important point there, sir - that the power to rule belongs to the people. But in this country, people don't really have the opportunity to exercise that power. What do you say about electoral reform?

You are going to see, my brother; God will liberate the common people. He will wrest power from these greedy people. There are politicians who are not in political parties. I am a politician but not in a political party. Every citizen of Nigeria is a politician. The fact that we belong to our country makes us politicians. We love our country, and we are patriotic. A patriotic person who loves his or her country is a politician.

We obey the Constitution and the laws of our country. Politics is more than belonging to a political party; belonging to a political party is just a small area of politics. So, God will wrest power from the people who have been misusing it because He is a God of Justice. If a person misuses the opportunity given to him by God, He will be very patient for some time and give that person a lot of warnings.

God has different ways of giving out warnings when we are committing sins and are being disobedient to Him. The sins we commit will cause trouble for us and that is one of God's ways of warning us: to say the way you are living, the way you are behaving, what you are doing is wrong; you better change.

You see that sin is causing you trouble but these are people who are so stubborn and so heady, they just go on committing sin. They don't care when their sins bring problems and difficulties to them; they just carry on. But the time usually comes when God will say because your sin is not affecting you alone, it is having adverse effects on many people even causing some people to die who ought not to die, I cannot allow you to do it and cause trouble for thousands or millions of people. So, He will intervene and take the power, position and authority from that person.

He will do it in Nigeria; we are going to see it. Gradually, they (politicians) are taking power from the people even though they will say we received the mandate from the people. They didn't receive any mandate. There is no doubt that they are waiting for 2011, hoping that they will do it the way they have been doing it - stealing votes and all that. But by the grace of God, He will not allow them to do so this time. You are going to see it".

"God has His wonderful way of doing His own thing. With the small bit of his wisdom He gives us, we think that we know everything; that we are very wise. And God sits on his throne in heaven and laughs at us. And when the time of his judgment comes to liberate his people, to rescue them, it is very simple for Him. It will just be overnight. So, we should not lose hope; we should not be so pessimistic that we think it is going to continue like this and it is going to continue to get worse and worse".

"God will not allow it to happen. He created us - we are his handiwork. The Yoruba put it beautifully that: "onise ko ni je ki ise owo un o baje." Meaning that; the labourer would not want his handwork destroyed. An end will come to all these destructions. Because God created by his handiwork, there is a limit to which He will be patient for evil people, selfish people, arrogant people, greedy for power, for money and for wealth to continue. He will take it over from them.

Archbishop Jasper Akintola, the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, recently rained curses on our leaders; but some people said he was too harsh on them.

You cannot be too harsh on sin. His curses are not on human beings, but on what those human begins are doing. And if you go into the Quran and into the Bible, you will find passages like that where the servants of God - people that God called and ordained and sent to deliver his messages to the people - to deliver the oracles of God to the people in such manners and saying, "thus says the Lord." You read some of the passages.

For us Christians, we saw Jesus Christ as a meek and gentle character when he came into this world but there were instances when occasions called for it that he used harsh languages, especially on the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Chief Priest and Elders because of their evil ways.

In the Old Testament, we read, for instance, in the Book of Prophet Amos when God asked him to warn the people against sins and they did not change. The leaders were very avaricious, greedy for power, wealth and money and they were hoarding things they were not using because they had much more than they needed. They were just hoarding things and the people that ought to benefit from the wealth of the nation were suffering and living in poverty.

God asked Prophet Amos to tell them that unless they changed and let the resources go round to meet the basic needs of the people, they were going to be destroyed. He told them that they were exploiting the people and stealing from them to build expensive houses. He said a time would come that they would not be able to stay in the expensive houses they were building. God said He was going to judge them because of their callousness.

So, when Archbishop Peter Akinola said what he said, he was only delivering a message from God. There is a difference between raining curses on people and raining curses on what people do. As a servant of God, as a clergyman, as a Prophet of God, he was raining curses on what they were doing. And of course, if, for instance, I'm taking bribe and I am cheating the poor, and as a result I am making myself stinkingly rich and I am rejoicing in it, if God brings His judgment on what I am doing, this Emmanuel Gbonigi, who is doing it will be affected because I am the one perpetrating it. That is what it means.

What is the role of the Church in all these because some see the Church as even providing spiritual succour, protection and encouragement to this high level of graft especially those churches that preach posterity?

You are right but there are two ways to it. The prayers of the Church have been sustaining this country. If not because of the prayers of the faithful, the country could have come to total ruin and disintegration. A lot of people are interceding for this country and God is looking at that to show mercy in preserving us as a nation. On the other hand, there are very bad influences among some Christians. This issue of posterity is a very bad thing that is leading a lot of people astray.

'How Some Self-serving Politicians Frustrated Yoruba Reconciliation Meeting Called By HID Awolowo'

AT the recent meting convened by Chief Mrs. HID Awolowo in Ikenne, prominent Yoruba leaders came together to form a new body to champion the cause of the race. What is the focus of this group?

Our mother, Chief Mrs. HID Awolowo, has been trying to bring Yoruba leaders together; other people have also tried to reconcile different factions without success. The meeting resolved that we should continue with our efforts to reconcile the different factions in Afenifere.

While we continue to do that, the Yoruba race will have a forum whereby people will speak with one voice. Because, right now, we do not have any forum where the Yoruba race can speak with one voice; a forum that can say the minds of the entire Yoruba people. That was why the new body was established.

A specific segment of Yoruba leadership, like the Afenifere Renewal Group and politicians from Lagos, especially members of Action Congress such as former Governor Bola Tinubu and Lagos State governor, Raji Fashola and other leaders of the party were not at the meeting. Is the house not divided already before the take-off of the new body?

Well, as I said, different people have made efforts - I happen to be one of them. We have tried to go into the dispute and make sure that there is genuine reconciliation. And I want to tell you that I invited one or two other people to join me in the reconciliation parley before now. When that one failed despite all that we did, another body headed by Justice Kayode Eso, of which I was a member, was raised for the same purpose.

All these efforts did not work because of selfishness, pride, arrogance, and loving self more than the whole of Yoruba, loving self even more than the country. A problem is the love of money and people looking for positions in order to have possession. People are even looking for position within Afenifere to become a leader.

So, we discovered that and some people approached Mrs. HID Awolowo to mediate in the circus, thinking that people would respect her age. By the time she was approached, she was 93 years. We thought people would respect her age, her husband (the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo) and say because of the age of the woman and the respect we have for her husband, we will come together. Even if we are going to make some sacrifices, individual sacrifices in order to be one, we will make the sacrifices.

Some people went for their meeting a day before our own - the meeting that Mama Awolowo called. She told them that they might have made a mistake, saying that from her letter of invitation, the meting was not that day but the following one. And they told her that they had not made any mistake; that they knew that the meeting was for the second day but that they were there to present their position because they would not come for the general one.

She, however, told them that the purpose of the meeting was reconciliation and this could not be achieved if different groups were coming separately. She told them that the people that were coming to reconcile the people wanted all the parties to be at the meeting together, so that we could all listen to both sides and find a solution to the crisis. But they said they would like to vent their own anger before the meeting. Of course, Mama rejected that idea. They eventually sent somebody on behalf of the group, who did not make any significant contribution on meeting day.

We have had two other meetings after that to appeal to them. All the people involved ought to come and work together since we all want to continue to exist and work together for the welfare of Yoruba race and Nigeria.

At the last meeting that we had in Ikenne, these people were still not there. On that occasion, I could not contain myself and I said our people have a say that Oju Awo ni Awo fi n gba obe, which translates that, you must be at an event that concerns you.

Another person at the meeting stood up and said, this was a meeting for the Yoruba race. Then he said; "suppose the rest of us especially those of us who don't belong to any (political) party and not even in politics but who have been invited to reconcile, said we have sent representatives, instead of coming personally, how would reconciliation be realized?" The person who represented their group is Alhaji Lam Adesina.

Well, we agreed that Mrs. Awolowo should try again to invite these people who had refused to come to meetings. We told Lam Adesina to tell them to come to meetings and they have so far refused to come. That is the point we are now.

Has former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the only Yoruba to attain the highest elective office in Nigeria, any role to play in all this matter?

No, up till the time that we were meeting in Justice Eso's house, he (Obasanjo) was not invited. Definitely I know that he was not invited and I don't think Chief Mrs. HID Awolowo sent any invitation letter to him.

Don't you think by not inviting Obasanjo, you are dividing the house furthermore?

I don't believe so. I am sorry I have to say this; that is my own conviction. I cannot see any good contribution former President Olusegun Obasanjo has to make to what we are doing because of his track record. I will never oppose his invitation to any meeting. I will not oppose it because God can use anybody any time to fulfill the reconciliation move.

What I have said is my personal conviction; I am not speaking on behalf of the Lord, as a servant of God. And since I am a human being and I am prone to make mistakes, I may be making a mistake in this matter. But so far, with what I know about him (Obasanjo), I don't see him making any contribution.

It is rumoured that the struggle for control of the region between two political gladiators is responsible for this acrimony. How correct is this assertion?

I don't know; maybe that is one of the reasons. I know that members of the group have refused to come to the general meeting; certainly they have their complaints. They refused to be at the same meeting with other people. I think that is wrong. These are people who have held positions of leadership at the national, state and local levels.

Is it right for them to say that they are not going to attend any meeting with some people and continue to live in the same world in the same country and belong to the same race and work together for the welfare of all us? That there are some people you hate so much, you say you cannot attend meeting with them? That is very wrong. People who have such spirit ought not to hold positions of leadership because how can they bring other people to work with them if they have that kind of sprit of vendetta, hatred and malice?

But that has been the bane of Yoruba unity right from the First Republic when the feud between Chief Awolowo and the late Chief Akintola started. Can the race get over this?

By the special grace of God, we are going to get over it but not through these old people. A new group of leadership, a new set of leadership will come up; God will raise them up because this world belongs to God. God created the world; He created this Yoruba race like He created all other races in Nigeria, Africa and the whole world. So, the world does not belong to these politicians; it belongs to God.

The God that has made it possible for them to hold positions of leadership shows that He is a very patient God, God of love, God of mercy and very patient. In the Bible, it is said that God always shows mercy to people. But if we refuse to change, if we keep in our sinful ways and refuse to mend our ways to God in his righteousness, God can go ahead and show us that we are mere human beings.

Just as our Lord Jesus once said, "If these people will not glorify God, stones will be raised to praise God." In other words, God was saying that He would replace them with inanimate objects. It as bad as that.

God cannot be patient for too long watching that happen. In the Bible, He says, "the time will come and I will say enough is enough. I am going to liberate them from you; I am going to push you aside and pull you down from your position of leadership and the high offices that you hold; I am going to pull you down and I will raise up other people who will take your place and do my will."


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