As many Nigerians continue to call for the restructuring of the country, a founding father of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Reverend UMA Ukpai, who is also the President, UMA Ukpai International Evangelical Ministries, has said that what Nigeria needs is leadership with vision, leaders who know what the questions are and those who can see Canaan and take Nigerians to that Canaan.
In this interview, Rev. Uma Ukpai bares his mind on the poor state of the economy and points the way forward. He also speaks on the Boko Haram insurgency and renewed militancy in the Niger Delta. Excerpts
There are growing calls for the restructuring of Nigeria. Do you share that sentiment?
It is another form of trial and error. Why did we opt for the present structure? It was for the government to be closer to the people but, as I speak, we’ve not had any government led by somebody that knows what the questions are.
Before independence, our problem were bad roads, lack of water, poor power supply, poor educational system and poverty of the worst type. We have an educational system that does not answer our question or solve our problem.
We have men who are trained to use their heads and not their hands. As I speak, none of those problems has been solved. The problem is not the structure, rather the problem is the people who are operating this structure. We are selfish, we are self-centred. We have no feeling for the poor, we have no regard for the poor. A leader can go to bed and sleep whether the poor around him eats or not.
We have no programme for the masses, something that can lift us up, upgrade and promote us. I am not even sure we know how many people exist in Nigeria and, if we know how many people live in Nigeria, what are we doing with their welfare as a nation? We have leaders who are into government to enrich themselves, not to serve and the sacredness of human lives does not mean anything to them.
A nation of this kind has no future. We have no love one for another. Our leaders attempt to occupy national seats but amplify tribalism because they want to use their tribal seats to rule us.
There is so much unemployment and nobody cares. I was shocked when one of our leaders said some time ago that until we take food from the dust bin, let nobody say we are suffering.
That was the message of a heartless man and a man who could not think, a man who did not care and a man who could not be a leader but a follower because no leader would say what he said.
We have political lepers who claim to be leaders. We don’t look like a nation anywhere. We are not organized, our problems are so innumerable. How we survive is a miracle.
What the agitators for restructuring think is that if Nigeria should embrace true federalism, Nigeria would be better off.
We don’t need restructuring to embrace true federalism. We only need leaders with vision, leaders who know what the questions are, leaders who are visionary, leaders who can see our Canaan and can take us to our Canaan. As it is, we have no Canaan as a nation. Asking for restructuring is to continue to look for an excuse for them to continue to waste our time and lead to no direction.
There is also the problem of the Naira falling steadily to the dollar?
When leaders don’t know what the question is, the economy has to collapse. It is like asking you, which is the longest river in the world and you say, Aba River. Our economy is bound to collapse because we don’t have leaders who are visionary.
A blind man does not see the things going on around him. Our leaders are blind leaders. We are neither going forward nor going backward, we are standing still, our economy has become a free fall economy. We need leaders who will come to serve us; people who know what we need to rise up and be like others.
90 percent of these attorneys are corrupt and once a man can dance to the tune of money, he is not worthy to preside over a tribunal.
There is no reason we should be as tremendously rich and, yet, hopelessly poor. We are a gigantic paradox. In the midst of plenty, we are hopelessly poor because a blind man cannot run.
Our leaders are political lepers, they don’t feel any pain, they don’t hear the cry of the people around them, they don’t even know where we are; therefore, they don’t where we are going to.
Could it be what Nigeria is passing through as a nation is as a result of the sins of our leaders against God and humanity?
No, every Nigerian has equal number of holes in his head, has ten fingers, ten toes. We have seven days in a week, 12 months in a year and 365 days in a years as other nations have. There is nothing other nations have that we don’t have.
Number one, we have no respect for God; we don’t care for the poor amongst us. A man who does not care for the poor around him cannot be a great man; we don’t have the desire to care for the poor around us. We like them to remain poor and die poor and because we don’t have a purpose of going into governance, we go and come out without achieving anything except to fill our little pockets that cannot feed the masses.
Number two, our educational system does not answer our questions or solve our problems. We have remained a consumer nation when others are busy inventing things that can make life easier and more comfortable and more pleasurable. It is a terrible thing to be led by a blind man. Everyone of us can run only as far as he can see.
Leaders ought to be our eyes, ought to be our ears, ought to be our legs. It is painful that we are ruled in a way that frightens me. When God wants to punish a nation, He gives them small boys who don’t know what the questions are to rule over them.
A small boy is a selfish person, he thinks only about himself. How can only one man steal One billion Naira when many are going to bed without food? I am of the opinion that God is not happy with us because we don’t have respect for Him, we don’t obey Him, we don’t seek His mind in what we do. The average Nigerian is a periwinkle, the only king without a kingdom. The average Nigerian is a self-centred person, the average Nigerian recognises no higher authority over him and around him.
When God gives a Nigerian a brand new shirt, he concludes God wants him to become god to his people, whereas when God gives a man a shirt, He wants the man to serve Him by serving His people, to be of help to the poorest of the poor.
You know, lepers feel no pain. The nerves that are supposed to convey feelings to other parts of the body are dead. When our nerves are dead, we don’t care about what others are going through.
What is the way forward?
There is nothing like innocent Nigerian. I have said that an average Nigerian is like a periwinkle; the only king without a kingdom. The person you want to call an innocent Nigerian is so arrogant and does not care whether somebody rules over this world, whether there is a manager over this world.
Is there a way out?
The way out is for us to go back to the Bible, believe the Bible, obey the word of God. We are called to love one another, care for one another, respect one another and serve one another and support one another.
That is what the Bible commands us to do. Almost everywhere in the country now, there are problems. Up North, Boko Haram and down South, the militants. Where are we going? When you look down on me, you compel me to fight you.
When you refuse to know who I am, I will be compelled to tell you who I am. Somebody around Boko Haram is asking questions that nobody wants to listen to the same thing with the Niger Delta Avengers.
They are asking questions and nobody wants to answer those questions. They are asking, how can we be generating so much money a day in oil proceeds, yet, we are hopelessly poor? And when somebody is tired of persuading you, he is bound to apply pressure. Somebody is asking a question and nobody is answering the question.
So, the people are saying, ‘our leaders don’t think we exist, we need to tell them that we exist’. I was in South-Korea when they were hopelessly poor as we are but, as we speak, they export cars. The first time I went to Dubai, I cried.
You could see what they have done with their money for the welfare of their people. When I speak of our thoughtlessness and wickedness, I mean it. For example, our road engineers are about the most corrupt in this country.
They build roads today and tomorrow the roads collapse. They will build roads near a house without gutter. They will build roads not to specifications and they will expect somebody to say that they have completed the roads as required by law.
I want to say that our road engineers, civil engineers are among the enemies of this country.
Are you in support of the on-going war against corruption by President Muhammadu Buhari?
Everybody is in support of the war against corruption but the man whose house is on fire is not interested in the chase of mosquitoes and rats, you have to protect the human beings in that house first. Nigeria is on fire and our leaders are running after mosquitoes and rats. They have abandoned the issue.
Our house is on fire, there is poverty everywhere. Yes, there is war against corruption which is good in a way because the discoveries have helped us to know that the first coming of the soldiers was right. Now, we are shocked that even soldiers are as corrupt as civilians but our house is on fire.
So, while we are chasing the fire, we should remember the human beings in that house and protect them because it is for their sake and their sake only that they want to put out the fire. But a man who has no feeling for others cannot solve that problem. The man who does not know what the questions are, cannot answer the questions. We have been running in circles without making progress.
As we speak now, there is no road out of the East. To go to Onitsha, you have to go through Owerri. We don’t have road out of the whole East and from Uyo to Calabar, we don’t have roads, from Uyo to Umuohia, we don’t have roads from Umuohia to Owerri, we don’t have roads and this has lasted for more than five years.
I was expecting our leaders to commit suicide and I am shocked that none of them is behaving as if something has gone wrong. That is why I call them political lepers. A leper does not feel anything.