Archbishop Alfred Martins is the head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos and the Metropolitan See for the Ecclesiastical Province of Lagos in Nigeria. In this interview with select journalists, he examines various political, social and economic issues facing the country, stating that Nigerians would be more reassured if President Muhammadu Buhari speaks to them regularly. TAI ANYANWU was there
Could you please give us your view of the state of the nation?
There are so many despairing voices around the nation. There are calls for secession that are growing louder and louder. There are calls for some people for complete rejection of the Constitution we have now; the 1999 Constitution favours the 1963 Republican Constitution.
Some say we should go ahead and amend the Constitution that we have now. There are so many issues facing the country today. The greatest of which in my estimation is the insecurity that is the bane of our nation today. I believe that if there was a better hold on the security of this nation, many of the other issues that are affecting this nation will be at least, more easily resolved but because there is insecurity, the disunity continues to find better expression. Of course, we face the challenge.
Different categories of people, having their different kinds of complaints. Christians complain about the fact that they do not get significant representation in government. Farmers complain that their farms are being eaten up by the cattle of the herdsmen.
We constantly hear from the herdsmen of how their ranks have been infiltrated such that the kind of people that we have never heard about in the past, the killer herdsmen, is very much with us now.
With all of these, we need to ask our government, the Federal Government in particular, the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the one who has the responsibility of the nation to wake up to this problem that is gradually bringing our country into a state of anarchy.
We certainly need a lot more effort and a lot more commitment to ensure that there is security in our country. We hear of different things in different parts of our country. In the East of our country, we have issues, in the North-East, North- West, North Central, South-West and South-South, there are issues.
These are the things that we will talk about and reflect on them. And I would say that apart from talking about them, we must bring all of these to God in prayer because in the end, unless the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain as well.
We must have paid attention to prayers so that whatever efforts that are being made will become fruitful; and whatever efforts that are being made are made in such a way as to be able to solve the problem at least.
Do you think that dialogue or the implementation of the 2014 Confab report is the answer to some of these problems that you have enumerated?
Thank you very much for that question. I believe that the point of that CONFAB was not made public in the sense that there was no formal adoption of the report of that Confab.
However, we know a lot of the things that are in that Confab report; and many people do think that the report have all the elements that are necessary for overcoming the problems of today. However, it is certainly important in my own understanding that the truth about that confab needs to be reevaluated and seen again in the light of the present situation because a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that time.
In any case, what is done in 2014, obviously in 2021 needs to be seen again in order that it has been properly updated or else something else is done with regard to it.
My point therefore, is that there are elements in that confab report that certainly are necessary, useful and indeed should be adopted to solve the problems of Nigeria today. However, we need to review it again in order to be able to know whether we have it completely or we need to adopt it completely as it is.
Apparently, the resource available to the government is getting smaller. Do you support this massive borrowing that our government is doing presently?
Now, the government is doing a lot of borrowing at this time and the National Assembly is also constantly working with the executive organ to take more loans. Well, what the economists tell us is that borrowing is a necessary thing but if it is used to buy necessary infrastructural facilities that can be measured, that can be seen and that is there for generations to come.
However, it is necessary also that the government should do a lot more of cleaning up of its own expenses. I believe that if a lot of the expenses that are being carried out are better managed even if we have to go borrowing, what we need to borrow certainly cannot be in the range of what we are talking about now.
Our government, as many have said, is rather expensive. The two houses of assembly are gulping so much money. The executive itself is gulping so much money with all the different kinds of aides, offices and agencies that are duplicated and multiplied; and they seem to be continuing to be continually multiplied.
So naturally, if these areas of wastage are better managed and controlled, I believe even if we have to borrow, we will not be borrowing the much that we are borrowing at this point in time.
And in any case, if we borrow money and it’s going into private pockets through the corruption that everybody is talking about these days, then you wonder again whether borrowing money as we do is worth our while as a nation.
In other words, if borrowing is necessary, let it be for infrastructural development that we need. But then, we don’t need to borrow so much because there is much in a system that is already not well managed. So, the support is qualified, and the qualification of that support has to be very seriously addressed if it could be really expected to support that.
How can the Church assist the state in ensuring stability and good governance?
Well, what the church has is the moral authority that it uses in interfacing with the people, and of course, the word of God being the basis for interaction and working with our people.
So, with that, I will say the Church should and will continue to appeal to the conscience of the faithful, the people of our nation, on the values that are necessary for ensuring the common good. I think that if the common good is uppermost in the mind and heart of people, then many of these problems will not be there.
If there was the concern and the willingness to address that and to follow God’s rules, all the corruption, all the wastages will not be there; and the care and support of people’s welfare will be first in the minds of everybody.
So, the church will ensure that it teaches the faithful through the word of God and the moral authority in the issue concerning common good and care for one another. We hope that if everyone were to stick to those values that the church teaches, our problems will be a lot less than they are.
How do you see CAN’s directives to Christians to defend themselves?
Well, one of the moral principles is that if a person is under attack, the person has the right to defend himself or herself with equal force with which he is being attacked. And so, every human being has the right to defend himself whenever he or she is under any form of attack.
However, the practice of that is what needs to be thoroughly examined before we can put it to use.
And I hope that as people express their right to defend themselves, we recognise that we cannot and should not be the aggressors. Rather, we should defend ourselves when the need arises and with means that are necessary to keep us from being attacked.
Should we have a review of the 1999 Constitution or totally reject it?
I do not have the details that lawyers would have with regard to the constitution and its content and therefore, I am not in the position to provide the details of what is in the constitution. However, a lot of people have identified so many loopholes in this constitution.
And people have had so many doubts that review is going to be able to satisfy the yearnings of the majority of Nigerians at this point in time. The way the National Assembly is configured makes many people think we really can truly get a review that will satisfy the peoples of this nation.
To that extent, the National Assembly has the onus of proving that it is capable of doing a review that is in a position of satisfying the yearnings of Nigerians. Today, more than any other time, there is a call for the restructuring of Nigeria.
Do we have a National Assembly that is ready, willing and able to ensure that this is included in the Constitution that is being reviewed? Today, there are issues with regard to state police.
Do we have a National Assembly that is willing to objectively look at that matter and ensure that it gets the kind of position that is required in the Constitution that is being reviewed at this point in time?
So, there are so many issues that bother the mind of an average Nigerian, and are really worthy of thoughts concerning the willingness and readiness to carry out what Nigerians are yearning for at this point in time. I guess we must continue to talk about it; we must continue to express our reservations about these matters with the hope that somehow, the National Assembly will be able to listen and do what is right.
I recall that one of those things that the ruling party at the national level told us when it was campaigning is that it was going to restructure Nigeria. That was part of what was sold as reasons why it should be elected into power.
But we are beginning to hear another reason that eh, if the local government is not given their right…It is a complete reversal of what was promised to Nigerians. Some of these things actually make people wonder whether the National Assembly can actually make that constitution to suit the yearning of Nigerians.
Is there a spiritual dimension to the problem of Nigeria?
Well, I guess to the extent that wherever there is chaos, wherever there is some form of disharmony, Devil cannot be far away from there. So, to that extent, you can say that there is a spiritual problem to it.
But the fact if the matter is that the God that we worship is so powerful and able that if we are just ready to do that which is our part as Nigerians as people who have faith, as people who want to live by the demands of their faith, even the devil will not have any power to create the kind of chaos that we are having in our country.
And I think Muslims, Christians and those who have any kind of authority and people who are not doing what their faith demands, they should be blamed for all the problems that we have; and if there the devil at all, it is in the background. They are the ones that are responsible for the problems we have in the land today.
For the first time, the President recently ordered for the immediate release of kidnapped pupils in Niger State. What’s your take on that?
You talked about insecurity in the nation resulting in many deatha and pupils to the extent, many of them are afraid to go to school. Insecurity in the nation affects so many aspects of our national life; education is one of them.
It’s very disturbing that a generation of children is being deprived of their right to education because the government has not taken care of the insecurity in the nation.
If those children are left to continue without a remedy for their education, you can imagine what is being done to a sizable number of our children. Unfortunately, these are children of the poor ones; the children of those who have the means are not even in those kinds of schools anyway.
There is a social problem that is being created by not addressing the insecurity that is therefore affecting the education of the children. And so, we can only expect that the Federal Government in particular should take this matter of insecurity very seriously.
I heard and I hope I am correct that one of the press aides of Mr. President said that, from this month, we shall be hearing an outline of the government’s way of dealing with the insecurity.
We are all ears. If insecurity is dealt with, the problem of education would also be dealt with in many more ways than one. What was your growing up like? At the time I grew up, there were not too many television sets, radio sets. Of course, not to talk about social media.
We had a chance, as children in the family, to bond together and tell stories as we listened to elders. That was something that was great.
That was when we began to learn the language and some of the intricacies of the local language. I think that we did enjoy that. I don’t know how many of them are available now, if any. But on the other hand, the social media that is available now obviously has a lot that it adds to the children of today.
Only that we need some times to ensure that we allow those children to imbibe the right values from social media. Indeed, we need to direct them, motivate them to go in the direction of using social media in a positive way rather than the negative way that can be used for at this point in time.
And of course, when I was growing up too, teachers had a lot of respect. If your teacher was coming to your house, you better behave well because he was respected not only by you, but also because they were able to do their work without being harassed, as these days by some parents who don’t have it right.
Teachers were able to face their jobs with all the commitment and zeal that was needed without being worried about who is going to send somebody from some institute to come and harass them about something they did. There are so many more things to talk about but however, I leave at that.
At 62, are you fulfilled?
I can only say that I thank the Lord for bringing me thus far. I believe that one has to continue to strive. I will continue to strive and continue to make effort to do better than one has been able to do in the past. I think that it will be difficult to say that I have reached a point; now I can put up my feet and rest my back.
So, I thank the Lord that so far, I have no regrets. There is something that God has not done for me. If that’s what fulfillment is, yes I am fulfilled. But if it is what I described before, I will continue to strive.
How do you feel about President Buhari’s silence over some of these problems in our times?
You know one of the things that have always been a source of concern for people is the fact that we do not see our President addressing the nation on issues in a tidy manner.
That is one of the problems that have been identified over time. When on one occasion a statement is made and on another occasion no statement is made, you wonder whether the statement is not part of the whole problem of not responding to situations in a tidy manner, in a manner that will give some measure of confidence to the people of the nation, that indeed somebody is taking care of their issues.
There is something about listening and hearing what the President’s soft spots are from his media aides.
There is also something extremely important about hearing from the President himself; and I think that this is something that needs to be reconsidered, so that people can feel the confidence that what we hear is what the President is saying.
Is the unity of Nigeria negotiable?
My understanding is that the unity of Nigeria is desirable. It’s absolutely desirable for very many reasons. But if people are talking about negotiating the unity of Nigeria, there has to be reasons.
Indeed, if those reasons are not addressed, naturally people will continue to question the unity of the country.
And it is the responsibility of those who are ruling us to listen to the concerns of Nigerians who are saying that the unity needs to be renegotiated. I am sure that if all was well nobody will be talking about renegotiating the unity of the nation.
Whatever was put up at some point in time to realise a particular purpose, if that purpose is realised or there are questions about its being realized, then there is need to look again at the reasons for the whole matter again.
And so to that extent, I will say that the unity of Nigeria is certainly desirable. Now, it is something we need to work towards because we are better together.
Some people are pushing to get Sharia enshrined in the Constitution now under review. What’s your take on this?
Well, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria presented a memorandum to the National Assembly at the time they called for a memorandum towards the review of the Constitution.
The major point that is contained in the memorandum is that if Nigeria is what it is said to be (one nation) then, there should be one set of law that carries the one nation and one people. It was clearly stated there that the Sharia should not be in the Constitution of a country that has declared that it is a secular nation, which means that it does not in any way adopt a particular religion. And so if that is the case,
it’s only proper that the Sharia should not be in the groundnorm that guides the life of the nation. That needs to be looked at and all the ramifications should be very carefully considered.
While all the matured lawyers and those who are well established in law know the nuances, they are probably in a better position to tell the story. But as for regular Nigerians, the Sharia is for a certain section of the nation and should not be allowed in the Constitution. It can guide the people who practise the faith; but to put in the Constitution which has the statues of a secular nation is something that needs to be reviewed.
For those who say that it does not concern Christians and they shouldn’t talk about it, well, I think the Constitution of the country is the business of everybody; and people should be able to air their views on this matter.
The whole idea of the association, as a nation, is to be able to discuss our issues in a friendly way, not a …can I say the nation’s approach is absolutely necessary that we should be able to sit together and rationally, calmly discuss our issues. If there is need to give, you give.
If there is need to take, you take and ensure that we live together as a country. I think that is what is really necessary for us. Is
there a conspiracy of external kind against Nigeria?
Well, there has always been that concern that there could be conspiracy that is responsible for it. It’s possible but I do not have any information about it. But it’s a possibility theory that has always been there.
Perhaps there is.