Rev. (Dr.) Stephen Baba Panya is the President, Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA). In this interview with MUSA PAM, he said for Nigeria to overcome security challenges, President Muhammadu Buhari must convene a National Conference
The Church has raised its voice on the current security challenges in the country but we keep witnessing more and more insecurity. What do you think is the way out?
Personally, I believe that the solution depends on the Federal Government because all the security agencies that are to provide protection to the people are neither under the control of the state governors nor the local government chairmen, who are among the three tiers of government.
Security outfits, whether the Police, the Army or the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps are controlled by the Federal Government.
So, it is their responsibility to restructure this security outfits to be more effective. Someone has said that the best definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
If the security outfits we currently have are not operating effectively enough to deal with the insecurity, then the Federal Government needs to sit down, if possible call for a National Conference to hear ideas from all over the country because nobody knows it all.
There are brilliant people that have brilliant ideas that could give these ideas, may be some may say security conference, security summit or meeting or whatsoever, which the Federal Government can use to restructure our security outfits and possibly change their mode of operation so as to make them more effective in dealing with the insecurity that we all are facing.
Recently, the National Assembly conducted public hearings on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution for which they have received memoranda from Nigerians. Don’t you think that would solve the security challenges that we are facing?
It can help but I totally agree more with the opinion that what we need is the total overhaul, if possible, produce a new constitution entirely. If the current amendment of the Constitution cannot be structured to adequately meet and solve the insecurity problems, then, we will accept the radical amendment to the Constitution as regards security particularly and even the economy.
Some of these radical amendments include bringing in state security, state police and other security outfits, so that the governors at their levels, would be able to take actions and back it up with powers to enforce security in their own states. As it is now, governors can merely just bark but cannot bite. They don’t have the power to take action in enforcing security.
Also, economically, if people can be given more freedom, autonomy, you know to develop their resources and to contribute adequately to the central government, it would be better than the way it is now.
So, the only way that the present constitutional review can be of any impact is if some of these radical amendments are incorporated for state security, like state police and also kind of autonomy for the state to chart their own economic development part.
The Church in Nigeria has suffered effects of insecurity ranging from Boko Haram, bandits, kidnappers and others. Don’t you think the Church should mobilise itself and bring out a position by reorganising ahead of 2023?
I don’t think the Church is shying from politics again as it was. I know because I am in touch with a lot of Church leaders and I know their preposition towards politics and governance, and generally everybody agrees now that we’ were indeed foolish in the past! We saw politics and preached politics as dirty game.
But now, most church leaders have come to a consensus that we need to encourage our church members to go into politics and that would bring righteousness and transformation into the arena of politics and governance. You know that most Church leaders have been doing that now. But of course, you know that it is difficult to change a mindset.
So, the generality of the church members are trying to pick up with the new perspective and it will take time. We now have a lot of our members, who have begun to see the need for them to participate again in politics. And what we are telling our members is that not all of them may be able to seek elective positions. We want our members to go into politics at different levels.
They should go into party politics as well as seeking for elective positions. This is an important aspect for politics and governance that we’re encouraging our church members to engage in now.
Are you not worried by the burning of INEC offices, police stations in some states of the federation?
Look, we are concerned and worried about violence in whatever form and for whatsoever reason because our gospel, the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is for peace and the Bible actually tells us directly, expressly that we should pray for the peace of our nation, so that the gospel will be able to prosper.
So, it is not to our advantage when there is violence because our gospel is a gospel of peace and it is best preached when there is peace because the gospel of salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is not forced on any one.
You don’t force any person to be converted because the Christian message is not forced on anyone! It is concerned about opening the eyes of people, persuading them to see that they need Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and when people don’t accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour, you leave them alone and continue praying for them.
That is how the Christian message is propagated. It is never through violence. Therefore, for us as believers, peace is what we need and peace is what we propagate.
As the head of the ECWA Church, what is your response concerning the ban on Twitter by the Federal Government?
To me, there was no need for that because the action was borne out of lack of tolerance for criticisms. Even constructive criticism is very good, and I think the Federal Government has given an impression to the entire outside world that it is not tolerant of any dissent or criticism. And this is not good for a country that is practising democracy.
The previous government suffered a lot more criticism than this present government but it never responded that way. If there is anything they should learn from the previous government, it is the need to have a greater capacity in this democratic era to absorb criticisms and to use it positively.
When people criticise you, you need to check yourself and see if what they are saying is true. If it is true, make amends and if it is not true, then ignore it. In time, you will be vindicated. That is the best way to respond to criticism.
The fact is, sometimes if those that are close to you find it difficult to tell you the truth. Sometimes, you will hear the truth, the bitter truth about yourself from your enemy. So, it is better when your enemy criticises you but not to dismiss it outright but to ask yourself ‘is what my enemy saying true?
This is because your friend will find it difficult to offend you. He will be afraid to offend or make you sad or make you angry you know and you will feel he is no more loyal to you. But while your enemy will tell the truth, you think he tells you something else.
So, you look at it, analyse it and if it is true, then change and if it is not true like I said, ignore.
A lot of people are affected by attacks, bandits and crisis, most especially in the villages; people are displaced, no longer going to worship centres because they are living hard in times. How would you encourage such people?
This is a very difficult time. Recently, one of my pastors in Niger State told me that one village was attacked and the bandits took away over 30 members of the Church.
They took them away, kidnapped them and just recently, he came back to tell me 11 have been released. The rest may be there with bandits. The dilemma is how do you encourage people in that situation? One, I prayed and I keep on praying, praying and praying because honestly speaking, only God himself can direct and encourage people in such situation.
Only God! Secondly, we do try as much as possible in situation of crisis like that just like I have told you, we have relief foundation of ECWA to send as much relief as we can. In most of the times like this, the relief is grossly inadequate but we do try our best to send some relief. And most times, we try as much as we can to see we go physically to visit some of this our members.
God did not hide it for us. He told us that through trial and tribulations, we shall enter the kingdom of God and all this are part of trials and tribulations that we are going through in the course of our journey to heaven.
I would encourage them to stand firm in faith. God knows all that is happening and God will give them the grace to pass through it. I read a story about how one day, Bill Graham, whether he was asked or approached by someone with a gun.
I think he was asked if someone approaches him with a gun to kill him, what would he do?
He answered by saying ‘I would do all I can to defend myself but if it is God’s will, He will give him the grace to surrender and be ready to die.’ You know that he will do all he can to defend himself but if it is God’s way for him to die, he will give him the grace to surrender to death.
So, that is it. You know in the present situation, as much as God enables it, for us to defend ourselves fine, and in whatsoever situation, God will gives us the grace to do what is right and bring glory to Him.
Nigeria recently lost Prophet TB Joshua. Do you have condolence message for his church?
I pray that God in his own way, will reach out to condole members of the Synagogue Church of Nigeria, and to condole everyone who feels impacted by this sudden death of Prophet T.B. Joshua.
You know, I really pray that more importantly, that whatsoever the lesson that God wants us all, whether you are a Christian or not, to learn on this sudden death that we would all learn it.