Rev Fr. Jude Obianigwe is a priest of the Orlu Catholic Diocese in Imo State working at the San Giorgio Di Nosaro, Udine, Italy. A novelist, he speaks with PHILIP NYAM on the political situation in the country and other issues
Insecurity is widespread across the country. As someone who has travelled to other parts of the world, how do you view this challenge?
It is unfortunate that our leaders travel out of this country and see how everything is well organised abroad and after enjoying these when they come back to Nigeria, it does appear that on reaching here they forget everything- the structure of security abroad, how everything is done. Where I reside in Italy, I can go out even at 1 am without any problem. In fact, I have not even locked my room before. I could keep any amount of money in my room.
So, a lot of things come into play when we talk about insecurity in Nigeria. Primarily, we talk of the government of the day or our politicians do not know the exact number of Nigerians.
Our borders are very porous that anyone is free to come into Nigeria and when that is done, it creates security challenges. We don’t know our citizens; we don’t know who is a Nigerian. But in Europe, before you get your driver’s license, everything must be encoded in your data- your name, history, address, phone number, etc. such that if you commit any traffic offence, your data will appear.
So, one of the things they must do to root out insecurity in Nigeria is primarily to detect and identify those who are Nigerians and foreigners – to make sure that we are organised and when we do this, we will be near solving our insecurity problem.
It baffles comprehension that in our country, when you want to use the google map in our villages, the GPRS cannot do anything in terms of identifying and locating those areas. So, it is the failure of governance that is at the root of insecurity. If they can do this, they will create jobs for our teeming youths and do those things that are vital to the growth of our economy and gradually, they will curb insecurity in Nigeria.
If you look at the nature of this insecurity, it is also affecting the church. Just a few days ago, four Reverend Sisters were kidnapped in the southeast and several priests and bishops have been kidnapped and some even killed across the country. Is there any way the Church can collaborate with the government to tackle this unfortunate development?
The Church has a role to play but the government has a greater role to play. When it comes to security, it is not the duty of the Church; it is basically the responsibility of the government. What the Church can do is to collaborate with the government.
The Church is a target today because some of these criminals feel the church has money. For instance, when they kidnapped the Methodist Archbishop, within a short space of time, they were able to mobilise N100 million. So, now they feel that kidnapping a priest or a reverend sister is the surest way to becoming a millionaire.
But I know that in the past, there was a rule that the Church made in my Diocese and the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province that should a priest be kidnapped, no ransom should be paid. And that was working until the Archbishop of the Methodists Church was kidnapped and a ransom of N100 million was paid.
Then, these criminals said these people have this money and we must see them as our targets. Generally, the government has to secure everybody including the church but citizens must also cooperate with the government to successfully fight this insecurity.
In your novel, the Dwarfed Giant, the theme runs around the apprenticeship scheme in Igbo land, Igba Boyi as exemplified in the principal character, Chinonso in his quest to succeed in life. How can the society help some young men who out of frustra- tion cannot weather the storms of life and decide to go into crime like some of them perpetrating this insecurity?
One, the chief protagonist of the Dwarfed Giant, Chinonso is someone who cultivated himself; someone who challenged himself to overcome the limitations of his ordeals.
He lost his father when he was a boy and he had the dream of becoming a medical doctor until his father died. When the father died, his mother wanted to take them to their relatives because of financial constraints. She could not take care of them but this young man through self-effort cultivated himself and worked towards the economic liberation of his family.
First, he told his mother we cannot go and live with our relatives; and I want us to live together as siblings under one roof instead of going to different relatives. I will provide for you and the family. He started petty jobs to earn a living. Having created a lot of avenues to earn some money to cater for his immediate family, he decided to grow his own business and he succeeded and reached to some extent the level he dreamt of.
But because of some challenges, this young man was frustrated. The government of the day created some artificial constraints to frustrate him. And I know that if individuals can create opportunities for themselves, the government ought to encourage them so that they wouldn’t have time for criminalities.
But if the government is not creating room for people, they are giving room for negativities. So, the summary of the work is the frustration of this young man who is a giant but the giant in him was frustrated by certain factors in the Nigerian system.
Nigeria is preparing for the 2023 general elections and one of the most discussed issues today is the Muslim-Muslim Presidential ticket of the ruling APC. What is your perspective on this and how do you think it will impact the unity and integration of the country?
When God created man, he left us with the freedom of choice and that freedom of choice is fundamental in the life of every human being. Everybody is free to make his or her own choice. But sometimes these choices we make determine the level we will attain in the future or tomorrow.
So, the individual choices we make every day should be fundamental to the growth of individuals. If we make the right choices, we are heading the right way. On the contrary, when we make the wrong choices, we are heading toward doom. So, APC has made this choice regarding those they feel can really take us out of the woods. But sometimes, is your choice the best of choices? In a plural society like Nigeria, I see it as not being sensitive.
No argument can explain the reason why APC settle for a Muslim-Muslim ticket but they are free to make their decision. It is left for Nigerians to decide whether they like the choice or not. The agitation for the Nigerian President of Igbo extraction has been on for some time; no Igbo man has been able to win elections as president. Ahead of 2023, do you think this is feasible? And what should be done by the Igbos?
The intricacies of politics in Nigeria are something that baffles comprehension. The rotational presidency is not enshrined in our Constitution. But there is this gentleman’s agreement of rotation. Nigeria is not a nation but a nation-state. Igbo is a nation, Hausa/ Fulani is a nation, Yoruba a nation and other groups we have in Nigeria are nations. But for Nigeria to grow to become a nation, we have to do the right thing.
There must be a sense of justice, equity, and equal opportunities among the ethnic nationalities in the country. If everyone knows that power rotates between the North and South and in the North, we have some ethnic nationalities and in the South too. If the North has ruled for some period of time, and if we come to the South, the South-West has ruled for a period of time; the South-South too ruled for some time.
Then, the logic is there. But if people now proffer some reasons to exclude a section of Nigeria, there is a very big question mark. And sometimes, when people react to certain actions, you don’t blame them because a fundamental error has been created.
If we want a free egalitarian society; a peaceful society, we must have to lay the foundation of that society on the principle of equity and justice. If you remove justice, you are enthroning negative reactions.
So, the possibility of an Igbo presidency next year depends on Nigerians. We have the political class, which may not be our savior because it is there for its own selfish interest. They may not be our saviour but the generality of Nigerians can be our savior to right the wrongs of the political class; to create equity.
So, the Igbo presidency is feasible if Nigerians want an egalitarian society; if Nigerians a progressive Nigeria; if Nigeria wants an equitable Nigeria. The only thing to do is to ensure that the yearnings of all the different sections of the country are met. I feel that Nigeria will be a great nation anywhere to beat in the world.
Italy is one country where there are stories of young Nigerians illegally migrating and the social vices that follow. What is your advice to young Nigerians who want to cut corners and migrate to Europe in search of greener pastures?
My advice to our young men in Nigeria, as someone who has experienced the life and activities of Nigerians in Italy, is to concentrate on what they can do in Nigeria. If one does not have a visa or a reason for going there, I would say he or she is rudderless.
One doesn’t know where he wants to go like someone who is sailing without a compass. If one must travel, one must have a vision, and principles that will guide his travel to any part of the world. It is not enough for one to just wake up and without any concrete plan to start travelling because someone has promised you a job or a favour.
If one must travel, he must go with plans and if you go with plans, the society where you are going will accept and adopt you using the legal system of accepting immigrants.
But not going to a place and hiding in a place for some years. By so doing, you are creating a lot of problems for yourself and for the person that is harbouring you.
When some of them arrive in Italy, what do they do? They go from house to house begging and when they don’t get anything they go into crime. There are instances of people who broke into houses to steal and women going about selling themselves.
So, it is debasing. My advice to them is to really see what they can do in Nigeria. Nigeria has the market but the only problem is some of our young men are not humble enough to discover areas through which they can generate and create wealth.
Then, the government must also do something to help these young men and women who are without hope. It is the lack of hope that is the driving force behind the massive exodus of our young men and women. If the government can provide an environment that will accommodate the aspirations of these young Nigerians, they will create wealth that improves our economy just like China and all the Asian tigers.