Catholic Bishop of Jalingo Diocese Bishop Charles Harmawa, has said that secession is no solution to marginalisation cry by the Igbo. He also spoke on other national issues.
What is your take on the crackdown on Judges?
Well, a lot has been said already with regards to this massive crackdown on men of the Judiciary with people expressing different views based on their level of understanding and sentimental affiliations. The truth is that, this is the first time we are having something of this nature.
I don’t want to go into the legality or otherwise of the matter because I must confess my ignorance on the constitutional provisions with respect to this. Be that as it may, one would expect that some due process should have been followed rather than the allegedly surprise and Gestapo approach used in arresting them.
Some Nigerians are today calling for restructuring, do we really need it?
Every given society is bound to grow and as it does, there arise new challenges and issues that would make the status quo difficult to function and you’ll have to address them. In the course of that if there is the need to change an old method for a better one so as to address current challenges, why not restructure? If the current system as we have in this country is not addressing the present challenges, then there is need to restructure. The question again goes to the sincerity of the calls for restructuring and the shape of whatever new structure we want that would address our numerous challenges. You know that policies have never been part of our problems. It has always been implementation.
Should the government go ahead and sell our national assets, to raise money?
A lot of people are against this proposal but I must say that you normally save for a rainy day and when the rainy day comes, you use the savings for the day. Now you cannot allow people to die of starvation just because you want to continue saving. But then, we all must agree that it is actually the rainy day.
Having said that, we must address our problems properly and not just the symptoms, we should be able to address the issues that led us to recession in the first place because if we just rush to sell national assets without addressing the problems, we would just return to square one and may end up worse off. We must be able to change the wrong structures and policies on ground. We must first of all block all the leakages and cut off those outrageous allowances in the system that have allowed the sucking of this nation by such a tiny minority.
So it is not just about rushing to sell national assets without first addressing those leakages that brought about recession. Let us address the outrageous squandering of our resources. We have wasted the resources of this country scandalously over the years. It is not just about the last five or ten years, it was right from inception. There may have been one or two exceptions but on the whole, we have failed woefully in managing our resources.
The way out of the recession is not just to stop spending lavishly but we must also stop the massive stealing. That is why we must expunge the immunity clause from our constitution so that whoever steals would face the law, whether serving or not, dead or alive. There are so many of our past leaders who stole so much but nobody is talking about them because they are alive. We only hear about Abacha who is late and I am sure no one would have prosecuted him if he were to be alive.
Look at the gross injustice in the system in the compensation of politicians. A monthly take home of some political office holders is more than the life earnings of a career civil servant. That is why you hear people talk about being professional politicians. That is not correct. Politician should be like priest who are out to serve the people and not to amass wealth. Just yesterday, I read about the annual take home of Generals in the country and it summed up to over N20 million. Now how many of them do we have in this country both serving and retired?
So in the end, the soldiers who are out there fighting in the field and the civil servants putting in more time working end up with stipends while others who are doing less, under better conditions earn outrageously higher. In the end, the soldiers in the war front die and are buried like dogs with little or nothing for their families to fall back to. How would you expect them not to collect bribe on the high way and transfer aggression on helpless Nigerians?
The problem is systemic and must be addressed holistically. What we have now is not fair and is not just and until we give justice and fairness a chance, all our efforts would be in Vain. We are running the most expensive government in the world and this is totally unacceptable.
Some Nigerians are tired of being part of the country. They want to secede, should they be allowed to go?
In the first place, people have the right to self determination but there is a procedure towards attaining that. And again, I find the argument that Nigerians are group of strange fellows, flimsy because this is not peculiar to Nigeria. There are so many countries in the world that are divided along these lines as Nigeria.
Why do we still seek international relations while we are so different in our cultural, political and religious affiliations? It is because we are a race and cannot live without one another. So we need to have a rethink on this issue. I am well aware of the injustices in all its forms and the level of marginalization in the country and strongly suggest that these issues should be addressed and urgently too, but the solution is not in going our separate ways.
In any case, there is no guarantee whatsoever that if you are granted independence, you would not have problems in your own country based on differences of clan and other variables. The same mismanagement of funds that has crippled country today is also prevalent at the regional, state and local government levels. So it is not about secession. It shouldn’t be. We should be more concerned with how to address the injustices and discrimination, the uneven distribution of resources and others and think more on how we can live together as a country because, like it or not, we are one country and a there is beauty in our diversity.
What is your take on the spate of violence in the country, especially the northern parts, where Christians appear to be the target?
You see, the issue of religion is a very sensitive and emotional and must be addressed with a lot of diplomacy. This is one issue that merely talking about it could create even more problems if not maturely handled. If you want to tell the truth as it is, you are accused of not been open to dialogue and been too stringent. Both Christians and Muslims are called to propagate their faith but the way you go about it is what matters. You cannot coerce someone to convert to your faith. It should be a matter of persuasion and not the use of force.
The situation where you start punishing people by denying them promotion and other benefits, just because they are not adherent of your faith , is at best, condemnable. The truth is that we have been religiously divided and bias for too long and we have allowed that to take over the system including our politics, economic, and every aspect of our lives. We have been quiet for too long and its time we start speaking out seriously.
Dialogue and ecumenism is our only way out. We must accept when we are wrong and turn a new leaf rather than targeting violence at a specific group. If both religions advocate peace, how come we are having so much violence in the name of religion? I wouldn’t want to be part of any religion that would expect me to kill for its sake or to harm others and promote discrimination. I should be able to admit that I am wrong when I am wrong and make appropriate amends as a religious person.
How is the Diocese Recovering from the devastation caused by Fulani terrorists in parts of the state?
Painfully, very, very slow. You know that the Catholic Church in Jalingo was badly hit especially from the Southern and Central Zones, where most of my members were concentrated. Three years on, most of the people still cannot return to their homes. For some, their homes have been destroyed and their lands sold out already. Most of the Church buildings were also destroyed and the process of rebuilding would unexpectedly take a long time.
Unfortunately, until now we have not gotten needed attention from the federal, state and the local governments. It is as if these people are not Nigerians and they are abandoned to their fate.
But like said, we must keep hoping and believing God that things would improve. I also call on the people to remain law abiding and go think of alternative ways of earning legitimate income outside government hand outs. We must all think out of the box now and control our spending by adjusting our priorities. In the end, we would all laugh last.