Nigerians are upbeat for 2023 elections to usher in a new administration. The Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos State Chapter, Bishop Stephen Adegbite spoke to journalists recently on the election as well as his reaction to a recent petition against him. Olusegun Obisanya was there. Excerpts:
Year 2022 was challenging to Nigerians. What should Nigerians hope for in the New Year?
The year 2022 was a wonderful year and I take it from what happened in the days of Jesus Christ when there was a raging storm; the disciples were terrified and confused and Christ was sleeping and when He was woken up, He said to the raging storm, “Peace be still”. By the special grace of God, there will be peace in Nigeria in 2023 because Christ is in control of our nation. Nigeria will never become an abandoned project. God is interested in this nation. We did not choose to be in this nation. There is a purpose for it and that purpose will be achieved. Nigeria will be great again and we will amaze the world. What I say to every evil prediction and prophecy against our land is that their prediction will not stand. God is saying that there will be peace and tranquility in our land in 2023. He is asking us to relax as He is in control and He will fight our battle for us and we will hold our peace.
Every stony heart, God will melt them in 2023. 2023 will be the end of Boko Haram, insurgency, kidnapping, weeping, and agony in Nigeria. There is hope for Nigeria which will be restored by God himself. I will say to Nigerians, believe and trust in God. Whatever God has entrusted into your hands, do it diligently and when you and I do mine, we will have a great nation. Nigeria will be peaceful again. I remember how I often times drove from Lagos at night to Kaduna, Uyo, and Enugu but we can no longer do that. Nigeria will be peaceful again and everyone disturbing the peace of Nigeria, God will raise a standard against them and there will be peace and tranquility in Nigeria.
As the new year begins, many false prophets will arise and begin to prophesy all manner of negativity about Nigeria. Let evil prophets go and sit down and let Nigeria have peace. God is bigger than any prophet and when God has spoken, every other person is a noise maker. God is saying it shall be well with Nigeria and that is what we are holding tenaciously to.
What is your New Year message as we face crucial elections?
It is a message of peace be still. This is what God has said to me. That is the theme for the New Year. Nigeria, peace be still. Nigeria will not disintegrate in 2023. There will be peace before, during, and after the election. Not by our power, we rely solely on the power, grace, and sustenance of God and He has never disappointed us. All we are doing is for us not to disappoint God.
What is your take on the current campaign by presidential candidates as regards the 2023 election?
We want an issued-based campaign, not a personalized campaign. We want the candidates to treat issues. We have many problems confronting our nation, so we want every candidate to tell us the solution that they are thinking about that will bring joy back to the lives and faces of the people.
Whoever emerges as the winner of the 2023 election will be answerable to Nigerians. I will be in the vanguard of people that will be on the neck of whoever emerges as President to deliver the much-anticipated dividends of democracy to Nigerians. Enough is enough, it is high time to be accountable and responsible. Anyone who is not thinking of being answerable and accountable to Nigerians should not think of contesting for the post of Nigeria’s President.
That sit will not be as usual, whoever becomes President must give an account of his stewardship. We will ask questions and you must answer us satisfactorily beyond any reasonable doubt and we will know that it is the truth that you are telling us. The days of lying to Nigerians are over. The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and I are friends. But when something is not done properly, I will challenge him. I will tell him that what he has done is not right. This time around, every leader in the land, both Christians and Muslims will work harmoniously and ensure that we have a formidable Nigeria. Anyone who is not doing what is right, we will speak with one voice against oppression. Any people-oriented agenda will be encouraged. We will support them with our prayers. That is our work and primary duty and we will not fail in doing that.
What can you say about the manifestoes of the presidential candidates you have seen and read?
What I have seen in their manifestoes is not what they do on their campaign train. If they can marshal the points written in their manifestoes, it would have been better for Nigerians but calling each other’s name, is not what we need. Anyone that is wise discussed issues but feeble minds discussed personalities and that will get us nowhere. More so, that is not the way to get a vote anymore as Nigerians are not fools. Nigerians know what they want an on election day, they will exercise their franchise, their civil duty. Nigerians should go and get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and go out and vote on election day.
Election day is not a day to watch films or our children who are 18 years and above turning our streets into the stadium. I observed in the last election that a lot of youths were busy playing football. That is what we do on election day in the South. In the North, they don’t play football on election day. Everybody queue to exercise their voting right. Our elders in the South should not sit under the tree and be resting on election day or watching football. Election day is not a day for football as the decision will be made on that day that will affect you in the next four years or eight years as the case may be.
We know your stand on the 2023 election and that has led to a call for the National Body of CAN to probe you. What is your reaction?
The person that wrote that petition so-called is not anything to us; he has apologised. The Block where the person comes from in CAN has also apologised. I have the evidence to show you. We have five Blocks in CAN: The Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN); Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN); Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN) /Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN); Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC); TEKAN and ECWA Fellowship.
The petitioner is just from a part of one of the blocks and not representing one of the blocks in CAN. Every leader in Lagos has pledged their support, loyalty, and confidence in the leadership of CAN which is jointly done by all. We work intendant, in synergy and we work with one mind and everybody has seen that this is Lagos. We have lived in Lagos and have been part of the government for 22 years. We have been talking to the government about anything that is not good and they listen to God and us and we give all the glory to God. For anyone to think that we will be speaking against the government of Lagos when they have not done anything evil, will be wrong.
This is what the CAN in Lagos said to the writer (petitioner). The petitioner has invited me to his church to address God’s people before now. They brought him to my office and I said that anything that will bring peace and joy, we must accept in Lagos. In Lagos, we don’t fight on religion because we are inter-woven and by extension, the entire Southwest where we are inter-related. There is no family that you don’t find a Muslim or a Christian. So, the peace that we enjoy in the Southwest, we don’t want anybody to come and cause trouble between families. In Oyo State, where my maternal grandmother was a Muslim, she gave me an Islamic name. When I go to Oyo State, that name is what they will call me forgetting my skull cap. I have been eating animal sacrificed by the Muslim since I was born. How do you expect me to go and be fighting my family? We don’t do that here.
It is unfortunate what is happening in the North. If you know what I have done in the North because of peace, it will daze you. I have travelled to 12 northern states out of 19 to give palliatives to IDP camps. I am defending the faith and I will till I die but there must be peace and justice and all of us must present ourselves together as one. The issue is that, is it Christianity or Muslim that will give us good governance, no, it is the person with the fear of God. Whether you are a Christian or Muslim. How many states do we have Christians as Governor or Deputy Governor, and what have they achieved, and the state where we have Muslims as Governor and Deputy Governor, what have they achieved? What we are saying is that we don’t want the problem in the North to come to the South.
A lot of people have started attacking us back, attacking CAN at the National level. We have said to ourselves, we are fathers to all. Let us be a father to all and let the will of God be done. You can’t force anybody on anybody. Allow people to vote according to their conscience, whoever wins, we must all support such a person. Once any candidate emerges as the winner, we have a duty from the scriptures to pray for our leaders.
You are openly supporting Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is that the position of CAN in Lagos?
That is not the position of CAN; the position of CAN is to give everybody a level playing field. Let them tell you what they want to do, from their antecedents, from what they have done in the past, you can now make your decision. You will agree with me that not everybody that is a Christian in Lagos will vote for Bola Tinubu and not every Muslim in Lagos will vote for Asiwaju. But because we have lived in Lagos and we belong to the South-West and we have seen what Asiwaju has done.
On a personal note now, I have the right to support the candidate of my choice. I said this at the national level of CAN and everyone admits that. What we are saying is that let everyone thread cautiously because only God knows tomorrow. CAN did it in the past and it boomeranged. In 2015, we declared for someone, and at the end of the day, the person did not win and because of that, we were not allowed to enter Aso Rock for two and a half years. That should not happen this year. If some people in CAN belong to PDP, let them stay there and if some belong to Labour Party, let them stay there and if some belong to APC, let them stay in APC, anyone that gets to Aso Rock, we don’t lose. We must use our native intelligence. That is what we agree on at the national level in CAN. We are going to be a father to all.
Let Nigerians decide their leaders and whoever emerges is our President. There is no contradiction between Lagos State and the national body of CAN. That is why we have granted all the candidates interviews and interactions at the national level. All the candidates have addressed us and we have told them what we want.
CAN and PFN had initially protested against same faith ticket, what is the stand of CAN today?
For justice, a lot of people believe that we must balance the situation. CAN is not a political party, we are a religious body, we have said our own, and the party has done its own. We can’t force anything on the party and that is why we left it at that level.