Venerable Funso Awe, an Anglican Priest, is an activist and a governorship aspirant in Lagos on the platform of the National Conscience Party (NCP). He spoke to on the state of the nation, his aspiration, NCP founder, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and other current issues in the polity. Excerpts:
What is the way out of Nigeria’s current socio-economic and political challenges?
The only way forward for the country as we are at crossroads now is having the right leadership. We know all our problems but the solution is getting someone who will solve them and that is just all we need. If all of us proffer the solution and there is no one to implement it, we are wasting our time. It is like a group of rats who met and identified a common problem which is a cat. One of them gave a wonderful suggestion on how to deal with it and said let us put a bell on the neck of the cat so that when it is coming and the bell is ringing all the rats will run away and they all clapped. But one of them asked: who will bell the cat? And the one that will bell the cat is the leader. In other words what I am saying is that no matter how a problem is big or small it is has to be solved by somebody who is able to actually establish a proper leadership, a proper hold on the helms of the affairs of Nigeria, a president who can act, lead, and whip everybody into line. The Yoruba has a proverb which says, ”I will not come and die cannot struggle for his father’s inheritance or chieftaincy title” as such a person cannot lead. We require a leader who if necessary is ready to pay the supreme sacrifice for what is just. So as we move towards 2019, what Nigerians should do is to change the leadership of this country through the ballot. We should not continue to recycle the same group of people and expect a different result in governance. When you have an ailment and you continue to apply the same drug that hasn’t cured it over again, you will die. Since the return of civilian administration in May 1999, we have been recycling the same group of people as leaders over and over again both in the executive and legislative arms of government at all levels. So 2019 is an opportunity for Nigerians look for somebody outside the group and vote massively for such candidate during the presidential election and also elect only credible persons during the national assembly, governorship and state assembly elections. In Lagos State, the voters should vote NCP’s candidates including my humble self. At the national level, the electorate should reject the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidates. I believe the time has come for a paradigm shift. Nigerians should vote only for a honest young president with a strong will and ready to sacrifice his life if necessary and face all the socio-economic challenges headlong for the common good of the people. We want a president whose body language alone will tell you that it is no longer business as usual.
But it is said that a society gets the type of leadership it deserves. Don’t you think the people are part of the problem especially now that vote buying is a major issue?
That is what I said. The people, the voters will have to take the decision, they are the ones who will decide to either continue with the old socio-economic order or embrace a new order. When the current leaders are dancing forward and they discover that their followers are no longer behind them, they know that it is no longer business as usual. It was the late Bob Barley who sang a song: ‘that every man has a right to take a decision’ so we have the right as Nigerians to decide if we want to continue to suffer or have a new lease of life under a set of new leaders. There is no doubt that majority of Nigerians are suffering today. In fact when the late Afro king Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang the popular song ‘suffering and smiling’ the situation was different. But right now the people are suffering and crying. When you walk along the streets and see hardship on people’s faces, you realize that Fela’s song is no longer relevant. So if it has gotten to that stage, I think it is time for a paradigm shift and I believe it should happen in 2019. In my study of West African history especially at ordinary level in secondary school, there were three great empires namely Ghana, Mali and Songhai. I remember vividly that our teacher coming to class to teach us that Ghana Empire attained its peak during the time of Ossei Tutu. The next topic after that was the fall of that once powerful empire. This was followed by Mali Empire which reached its apogee during the tenure of Mansa Musa and thereafter we were taught the fall of Mali Empire. What I am saying is that the suffering in Nigeria today has peaked and the natural sequence of event that will happen next is the fall of this present generation of Nigerian politicians. There must be a paradigm shift to give way to new breed politicians and I am one of them. We must elect only people with revolutionary tendencies, what we need now is a political revolution otherwise we can’t move forward as a nation. If that doesn’t take place, a time will come we can’t escape bloody revolution and people will troop out to the streets killing and maiming because those who prevented peaceful change from taking place as the saying goes will only give room for bloody change. The violent protests that swept across some Arab countries in the northern part of Africa, like Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt which we watched on Aljazeera television should serve as a lesson to Nigerians. If the 2019 general elections don’t produce a revolutionary political change, then we will have a violent eruption and God save us.
What quality traits do you expect from a new president of Nigeria?
My ideal new leader of the world most populous black nation should have fresh ideas, strength of character and be incorruptible because the issue of corruption has become endemic. Certainly this present APC-led federal government is not fighting corruption and the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari shows that he is not fighting corruption while the people working with him are corrupt. Immediately President Buhari announced his cabinet, I knew that the war on corruption has gone to the wind and all the anti-graft agencies have not been discharging their responsibilities without fear or favour because of entrenched interests. The incoming leader and new government must be ready to step on toes, fight and defeat corruption. Those found corrupt must be brought to book and sent to jail within the ambit of the rule of law. The penalty for corruption must be made stiffer. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC are presently focusing on those in opposition parties and maintain a blind eye on corrupt members of the ruling APC. We all know the thieves in Nigeria and these agencies are pretending not to know.
Do you recommend death sentence for treasury looters?
Yes if that will stop corruption. We are Africans and we thrive on African adages, idioms and proverbs. There is a Yoruba proverb that says when you slap your mother’s son, the one who is your father’s child will be very careful. Somebody was quoted as saying that former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori made the greatest mistake of his life by running away from Nigeria to the United Kingdom and since his return to Nigeria, who has touched him? That tells you a lot about the anti-graft campaign in Nigeria.
On September 5th it will be nine years after Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN passed on. Do you still miss him?
Nigerians miss him badly, just like we will continue to miss many more like him. This present generation will miss Gani Fawehinmi, Fela Anikulapo- Kuti, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Mallam Aminu Kano and Tai Solarin all of blessed memory. These were great men who stood against man’s injustice to man, who stood for the truth, justice; men who refused to be corrupt, who worked hard for their possession, who were willing to make sacrifice for the common good. When I wanted to join politics a friend of mine said since you are closed to the APC chieftains, as a former Chaplain of Chapel of Christ the Light Alausa, Ikeja, I should join the party. I was the Chaplain of the Chapel when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the governor. So naturally I would have had my way in the APC but I refused to join because ideologically we are miles apart. I couldn’t be in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP also. So the only place I could pitch my tent with is the National Conscience Party, NCP founded by the late Chief Fawehinmi because I believe in the party’s ideology which has remained unshaken. The party is very committed to abolition of poverty, helping the masses and upholding the rule of law. Gani believed so much in the rule of law. There is also something similar between Gani and the late Mahatma Ghandi of India who led a peaceful protest and eventually secured independence for his people, the Indians. Gani was a man of his word, a man of principle who will not sell his conscience for any amount. He was a philanthropist and offered scholarship to indigent students on merit and not on the basis of religion or tribe. Unfortunately a lot of lawyers he brought up are not following his footsteps and abandoned his principles today. Those who are supposed to be real Gani’s children like Femi Falana, SAN and others are not and it is very sad.
Some political parties including the NCP and the PDP have formed an alliance known as the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP). Do you think the alliance can defeat the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2019?
Nothing good will come out of the alliance. It is a PDP affair, the same old breed politicians. Their colleagues in APC are ready for them. In the Second Republic, NPP, UPN, GNPP and PRP came up with an alliance against the NPN. Late K.O. Mbadiwe said that the four-party alliance was “nothing, but a political rascality and a diabolical jingoism of the highest order”. It never worked because NPN came back to win the election before the military coup of December 31st 1983 that was led by Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari retired now the incumbent president. The same fate awaits the CUPP alliance except the people unite to remove APC, and not PDP and its allies.
For a better society