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Religious Leaders Must Be Involved In Politics – Martins

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The Legacy Initiative International (LII) is a non-governmental organisation determined to change the Nigerian narratives. It is therefore championing a synergy between the two major religions in the country, Christianity and Islam, to be part of the initiative for good governance in Nigeria. In this interview with select journalists, LII Grand Patron, Chief Kenny Martins, explains the ideology behind the LII adventure. OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU was there

You have been around the political scene for a while, how did you make the switch from business to the murky waters of politics?

I cut my teeth in politics at a very tender age, about 26. I remember the first ever assignment that we took was telling late Basorun MKO Abiola, after he had emerged as the presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), at its national convention in Jos that he will win the June 12, 1993 presidential election, but will not get the presidency.

That led to the handover of the whole process of the Abiola election to a few of us. We were thrown into the thick of it; getting the election to hold; reconciling Abiola with late General Shehu Yar’Adua; running over to the North, meeting the likes of late Abubakar Rimi and other governors in place then.

So, we entered politics very early and at such very critical level. We didn’t have time to learn about politics. We went straight from being regular businessmen, whose aspirations were just making money, going for holidays abroad and driving fine cars to pushing, digging, building and fighting for the nations’ survival.

We were involved in Abacha’s transition, and everybody knew that he would succeed himself. There were five parties, which the late Bola Ige used to call ‘the five leprous fingers’, but our party, the defunct National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), was the only independent party then. We went into the local government election under late General Abacha and the NCPN won about 660 local governments, but they only left us with 160 and gave the rest to the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). That marked the end of the Abacha transition. He later died and General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over.

In those few days between his death and General Abdulsalami taking over, some of us also met with those who should know and decided against the impalpable fear that instead of completing the 90 days left of Abacha’s transition under Abdulsalami, it was in the best interest of the country to scrap the whole of the Abacha experiment, because there was no way the outcome of that transition will serve any president that will preside over it, because it was only the presidential election that was left.

We called a meeting and after three days of meeting with General Abdulsalami, the service chiefs and the then chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), Dagogo Jack, Justice Mamman Nasir and others, agreed that we should cancel the transition. We then proposed a nine-month transition.

Announcement of extension of the transition by nine months led to the cancelation of the five parties, but it still behooved on us to go round the nation to create the building block of the two major parties in place today. We also saddled ourselves with how to get Afenifere to work with the transition, an impossible proposition, but we were not scarred of making that possible.

That was how the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi group formed their own party, which ultimately became the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Afenifere and the five Abacha political parties became the defunct All Peoples Party (APP). But, in the last 24 hours to the announcement of party formation, Afenifere left.

Why did Afenifere pull out of the APP arrangement?

Afenifere left because of the struggle for who becomes the presidential candidate between late Chief Bola Ige and Chief Olu Falae. It was as a result of internal disagreement, even when the Abacha parties have conceded the presidency to them. But, many people pleaded with General Abdulsalami to give the Yoruba a party when they left, because the transition will collapse if they are not part of it.

Against this backdrop, the electoral body was mandated to give them their own party. The Alliance for Democracy (AD), did not qualify by any yardstick to be registered then.

The second reason why they left was that they were determined that they must produce the governorship candidates for the whole of South-West. They were not ready to accommodate the other people with whom they formed the APP. They wanted to own everything.

Though we had agreed that we will have two parties, everybody was ready to swallow anything, just to allow the emerging democracy to succeed.

So they had their own party, ran their own elections and took all those seats they wanted, but when it was time for the presidential election, as pre-programmed, they had to come back for a merger with the APP and then fielded a common candidate, which led to the emergence of a two-party system in Nigeria as envisage upon the death of General Abacha.

Some us were the architects of all these and we are writing books in which we hope to release details of what transpired then and we challenge anybody to say it was not so.

Given the tortuous picture you painted about Nigeria’s democratic journey, are you happy with the present state of the nation, especially against the backdrop of the sacrifice made by those who fought for the country’s return to civil rule?

Having been there as a team player who have tried along with other members of the team to stabilize the system for almost three decades, the question is: How come that regardless of our numerous sacrifices, our refusal to take offices, just being okay with making kings, creating leadership positions for co-fighters; how come when they get to power, nobody ever delivers to our expectation? How come Nigeria of today is worse than it was three decades ago, when we started this fight for democracy?

Why is Nigeria the only country where our yesterday is always better than our today? We are always scared about today and frightened that tomorrow will be a disaster. Before the 2015 presidential election, many people left this country.

If you can afford the ticket, you just leave. Again, another election is coming and everybody is afraid. Other countries are always happy about the coming of elections; they plan for them, because their tomorrow is programmed. We don’t have a tomorrow, we don’t even have a today. We only had yesterday to celebrate. What is wrong with us?

We looked at all these and said this country is so divided, so economically chaotic; security is not something somebody can talk about. In Lagos, one is afraid to drive from Ikeja to Ikorodu by 8.pm. We used to drive from Lagos to Benin and to Abuja at night to attend parties. We leave Lagos by 7.pm, you sleep on the highway if your car breaks down, and you are comfortable. Now, you cannot even sleep in your home, not to talk of being on the highway in the night. What has happened to this country?

Having looked at all these, regurgitated and digested them, we said what can we do? But we saw that there is nothing else to do as we have done everything that we needed to do.

I remember very clearly when General Olusegun Obasanjo was arrested and some of us escorted him to the Force Headquarters, where they ordered for his detention and by the second day, media people like you told us that we have been listed for elimination, but we didn’t bother, because death didn’t scare us.

But, some of those your colleagues, who were asking businessmen like us what we were doing in politics then, are special advisers to public office holders, members of the legislature today. They have now seen why we were involved in politics. If we were concerned about ourselves alone, this country will be in tatters.

How do we get out of the woods that we found ourselves as a people?

We have done all; we have followed our regional leaders, but it didn’t work; there was coup, different military governments over three decades, it didn’t work; we worked to bring democracy again, but 20 years after democracy, here we are.

Is democracy working? We found out that nothing is working. And in all these attempts, we have always done one thing wrong. We have never brought in the God factor to the equation. God is always missing in our democratic experience.

Some of our bishops run their million-member churches and fly private jets, but they don’t bring it to governance. Their prayers stop with their membership. But, in all the countries where democracy is working and those that are doing extremely well and are global champions, none has taken God out of their equation.

Take the United States of America for example; it is clear in their constitution that the country is under God. Go and check how many times, God’s name was mentioned in the American Constitution from the first to last page. In Britain, which is the flagship of democracy, you will find out that you cannot separate the church and the royal house from the government. Even in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, UAE, that was born about 30 years ago, God is always a factor.

So, we have decided that it was time that we brought the God factor to the equation. That was what the Legacy Initiative International (LII), has offered to bring to the polity. We need the God factor in the political equation of this country.

Don’t you foresee a situation where we will be creating more problems for ourselves by mixing religion with politics?

If we are realistic with ourselves, we will tell ourselves the truth that this country runs on two legs of two major religions; the Muslims and Christians. Fortunately for Nigeria and thank God for it, the Muslim leg has been very dominant, active, focused, pragmatic and forward thinking in the power equation.

They don’t separate politics from religion and they have tried their best in the last 57 years of independence. There is no way you can become president or governor or anything in this country without the Muslim factor, but the Christians, unfortunately, have always been preaching that Christianity and politics don’t mix. They only preach and convert souls, telling them that there is paradise in heaven, but we have gone round and found out that something is missing, which the Christians are not seeing.

So, they need to sit down with Muslims. In Lagos for example, how many Christian governors have we had? Only two – Michael Otedola, by accident as a result of the fight between the two Muslim aspirants then; and Akinwumi Ambode by begging. In Oyo State, and even the entire South-West, if you want to be anything, you must remember your Muslim name or add one if you don’t have.

How has indifference of Christians to politics affected the polity and governance?

It is the major reason why things are not working. The Muslims send their best, while the Christians don’t even send their second best. But we have met with our leaders, especially those on the religious side and said to them: ‘Have you not seen that something is missing as the country is running on one leg of the religious equation?’

For Obasanjo to be president; it took the intervention of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami, who are from the North and when it was time for him (Obasanjo) to make Goodluck Jonathan president, we told him that he has to, first, get the support of the North and assure them that he (Jonathan) will serve only one term.

When we chose our leaders, the Christians have no business and when they even get involved, they are so lackadaisical about it, there is no plan or coordination. But, unless the Muslims endorse you, there is no way you can get there. But, that is not the case for Muslims. They live, dream and scheme politics and power. The Christians on the other hand are totally anti-politics.

So, we have met with Christian leaders on the need for them to sit on the same table with their Muslim brothers and sisters to get Nigeria working. They are now canvassing for people to get their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), because they are becoming more politically conscious, but the question is: After getting the PVCs, what do the people do with them?

They should be able to elect their leaders and charge them, give them their mandate. So, there is the need for Christians to join the Muslims and ask them how they have been able to do it in the last 57 years of independence and bring their first eleven to play. Let the Muslim and Christian leaders sit down over these problems that have confronted us for over five decades and formulate a template for solution. Then, together with those Muslim leaders, agree on who should be our leader. In essence, the Christian and Muslim leaders should play the power game together. It should not be about All Progressives Congress (APC), or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The church and the mosque cannot play politics, but let the parties bring their candidates, so that they can interrogate them and pick a man to occupy the presidency and implement the template they formulated for us to build a country of our dream. When they agree on such personality, they will preach and talk about him on the pulpits and across the political, gender and class divides.

By the time the individual gets to power, he is charged with a mandate under the constitution. If he fails, he is queried, and ultimately given a red card. There should be consequences for failure in leadership.

How can this be possible given the role money has assumed in our electoral process?

You don’t need billions or government coffers to win elections like our political office holders do every time. People should emerge based on their credibility, commitment to nationhood and humanity.

Against this backdrop, we said, let us become the conscience of the nation. The church and the mosque have that role to play, because they are not involved in politics. The political parties should run their campaigns and sell their manifestos, but never again should money politics and godfatherism dictate the pace in our politics.

Our president shouldn’t just be winning laurels as anti-corruption champion; he should be wining laurels for being infrastructure champion.

Why is it that it is only the fight against corruption that the man has to do? It is because that is the only thing happening in the country. Like the Sultan of Sokoto said, this may be the only alternative and option left to salvage this country and if we fail this time, the future generation will blame us forever.

So, it is time the church agrees that the religion and power cannot be separated. You don’t have to do politics, but you need to go for power and governance. In summary, what we are saying is that Christians and Muslims should sit down on that table we call the altar of spirituality and look at the challenges Nigeria is facing, such as killings and corruption and agree on a template that would be used to choose a new crop of leaders.

They cannot create new ones, but they can charge the ones that will emerge and if such leaders fail to perform, there should be consequences and they will never have a second chance. I don’t want to be a president and even if you offer me the position I won’t take, but I am a kingmaker by right, calling and grace of God.  I have made presidents, it didn’t pay me; I have made governors and ministers and it didn’t pay me. So, I want to rally the people and make Nigeria for the incoming Nigerians.



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