In this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU, the Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde, speaks on the planned levy on religious organisations and leadership in Nigeria.
What’s your reaction to the recent calls for taxation of religious organisations?
People calling for the taxation of churches are like people calling for the sale of their mother. The Christian church is the architect and the mother of Nigeria’s achievments. I don’t know what Nigeria would have become without Christianity; we brought civilisation, education, even publication – the first publication started in Abeokuta by the CMS. We brought hospitals. Those who fought Church Missionary Society for the independence of Nigeria were products of missionary schools.
So, those who are making the call for taxation are saying, “Sell my mother, I don’t care.” And it’s an action that is impossible. I am re-emphasising it, it is an impossible task. Those who fight the church are fighting God. The first leprosy centre in Nigeria was established by the Methodist Church Nigeria, followed by the Catholic Church. The killing of twins was stopped by Mary Slessor of the Presbyterian Church in Calabar.
There is an exception- We have the Wesley House in Lagos built for commercial purposes. If you want to tax that, it is good. If we are getting an income from it, as we put tenants there, it is taxable. We are paying tax on the commercial buildings we have. But if you want to tax our tithes and Sunday collections, you cannot because the church is not for commercial purpose. And we plough what we have back into the society.
The churches are in partnership with the government. For example the hospitals and schools built by the Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventists, etc, are a way we plough our money back into the society.
They think we were making profits in our schools; it started with Lateef Jakande in Lagos, they took over our schools and destroyed everything. Products of those schools are the armed robbers of today; they are the area boys, the militants and the ‘Boko Harams’ because they were given education without morality and the fear of God. It serves us right because we are lying on the bed we spread.
But critics argue that missionary schools are too expensive and out of the reach of a common man.
If knowledge is expensive, try ignorance. The one they (government) are doing is not free. Education is not free, somebody is subsidising. We are now establishing our universities where there is no cultism and no strikes. When it is four years, it is four years. But look at our government-owned universities, they are glorified secondary schools. You can’t compare them with mission universities. I know a cousin who went to the Lagos State University and spent eight years for a degree because of strikes. Even with the argument that our school fees are high, we are still subsidising.
Where did the country get it wrong that people refer to the independence era as better years?
We are the architect of our problems. One, there is no fear of God again in the land, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Islam preaches fear of God, Christianity preaches fear of God but there is no fear of God anywhere again. When there is no fear of God, there will be no love. Once there is no love, corruption sets in.
The love between the Hausa and the Yoruba; the Yoruba and the Igbo; the majority and the minority are orchestrated and counterfeit love. We have politicised everything. And the root of all of these is corruption.
In the sixties, when people took contracts to construct roads and other infrastructure, they didn’t give or take percentage (bribes). The Ibadan-Ijebu Road, which was constructed by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, is still solid because bribes were not given. When you award contracts and you take percentages, the works will not be solid. It is not a spiritual problem; it is a physical problem that boils down to corruption and lack of the fear of God. People no longer work with conscience. And conscience is the inner voice of God in you. Most Nigerians don’t have conscience again; their conscience is dead. And when your conscience is dead, you do wrong things. I served this country for about 40 years and I retired with no pension or gratuity, and you want me to die for Nigeria? I can’t.
Some people have said a revolution is looming. Do you agree?
I agree seven times. When you keep people unemployed for a long time, you are asking for a revolution. And let me tell you, Boko Haram has become a revolution; they don’t kill only Christians again, they kill Muslims now. They go into their homes while they are praying and shoot them. They are going beyond religion and it is becoming a revolution. The Niger Delta militancy case is a revolution. You can’t take resources from our place and develop the North, while you neglect us. A councillor is earning more than a vice-chancellor of a university or a professor and you say there will be no revolution. There will be revolution.
Nigeria is bleeding. We must try as much as possible not to make it anaemic. Everyone is guilty; don’t apportion blames to the politicians alone. The church is guilty because some people have commercialised religion and that is why some say churches should be taxed – because they see religious leaders living above their means. When you are too flamboyant as a man of God, people will talk. But we cannot use isolated cases to judge the church. The judiciary is not left out, in fact, it has disgraced the nation. What about the police? They are licensed to kill through accidental discharge. Everybody is almost lawless in this country.
Those who are calling for a revolution have also faulted the 1914 amalgamation, saying the regions should go their separate ways. Do you support this?
Revolution can come but it cannot lead to a division. The revolution will not be restricted to any region because we have all got it wrong. I will not advocate fa break-up. Going our separate ways is not the answer to our problems. Getting it right and returning to God is the answer. The spirit of those who died during the civil war will not forgive us if we divide as a nation. Let me emphasise this: the spirit of those who died, the innocent ones, during the civil war will not forgive us if Nigeria divides. To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.
There is nothing President Goodluck Jonathan can do, except we pray for him. We are insatiable; nobody can satisfy Nigerians. I pity him as a leader. I am a leader and I know what leadership means. He cannot satisfy everybody. Even those who are not as knowledgeable as he is are condemning him. It is easier to condemn than to offer advice. This is the right time for all of us to pray for our country, our leaders and offer constructive criticism and have good political leaders.
What baffles me in Nigeria today is that the enemies of Nigeria are in the same party. Those who criticise the Peoples Democratic Party bitterly are the members of the party. Most of those who do not see anything good in Jonathan are members of the PDP. The party is a house that is divided against itself and cannot stand. What I want is a formidable opposition, not to gang up. What I want is a party with discipline; a party with manifesto. The only way out is for politics to be less lucrative. We are not civilised and experienced enough in politics to run a presidential system of government. It is too expensive; our economy is not good and we depend on only crude oil. All the local councils and states go to Abuja for federal allocation. How can we grow? States cannot generate funds for themselves and they think they can generate funds to run their states through taxation of churches. They are deceiving themselves. We will pray and they will collapse because God can fight for himself. Let them diversify. I am praying to God to let oil dry up even during my lifetime so that we will learn a lesson of not putting all our eggs in one basket. We have a long way to go and that is why I say it is a general failure, not Jonathan’s failure. I pity him. Jonathan is suffering from the penalty of leadership. To me, it is a collective failure. We are all making Nigeria to bleed. We all need attitudinal change.