Bishop Dr. Emmah Gospel Isong, a banker-turned-preacher of the gospel of Jesu Christ, is the National Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks on several issues, including the Nigerian economy, the reopening of the borders, the rising wave of insecurity and other sundry issues. NSAN NDOMA-NEJI brings excerpts:
Would you say that the present administration has fulfilled its promise to Nigerians, especially, on security?
You are asking me a question that every Nigerian already knows the answer. If I give a contrary answer, they will hate me and my family; it is an open secret that the promise of security, one of the three legs this government is standing has jumped into the oblivion, into the water loo, it is an open secret, especially, against the backdrop of the last abduction of some school boys; but whatever is the number, it really doesn’t matter.
Somebody did a cartoon and put Goodluck Jonathan on the left and President Muhammadu Buhari on the right; for Jonathan, they wrote ‘Bring back our girls,’ and for Buhari, ‘Bring back our boys;’ we have become comedians in a country where lives are lost on daily basis.
What is even more painful is when some media handlers say it is not this number of people that died, and that makes me more sick, as if you were to even lose a relation, you won’t cry; and then you were to lose more than one and people will say it is only three ,and then we begin to fight over the number, even if it were one, one American was kidnapped in Nigeria and in a commando style, the US government with its Navy SEALS landed in this country by permission of some quarters and then like a tornado, rescued their citizen.
Please I want Nigerians to be more serious about the issues of security; we politicize it and let me speak in my capacity as ordered by the president of PFN, Rev. Dr. Felix Omobhude, who feels very sad and asks the Federal Government to be proactive in bringing back the boys that were recently been abducted in Katsina State.
Thank God, the boys are back; and the PFN has also asked that the government does a little bit more than this to ensure the safety of lives and property in a nation that we called our own.
As a fellowship, our Pentecostal leaders, including our dear president, are very sad that we don’t seem safe as a country that had hitherto had been the most safe in Africa.
What do you think should be done about the security challenge in the country?
Very easy, I will give you five solutions to all these security problems; I do not claim to be a security expert, I could only be a patriotic citizen, an influencer, opinion moulder, father of faith, I can give you five things we can do, very immediate, that will stem the security situation and possibly reduce it to the barest minimum.
First is the much clamoured change in the handlers of the security in the country, the Service Chiefs need to be relieved of their duties. If you ask me when, I will say yesterday, because today is too late, and tomorrow is too long.
Second, security vote both at federal and state levels should be accounted for and made public. Right now as we are talking, I think it is one of the funds that you don’t need to retire; and you and I know that security vote should be something that should be retired, something that should be made public. You should tell us what you used it for. When governors, ministers, tell us what they use security vote for, I can bet you that it will be audited, probed and questioned.
Third, the security agents, nobody right now will tell you that his father, brother, sister in the Police, Army, Air Force are well catered for. The #EndSARS protest was supposed to improve the livelihood of these security men and women. How much does the security agents take home, how much does these people that risk their lives for us, what are the incentives, the motivating factors that will make somebody go to Sambisa Forest, that will make some body stand in the heat of the sun or make him wear a gun and go to the streets and want to arrest a criminal? Fourthly, there should be improvement in our already obsolete weapons. N, technology fights crime more than human beings. I hoped you know that if you look at the President of America, China and Britain, you don’t see a policeman standing behind them, but Nigerian governor and President, three, four MOPOL are blocking the camera, you cant even video; most Presidents walk past the crowd because there is enough intelligence and technology that handles security. Security is no more of archaic guns and Mark 4 and AK 47; the world is just shipping AK47 to Nigeria, they have abandoned those weapons, they are not used again.
We are in a world of technology, the 21st century, classical technology. How did America kill the chief terrorist in Iran? They did not need to send soldiers; we are fighting war of drones now, war of spy systems and that takes me to number five.
The fifth step we need to take is for Nigeria to start with the economy. The economy is the greatest security, no wonder they say food security.
I studied finance and banking for four years and there is a course we took in management studies called self actualisation, which means man’s needs is built in a pyramid. I am sure you know what I am taking about, and that it started from biological needs to security. First, you have biological needs, then social needs, then security, achievement and then the last one of course in the pyramid is self actualisation and what is self actualisation?
That is the point in which you can sit back home, beat your chest and say I am satisfied, contented, I need nothing in life and of course, according to Marslow theory, nobody has reached that level, but back to our security theory, using cassava, pounded yam, using rice, the first need of man is food, so get the stomach infrastructure rolling, get everybody happy, get everybody food on the table, use the food on the table policy and nobody will remember to go to the street or the pipeline to break it or to the street; and of course with a lot of intelligence gathering, we would be secured.
So, these are my five propositions, which if implemented within one week, I bet you, write it down, security will improve and insecurity will reduce by 90per cent.
I’m not an expert, but I have studied in the Massachusetts University, have gone to Boston to study about security and I am giving you from my heart, and as a patriotic Nigerian, anybody that applies these five in any state or local government is finished, you are going to see results.
The Federal Government recently approved the reopening of four borders across the country, do you see this as an effort in revamping the economy?
It can work for us and also against us. Don’t forget, most of these Fulani herdsmen pass through the borders, most of the armed robbers pass through the borders, fuel bunkerers pass through the borders, contraband goods pass through the borders, most of the weapons were hidden in bags of rice and beans and passed through the borders; so it’s a double edged sword. It is good for the economy, it is going to help the economy of course; breaking even in transportation, distribution of commodities, it heps the market, because when there is high demand and low supply, price increases; but when there is a high supply and the demand is low, price falls; so if you want to break down the prices of goods in the market, you open the borders so it can work for us and also work against us.
Look at the knife, what does the doctor use to operate somebody, the knife, what does an assassin use to kill somebody? Same knife; so it depends on whose hand holds the knife, so it’s a double edged sword.
I mean whatever way you see it, good and bad, yes and no.
Do you think one of the major causes of our present predicament stemmed from population explosion?
No, population has never been a problem. What we have is not a population problem; what we have is lack of data on population problem, because you cannot plan until you know the number of people you are planning for; I mean you own a home and what does your wife do, she knows how many people are in the house and if your mother or brother is coming from the village, she knows, so she is able to step up the quantity of soup and garri. Population is not our problem, it is the lack of sufficient data for planning, because planning is done by data.
Let’s take for instance China, India, Asian countries, what is their strength? Their strength is their population and let me remind you, what are the three factors of production, land labour and entrepreneur; so lets take labour, the more people we have in Nigeria, if you call it population explosion, the more money we have. How has China been able to handle their labour explosion and start exporting labour?
My house, for instance, was furnished and finished by Chinese and that could be capital flight; even the people who do the tiling, they come from Cotonou. We can turn our population into our advantage, just like our forefathers; we don’t have more children like our forefathers, I have three children and I don’t know how many you have, but our forefathers had 22, 36; were they having problem? No, because they were able to harness their population, they were used for farming, war, wrestling, they divided the children into cooperative unions, and some were sent to school.
Please, do not ever make mistake to think that Nigeria’s continuous explosive population is our problem; no, Nigeria’s lack of sufficient data is our major problem. Ok, if I ask you now, what is our population, you wil tell me its 120, 150, million, someone else will say 200 millon, and you wonder what is budget; budget is the ability to put the national cake on the table and project; so budget is the projected expenditure of the nation; and what is vision? Seeing tomorrow today; we don’t even know how many we are, some of the local governments we have are landmass, huge land mass , especially in the North.
I’m sorry to say and you call something like Yakurr, which I think is the most populated and thickest village in West Africa, but some local governments in Akwa Ibom and Katsina are receiving more than Yakurr, due to one thing or the other; so I am trying to say that we lack the data, the numerical data to plan and project, because when we say budget, we are not doing it well if we are not able to allocate the number of people.
People have continued to argue that the PFN under Archbishop Benson Idahosa was very vibrant, under Oritsejafor, there was flashes of vibrancy; but after Oritsejafor left and up till now, the PFN has lost its voice, despite the challenges of the country. Would you agree with this submission?
No, you are talking about what we call in administration differences in human idiosyncrasies, temperamental dichotomies; you are meeting an extrovert or introvert, these does not express vibrancy or non vibrancy. I have survived those periods you are talking about; Archbishop Idahosa, Oritsejafor are my Papa in the Lord and I have seen all those people they all run under the same constitution of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria; they have different approaches, different idiosyncrasies, just like you said, Bishop are there, 20 bishops in Calabar or presumably 500 in the Niger Delta, do they behave like me, talk like me, or offer press conferences like this? Do they get involve in government or politics like I a doing, speak to power as I speak, talk on national issues or speak on security?
So what I am saying is that my individualistic disposition and personal idiosyncracy can affect my methodology of expression, just like anybody is not doing the function, the other pastor that is not giving press conference could be praying more than I pray, the other pastor that is not talking to the press or speaking to power, may be raising up politicians even more than me that is making noise, so people’s method differ, Idahosa had the charisma which you cannot compare with the intelligence of Oritsejafor.
Ok, of all the years of Idahosa, they never built us a secretariat, Oritsaaor laid the foundation of a secretariat, which Omobhude finished, and look at the years of Okonkwo of all the years of other people, they never brought us into CAN, Dr. Mike Okonkwo introduced the PFN into CAN politics, he told the PFN, don’t be alone, come into CAN and he became the National Vice President of CAN, which motivated Ayo oOritsejafor to become the National President of CAN, so every person in his own dispensation, underlined by his personal disposition carries out his mandate and purpose, without breaking the ranks. To me, they are all good and fine and they did their job at their time.
Do you think the government had any reason to close the border in the first place?
That should be answered by the Minister of the Interior; even if they had solved the problem they had envisaged, they cannot disclose some intelligence information to you and I, but let me let you know that opening of borders means also free movement of goods and persons and it is good news for the economy; the economy is like water, once water does not flow in and flow out, it becomes like a pond and can smell, you know we talk about stock in management, last in last out, first in, first out; we talk about marketing, what is marketing? Marketing is buying and selling and buying and selling is done by persons who come with money to exchange, what gives strength to our naira, that’s why we call it exchange rate, exchange rate means ability of the naira, viz a viz other currencies to exchange basic commodity like rice, beans, cloth or even vehicles. Don’t forget in the law of market forces, the power of market forces is determined by competition, the more you sell, the more you make money and it’s called turn over, so in basic economics its good news basically, if there are other security intentions or social loopholes the government should be able, through the Ministry of Interior, or Customs to secure the border, because it is their duty to provide security; so like I said, good news to me, but bad news, if we don’t manage it well.
You prophesied about a strange illness this year; and we have the COVID-19 pandemic; then the #EndSARS protests, what are your thoughts about these problems the world has faced this year?
You are my witness, I don’t regret being based in Calabar and I want to thank the journalists for helping me not want to be based in Lagos, because I told you some time ago that somebody that makes this kind of prophesy come to pass in Lagos is a hero, they will not allow him rest, but my own, for 20 years, all my prophesies come to pass, if they mention it, they will say leave it, who is that Calabar man; that is the problem we are going through here and John the Baptist was in the wilderness, I’m not calling Calabar wilderness, it is very clear, I don’t want to recount my prophesies of previous years, I have said it, some of you heard it that a strange sickness is coming; and let me correct you, I did not just say strange sickness, I said it will cause sneezing, its there, it in your book and I said it will be contagious, will come through other countries, but it will enter Nigeria, West Africa, will kill a lot of people and that we are covered by the blood of Jesus; do you know somebody said sometime ago that no pastor saw coronavirus, but thank God for one lady, I think, Eta in CRBC, who wrote back and said I know one Bishop Emmah Isong who prophesied and it came to pass and that vindicated God, not me, because I do not take the glory.
Yes I said the sickness came, but remember the part of the prophesy that says He will protect us and keep us and that’s why you and I are still looking healthy, and let me remind you that sickness came to Calabar last, the last town to detect coronavirus was Cross River because the prophesy said upon this mountain God said He will protect us and if you look at coronavirus in Cross River, even though it has been politicized, not many people have died of the disease in the state.
Cross River became the first state to declare no mast no movement and you know that there was pressure on us from te NCDC to declare even one virus and at a point, they were begging us to declare just one and I called the governor and said it is the prophesy of Jehovah God, it is God protecting this glorious state, it is God keeping us, because the prophet that spoke about coronavirus is from this altar and this altar is in this state and this state is blessed, other states are blessed as well, but I am telling you the man who prophesied stayed here and God came ad kept us and so that is a sign that God is alive.
What is the way out of coronavirus?
Medically, scientists have proved that you wash your hands, distance yourselves socially and stay home most of the time and when coughing you cover your mouth and sneezing you cover your nose, that is the way out medically, the way out spiritually is to pray and ask God to take care of you and your family and give your life to Jesus, be born again, the way out politically is for governments at all levels to stop politicizing the virus, it is real, but not for money making, the government has politicized it, added salt and pepper and it has become a way of making money from the World Bank, in fact if a governor wants support from the World Bank, you collapse and say you have been infected and while infected, he will be drinking coffee with his wife and family and $10 billion will arrive and he will recover; so let them stop politicising this thing; coronavirus, I am told scientifically is real, but our government, politicians are politicizing it, let them remove the political coronavirus and let us deal with the medical coronavirus, the political one is too much
Yesterday, a black woman was vaccinated against the virus, would you recommend vaccination for your members or Nigerians?
No, the truth is that the real vaccine for coronavirus has not been discovered and we are praying it should be discovered. I was in touch with New York this afternoon and friends of mine are telling me, listen we are not sure of the vaccine, so I am sure the sickness is real, it is killing people all over the world, people should stay safe, but I can tell you reliably that the vaccine is not 100 per cent, I am told it is 50 per cent, some say 40 per cent, but anything that has 40 – 50 per cent, you can be sure there is human error, please do not depend on vaccine, I am not talking about the anti-Christ narrative, I am not talking about the narrative of the 666, but I can tell you that the vaccine is not yet proved, if it arrives Africa, they should test it on the people that brought it first, if they survive after three weeks, we take it.
But if it is discovered, would you recommend it?
If a vaccine is really discovered, by that time coronavirus must have left. If I approve anything that has not been discovered I am putting at risk someone who believes in my ministry, true vaccine has not been discovered, take it from me, I am talking from reliable source.
Following the spike in coronavirus virus cases, the government is alleged to be planning a fresh lockdown this festive season, what is your take on this?
The Federal Government did not lockdown during Sallah, therefore they will not lock down during Christmas.
I just want to take you back to the economy, as an economist, the country is in recession and the Minister of Finance siad the country will exit recession in the first or at most second quarter of next year, do you share this optimism?
Of course, I will want to exit it this evening; but I cannot share in that optimism if she cannot put things on the table. The problem is that we talk the talk, we don’t walk the talk, like when you asked of security, I gave you five things to be done by even a local government chairman and security will improve immediately, let me tell you what happened, you saw what happened in Cross River State, we had one of the worst security in the state and the governor said I cannot see this nonsense and he did something, you are my witness that with the Operation Akpakwu, security in the state has improved.
I am sick and tired of politicians politicizing the economy, what are the things that you have done that will affect the economy during the second quarter and I can give her my suggestions free of charge and you don’t need to pay, I will give you three now; number one, hand over some crucial sectors of the economy to the private sector; hands off, government has no business doing business, if I were in government I hand over even universities to the private sector, education can be handed over to the private sector while you monitor, what are you going to do with 24 months of strike when Covenant University is still holding lectures, hand over the health sector to private sector, it will boost the economy and therefore because of that people will take ownership of the economy, because I am dealing with beans and rice, you are dealing with plantain but the person making policy on plantain and beans is our enemy, he will make one policy that plantain should be banned and I lose my money. The purpose of government is to provide the enabling environment for businesses to survive and not to go into business, privatization of some key sectors is key.
Number two, catalyse production; there are numerous and abundant material resources in all parts of Nigeria, Ikom has cocoa, Akwa Ibom has cassava, Calabar has palm fruits, Akamkpa has quarries, so stimulate the economy by productive activity. What is production, productivity will create profitability that will create employment. What is employment, getting that factor of production which is labour to have its hands on deck, if I were president of Nigeria, I will establish 774 cottage industries in each local government, the paramount ruler, CAN chairman, Iman or whoever, the elders of that local government become the board of directors, and I will stimulate employment at local level and the population will move from urban back to rural, like the bible says when Ruth heard that God had visited Bethlehem, she returned to her village, every one will go back to his village, because the industry in his village alone can cater for your feeding and accommodation, because all the money we make in town finally we take it to the village, so if there is money in the village, what are you doing in somebody’s town, so urban to rural migration will return as it used to be, so activate productivity, productivity will create profitability and that will stimulate employment.
Number three is what I call political solution: restructure Nigeria, if you cannot restructure politically, restructure economically, in other words, the Yoruba of the West, go back to your cocoa, the North go back to your groundnuts, the South South and South East, go back to your oil palm, if you cannot restructure the country politically, you can restructure it economically, because the oi from the South South cannot go to the national purse when the profit from the gold from Zamfara is not coming to the table; a lot of people have been aggrieved, the farmers in the farm are attacked by the herdsmen, because they see them as enemies, if you attack me in the farm, I am producing vegetable and you are selling meat through yor cow, not so, if I buy cow and be killed this Christmas and I don’t have pumpkin, vegetable and yam, to put in the soup, will I still buy your meat? No, so back to restructuring, in case somebody I offended by restructuring, call it resource control, if that still offends you, call it ‘to your tent o Israel,’ ‘to your farm o Israel’ or to your village o Israel,’ believe me the Ikom man in Calabar has left his wealth back home in Akparabong and come to run around, wearing long sleeve shirt and I don’t know what he is looking for, you get what I am saying, you leave those estates like the prodigal son who left his fathers wealth and inheritance and went to a far country and when he was frustrated, returned home with tattered trousers, and when he arrived, his father still told him the wealth is at home and killed the fattened calf, so if we apply this three, if you publish this and any smart politician picks this, you activate the economy, that’s why in Akwa Ibom, the governor is talking about the Dakada spirit – bringing his people back to a point they can believe in themselves, if you notice from the time of Godswill Akpabio, even Attah, the Akwa Ibom people have brought a sense of their people returning home, I am telling you the truth, most Akwa Ibom people have returned, even pastors, business men, they have returned home, this diaspora movement positively can happen in any state, we can instigate a development that returns our people and I keep quoting Ruth 1, when Ruth heard that God has visited his people and that bread has returned to Bethlehem, she returned, we are having brain drain, capital flight everyday, people are parcelling money and sending out and of course with the worsening security situation, who is safe, so we need to return to the drawing board and talk to our people and I think with the cattle raiders movement, the herdsmen movement will reduce, if we return and capitalise on what we have in our different homes, it will boost the economy, like me, I will go back to my village and have a big farm with government incentive.
You talked about privatization, one is looking at how government had privatized NEPA?
They handed it over to wrong hands, the DISCOs are not working, the companies are corrupt, that’s why I say there must be honesty in the privatization, the privatization was faulty at the beginning. Another point we shfould emphasize is that there is lack of honesty in governance, our politicians are not really honest. You saw when the #EndSARS movement started, one of the things that angered the youths was that there was a lot of palliatives stored in warehouses that were not used, they changed from police brutality to another thing and people became angry. Are we this rich and we are that poor and many governments were explaining: it arrived yesterday, it arrived day before yesterday, so there is no honesty in government. Our politicians should be honest and the ministers and commissioners of information should come out clean, they are not giving the people the truth, people are disgruntled and misinformed and that’s why I respect you, the fourth realm of the estate, you guys should wake up to your responsibilities. I know you are incapacitated and not well funded, like orphans, this is the sector government should give subventions like an average journalist in the USA is well educated, rich enough; that’s why they can confront governors. So, I am putting to us that we are stronger after the executive, legislative, judicial arm, you are the fourth arm of government, by my understanding; as your patron, you owe the people this sense of enlightenment, people are disgruntled, misinformed, anger is high, so we should live up to our responsibilities, inform the people and put the truth to power.
There has been cases of rape involving clergies; what is CAN and PFN doing about the moral conduct of these clerics?
Let me give you some suggestions, every church has its own hierarchy and therefore by extension disciplinary mechanism, so we are all children of the same father, but different mothers.
You cannot ask that question at this level since every one of us gathering are children of the same father – God Almighty, but different mothers; if you are from a polygamous home, you will understand what I am saying, so when we gather at the village square, we are there to enjoy the moonlight, not because we don’t have food to eat in the house, every church, every organsiation has its own constitution, practices, doctrine, internal administration and disciplinary mechanism sufficient to handle the pressure under them; so, I don’t need to speak for any organisation, they can handle that.
In Cross River State, you happen to be the Director General, DG, of the state Anti-Tax Agency, can you tell me how the agency is fairing?
Its not the number of Sheltox you produce that will hinder the mosquito from flying, the company will continue to produce Shelttox, and customers will continue to buy, but we are shocked that mosquito is still biting people. The anti-tax agency is doing very well; don’t forget we were inaugurated into office in May this year, and we have achieved a lot; we have inaugurated the Marshalls, the local government representatives in all the councils, we take instructions directly from the governor, who is very happy with us. The intention of the agency was to reduce social tension by taking away the burden of taxation from the poorest of the poor, including low income civil servants, keke drivers, that we have achieved.
In sensitization, creation of awareness, we have also set up special courts, though the acting chief judge then, Eneji, these courts have magistrates assigned, people have been apprehended, and we have prosecuted some of those people and we are still in tandem with some of those local government chairmen, who feel that some of their supporters are rewarded by these revenue points.
I hope you know some of those revenue points are awarded to councillors and politicians as pay back for elections, that’s why you see some of these activities increase after local government elections, when once local government elections finishes, you see a lot of taxation; why, because this narrative has to change that even if I become a local government councillor, all my boys, most of those boys are people’s boys, if you arrest them you begin to have phone calls from top politicians, who are my colleagues; so to say in government, even commissioners, they start calling you to release some people to them, so I am sure that is why many enforcement teams are facing even EFCC and ICPC, so we do hope that Xross Riverians under anti tax should capitalise on the 2015 tax exemption law of Cross River State Xap 72 and also that Cross Riverians should capitalise on the governor’s executive fiat announcement of 20th May 2020, know their rights and possibly resist tax collectors and tell them that some categories of people, including market women that sell vegetables are not supposed to pay tax within this period, post COVID-19, because Cross Riverians have suffered, some have not made money for years and so the governor in his magnanimity, the man is not just a governor but a philanthropist, this is man who before he became a governor was sending free vehicles to carry people from here to Obudu and other parts of the state; so the good intentions of government is being carried out.
Do you have the statistics of the prosecutions you have done?
I will say for now, 42 persons have been totally apprehended, some won, some had some form of luck, so I will say 42 for now as at today, the 17th of December, 2020, but the total number of people who have been confronted are in hundreds, I am talking of apprehension and arrest, and basically you know that the Cross River State Anti-Tax Agency is the most popular agency now in government, you are my witness both on radio and everything, what we are saying now is tell Cross Riverians their rights and let them fight for it, that is more important for us than carrying police and pursuing these boys because the #EndSARS movement has made us to appeal to Cross Riverians to resist organisationally, National Union of Road Transport Workers can resist these people, and the market women union can resist these shylock people going around the market and extorting from market women, we want organisations to stand up and claim their rights, call the agency and possible take these people to the special courts and let them face the law.