The former Lagos Archbishop of the Catholic Church urged the Presidency to take note of the criticisms by former President Olusegun Obasanjo; former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida; the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria and others, saying that they should not be dismissed as “wailers.”
He said, “The truth is: Nigerians are not happy; Nigerians are hungry and angry. They are not happy because their lives and their belongings are not safe. They work so hard while the value of the money they earn cannot make them enjoy basic things of life.
“Nigerians are unhappy because the economy has been so mismanaged that some cannot pay the school fees of their children. Nigerians are unhappy because they have not got jobs. Nigerians are unhappy because, instead of hope, they are offered propaganda and insults by the President’s men. Nigerians are angry because their loved ones are butchered by herdsmen while the response of government is woeful.
“The issue at hand is more serious than getting re-elected. It cannot be resolved by way of a facile intra-party reconciliation. Before it can succeed, this government must admit it has failed. Before it can retrace its steps, this government must admit that it has strayed from the path of keeping the promises it made, promises that made Nigerians to vote as they did in 2015.
“Apart from seeking intra-party reconciliation, this government must first reconcile with Nigerians by treating them with respect,” Okogie said in a piece he sent to The PUNCH on Sunday night, titled, ‘There is Anger in the Land.’
According to him, despite “the insolence of some of its officials,” Nigerians still pray for the President Muhammadu Buhari government.
“May this government not suffer the fate of the proverbial hunter’s dog that got lost in the forest because it obstinately refused to heed the hunter’s whistle,” he said.
Starting on a historical note, the vocal cleric recalled that the late football commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, was fond of using an Igbo proverb while giving a minute by minute description of football matches on the radio.
He said, “Anytime there was an infringement that escaped the attention of the referee, he would ask his colleagues, Sebastian Ofurum or Tolu Fatoyinbo, if they too saw the infringement. If they confirmed what he saw, he would say in Igbo, ‘What two persons have seen and confirmed to be a boa must not be mistaken for a piece of diamond.’
“One may apply that maxim to the situation in our country right now. There is anger in the land. Many voices are echoing it. These voices of anger are so deafening that it can no longer be denied. The level of discontent in Nigeria at this point in time is like the proverbial boa sighted by even more than two persons. It would be unwise to mistake it for a piece of diamond.
“It has been sighted by retired Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, who have spoken of the anger in the land in clear and unmistaken terms. It has been sighted by traditional rulers, who have called the attention of government to it. It has been sighted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria when the bishops went to the corridors of power to speak to power in the way Biblical prophets directly confronted kings in Israel.
“This can no longer be treated as the cry of wailers. Even leading members of the party ruling at the centre have demonstrated commendable candour by openly acknowledging that the hopes of 2015 have been shattered by the disappointment of 2019.”
Quoting the late Raggae legend, Bob Marley, as saying ‘your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy,’ Okogie said, “But presidential aides in our country do not seem to grasp the wisdom in those words.”
The retired Archbishop added, “By their own reckoning, anyone who raises doubts as to the rightness of government policies, actions and statements is an enemy of government. He or she is ridiculed as speaking because there is no more access to ill-gotten wealth.
“A police officer, appointed to his office, demonstrated unspeakable insolence on television, calling an elected state governor a ‘drowning man.’ In other climes, he would lose his job. In Nigeria, he keeps it.”
The former CAN president stated that Catholic bishops had never failed to offer their advice to successive governments in the country. “Every line, every word of every intervention emanating from the Conference was chosen to offer frank and friendly advice,” he said.
He, however, called the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, insolent for attacking Catholic bishops after they met with Buhari and told the President that his goodwill was draining.
Okogie said, “The Bishops did the same thing a few days ago, calling the attention of the President to the anger and disappointment in the land. At the end of their friendly exchange with the President, some of his aides and friends resorted to name calling and gratuitous accusations.
“Anyone who has a faint idea of how the Catholic Church is run would know that the Catholic Church does not run on tithes. It has never taught that God’s blessings depend on tithes. No Catholic bishop in this country has a private jet. Not even the Pope has one.
“But an uninformed state governor, notorious for being insolent, described the bishop’s intervention as the wailing of religious leaders who no longer have access to tithes because of this government’s anti-corruption fight.
“True friends tell each other the truth. There cannot be sincere friendship where there is no truth. Those who are telling our President the truth are his true friends. Those who are shielding him from the truth, while insulting those who tell him the truth, are his real enemies.
“By insulting well-meaning Nigerians who happen to disagree with policies of government, they are not winning friends for the President. They are in fact helping to grow the rank and file of the angry. Whoever loves this President would want him to succeed. Whoever wants him to succeed must tell him the truth. For if he fails, Nigeria fails.”
Okogie recalled that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria stood with and for democratic forces in the country during the dark days of military rule.