Ekong: Nigeria is a secular state, nobody should force any religion on anybody

Etim Ekong

The Methodist Church of Nigeria wants government to give attention to issues of terrorism and insecurity across the nation. The Bishop of Methodist Church of Nigeria, Diocese of D/Line, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Rt. Rev. Dr. Etim U. Ekong, said this during the Diocese’s 9th Synod. ANN GODWIN reports.

How did the Diocese get to where it is today?
THE Methodist Church of Nigeria, Diocese of D/Line focuses more on evangelism and by God’s grace and determination, we have four circuits: the Asarama, the Rumu kalagbo, Woji and D/line circuits. We also have the Ikwere/Etche section and we are extending to Bayelsa State, where we have the Agudama and Amassoma preaching stations.

This is the 9th Synod by this Diocese, which was created on August 7, 2010, though the inauguration took place on March 20, 2011. The First Synod took place on May 5, 2011.

So, this year’s Synod is very crucial, because the D/line Circuit hosted the first synod in 2011, and this same Church is hosting this year’s synod May 9 to 12.

What impact does the Synod make on church and society?
The Synod is not only for the Diocese. It is open to other Christians and individuals. We shall be looking at issues affecting not just Methodist Church but the entire body of Christ. We will also use the opportunity to advise government. You know the church is in the society, and if the society is not peaceful, the church will not be able to do her work. 

Nigeria has a lot of problems— terrorism here and there, and even till now, people don’t know the root cause of this terrorism. Some say it is unemployment, but I think it is not unemployment. The government has to look into the issue very well.

In the past, we also had jobless people, but there was peace in the nation. So, government needs to give serious attention to the problem of terrorism and ensure it’s stamped out. Even here in the South South, we have issues of kidnapping, killings and maiming, among others.

So, at the Synod, we will deliberate on these issues and see how we can advise government and the Church to make the society peaceful for all.

If unemployment is not the cause of rising insecurity in the country, what then is?
Part of what we will discuss at the Synod is the fact that politicians should learn to forgive one another. For instance, here in Rivers State, if you trace the killings and maiming of innocent citizens very well, you’ll discover the root cause is our politicians who have been fighting for power and control over the state.

It is important that when you disagree, you later agree. But that is what the politicians do not know. When they disagree, they should forgive one another and agree so that the society can move on. Without forgiveness, there can be no peace. So, it is imperative politicians in Rivers State and other states forgive themselves.

Another thing is religious bigotry, which is a problem in this nation. Nigeria is a secular State, so nobody should force any religion on anybody. Let Christians practise their religion, and the Muslims also.

The traditionalists should be left to do their thing and there will be peace. In the situation where one religion wants to force itself on another religion, there will be no peace.

So, how can these problems be solved?
On the issue of terrorism, I think our leaders should pay attention to what is happening among the citizens. Because of politics, our leaders sometimes forget what the citizens are passing through. They think more about themselves, but it is important they give attention to solving the issues of terrorism, because some of them may have been using these boys to their own advantage. 

And of course one of the effects of insecurity is that the country’s economy will continue to dwindle. If there is no peace in the nation, there can never be economic growth. 

For instance, some areas where factories were located in Port Harcourt have become ghost areas, because the foreigners have since the left. The generality of the people are suffering the effect, especially in areas of job opportunities. 

When kidnapping started here in Rivers State, people thought it wouldn’t impact negatively, as it is doing now. Presently, people are not comfortable, due to increase in cultism. So, the first thing government should do is to restore peace.

Some politicians are the cause of our problems today. Before election, they engaged youths, gave them guns. But after election, they abandoned them and the youths now use the guns to perpetuate crimes.

So, government should address youth unemployment, by ensuring they create level playing ground to enable youths participate in politics.

Participating in politics in this country is very expensive. How can youths get money to be involved in politics, when politics require so much money?

But if government makes politics affordable, you will see intelligent young people who have something to offer participate and win elections, thereby helping the nation to grow. However, if the old men keep hijacking everything and abandoning youths, it will affect the young generations.

Are these problems affecting church population and growth?
The numerous challenges in our society today are affecting the church— the offerings and infrastructure. When people are not well paid, where will they get money to pay tithe, give offerings in the church? Indeed, the problems are affecting all facets of national life.

For instance, the Methodist Church of Nigeria contributes to the economy. We establish schools and pay teachers. We have hospitals and pay doctors. We also subsidise medicine at our hospitals.

Now, if church members have no money to pay tithe and give offerings, we cannot develop all these infrastructures, which generally will affect the economy because we assist the government in terms of education.

So, whatever affects the Church affects the society as well, which is why something should be done urgently.

Some persons have blamed the lingering problems to leadership challenge…
Yes, this country is faced with leadership problem, and the only way to solve that is through democracy. Without true democracy, we cannot succeed and without true Federalism, we cannot get it right.

In Nigeria, we are not practising true Federalism and unless we return to that, even our young ones who may come up as leaders someday may still have a problem. How can the Federal Government control major road construction in the country? It is not right.

Let Nigeria practise true Federalism, so that someone who is there at the top will know his level and limit and the state and local governments will work at their own levels.

That is why whosoever is the leader does not perform well, because there is so much on his hand than he can control. Power should be decentralised.

Also, getting it right in this country should start during elections. We should allow elections to be free and fair, but when we play money politics, when the people finally come to power, they will have to settle those that sponsored them. We should allow electorates choose their leaders and not impose somebody on the nation. If we continue to impose candidates on the nation, we will not make progress. 

Are religious leaders playing their roles towards strengthening morals without compromise/inference?
Some religious leaders have side attractions and because of that, they cannot do what they are supposed to do.

A church leader should not be partisan. As a leader, you have to focus on your work in the church. They should focus on spiritual aspect, pray for the leaders, advise government on how to act right and warn them of dangers of going astray.

Some religious leaders are more political than politicians themselves. If you are a church leader, lead without compromise, and if you are a leader in the secular world, use your knowledge and wisdom to serve selflessly, so that the society will be better.     

Can State police help address insecurity in the country?
I think it will help, if the state itself will be sincere. I support the idea of state police, with some reservation and caution, because if a state government is allowed to control the state police and it’s not sincere.

It will still create a lot of problems, but if the states will be sincere and know that security is essential to development and for people’s benefit, then it will be a good thing. It will help the Federal but it should be done with caution. 

Any Message to Nigerians in the midst of these challenges?
Nigerians should not be discouraged. I know things will change for the better. Our problem is leadership. Immediately Nigerian leaders begin to serve the masses and not themselves, things will be alright. Even this terrorism will be a thing of the past.

So, Christians should go to their churches and pray, likewise the Muslims should go to the Mosque and worship God sincerely.

At the Synod, we will have periods of intensive prayers. I believe God will use the prayers to impact positively in the lives of Rivers’ people and Nigerians generally.

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