In this exclusive interview, REV. ISAIAH M JIRAPYE, CAN Chairman Taraba state looks at the role of religious bodies in nation building and speaks on insecurity, leadership and how far the country has come in the past 61 years. He spoke to Christiana Babayo

The duty of contributing to nation building is not just for one group, what is the role of the religious body in nation building?

Religious bodies are integral parts of every nation wherever they exist because human beings are religious beings. Because of that religion controls the behavior of the people; it regulates interaction between people and other things. So human beings being what they are controlled by their faith so religion plays a vital role in nation building. The role of religion in nation building has to do with the kind of teachings she gives to people and how religion tries to help the people do what is needful. In Nigeria, you are either Muslim or Christian and other religions maybe. In times of election, democracy, religion plays a vital role by mobilizing people. Like now that we are doing the online voters registration, I know how religious leaders have been trying to create awareness, trying to mobilize faithful to register. Also during the pandemic, many looked up to their religious leaders for guidance, whether Covid is true or false and when the vaccine came, many looked up to religious leaders to tell them whether they should tale the vaccine or not. Many have called me asking and I have told them to take it because I have taken mine. Then in terms of prayers, religious organizations are supposed to pray for the growth of the nation and growth can’t come without peace.

How can we manage the said peace, given the diversified nature of the country?

Preaching peace is also the duty of the religious bodies. If I tell people to take up guns, we will end up killing ourselves and destroy the nation, but if I preach peace and the other brother preaches peace, at the end of the day we will have a peaceful country and that will enhance the livelihood of people. Besides religious divides, religion should teach us how to accept others that re not from our own parts, if you see somebody from the south, west or north, because of that dichotomy you see them as strangers and aliens. Religion should come in to teach us that we are brethren. There is no reason for divide just because we are not all from the same tribe.
Insecurity has been a major concern, it is now a matter national concern and we have preaching peace to little or no avail, what should the religious bodies do differently?

Why we are not getting what we are looking for is because most of the preaching is not done sincerely. We do much of hypocrisy than sincerity. If today as a religious leader I preach peace in public then come back to my circle and drop some kind of words that will stir them to act the opposite, you will discover that we will not get any result. This is because the message I give to those close carries more weight than what I send to the air. What we need to do differently is to act with sincerity, when we speak, lets us back it up with sincerity; let us not sponsor terrorists or bandits. You will discover that most of us religious leaders have hands in it because we talk about peace, we tell people that all these crises are affecting us all but we don’t take actions towards these ills.

As Christians, we know that Faith without works is dead. If I preach, I should be able to act. For every home, the topic about peace, love and tolerance should be enshrined and thought to our children. In those days, even with our illiterate parents, they taught us to respect elders, they taught us principles, are we still teaching those principles to our children? Nation building is not just about the economy, if our characters are bad, the things our parents worked for will be destroyed. That is why there is so much corruption, money kept for a project can be syphoned by one person and his conscience will not prick him and many lives will suffer.
Leadership is a major factor when it comes to the growth of every nation, what is your take on leadership in the country.

The leadership system is faulty, I know it is a democratic society but most times, people come out of greed. It is not the masses that say, ‘you have the ability to help the masses’, you just see people coming out, printing posters and getting people to support them. Many will be supporting because they are hungry and they need the money so they throw their futures into the hands of such people and because the person feels that he is buying them with money, he misbehaves and no one can call him to order. Then you discover that the age bracket…. You see people wanting to revolve round leadership. They don’t want to give way for the younger generation. Leadership has been our serious challenge especially in the building this nation, Nigeria because it is done out of selfishness, greed. One side wants to hold on to power, when people get to the seat of power they don’t think of fair sharing, they only think of themselves and their immediate families and that has been a challenge. And you have people on seats of authority without vision, they don’t have the interest of the people at heart, it people like Lee Kuan Yew who were leaders and they had the people at heart. When the mad came to power the country was far behind but he was able to place the country in the map of the world. So our problem is leadership, we have not found good enough leaders that will be sincere to god, themselves and the masses.

We have seen first-hand the result of bad leadership but come 2023, we have another opportunity to turn a new leaf, what is your advice to Nigerians?

What we will tell Nigerians as religious leaders is, get your voting power, get your PVC, get registered. Why we have bad leadership is because good people refuse to vote and they refuse to speak so if good people keep silent, bad things will continue to happen. As I always tell people, if you don’t vote, you have no rights to question people’s behaviors because you didn’t contribute to where he is. Secondly, be ready to vote, thirdly, don’t sell your conscience because if someone gives you money before you vote him or her, then you have no right to question him when he, misbehaves because he feels that he has bought you with his money. Then the issue of nepotism, cultural and ethnic sentiments and all shouldn’t be there.

Nigerians should go out for the best. And how will you know the best, look at the track record of the person, the bi le says he who is faithful in little things will be faithful when bigger things are given to him. So these leaders that are moving around campaigning, what have they achieved for their local communities, do they have legacies? Because we have reached this level because even during electioneering process, you see these people uttering terrible words but you still go ahead and vote such a person, what do you expect? 2023 is by the corner, if we crying that people are hungry, kidnapped, if we are crying of banditry, we caused it because we didn’t people that have us at heart, we voted along religious lines, we voted because we were given money.

Nigerians should watch, if anyone comes to campaign, is it the masses that nominate him or is it his money that has brought him. Time has come that Nigerians should shine their eyes especially now that 2023 is coming. Sentiments must be removed; we must think of Nigeria first. When the track records of these people are not good, don’t vote them.

It has been 61 years since independence, how far have we come?

If I’m allowed to judge, I will say we have done well, but we have not done well enough. Our armed forces have gone to other countries to quench bigger troubles, but common bandits in our country we have nothing to do about it. We have not done well. They call us giants of Africa but are we truly giants, our naira is crashing every day. If a child is born and has reached the age of 61, he should be able to look back and say he has achieved some things but some of the things we have achieved is dividing ourselves along tribal, religious and regional lines. But economy wise, we are not strong. Character wise we are nowhere to be found, outside Nigeria once you are seen with a green passport you are a suspect. In Africa, we have failed, we are only giant in number, and for me it doesn’t make sense.

Reverend, what is your call to Nigerians?

Nigerian must rise up and do better; we have come a long way. Other counties gained independence before us but they are doing better. We are supposed to be a pace setter, other countries should copy from us, so we have not done so well.
Having said all these, I pray that God will raise god fearing and dedicated leaders for us come 2023. I also want to speak to politicians, if you have nothing to offer people, please don’t contest. Allow those with vision and something to offer to contest because we need people with vision, people who are committed, people who have the masses at heart, we need people who love Nigeria.

To the masses, whether you are a Christian or Muslim or whatever, pray for this country, don’t just pray, get your PVC, vote the right candidate, not because he or she is Christian, Muslim or from your region. Put all sentiments aside and vote the right people so that we can sleep with our eyes closed. I wish Nigeria a happy independence.


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