2023: “Oath-taking has started from some quarters again and as a Church, we’re watching”
The Re-election of Governor Udom Emmanuel saw tons of Endorsements from different groups and even the Church. In this interview, the former CAN Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Chapter and State Coordinator of Akwa Ibom Christian Assembly, Arch Bishop Cletus Bassey, speaks on the role the church played in the 2019 general elections as well as the thoughts of the Christian leaders on who should succeed Governor Udom Emmanuel in 2023.
He insisted that the church will resist attempt to enthrone a cultist as the governor of the state in 2023.
The Fathers of Faith were instrumental in the build-up to the 2019 elections which saw the emergence of Gov. Was ACA only created for the purpose of ushering in the Governor?
The Church played a major role in voicing out our position on who rules the State. Over the years most times, the Church was only contacted during campaigns and elections and that would be the end of it. But since Governor Udom Emmanuel came in 2015, that dynamics had a shift in the sense that, he came in and showed himself as being part of the church. He put together an atmosphere that has made the Church enjoy his governance.
It was not the Governor that invited the Church to stand by him when the second term came. It was the church that invited him to come. We had put together what is called Fathers of Faith whose place was to create an atmosphere of discussion between the Church and the Governor, which took place in November 2017 at the 5-Star Hotel. We were able to interact with the Governor and asked him questions. Prior to that, there was a conference of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) in the State that held at Insight Bible Church where the PFN first asked the Governor to go for a second term.
After that was the coming together of Churches irrespective of denomination, and in that moment of interaction, they took a decision that Governor Udom should go for a second term, and that they will support and stand by him. That was the beginning of that journey. I don’t think that the political parties at that time were even ready but the Church saw something in him and told him that they would want him to run again.
When we came back from that meeting, the Fathers of Faith saw the task as being too much for them alone. So, we decided to bring about another level of leadership that will serve as the foot soldiers. That was how the Akwa Ibom Christian Assembly (ACA) came to be. It was established in every Unit, Ward, Federal and State Constituency.
Today, ACA has over 300,000 strong members across the State. And by the reason of that, we were able to join hands with the Divine Mandate in pulling through the 2019 election. We are glad, satisfied and fulfilled that in the face of opposition, ACA truthfully and successfully came through in that election.
On whether ACA only supported just one person; our vision, resolve and direction was the person of Governor Udom Emmanuel. There were other people in different positions and aspirations but the governorship was our concern. We prayed and stood for others whether at the national, state or Local Government level but our weight was behind the Governor. ACA is still in existence.
It is not just about Udom winning the election. We are not people who jump into taking decisions. We believe that as the days go by and given the developments showing up, ACA will take a decision and speak up when the time comes. So for now, ACA is still there; our structures are still intact and God is helping us.
Do you think the church is playing any role in the second term of Governor Emmanuel?
That which is very particular about us is the commitment to educate, inform and continue to model proper Christian principles and consciousness to the fact that the Church must not be left out in the aspect of who rules over us. So we put together conferences and seminars on that, which have not been before. But as you know, COVID-19 came and most of our plans for that period have been put on hold. Even as we speak, the ban has not lifted yet because we still believe there is need for caution.
If we bring our people together, we won’t be able to handle the crowd but we are still keeping in touch with our structures. At the local level, our prayer teams still organize prayers every Friday so we are still on. For those at the leadership level, they know what they need to do at any point in time. So were still educating and training at every point in time, creating the consciousness of Christian involvement as far as leadership is concerned.
Has Governor Emmanuel lived up to the expectation of the church since he resumed?
If he has disappointed, you would have heard from us. One thing about the Church is that it is the government of God and on this earthly realm, we live and represent a greater and more superior government and that is God’s government. We wouldn’t have been afraid to speak if he has disappointed us. We would have spoken. Something you should not forget about the Governor is that he meets with the Church leaders from time to time so we look at things, assess it and we’ve scored him high.
It’s not a matter of people going around, making noise. The issue is, has he kept to his agenda? Others would want to judge him based on what they feel. It’s like people watching those playing on the football field. You seem to know better than those playing on the field but you don’t have the plan of the game. Every game has its plan, so is governance! Every person who comes into governance must have a clear picture of what he wants to do. If you look at Industrialization which he talked about when he was coming, can you deny the fact that it is real?
At a point, one of the fathers of faith had to go to those places to see those things to be sure that those industries are existing, because there were those who said that all those things were things in the book which cannot be seen. Is it the Syringe Industry? Today we have the St Gabriel’s Coconut Factory, we have the Fertilizer, Garri and all of them in different locations and recently the Car Assembly Plant which equipment started arriving.
What is it that he has promised and has not given? I’ve heard people talk about failed promises. I think that Akwa Ibom People must rise above sentiments and political party things, trying to heat up the system that they don’t have. Udom does not make noise. His worth, I believe, Akwa Ibom people will get to know after his time because the issue is not about dividing and eating money but on what can make an Akwa Ibom child engaged? We’re talking about engagement whether mental or productive or skill and we see him doing these.
How would you assess the Governor’s adventures in agric sector?
It shows that mechanized farming and farming in the 21st century is not the mundane way of farming. Look at the Green Houses he has built you will see that what you’ll see in Israel is what is happening here.
In the area of Health, he has revamped many Cottage Health Centers and you find this in different locations. His plan is that no Akwa Ibom person should travel a long distance before assessing a good health facility. We’re not talking about just bringing Hospital beds. We’re talking about equipping the places to a global standard. He is a standardized governor who is highly intelligent; he likes excellence and look at the buildings he has put up. He does not just go about building all kinds of things. When he builds, it is quality.
Then you talk about the Isolation Centre which the world is coming to learn from. You know that there are International Airlines that are insisting on getting a certificate of clearance from an Isolation Centre, and the Ituk Mbang Isolation Centre is one of the centres that has been chosen because of its quality.
Then in education; have you had education summit before today? He put up the summit because we need to sit down to discuss what will work for us. And this are things that you can talk about a man that knows his onion. So I think that the Church is proud of him and happy.
I’m not going to talk about roads. People today will ask, “what are the roads he has done”? One of those days I was coming in from Port Harcourt, I slept off on the road. I was surprised to see when I woke up that we were in Etinan. The roads were more than smooth and with the ongoing construction at Ekom Iman, going to Eket; it will be so good.
I don’t know what people are talking about. So, if you want to judge him, judge him by what he came for and by his manifesto, not by what others said they did or what others feel he should do. For us as a Church, we score him high. As far as his manifesto is concerned, he has stuck to it and I don’t think that anybody will beat him when it comes to completion agenda.
What is your take on Governor’s management of COVID-19 pandemic in the State?
First of all, I would say that the Governor has shown a great level of control in what I would call communication management. He has been able to manage this whole thing through his ability to communicate with the people, and he is forthright and down to earth in putting together a team that has best been able to manage the COVID-19 situation. Today, he is engaging in interaction with the press and opening up the lines so that, wherever you are in the world, you can call and ask him questions.
I would say that Udom Emmanuel is even easier to reach than some of the representatives. He has been able to tame the tide so that speculations, anxiety and the stress that would have come if that communication line was not properly opened, have been taken away.
So, people are not living in doubt. In fact, he has so managed the thing to a point that people feel the thing does not exist. He keeps saying “Let’s do the right thing”. Today, we have the Lab and the second one has just been opened so that we can have a greater number of people testing there. He doesn’t make noise. People go in there, it is free. From testing to the point of discharge, if you’re positive; you don’t pay a dime. Do people talk about that?
Talk about the palliatives; making sure that people got something while they were on lockdown. He’ s not God to have made the whole thing become so much that one person should eat 5 cups of rice before they are satisfied. But there were those who didn’t have at all, and his desire was to reach out to those who didn’t even have. But sometimes, those who have are those who keep the things in their garages. So, I believe that as far as COVID-19 is concerned, Udom has the best communication approach in being able to tame the tide of this pandemic.
He did it so very well and I want to commend those that are working with him in that field. I want to commend the health workers. The other day, their medical fees were increased. They are at the fore front of this whole thing, apart from praying, there is need for us to also appreciate them. So we will not join forces with enemies of the state in running down the Governor who is performing well.
Are there lapses you’ve observed or improvements you would want to see in this government?
Leadership is a complex thing. Until you are saddled with some responsibilities, you may not know the intrigues involved because you have different people who have different interests; you are dealing with a community or society of everybody thinking about himself, not the next person and, as a Governor, you must be holistic. Immediately you win the election, you become the Governor of everybody. So, it is not an issue of Annang, Ibibio, Oro or Andoni. You are the Governor of everybody. But the way our people have approached governance is as if you have to make it look like “It is us that need this thing”.
And I think that every person has a style of leadership. He came in as a servant-leader. Servant-leadership is not boss leadership. It’s not title or positional leadership. This is leadership that you’ll have to be the servant of everybody. And I think that everybody has had the opportunity of talking with him through this interaction with the press.
He has uncanned what used to be a canned thing and you can see what is inside. There may be those who are not happy, there’ll always be, because you cannot say that everybody will be happy with what he’s doing. But the issue is that he has remained focused on what he came to do, despite the distractions and noise.
But I believe that apart from the press interaction, there is a need to have some form of Town Hall meetings at the Grassroots. I also want him to throw in an open discussion with those who are not of his party where they can also sit down and talk all that they want to talk about, to make sure that everybody is carried along. He is very understanding and has a human face. Let everybody give him the opportunity and support to keep going because I believe he will end well.
What are the criteria that the church will be looking out for in the selection of another leader after Governor Emmanuel in 2023?
We strongly believe that the person must have a Pastor. You don’t come and tell us “I’m a church member”; which church do you belong to? Do you receive communion? Do you belong to a church where your own Pastor can testify of you?
That is our own first position (concerning 2023). We must be also sure that you are not into a cult group that will bring the State into another level of kidnapping, cult-crises and fighting. We are beginning to hear that oath-taking has started from some quarters again and as a Church, we’re watching. And you know, when we want to speak, we don’t bow to anybody or fear anybody.
We want people to know that we’re receiving feelers and we have our people planted in different locations which they don’t know about. And when the time comes, we will prove to you the things that have been going on behind the scene. You can’t hide forever. So, we won’t be able to carry people or see people who want to take this state back to where if you don’t belong to a certain cult group, you’ll never be allowed to be in government, do one thing or get position.
We also want to have a true Akwa Ibomite. Yes, the thing has come over to Uyo Senatorial District but it is not just about zoning. It is about a true Akwa Ibomite. One who thinks, prays, wishes, dreams, and is passionate about Akwa Ibom. And then, you’ll tell us what you want to achieve and we’ll look at your precedence – where are you coming from, what have you done before etc.
The same thing goes for Local Governments, Lawmakers and Senators, you must have some form of pedigree. Do you have leadership qualities? Do you have pedigree to lead us as a people? And we want to be sure that you have the Church at heart; you love God, you love God’s people and you love Akwa Ibom.
Going back to COVID-19, a lot of Churches are still flouting the guidelines for large gatherings, plus the agitations to fully reopen. What can you say about that?
I want to first of all appreciate the Governor who worked together with CAN and I want to appreciate CAN leadership that has lived up to the challenge. COVID-19 is not what anybody prayed for. We all woke up one day and saw the economy collapse. Flights suspended; borders closed. Yes, the Church has been given guidelines. I would say that greater number of Churches have kept it. I did not expect that we will have 100% compliance.
There is no where you can have that in the world. We may have some who may not have been able to keep to it but it is our prayers that they should, because it’s not a myth. It is a major challenge that has shaken the health sector. Till today, scientists in the laboratory are still seeking for solutions so, the Church should not undermine the fact that government said we should gather for worship. I call on the Churches to continue to observe the instructions that have come. It is for our good and I pray that God will help us to obey.
What would you want to see in the Synergy between the government and the people subsequently?
There is nothing as beautiful as having the people and government crossing bridges together, being on the same page because that is what it is – the government of the people by the people and for the people – that is a true democratic atmosphere. The people put together the government while government works for and with the people.
It is something that is highly recommended that is why we have peace here. Its because there is that synergy. It is not just about the Executive. The Legislative arm is also involved and the Judiciary is in Synergy. I want to continue to commend the people and ask that we continue to pray for this government and seek God for wisdom and understanding upon the Governor.
Do you have any direct message for the Governor?
I as a person, I speak today as a friend and brother. You’ve not disappointed us. You’ve done your best. You’re not going to leave Akwa Ibom the way you saw it. You don’t need the songs of the multitude to believe that you’re leaving a legacy. Years, times and seasons will speak what you have done, what you are doing and what you’ll continue to do. I wish you the best, and I could say to you that you’ll finish strong. That’s my prayer. You’ll finish, turn back and look and you’ll say to yourself, by the help of God, we have succeeded together.
For the Church, I believe the Church believes in you and I believe that we’ll continue to pray for you and look forward to greater days. War fares will never cease. We live in a world where people fight but you know one thing, greater is he that is in you than he that is the world. Jesus said, be of good faith, I have overcome the world already. So you have, because in Him, you live and have your being. I salute you sir and I congratulate you. Let your peace always guide your heart. God bless your heart!