The 21st Century pastor must be a man of ideas, because, as someone has said, ideas rule the world. The Emmah Isong Annual Lecture Series, which began in October 2014, is by any standards, a great idea. The lecture aims at providing a common platform for people in politics, business, religion, academia, the professions, etc, to collectively discuss the place of peace, unity and equity in sustainable development and advancement of society.
Emmah Isong, bishop of Christian Central Chapel International, CCCI, and national publicity secretary of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, instituted the series as part of activities to mark his birthday. The latest edition of the lecture, chaired by Aniekpeno Mkpanang, permanent secretary, Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and anchorman of the one-time Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation’s weekly programme, Something to Remember, held in the ultra-modern auditorium of the church in Ikot Enebong area of Calabar, October 26.
Aside the 53rd birthday cake, which Isong cut with family, the event featured the presentation of his latest book, Confronting the Custodians, which was reviewed by Obong Akpaekong, a former senior associate editor of Newswatch and publisher of Sippar magazine and the 2017 lecture titled, “Can Restructuring take Nigeria to the Next Level?” given by Godsday Orubebe, former minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Akpaekong said the 162-page book describes the activities of a spiritual enemy and task master, assigned to monitor people’s progress in life and supervise the occurrence of their calamities. He quoted the book as saying that the custodian is similar to the officer that kept watch over the donkey which the Bible says in Matthew 21:3 was tied to a spot for years until Jesus ordered its release for His ride into Jerusalem. The book reveals the many ways to confront and defeat the custodian, which it says could be one’s relation, some old woman back in one’s village or some other wicked person.
Orubebe’s lecture, which was presented by Joseph Offiong, a professor of Acting in the University of Calabar, was a painstaking approach to identifying the socio-political and economic problems that were threatening to drown the nation. It also outlined how restructuring could give a new lease of life to the economy. He traced the country’s misfortunes to elimination of First Republic’s regional system after the 1966 truncation of her democratic experience by the military, saying that it marked the beginning of the decline in innovative and creative solutions to challenges of national development.
He said before the truncation, social and economic policies of the First Republic were characterised by regional peculiarities. The pace of regional development was faster and healthier. Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy for the North, East and West regions while human talent had much value. He said the central administration, concerned about the need for equity, established University of Ibadan with 280 admissions in 1960, University of Ife in 1961 and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1962.
He said at that time, Enugu was popular for coal; Kano for groundnut, Benue for yam and Ondo for cocoa, all of which had generated resources to fund defence, foreign affairs and the central government, whose only task was national coordination. “Our present federal system is faulty, a result of decades of continuous efforts to address symptoms rather than the root causes of genuine discord and direct protests by Nigerians”, he said.
Orubebe did not mince words when he said Nigeria needed restructuring and that there were over 100 reasons for it. He made reference to various shapes of restructuring of the country in the minds of Nigerians but said his was “a fundamental refinement of the nation’s institutional structure, which undergirds the working of our systems in order to prevent the country from collapse and make it more efficient and beneficial to every Nigerian.”
This notion of restructuring has sector dimensions. “Nigeria cannot reach the expected next level unless there is a consistent legal, social, cultural, political and economic consciousness to refocus development from the grassroots”, he said, explaining that in restructuring the nation, traditional institutions must be represented, cultural differences recognised and jobs created for youth, women and people with disability.
The idea tends to have strong affinity with regional government. Hear Orubebe: “Whereas the regional governments built quality roads, schools and health institutions and maintained them to the highest standards, today’s state governments depend on the centre for everything. Restructuring should make politics a grassroots affair.”Orubebe said the 36 states system the nation operates is not similar to regions because all of them depend on handouts from the centre. He said the progressive restructuring he recommends must have agenda that is “air, participatory and representational of our collective make-up”, and must be backed by a new Constitution.
He asked for parity among the regions, saying National Conference of 2014 recommended that a sixth state be created for the South east zone since North west, North central; North east; South west and south-south, have six states each. “A restructured federation will definitely correct this anomaly” said Orubebe.
Orubebe suggested further that the 36 federating units be allowed to explore mineral resources in their domains to empower them to respond and develop according to their peculiar challenges, build vibrant private sectors, create jobs and generate wealth. This, he said, would stop the states from waiting for monthly handouts from the federal government. Local governments, he suggested, should be empowered to play active roles in regulating commercial activities and provide social services within their jurisdictions.
For economic diversification, Orubebe said restructure should include infrastructural development contracts between the states and the federal government. He said with this, states can complete portions of the Trans-Sahara Highway in their jurisdiction in return for tax incentives from the federal government, build modern national or modular power grid systems or river-based commercial transportation to unlock economic opportunities.
In the area of security and public safety, he called for introduction of state and municipal police aside the existing federal police. Restructuring, he also said, must include competent handling of data, saying academic curricula from primary to tertiary levels must include active understanding and utilisation of Information, Communication and Technology, ICT, so as to build the 21st Century compliant workforce.
Mkpanang said restructuring of the country would bring faster and greater development and commended Isong for putting up the lecture series, saying it had become a factor to reckon with in national development. He called on Nigerians to emulate his commitment to vision and love for fatherland and to develop the tactician spirit of the footballer to always succeed in fixing things. He prayed that Isong’s new book would impact much on society and help people attain victory in life.
Other dignitaries at the event included John Gaul Lebo, speaker of Cross River State House of Assembly, who traced the history of Nigeria’s political evolution from 1914 and said that some 57 years after, it was only proper for the nation to restructure. Aniedi Ikoiwak, Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral commissioner, commended Isong for putting up the event and prayed that his book would help provide the needed succour to lives.
Rosemary Archibong, Cross River State commissioner for information described the event as very educative and rewarding. Enebong Ephraim, bishop of Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and chairman of its board of trustees in Nigeria; Lawrence Ekwok, chairman of PFN, Cross River State and Ndueso Essien, chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in Akwa Ibom State, who also graced the lecture were full of praise for the outing.
Akpaekong is a public affairs analyst