By Olufemi Adediran, Abeokuta
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Saturday cautioned religious leaders against praise singing corrupt individuals in the society, stressing that such act further promote the growth of corruption in the country.
According to Obasanjo, corruption is a systematic problem in the society and must therefore be addressed systematically from the “root, stem and branches.”
The former spoke in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital at a lecture he delivered as part of activities marking the Annual Convention of the Victory Life Bible Church (VLBC), a popular Pentecostal Church presided over by Apostle Lawrence Achudume.
Obasanjo who lamented that all the country’s institutions, including the church and mosque had been tarnished by the brush of corruption, challenged the religious organisations to join hands with all patriotic individuals and institutions in the fight against corruption because “the fight for the soul and survival of Nigeria.”
“Even in the Church, corruption is striving and this makes it difficult for the Church to really play her all-important role of modeling the country in a morally-evidenced manner,” Obasanjo affirmed.
The former President who spoke on the topic, “The Role of The Church In The Fight Against Corruption In Nigeria”, charged church leaders to preach prosperity message with caution and also use their positions to teach their congregations the right values. The church leaders, he said must also tell politicians the truth at all times.
He stressed, “There is no doubt that all our institutions have been tarnished by the brush of corruption. If the Church, as an institution, does not take bribe or get involved in other corrupt practice, the behaviour of some of our men of God leaves much to be desired. They not only celebrate but venerate those whose sources of wealth are questionable. They accept gifts (offering) from just anybody without asking questions. This gives the impression that anything is acceptable in the House of God.”
The former President recalled that “the perception index of transparency internationally ranked Nigeria in 2015/16, 144th out of the 146th countries, beating Bangladesh and Haiti to last positions. Unfortunately, the perpetrators do not fear any punishment or consequences because the legislators free them from scrutiny and Governors’ claims to be immune.”
Obasanjo who spoke through Dr. Femi Olajide, recalled, “During my tenure as democratically-elected President of Nigeria in 1999, a bill was presented to the National Assembly on prohibition and punishment for bribery and corruption and other related offences. I took that bold step then” and quickly queried, “How far has this actually helped in the eradication or better still, in reduction of corruption in the country?”
He regretted, “Unfortunately, the act (corruption) has continued to spread like a wildfire, from Federal to the States, to the Local Government levels and to other authorities; even within the educational sector in Nigeria, from secondary to university levels”.
To Obasanjo, “The rise of public administration and the discovery of oil and natural gas are two major events seen to have led to the increase in corrupt practices in the country.”
“Despite all these efforts, corruption is still thriving in our country. In fact, from the revelations we are hearing, it seems the situation is worse than what I met on ground in 1999. The inference is that fighting corruption is not a one-off or one regime affair; it is an all-time and all-regime affair. If we relent, it bounces back with vengeance.”
The former President urged the Church to put its house in order, saying, “The Church needs to clear its Aegean stable. The temple of God must be cleanest to restore the Holiness of the church. Our present-day ‘money changers’ and ‘merchants’ must be chased out of the Church and put to shame in the larger society.”
“The Church must embrace a more inclusive definition of evangelism. Evangelism must not only be limited to winning souls to increase the crowd in the Church but it must also embrace discipleship, which is the cleansing of the soul and heart towards righteous living.”
“The pulpit must be used to teach and preach righteous and honest living. While nobody wants the Church to preach poverty, the message of prosperity must be preached with caution and moderation bearing in mind the mission of Christ.”
“To preach that one can acquire wealth without labour is not only deceitful; it is a call to corruption. It is false preaching and it is sinful. We must be careful in believing and celebrating every testimony of miraculous blessing, hence we end up being hoodwinked into celebrating corruption. The power of faith must be developed as an instrument of social change.”
“The Church must use its power to teach the right values. One of our major problems is the breakdown of our values system. The Church, as an agent of socialization, must be in the forefront of rebuilding our value system and making the individual to imbibe these values and moral principles.”
“As part of its evangelical and spiritual mandate, the Church must boldly speak out against corruption in our society. The Church must take to the high moral ground and speak out against corrupt leadership and poor governance. The Church must embark on moral re-armament for the Church and for the nation.”
He challenged, “The leaders in the Church must live by example. It must be a case of ‘do as I do, not do as I say’. While we shun questionable characters and offerings, the administration of the Church must be open, and transparent. Accountability must be our watchword.”
Obasanjo added, “The Church is not of this world simply because it is expected to live by the highest standard as prescribed in the word of God. The Church is the light of the world. In our conduct behaviours, activities and programmes, we must let our light show forth in its full brightness for all and sundry to see and emulate. In actions and deeds, the Church must stand up against corruption”.
“The Church played an important role in the development of this country. We are now at another important historic juncture requiring the Church to play a leading role. This is a period of moral and ethical rebirth. That role must be played in praying, preaching and teaching”, Obasanjo affirmed.
According to him, the Church had a very vital role to play in curbing corruption in our society. Morality must be preached at all times in all places and by all people and challenged the Church to raise people to mentor or coach business and political leaders who are Christians and encourage them to continue to grow in their faith and Christian maturity.
“It is very expedient for the Church and particularly the leaders, to speak truth to rulers and politicians. Business values such as maximizing short-term profits at the expense of workers or the environment and the society at large are in conflict with a Christian norm of the stewardship of the earth and what is good for society as a whole and the Church should say so”
The General Overseer of the Church, Apostle Achudume earlier in his welcome address attributed the removal of history study from the Secondary School Curriculum by the government as one of the reasons for the rise in corruption.
The cleric said, “The removal of History study from the school curriculum led to the growth of corruption and other social vices. Our leaders don’t want us to learn from our history that is why they removed history from the curriculum and if you don’t learn from the past how do we correct the present and how do we plan for the future.”
“Corruption is not peculiar to Nigeria alone but to other countries of the world too, what has touched us in our church which led to choosing this theme is that these politicians, whether Muslims or Christians they all worship somewhere which tells us that religious leaders have an important role to play. I pray that our leaders will fight corruption, do something about it and that corruption will not kill Nigeria.”
“Everybody agrees that if you don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. I strongly agree that religious leaders have a role to play in fighting corruption in the corruption.”
The State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun in his remark urged Christians to live in harmony with other people of different religious faith.
Amosun who was represented by his Deputy, Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga also appealed to Nigerians to persevere and endure the current socio-economic hardship in the country, assuring that President Mohammadu Buhari-led administration was working hard to make life more bearable for the people with his economic recovery and growth plan.