Interview with Bishop Emmah Isong

"Carnivals and festivals in the State changed from a tourist attraction to idol worship" -Bishop Emmah Isong

Jun 26, 2023 - 15:17
Jul 13, 2023 - 15:39
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Interview with Bishop Emmah Isong
BIshop Emmah Isong

A number of drastic decisions have been taken so far by the new administration of President Bola Tinubu at the national level and Senator Bassey Otu, Governor of Cross River at the state level.

The Beagle News Team: Dominic Okoh, Editorial Board Chairman, Victor Udu, Managing Editor, Ubon Ekanem, Editor, Edem Ita, Assistant Editor and Ogbu Kosy, Chief Correspondent had an explosive and exclusive session with renowned clergy and Bishop of Christian Central Chapel International, Ikot Enobong, aka City of Testimony, 8 Miles. Below are excerpts from the interview with Bishop Isong, a seasoned economist, erudite political analyst and Banker.  Responses were precise, analytical and thought provoking. It is a must read!

What does removal of subsidy portend to Nigerians?

T

he removal of subsidy is a deed that has been done. There are no two ways about it. It was a campaign promise from Bola Ahmed Tinubu himself. As a social commentator, I can only say maybe the timing. It could have been a little bit too fast. Probably, people thought he would have set up his economic team first, then hit the ground running. But he thought it wise to do so on his inaugural address, maybe knowing that Nigeria’s economic strangulation was the mother of all leakages called subsidy.

To me, Mr. President was right and wrong at the same time. Right in the sense that he has done the needful. For if you must deal with the hypocritical framework of our economic euphoria, then you have to deal with the issue of subsidy. Do not forget that even MKO Abiola promised to remove subsidy over 30 years ago.  So, if Tinubu has done it, he only did what the generality of the people have yearned for. Do not forget that Tinubu has been there right from Abiola, to Buhari, and now President.

For me, there is nothing new under the sun. We have to wake up as Nigerians and embrace this harsh economic policy. Not all bitter pills are bad. Some can be painful but very useful. I am speaking both as a pastor and an economist, with specialty in finance and banking, so I have the wherewithal to commend on that. Our overall economic value has been fake.

To me, Nigerians are not really against removal of fuel subsidy, they are asking for palliatives, things to ameliorate their sufferings. The change also was too fast, like I said earlier. When a change is too fast, it can become painful.

Do you think that Tinubu was supposed to consult widely before subsidy removal?

Now, let me explain why he did what he did. They are people who promised to remove subsidy but never did. You should know that the economic mafia, vis-à-vis the oil and gas sector, is the strongest in the whole country. They affect the transport system, exchange rate, and several other economic policies; so Mr. President’s subsidy removal announcement in his inaugural address was premeditated. Who knows, that was the best for him, even though it might not be the best for the people as it were.

When we talk about economic, fiscal policies, there are things that you have to close your eyes, like a weening mother, and take those drastic decisions. Who knows, if this would be the best option. As an economist, not all policies are palatable. But you have to swallow the bitter pills in order to get healed quickly. I am not defending anybody, but we are all suffering the pangs of this economic realities together, so we must adapt to almost starting afresh economically as a country. If the drivers of the polity and economy can steer us well, through good advice, we will arrive at a prosperous destination as a country.

What is your take on the imminent industrial action by the organised labour?

Well, I have three problems with strike actions. One, those who did not offend you are the ones to suffer the brunt. Secondly, the incessant strikes by labour groups have become an abuse. We hope that one day, government does not begin to mock labour groups when they threaten industrial action. There are other options in handling labour disputes. Negotiations, mediation, and dialogue. Strike actions should be the last resort. So, jumping all available avenues to strike, to me, seems like a means to achieve personal aggrandizement. We have often time seen abuse of labour powers, where labour leaders think the only way, they can display audacity and make themselves relevant to the government is through industrial actions. Almost all labour leaders became billionaires after their stints as labour leaders. We should not continue to have heroes emerging from the sufferings of the masses. Labour should only go on strike after exhausting all known, constitutional procedures, negotiations, mediation and dialogue. Industrial actions should not be used as means of intimidating the government, especially new administrations.

Where do you see the Sen. Bassey Otu-led administration?

If Cross River State was a human being, and so sick to be in emergency, the first thing a doctor should do is resuscitation. Let us assume that our state has collapsed and gasping for breath, and Prince Bassey Out is the doctor. He first assignment should be resuscitation. Resuscitation, politically, economically and otherwise, means getting back the city to its clean and green state, winning back the confidence of the citizenry, indigenes and non-indigenes alike, in terms of believing in government again. When government sneezes, we should catch cold. That aura of government presence must be revived. Resuscitation also means that the political class in Cross River State must understand that Abuja is not their home. All our political leaders immediately after assuming office relocate to Abuja. Our leaders should always come home to hear from their constituents. Their contributions to policies must be influenced by the yearnings and aspirations of the people they represent. Political leaders should understand that Abuja is there as a national office. Do what you ought to do and jet back home to your people, so that government presence can be felt by the people.

Thank God, today, we have a governor who has been in all strata of the political class, everything. He is a grassroot politician. I am convinced that Prince Bassey Out can change Cross River State and her people for good. So, getting back government closer to the people, uniting the political class, and most importantly, returning God to His place in the State. Because Cross River State lost God. I was impressed by the decision of the stakeholders to have a five minutes exhortation during the swearing-in ceremony. It has never happened. If the governor and his wife who is also a pastor recognise God and return Him to His place, this state would return back to its glory and will be better than Jerusalem. It happened in Akwa Ibom, when Godswill Akpabio started talking about God. People thought he was joking. They said he was not even a born-again Christian. You do not need to be born-again to talk about God. Today, Akwa Ibom state is rich in oil, tourism is booming. Football, social amenities, all became hallmarks of our neighbouring state; there was a shift of glory from Cross River State. Everything good today is Akwa Ibom – World Guinness Book of Record holder, Senate President, just to mention a few.

Regrettably, we in Cross River State were battling with “food on the table” appointments. Do you do “food on the table” to people who are already rich? No. Food on the table is for the poor. We can go on and on talking about the prosperity of Akwa Ibom. I tell you as God’s servant; the secret is in knowing God.

But I am glad that, today, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Benue States have produced pastors as governors. A Catholic priest is leading Benue, Pastor Umo Eno is governor of Akwa Ibom and Prince Out is also a servant of God. What then do you think God is saying? God is saying return back to me and you will eat the fruit of the land (Isaiah 1:18-19).

 

Where did Cross River State get it wrong?

Powerful question. Carnival. Carnivals and festivals in the State changed from a tourist attraction to idol worship. Leboku festival became a government-sponsored programme, with libations poured openly. Even if you did that, the Christians should have been given their own festival – solemn assembly. So, for years, Cross River never had a single occasion where people gathered to praise God. They never highlighted or promoted godly virtues, but proudly budgeted for festivals that did not give glory to God. That was where Israel, Syria, America, and Cross River State missed it. We became like Lamentations chapter 5. We suffer and toil. It is not an economic, but spiritual reality. How can a geographical distance create such a disparity? Cross River must return back to God, not in the religiosity, but spirituality of it.

And that was why I joined government of the past administration to render selfless service and stamp my righteous opinions on policymaking. And I have been motivated by a lot of clerics around the world like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Dr. Jesse Jackson, and other men and women of faith, who used their faith to influence government. It is pertinent that people who have conscience begin to participate not just in political engineering, but also in influencing policymakers. Regrettably, some of our policymakers are demonic, bereft of ideas. If ministers of God do not go close like God asked Philip to join the chariot, we will continue to see policies that have no bearing on the masses.

The next thing I want President Bola Tinubu to intervene in is the power situation in the country that is being determined by the generator manufacturers and merchants’ mafia, who would not want constant power supply because they want you to buy generators from them. I bet you, if all the generators in Calabar are sold, there will be enough money to build another city. The decay in the system is very high, so men of God must join in stemming the tide.

What is your take on the President’s efforts to probe Godwin Emefiele, the ex-Central Bank of Nigeria governor, and heads of anti-graft agencies in the country over financial impropriety?

First of all, the problem with fighting corruption in Nigeria is that it is done with kid gloves. If the president has decided to hit hard against corruption, I wish him well. The second problem is that Nigerians give media trial to anti-corruption efforts. As soon as that is done, everything returns to status quo. We must stop making mimicries of the fight against corruption. We implore the president to veer away from the kid gloves handling of things and begin to hit hard against ostentatious display of theft, embezzlement and misappropriation of Emelie the masses’ patrimony. We have a country that is tremendously rich in natural resources. It is corruption that has brought us to our knees and depleted our national cake. Mr. President must deal with these corrupt officials by ensuring that the full wrath of the law is applied, and not media trial, as has always been the case.

Sir what is your reaction to the recent comments by Senator Bulkachuwa that he influenced his wife to pass judgement in favour of his political allies, a remark that has brought aspersions to our judiciary?

Well, I am a husband to a judicial officer, I will say it was an exception and not a rule. I have never had the privilege to look at my wife’s judgement books, nor advise her on issues of jurisprudence, primarily because it is not my profession and it is also against the ethics of the legal profession. Be that as it may, Bulkachuwa’s statement on one hand, should not be discarded because there may be some truth in it. I do not know if there are men who intrude on their wife’s professional affairs. The man cannot deny of not being pressured, but if such pressure were tantamount to influencing a judgement, then it is condemnable. It is not unusual to be approached. The sin is in giving in to the overtures.

Since the end of the Ayade’s administration, where you served as anti-tax agency, the number of illegal revenue collectors and miscreants have increased in Calabar. What is the action plan?

The agency was helping. The fear of anti-tax agency by miscreants was a deliverance. But since it ended on May 29, same perpetrators have returned to the streets and business places. It is left for the new government, if that is its area of interest, to look into it and reduce the burden on the common citizens who struggle to make ends meet, especially with the current hardship orchestrated by subsidy removal.

I believe that Prince Bassey Edet Out will make a difference in governance. I saw Gershom Bassey in his Inauguration. I see him bring the best hands across party lines in a bid to return Cross River State to its pride of place.