Saturday, 1 June 2013

If Buhari refuses to contest in 2015, we will... —Tunde Bakare

Social activist cum politician, Pastor Tunde Bakare, speaks with CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA on the polity as well as on his private life.

It seems you don’t have many friends in the political or religious circle. Some people say this is because you are generally unfriendly...
The word “friendship” is misconstrued by so many people. But my definition of friendship between two people is simply one soul in two bodies. The Lord Jesus Christ looked at his disciples and said, ‘I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends.’ God the Almighty called Abraham his friend; he was called the ‘Father of Faith’ and the friend of God. I would have asked you how many friends the Almighty Himself has, because a person does not become your friend by acquaintance. A person becomes your friend because you have the same value system, goals and objectives, for two cannot work together except they agree. So, in that sense, Tunde Bakare does not have many friends because birds of a feather flock together. But I have key friends at the level of politics, society and business. They are very few, but they are key people. I keep my relationship with them private lest they become targets of those who see us as anti-their-interests.

It is not sure yet if Major-General Muhammadu Buhari or President Goodluck Jonathan will contest in 2015. Do you see them declaring their interests soon? And if eventually Buhari does not contest, who do you think should?
If Jonathan wants to contest, he is free to do so. After all, he is a free citizen of this country. He can contest if his party presents him. General Buhari is also free to contest. If he does not want to contest, nobody can make him and if he chooses to contest, nobody also can stop him. I do not have any candidate in mind right now other than what his interest is. I am talking about at the level of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) or the party that will emerge from the merger. So, I don’t have any candidate in mind but him (Buhari). But if he says ‘I am no longer going’ for whatever reason, then, he will be at liberty to do so, and his teeming followers will then have to ask him who steps into his shoes.

How did you feel losing out in the 2011 election?
It is common knowledge that the elections of 2011 were not credible. Anybody can fool himself and say otherwise, but they weren’t free, fair and credible. By the time Justice (Ayo) Salami ordered that the ballot papers be brought for forensic investigations, the ruling party and INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) should have volunteered. But they sensed their Waterloo and quickly removed Justice Salami, disbanded his tribunal and set up another one that said in the same court that the ruling of the previous tribunal was not binding. So, let’s not waste our time. I knew as usual that the vote of Nigerians did not count in 2011.

You said at a press conference that the All Progressives Party (APC) would fail if the people coming together to form the mega party did not genuinely have the mind to take this country forward. Would say they now have a genuine purpose, especially since it is perceived in some quarters that the new party is made up of strange bedfellows?
I did not say APC would fail. What I said was that ‘if the people behind the merger talks do not put the nation above their personal interests and if it is all about scrambling for position and power rather than how to benefit the people of the country, then it is going to fail even before it starts.’ Those were my precise words. If the people talking about the merger are not prioritising the welfare of the Nigerian people, then, what difference would it make if the same people continue in power, because every one of them would be self-seeking and not for service? But if they rise above their egos and personal ambitions, and create a platform where the best and brightest and fittest can take over the affairs of our country, then, we can say a new and brighter hope is here, 20 years after ‘Hope 93.’

But you are a member of the mega party...
 There is no party yet. I can’t say I am a member of a non-existing party. There is no party yet. You can’t say there is a party until it is registered and INEC issues a certificate. So, let’s not fool ourselves that any party has resulted or merged. They have not merged until we see the certificate, the constitution, the logo and the manifesto and it becomes duly registered by law. It is then you can ask me if I am a member of the party. But as of now, nobody is a member of a non-existing party.

The president has declared emergency rule in some troubled states in the North. Could this be a solution to the Boko Haram menace?
I was preparing a speech and stumbled on comments of a former United States president, Dwight Eisenhower, about state of emergency. He said: ‘Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.’ It is my considered opinion that mere declaration of emergency cannot solve any problem. Did it solve it in the ‘Wild Wild West’ crises in the Western Region? Did it solve the crises in Jos? Did it solve it in Ekiti when (former President) Obasanjo declared state of emergency and removed the governor and shut down the entire system? Until we find a way of bringing justice and power together so that whatever is powerful may be just and whatever is just may become powerful, mere declaration of state of emergency will just lead to more bloodbath and killing of innocent people. State of emergency will not lead to a permanent solution. The solution lies in dealing with the root of the problem and crises in our society. The root is nothing but injustice and lack of priority by the government today.

But the government tried to end the crises by waving the olive branch to the insurgents. Are you now saying that the government has been idle about the problem?
I don’t know what you mean by the government has extended the olive branch

I mean the offer of amnesty, for instance, and several calls for negotiation
What amnesty? Look, the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) government led by the Jonathan set up a committee which came up with certain recommendations, but did they look into or implement those recommendations? I am not speaking for Boko Haram. I am not a part of them, and I don’t know who they are, but the government knows them and, therefore, the government should engage them because violence will only breed further violence.

What gave rise to your brand of activism because there are not many pastors who can be ranked activists these days?
From the time I was a child, I hated injustice and oppression. Whenever I see any, I fight it with everything God has given me. It doesn’t matter where it is, I would fight it, whether it is within the family, church or the larger society. Whenever there is injustice or oppression, men of goodwill must rise, and that’s just the truth.

Some people believe that you are following in the footsteps of the late activist and human rights crusader, Gani Fawehinmi. What role did he play in your activism?
I had been in activism long before I met him. I was a students union leader and I participated in the presidency of the students union of the University of Lagos. This was before I met Chief Fawehinmi. Yes, I liked his enthusiasm and his zeal for justice and fairness. I liked the things he did to become the conscience of this nation and to prick the conscience of those in power. You can’t take away from him what he accomplished before he passed away. While he was lying in state, some of us said ‘Gani has left, but his spirit lives on.’ Yes, I was in his chambers, but I also worked in Chief Rotimi Williams’ chambers as well, and he (Chief Williams) was not into any activism other than judicial activism in his own way. If it’s not in you, association cannot produce it. But if it is in you, then, it can be enhanced by association. It has to be in you for you to activate it and turn it into combustible energy.

How rich is Pastor Tunde Bakare?
How rich am I?

I don’t talk in terms of money. I work hard and God blesses the efforts of my hands. I did not bring money into this world and I won’t take money away from this world. My blessings are counted in terms of His grace, the family I have; my wife’s health and children’s health; enjoying the relationships God has blessed me with; good health. I don’t talk about money at all. Nobody brought it here and nobody will take it away. I am rich in the grace and mercy of God. No matter how rich I am, I am going to leave it behind, so, my concern is to pay my bills and be a responsible citizen.

You are known as the fiery Pastor Tunde Bakare by many people. Is that how you are at home as well?
The best people to ask are my wife and children. I care about them and the church I pastor. I care about people generally and I thank God for the kind of family that I have. They did not just release me to be doing what I am doing; they are actively involved in it. There was never a time I went to march in the streets that my children were not there. My whole family were all with me at the Ojota protests, because we all see what I am doing as a call upon our family. But as far as my private life is concerned, they are bound to know more about it. My wife, children, mother, brothers and other siblings would tell you what kind of person I am. I can’t blow my own trumpet. But I thank God for the opportunity He has given me to have them, keep them, serve them and take care of their education and how He has helped me to meet up with their well-being.

Aren’t you exposing your family to danger by allowing them to join protests?
I consider it evil and unfair to ask other people’s children to come out and I would hide my own. Oh! That’s not leadership by example. If it’s unsafe for them, then it is unsafe for those other people as well. But thanks to God who has always protected them. One of my friends who is a former governor once telephoned me and said that he could see me, my wife and children on TV (during the Ojota protests). He asked me to leave them out of it. He said that if I wanted to die, I should go and commit suicide alone. But I wasn’t committing suicide and my wife and children did not blame me for what I was doing. So, it’s immoral to ask other people’s children to come out while you hide your own.

You appear fashionable. Do you wear perfume?
Of course, I do. I don’t want to molest anybody with body odour, although I don’t have any. I wear fragrances, but I am not going to tell you my brand because once I do, I might start receiving strange gifts from people. But I do wear them. It is good to smell fresh.

You must have a favourite food, or do you want to keep that a secret too?
It depends on what is available. I eat what is available, but rice or semovita with egusi soup is fantastic. I don’t eat pounded yam, but I eat amala isu with ewedu or gbure vegetable soup. But if that’s not available, I can make do with rice. Of course, breakfast is bread and tea, and I only eat twice daily.

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