Over the years, one man has risen from Cross River State as a strong prophetic voice to the nations. His fiery and no-nonsensical teachings on cable television networks as well as some local stations have earned him large following across national boundaries and made his views on diverse issues highly sought after by discerning minds.
Bishop Josef Bassey is one of the highly respected spiritual leaders in our world today, the Presiding Bishop of God’s Heritage Global Mission with headquarters in Calabar, Nigeria and President of Cross River State Christian Leaders Forum.
Our Sunday Oguntola ran into him recently in Lagos and had him answer questions on some critical issues.
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The Christian Community in Cross River State reacted very strongly to the suspension of devotions in Public and Private schools. Why was it so?
Well, it took all of us by surprise. That was the most unfortunate development in our State lately. One never imagined it would ever happen. The Permanent Secretary sent a memo to that effect and we were all aghast. But we are grateful it has been rescinded.
Did Christian leaders like you meet with Government Officials to ask why the policy was declared in the first place?
The moment it happened, we did. The Chairman of CAN, His Grace, Archbishop Joseph Ukpo did, I did and I believe all concerned Christian leaders in the state did because that was a suicidal development capable of setting the State on fire and destroying the future generations.
How could that be?
You see, you cannot talk about peace, progress and development anywhere in the world without taking the beliefs of people into consideration. Societies aren’t run by governments; they are run by the beliefs of people.
If we are talking about crimes and corruption, you cannot get effective results by laws and security agencies only. Once character has been formed, law enforcement agencies cannot change the character. They only seek to punish offenders or try to provide machinery to deter people from breaking the laws.
So, corruption is not just an act; it is an expression of a character deficiency. The only system that can cure corruption, entrench morality, love, peace and integrity is Religion, which is the belief system of the people. All the major religions of the world have fundamental tenets. And the last I checked, morality was a central theme across some of them.
When you stop devotions, you are destroying the fibre of people’s beliefs. It is like literally taking away their hearts and just leaving them with bodies. You have actually killed them systematically. And knowledge without morality is giving birth to monsters.
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But the Government explained the move was to forestall terrorist attacks based on intelligence. Wasn’t that enough to take such a step?
Yes, they said so and I was privileged to speak with the Commissioner of Police, who clarified they had some security reports to that effect. He is a fine gentleman and he also explained this to C.A.N. But unfortunately, because of developments around the world with regards to State orchestrated attacks on the Religious beliefs of people vis-à-vis the emergence of a war against Christianity engaging governmental policies, laws, legislation and the likes, his explanation refused to fly.
Cross River State is the most peaceful and secured state. And the Government didn’t achieve that for us. It is there because it is a Christian State. Cross River is not a PDP or APC State. It is a Christian State. The peace and security we experience are traceable among other things to the fact that people have been raised on a certain belief system to love each other and eschew evil.
That was not achieved by Government but the Church. The credit has to be placed exactly where it should be. Morality took a flight because missionary schools were taken over by the Government. The disaster we have today started then. Before then, Nigerians were honest and straightforward. But when government took over schools, they nailed the coffin on integrity, morality and character. That is what will further be compounded should the directive on suspension of devotions stand.
It could have been about security but why haven’t public assemblies been stopped in the Northeast despite terrorist attacks? Why not in the West where there had been reports of terrorists trying to strike? Why in Cross River State where there had been no trace of public disturbance, let alone terrorism?
I think it is the most erratic thing we ever heard. It is insanity in rampage. Even if it was about security, why should you suspend assemblies?
The reports allegedly said the attacks were targeted to take place during assemblies…
… Did they say that? Okay, if you suspend assemblies can’t they attack the schools during classes? If it is about terrorists planning to strike, we know their patterns. If it were so, stakeholders should have been involved. They should have spoken to them about the intelligence.
Security is a collaborative effort worldwide; it cannot be the responsibility of security forces alone. Were the stakeholders involved? Were Police operatives posted to man all the schools? Why target the assemblies first? You know the average Nigerian is suspicious of the term “security reasons”. I just can’t understand because in the past, people have hidden under the hood of security reports to commit a lot of atrocities.
Are you saying there could be more to the suspension than meet the eyes?
I really wish they weren’t more to it. But these have thrown up a lot of questions, inquisitiveness and curiosity in the minds of Christian leaders globally. I have been personally bombarded with so many stirring questions; many are saying it couldn’t just have been that. So, if it is just not about that, what could it be about? I really wish I could tell what it is.
Why Cross River? Why do you think the State could be a subject of interest to anybody?
Truthfully speaking, I cannot say. But the entire Christian Community takes this seriously and personally. We consider it an attack on our faith. And anybody toying with that had better be ready to take out all the people of the State because we are one hundred percent Christians.
Cross River is a Christian state. It is not a PDP or APC state. That must be clearly understood. The constitution guarantees our freedom of association and freedom of worship and that should be respected.
But the suspension has been lifted. Are you appeased?
Yes, we are more than pleased. But the fact that it happened even for once was an affront which said “Wake up, there is a danger in the offing.”
How did you feel while the suspension lasted?
I was pained. I never imagined it could happen in our lifetime. We were scandalised; it threw up a lot of questions about the government of our State. People confronted us with many insinuations which I hope and believe are unfounded.
People also read political motives to the directive. There are talks that the Governor could be preparing to defect to the APC?
Well, I do not hold brief for the Governor but I don’t think that this is true. The Governor is very reasonable and intelligent. I believe he is very keen currently on advancing the developmental strides in the State. And should be encouraged to focus on his job devoid of political somersaults that could only heat up the polity and birth distractions.
What we need is peace and not destabilisation.
So, you do not see any relationship between the Governor’s plan to join APC and the decision to ban assemblies in Schools?
Well, I have heard people say that he may have instructed that to be done to show he was willing to sacrifice the Religion of the State to appease another Religion, as a way of endearing himself to the President who is being viewed by many as an Islamic fundamentalist.
Now, I have a problem with this thinking because one, it marks out APC to be an Islamic party and if so, then every Christian that is a part of it, or voted for it becomes a betrayer of the faith and enemy of the Cross.
Number two, I don’t see Ayade doing any such thing. He is highly exposed and cerebral enough to understand the sensibilities of people, communities, states and nations to matters of their faith. We still have boko haram with us; it is religious terrorism driven and powered by what a people believe and hold to be true. It has become a thorn in our flesh with thousands of lives lost. No sane or informed person wants to stir up a religious storm; and certainly not Governor Ayade. I don’t see him deciding to set the State on fire and burn everything in the name of politics. No.
Is there anything people should learn from this?
This issue has taught people lessons. You cannot think as a public official that you know everything and can determine for the people without consulting them.
The Church has a system in place where we can reach the nooks and crannies of the State in less than 24 hours. If we were carried along, we would have offered our inputs and prevented the outcries that the directive attracted. Governance must be all inclusive and security must be collaborative.
But is Cross River State under threat or vulnerable to terrorism?
In the world today, every place is vulnerable. If Pentagon could be vulnerable, you know that every place is at risk. But we must be on the alert and not encourage anything that will give anyone reasons to sabotage the peace we enjoy in the State.
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