Reverend (Dr) Uja Tor Uja is the executive secretary, Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC). In this interview with select journalists in Jerusalem, Israel, he speaks on the main essence of Christian pilgrimage, Nigeria’s security challenges, her untapped potential as well as other national and global issues. ADOYI M. ABA was there.
What batch of Christian pilgrimage is this?
This is the last batch of the 2019 Easter pilgrimage. They are 336, including security personnel, NCPC coordinating staff, board members from Oyo, Ogun, and Osun states.
How will describe the conduct of last year’s pilgrimage?
We are growing. We are manifesting the greatness of Nigeria which I have been speaking about. There is increasing maturity, discipline and commitment to the purpose. If we can cut down the number of abscondment from thousands to just five, then it means a lot is going on. We believe that by the next pilgrimage, abscondment will be from five to zero level. There is cooperation and commitment with every pilgrimage at the praying ground. We believe that the country will continue to grow economically. Nigeria is the only nation we can refer to as a future nation. Many nations are living on past glories, but our future is a glorious one. I am satisfied with the participation of the entire pilgrims.
What particular strategies has the commission adopted to tackle abscondment by pilgrims?
We have strategies to cut down abscondment, but I will not mention those strategies for obvious reasons; they could be countered by the wrong people. I have discussed with Mr President for both financial and political support to run a media campaign to discourage people from thinking abroad, instead of thinking Nigeria. The average Nigerian believes that everything good is right there in foreign lands, which is wrong. All those who travel abroad live on the support from Nigeria. So, it is a deception. We want to Nigerianise Nigeria. Even our political leaders travel abroad at the slightest excuse and invest or siphon monies abroad. It is negative and does not help our pride or development. We will run a media campaign from August to September if we have the necessary back-up. We have even changed the pilgrimage name to Pilgrim Nigeriana, a pilgrimage according to Nigeria. When Nigerians start singing, other nationals from France, England, and USA will abandon what they are doing to join us; this is because only Nigeria has the spiritual fervour, drive and move to shake other nations. No other nation has time for prayers as we do. So, we intend to sell the greatness of Nigeria to Nigerians, because I discovered that Nigerians may know about Europe and America, but may not know about Nigeria.
What are the real spiritual and/or development benefits of this pilgrimage?
The first thing is that each pilgrim will experience a life transformation in Christ. It is not a theoretical matter, but leading them to Christ so that they can know better. Even in the Bible, many people were around Christ, but didn’t know him. Secondly, it is to teach us the confidence of believing in God rather than believing in Christ. When you believe in God, all things are possible. Third, we want all pilgrims to have greater confidence in the word of God. It is not about being in church or around men of God, but having the confidence to obey the will of God. If these three things happen, then we believe the spiritual context will be taken care of.
We want to expose all pilgrims to development matters in Israel we believe are of importance to us in Nigeria. One of them is agriculture. Whenever we come here, we take pilgrims to many agricultural sites. I am a farmer from Benue state and I learnt a lot when I visited a farm here and saw that the trees were planted in straight lines. When I got back to my farm in Benue, I corrected them, because it affects productivity and harvesting. I want all pilgrims to learn from that. Even in technology, we want people to learn about technology and reproduce in Nigeria, not just importing them. I am interested in learning things and translating them in Nigeria. One thing I want Nigerians to learn from Israel is solar power. In Israel, every house has a solar power panel on the roof. Imagine that we have solar power in Nigeria to boil water, instead of using generators. We would have improved on our usage and save a lot of cost. We challenge our people when they get back to Nigeria to see how they can make electricity cheaper. With the environment we see in Israel, we challenge our people to replicate it in Nigeria. It doesn’t always require much money.
Can you make your buildings to be organised and neat to stand for 200 or 300 years, unless we have reasons to remove them? They shouldn’t be collapsing because we did a poor job. We are exposing our pilgrims to all these things with the hope they will be translated in Nigeria. We are planning a joint farmers’ conference between Nigerian and Israeli farmers, where we will exchange ideas. For instance, when I held a mini-conference with Israeli farmers, they told us that the reason Nigerian crops are not viable abroad is that the harvesting method is wrong and the movement of our produce abroad is also wrong, and so they arrive there when they are almost dead and, therefore, cannot attract buyers. I went to their farms and saw they harvest their oranges and avocados by gloved hand, with trucks following every tree. They have air-conditioned vehicles that transport the fruits to the harbour the same day. Within three days, their produce arrive their destinations in neat conditions. But in Nigeria, we climb trees and shake branches for oranges to fall to the ground and we don’t have a way of transporting them. We have the best produce in the world, so we will exchange ideas.
How do you think banditry and other crimes can be checked in our country?
I find that many times we are negotiating with criminals. This should not be the attitude of a great nation. With our capacity, we can hunt and bring down any criminal. Nigeria has succeeded in chasing away Boko Haram, but they still come through our borders. We should find a way to deal with banditry; I don’t support negotiating with criminals because that would mean empowering them. It is better to build honour and values. In many cases, even after paying ransom, the bandits still kill or refuse to release their hostages. We lose both ways. We must address issues frontally. I want the church to pray more for Nigeria and against the emerging issues in Nigeria more instead of complaining. Banditry has even reduced our evangelism and spiritual programmes, so we should pray more and let government do its own.
Which ways should pilgrims assist in enhancing leadership in Nigeria?
One of the first things we have instructed our pilgrims to do is to call a meeting of ten to 20 people when they get back to Nigeria and do experience-sharing. We want those who are leaders to share development ideas and lead by example. We want the media to show that we can do anything with good leadership. With good leadership, we can go anywhere. President Muhammadu Buhari implemented the TSA system to heal the economy of Nigeria, which remains one of the best things to happen in this country. This is because many government agencies had multiple accounts through which they siphoned money. We need to organise ourselves. I always ask myself why Israel is so organised, while Nigeria is not. Here, the development control will not allow you to put a stone in the ground if it is in the wrong place, but Nigerians build houses in the middle of the road once the person has money and everybody turns a blind eye. We need to build a better nation with good leadership.
What would you want Nigerians to do about Nigeria?
The greatest strength of Nigeria is Nigerians. We can support our leaders if we agree to do the right things, the right way and all the time. Nigerians should love Nigeria and believe in our leadership. I don’t support it when Nigerians insult our leaders and try to degrade them. Any land that does not support leadership is doomed. We need to believe in Nigeria and support leadership. Everywhere we are, let’s do the correct thing.
Is the National Orientation Agency (NOA) doing enough to sell Nigeria?
The challenge of our nation cannot be dropped at the doorsteps of one agency. It needs a holistic approach. In NCPC, for the past two years, I have been trying to teach Servicom and the necessity of serving our people well. One of the issues I brought in the course of this training is military elements. We are not soldiers, but we need their discipline, order, coordination, and what have you in many areas of our existence. We have also brought in elements from the diplomatic corps, in pilgrimage, we are diplomats. I think all the agencies of government should come together for inculcation of national values. Right now, the biggest element ruling our lives is colonial heritage. We need to destroy it.
Nigeria in God’s plans
Nigeria is a nation on God’s mind. God created Nigeria and deposited beautiful things herein. We are the most populous, spiritual, and blessed black nation on earth. You can count first-grade preachers adorned all over the world from Nigeria. No nation can call ten grade A preachers in an hour, but we have hundreds of them in Nigeria. God wants to use Nigeria to showcase the strength and glory of the black man that was looked down upon. God is a Nigerian. That’s why we have not broken up like other countries. We shake just to keep our body temperature together. We will not break up as a country, because we are a nation under God. What we have to do is to build a strong platform so that we can fulfill God’s purpose in the world. In the next few years, Nigeria should be supervising elections in the UK or USA, not the other way round.
Nigeria should be supporting famines and catastrophes around the world, not the other way round. I don’t believe in foreign reserves. I may be a lone voice, but I believe foreign reserves mantra was created by colonial powers. It all started in Britain when they were dealing with England. It is against the weaker nations because Britain will never come and keep their foreign reserves in Nigeria. Whatever we keep in Britain, they use it without paying us any interests. Nobody thinks of coming to keep money in Nigeria, while should we do that abroad? This is something our economists should review. I don’t believe in foreign reserve. If we sell anything, the money should be domesticated with the Central Bank, so that anybody can borrow it for local development. I know economists explained that we import a lot and may need foreign reserves to pay; they need to teach us that we have to reduce our imports of elementary things like biros, toothpick, etc.
In NCPC, every officer is expected to buy the tools for his work. You don’t go to the farm empty-handed. Let us keep money in Nigeria so that we can have infrastructure development. Let economists change their language, foreign reserve is anachronistic, unacceptable; it is a backward move for a nation like Nigeria.