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‘Groups agitating for secession should realise it’s not a cure-all solution’
Prof Magnus Atilade is the President and Archbishop, Gospel Baptist Conference of Nigeria and Overseas, chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), South West, and president, The Christian Welfare Initiative (CWI). In this interview with Seyi John Salau, the Chiropractic physician shares his thoughts on burning issues in the country. Excerpts:
How do we effectively resolve religious bigotry in Nigeria?
As I have said publicly, even people who claim to be Muslims have not understood the religion of Islam properly as all of them say it is a religion of peace. If it is a religion of peace, where did they say that you should go and kill somebody so as to enter paradise? Islam only said that you defend yourself against unbelievers; it does not say you should go and attack them. In fact, according to the tradition of Islam, Prophet Mohammed says when Jews or Christians come into a village where there is no church or synagogue, the mosque should be opened for them to go in and worship God, that all of them are religions of the book. So, people who take up sword and kill people unnecessarily are doing so out of ignorance. It is left for the Muslim leaders themselves to educate their people, and some of these politicians are using it for their selfish ends. The laughable one is this recent one, Boko Haram or whatever they call themselves, that says that western education is bad. In this 21st century, can anybody say that? If it is bad, how is it that the former governor of Central Bank and present Emir of Kano is an Islamic scholar; he speaks English and understands Mathematics. Islam is not meant to pull people down or to make them ignorant but is out to liberate them and make them good citizens. Efforts should be made to correct these distortions so that we can have a peaceful country. We have contributed to talk about the fact that there should be more things done to bring about inter-religious understanding and I am happy that the government heeded that call and has instituted a body for inter-religious discourse. Though not enough has been done as we still see incidences of conflagration or crisis, the problem is really due to ignorance.
What is your impression about hate speech and call for restructuring by a section of the country?
There has been so much tension, what we are calling for is restraint and cessation of hostilities and speeches that can incite or encourage violence. These are sensitive times. Let me say that any group that wants to secede, it does not mean that they will enter into a new world where everything is alright as there could be factions within the groups that will bring about unrest. For example, we have many ethnic nationalities enlisted as Biafra and nothing stops these groups from having fracas among them. Also, we have had wars among ourselves as Yoruba, we have had Ekiti against Oyo and the likes. God in his wisdom knows why he has created all of us together in the country called Nigeria. Nobody should think that when we create the Biafra Republic or Oduduwa Republic, then all the problems will get solved. All the challenges and benefits that can come to us in the Republic of Nigeria can still come to us in the Republic of Biafra or Oduduwa. There is a need for us to stay together because there is great benefit in our human and natural resources as a country; what we need to do is restructure and do things that will make the centre not as overbearing as it is now, with that everybody will be happy. We should really be a federation.
Are you lending your voice to the call for restructuring?
Yes. But not restructuring for restructuring’s sake but for better and harmonious relationship, that is what we should be calling for.
What is your opinion on the ongoing strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)?
I call for temperance and patience. Some of the demands need to be looked into. ASUU, for the interest of Nigerians, should be reasonable about the demands that have been reported to be extreme. What is happening is that they see what is going on in other sectors and make their demands, that is the situation. So, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. These are all evidences of the regretful situation we find ourselves as a nation. Prayers alone will not do, we need to take action.
Could you tell us about your background? How has your journey been as a Chiropractic physician and clergyman?
I am the last child and the third son of the late Archbishop Emmanuel Adekunle Atilade. I was born in Lagos in early 1940s. I would say I was fortunate, I was born into ministry. My father had been ordained as a Baptist minister about 25 years before I was born. My mother, although she was from a Muslim background, had accepted Christ, having been trained by the Baptist Women Missionaries. My father also was a mission boy who came from a pagan home. So I was born into a Baptist family. We are Bible readers and Bible doers. You can picture that type of family in those days in the 1940s, strict Christian family. We kept all the rules you can imagine in the Bible. Sunday was a Sabbath day, you don’t buy or sell. We spent the day reading the Bible or having siesta.
I started my primary education in my father’s school, New Africa School, Ebute-Meta. I later went to Nigerian High School, Mushin, of which he was also the proprietor. From there I proceeded to Ibadan Grammar School where I took my School Certificate. From there I passed the concessionary examination for Medicine at the University of Ibadan. It was after this that I proceeded to America because I got interested in Chiropractic, a form of alternative medicine mostly concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. I studied at the University of Minnesota in the United States and started to practice medicine in St. Paul Minnesota. I later proceeded to Bethel College and Seminary for Theological training. I was also ordained as a Deacon of Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul Minnesota from where I came back to Nigeria. After a few years of tutelage in Nigeria, I became the pastor of the Gospel Baptist Church, Festac Town, Lagos. From there I was transferred to become the Pastor of the Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Lagos. This was in 1989, and I served as a Bishop from then to 2008 when I was nominated to become the Archbishop. I have been serving as the Archbishop and president of the Gospel Baptist Conference of Nigeria. I have also served as chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Lagos State chapter.
Looking back, what contribution would you say CAN has made to the development of Nigeria?
It was during my time as chairman of the Lagos State chapter of CAN that CAN became more cohesive. We were able to achieve a lot of things for Christendom. We spoke out courageously in the difficult years of Nigeria – the Babangida and Abacha and Obasanjo years. We talked about federalism, we talked of the need to do something about the Niger Delta, South-East region, the unjust situation that is prevalent there, the fact that where the main resources of the country are coming from have been so neglected, and we predicted that it might lead to armed insurgency or militancy, which later came to happen because of the abject neglect and poverty that was prevalent in those regions.
So I would say that we have been relevant. We saw that the greatest problem Nigerians had was the lack of good leadership and we felt that we were going to train our young people on the art of leadership and its characteristics. And so for many years, we brought young people together and took them to a camping session at Badagry. We were there for four to five sessions, and also to the Trade Fair Complex along Lagos-Badagry Expressway. So many youths passed through us who are now doctors and lawyers, who still communicate to us about how blessed they were through those training sessions. We thank God for our little contributions to the development of our country.
As a Chiropractic and natural therapist, what is your opinion on the rejection of orthodox medicine by some Christians?
There is need for these Christians to be informed. Even in the Bible, plants and herbs are said to be for our consumption and medicine as they cure our health challenges. Everything created by God is good, it is when we bring in things that distort our belief in God that it becomes bad. That is why people get it mixed up and do not know the difference.
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