Friday, 19 June 2009

“My Unending War With Drug Fakers”

Whenever she walks out of her office, dealers in fake and substandard food products scamper in different directions. Today, Professor Dora Akunyili is regarded as a life-saver and stands as the conscience of the nation with regard to her indefatigable resolve to run fake drug dealers out of town. But with her tenure coming to an end and her decision to quit her job due to family pressure, many fear the country may return to the dark days of the drug war. She spoke to Chukwunwikezarramu Okumephuna in Abuja on the achievements and challenges of NAFDAC. Excerpts.

On why the fight against the fake drugs and substandard food products is never ending!
The reason is that we have had these fake drugs in the system since the late 1960s. So when we are talking about a problem that has taken root for over three decades now, it is not something that you can clean up in one week or one year. I am even pleasantly surprised that we were able to bring down the level of incidence of fake drugs by over 80 percent in 2001. I believe we are moving at a reasonable speed. We still have fake drugs in the system but you can’t compare it with what we had in the 1990s and early 2000. Remember that in the 1990s, most of the multinational pharmaceutical companies left the country. We had Boringa, ICI, Meck, Boots etc. They all had to leave the country out of frustration. Made-In-Nigeria drugs were banned in other West African countries. Our local drug manufacturers were closing shops. But now, in addition to drastic reduction in the level of incidence of fake drugs, 16 new drug production factories sprang up in the last three years. Made-In-Nigeria drugs have been re-accepted in other West African countries. In fact, we have taken over the West African market. I think we are making a lot of progress. We can confidently celebrate the success even though it is not yet 100 percent.

On the sources of the illegal business and those behind it!
You cannot treat a disease without diagnosing it. You cannot eradicate fake drugs if you cannot identify where the drugs are coming from. Most of the fake drugs we have in this country come from Asia, specifically from India and China. And that is why we have one of our strategies for fighting drug faking as stopping the importation from the source. We have independent analysts in these two countries that re-certify drugs before they are exported to Nigeria. We also go to inspect factories anywhere in the world to establish that they have the right Good Manufacturing Practice(GMP) before we accept their drugs for registration and even after registration, drugs cannot still be imported into this country without first of all going through our independent analysts in China and India for double-checking. We also insist on pre-shipment information. We must get all necessary information on what a drug importer wants to bring into this country before the drugs are imported. We even use Nigerian banks. Banks do not prepare financial importation documents for drug importers without NAFDAC clearance. We are therefore tackling and battling it at the source. But local manufacturers, I must tell you, are doing very well even though we monitor them neck-to-neck. We do constant surveillance and once there is any problem, we issue a compliance directive and most of the time they comply. If they don’t comply, then we close them. When we got the report of an infusion killing people and causing a lot of adverse effects in 2002, we closed one of the infusion production factories. Last year, we closed four infusion factories until we got them to do the right thing. And not only getting them to do the right thing, we had to monitor them and their products thoroughly before we allowed them to resume production. We monitor local manufacturers properly and ensure that they are operating at internationally acceptable standard. We also carry out systematic sustained surveillance to mop up the fake drugs already in circulation and this has led to constant public burning of fake products worth over N8 billion.

On why NAFDAC has no strong teeth to bite!
The law is very weak indeed but we have found a way of getting round it. We use administrative guidelines allowed within the law. If we stick rigidly to the existing drug law, we will not be able to function. It is very weak. It is unimplementable and most of the time ambiguous. Even when we get people convicted, the punishment is very light and at the same time very annoying. At times, when we catch a fake drug dealer, the punishment is just three months imprisonment with an option of N10, 000 fine. It is very ridiculous. The highest we got was the one we got recently in Kano-a five year imprisonment-but even at that, he still had an option of fine. But it was better than what we got in the past.

On the situation in Aba, Onitsha and Kano as the greatest headache of the agency!
Our greatest problem is Onitsha. Aba is a little bit sanitised because when we closed the Aba market in 2002 for about six months, they learnt a lesson. Right now, they are doing a lot of self-regulation among themselves. From the information we are getting, anybody who bring in fake drugs or unregistered products into Aba market will have problem with the traders. This is because they know that if we find fake or unregistered drugs again in their market and close it again, it will be indefinite. We agreed on this before we opened the market. Onitsha is a disaster but we are planning a new strategy for it which I would not want to divulge because if you disclose your strategy, it won’t work again. But I don’t think there is any other drug market in this country that can be compared with Onitsha in terms of selling fake drugs, fraudulent re-labelling and repackaging of spurious drugs, despite the fact that we have been combing Onitsha, closing different lines, different shops, carting away drugs in that market. NAFDAC staff and I still have plans to checkmate them; and I think I will stop at that. Kano is a little bit sanitised too because we closed it for about three months last year. We didn’t close Kano for up to six months as we did Aba because when we went to Kano to close the market, the traders co-operated. We went to Aba, they threw pure water sachets on our staff and that was why we closed it for six months. And if they did not come out to apologise using all media, coming to our office etc, we would have closed it for a longer period. So these three markets have constituted a stumbling block to the eradication of fake drugs in this country but I must tell you that Aba is sanitised to some degree. Kano is sanitised to a good degree. Onitsha is sanitised a little because what we have in Onitsha today if it is bad, then it was terrible about three years ago. We are still going to do more work in Onitsha. There is nothing traders have not done. Can you believe that when we planned to carry out enforcement actions on unregistered drugs, the Onitsha traders tried to circumvent it? There is no country in the world where a company is allowed to market unregistered or unauthorised drugs or foods. In developed and most developing countries, foods and drugs must be certified by the drug regulatory agency before a go-ahead is given for their sale and use. When we issued a warning that if a drug is unregistered, it would be seized by NAFDAC; do you know what Onitsha people did? They went and cleaned numbers in their shops to create confusion for NAFDAC, so that when we went on inspection, we won’t be able to identify individual shops. How can you identify a shop from thousands of shop when they are not numbered? So when we got the information, I called their executive members and gave them two weeks within which to replace the numbers or have all the shops closed and all the drugs evacuated; and we were ready to do it. But within 10 days all the shops were re-numbered. They comply when we give instructions. They’ve not been obstinate when we issue directives. But we think we still have to do something radical, but we have to plan properly.

On consumer’ right to report fake drugs or substandard food products that fall below their expectation!
They have a right and they have been exercising it. When we discovered problems with infusion in 2002, it was as a result of consumers’ report. The problem with infusion last year was also reported by some hospitals. So, in most of the time actually, outside our routine surveillance where we pick vegetable oil, or flour or water or injection or cream etc, it is the people who report and then we have to follow it up with investigations, collect samples and test. We don’t ignore any report because it can help us save millions of lives. It is better for us to investigate and find out that there is nothing than not taking any action.

On NAFDAC’s surveillance capacity!
We cover all of the entry points and government also helped us a lot by approving that we have what is called Special Designated Ports for drug importation. In the past, drugs were imported from anywhere and any border, land or sea. But right now, government graciously and kindly approved that drugs can only be imported through Calabar or Apapa Sea Ports or through Murtala Mohammed or Aminu Kano International Airports. So if fake drugs are imported through these designated points of entry, it would be easier for us to monitor. That means that if anybody brings in drugs through Port Harcourt, Customs will seize it because it is illegal in the first place and hand them over to us. So these designated points of entry have really helped us. We have also beefed up surveillance in these designated points and at the same time, have been making a lot of seizures too. In the seaports, we have a very strong surveillance too but on the land borders, though we still have some presence of NAFDAC officials, nobody is allowed to import any NAFDAC regulated products through the land borders. Importers are complying. If they fail to comply, we seize their goods.

On the pharmacovigilance strategy to protect the consumers!
NAFDAC did not invent the pharmacovigilance. Pharmacovigilance has been in existence internationally for many years. In fact, we are the 74th country in the world to join the pharmacovigilance system. It is a system by which when people have any adverse reactions to drugs, they report. Drugs are poisons; they have both positive and negative effects. It is when the positive effects outweigh the negative effects that we allow people to take it. What it means is that even though you are being cured of something by these drugs, it also destroys something in your system and if what it destroys in your system gets to a point that you feel uncomfortable or alarmed, that is when we call it an adverse effect. You have to report conditions like this immediately to the doctor or pharmacist for onward transmission to our pharmacovigilance centre. Adverse Drug Reaction can depend on the individual. For instance, some people take Chloroquine and it itches them a lot; it is an adverse effect. Some people take drugs and they can’t see well. Some can even be more terrible. Recently, we had reports of Analgin injection that caused severe skin necrosis (decay) in some patients. When you have such reactions, no matter how mild it is, you have to report back to whoever gave or sold that drug to you. NAFDAC distributed pharmacovigilance forms to doctors and pharmacists and we are still distributing. It has a free prepaid stamp on it so that nobody will complain of not having money to buy stamp. So they just fill the form and send to us. We collect and collate and send to Uppsala in Sweden, which is an international pharmacovigilance monitoring centre. Uppsala collates such adverse effects of drugs and when they have enough number, they will send a signal for this drug to be banned all over the world. And the Nigerian food and drug regulatory agency known as the NAFDAC can also, based on what we collate, ban the use of a drug in this country. So pharmacovigilance is so beautiful that I wish we started it earlier. If we started pharmacovigilance in the early 1990s, fake drugs wouldn’t have gained root in the system because it also allows people to report when a drug has no effect at all. So when you take a drug and it has an adverse effect you have to report and if it has no effect at all you have to report. But what happened in the past that actually encouraged counterfeiting was that some of our doctors when they prescribed Paractamol, it doesn’t work; they come back and see the patient and ask if he is still having fever. If the answer is yes, he will prescribe Novalgine. Next time he will prescribe Piroxicam etc without asking why the patient did not respond to Paractamol or Novalgine, not even to a little degree. Pharmacovigilance is therefore a good system that will enable us track counterfeit drugs and ban all drugs that need to be banned in the system. It will also help us to restrict the use of certain drugs, which is our work as a regulatory agency. So pharmacovigilance is actually a beautiful thing and I wish we can mount more public enlightenment to get our people more informed. Unfortunately, some people are even feeling uncomfortable that NAFDAC has too much campaign. Haven’t you heard that? So if we put up another campaign about this pharmacovigilance, somebody will surely say ‘oh! They have too much campaign’. Are they talking about another campaign? It is not that NAFDAC enjoys these campaigns, but we are doing it as a matter of necessity. Without awareness, people just perish for nothing. It is awareness that is making people patronise fake products. Even old women, who cannot read these days ask for NAFDAC number, expiry dates or ask others to read for them. It is what awareness has done. Today, if you tamper with expiry date in this country, nobody will buy it from you. Not only on drugs but also on other related products like foods, cosmetics etc. People are always looking for expiry date. In fact, awareness is our first strategy because it tackles the fundamental issue at stake. A problem is half solved when people are knowledgeable about it. If not for limited resources, I tell you we need more awareness especially on this pharmacovigilance, salt iodization and Vitamin A fortification of flour, sugar and vegetable oil and margarine.

On her passion about the war against fake drugs!
I am passionate about it because I know that if we even had awareness in the 1980s, my sister would not have died; there was no awareness and we were buying nonsense, even as a pharmacist. You know what I mean; it was a terrible thing and my sister died of fake drugs. It is something that pains me all the time and I also believe that I am doing this job as opportunity to help mankind.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

"Better Funding Will Transform Our Medical School To Centre Of Excellence"

Professor Robinson Ofiaeli is the Chief Medical Director of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital Nnewi, Anambra State. Barely one year in the office, Ofiaeli has been able to transform the status of the teaching hospital. He spoke to Chukwunwikezarramu Okumephuna on how he did that and his vision for the hospital. Excerpts.

Seventeen years after its foundation, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital is yet to move to its permanent site. Why?
One is that at no time was any take-off grant given to the teaching hospital. So, essentially no money has been provided for the development of the permanent site located in three communities of Nnewi, Oraifite and Ozubulu. The communities themselves are now complaining that seventeen years after donating their scarce commodity to the Federal Government out of their goodwill and not because they have much, government is yet to reciprocate the kind gesture. On many occasions they have threatened to take back their land which also is quite understandable if you put yourself in their shoe. Already some of them are now encroaching into the land. I think it will be nice for the Federal Government to reciprocate this kind gesture by making money available for us to decongest this place. This place used to be the old General Hospital Nnewi under the then Anambra State Health Management Board and which was established via the Anambra State of Nigeria Edict No. 10 of 1988. The Hospital was officially handed over to the Anambra State University of Science and Technology Teaching Hospital Management Board on 6th June 1990 and commissioned on Friday 19th July 1991. It was taken over by the Federal Government as Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital in September 1992. Since then nothing has been done by the Federal Government to develop it. Of course as you are seeing there is no way we can continue to function under this atmosphere as a University Teaching Hospital. So we are hoping that with the reform and recent visit of the Health Minister, Professor Eyitayo Lambo to the Teaching Hospital both the temporary and the permanent sites, he will make a case for the take-off grant to be given to us for its development. So money has been the main constraint.

University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu is well known as a Centre of Excellence for Cardiovascular Studies while Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital Zaria has made a name for herself as a Centre of Excellence for Oncological Studies. What can NAUTH boast of and what is your vision for the University Teaching Hospital?
We have a dream and our dream is to make NAUTH a Centre of Excellence on HIV, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Studies. Already things are happening here in that area and we are really committed to this. Unfortunately the problem of HIV and AIDS and of course other sexually transmitted diseases is today posing a great challenge to this nation. Am aware you know that Nigeria with about 3.5 million people living with the virus has the third highest rate of the virus in the world after India and South Africa. This is about 5% of our entire population, which is estimated to be about 120 million. So our mission and vision is to contribute academically and through thorough research and constant studies our quota as a Centre of Excellence in the nation’s war against the virus. Of course one of our main set back is how to move to a more spacious place. Our permanent site is there lying undeveloped 17 years after it was acquired. And for us to live up to expectation as a Centre of Excellence on HIV, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Studies, we must move to the permanent site to allow us have enough fresh air and conducive atmosphere for our studies. Also we are very much afraid that the teaching hospital may not gain from the second batch of the VAMED Engineering Project which is meant to equip all the federal tertiary medical institutions in the country. We are afraid because we are wondering where all those equipment are going to be installed when it is our turn. As a matter of fact we are listed in the second batch which comes up in few months. This is definitely posing a great obstacle to our living up to expectation as a Centre of Excellence on HIV, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Studies. But if you ask us to demand, we would say give us N2 billion. It will definitely do something at our permanent site.

Now, Professor let us forget the permanent campus for a mean time. What do you think are the most pressing problem or challenges facing the temporary campus?
Well we would like to complete the theatre complex and equip them. Currently we have more than 20 surgeons using one operating theatre. That in itself limits productivity. So completing that theatre complex and equipping it would enable us to operate at our maximum level.

Would you agree with me that we have lazy Chief Medical Directors calling the shots at our tertiary health institutions?
For sure!

Do you also agree that a good number of them have not been able to put up at least one befitting structure in their institutions not only as means of developing the institutions but also as a thing of legacy?
Of course!

Now let me ask you, what would you boast has been your achievement so far in this Teaching Hospital?
You caught me red handed. Well let me see if I will wriggle myself out of the mess you put me in. On assumption of office about a year ago, this administration inherited a debt of N420 million as unpaid arrears of 22%, leave allowance, teaching allowances, 12% and shortfall in salary, which resulted in payment of percentage salaries. Today all these debts are now historical facts in NAUTH Nnewi. Thanks to the effort of the Minister of Health for his fatherly understanding and to the President for making available the sum of N7.99 billion. Our only outstanding indebtedness is the balance of our co-operative debt and the debt to insurance companies which we owe the sum of N12 million being unpaid premium for the years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Also a first time visitor would not appreciate the deplorable state of infrastructural decay in this teaching hospital one year ago. We thank the Minister because we were able to use the N100 million we received for the 2004 capital appropriation to carry out massive internal and external renovation work in the hospital and also to execute some other vital projects which include procurement of a brand new 30-seaater fully air-conditioned coaster bus for the School of Nursing, purchasing and installation of a fluoroscopy machine bought at the rate of N25 million, tarring of roads within the campus, sinking of borehole, completion of the hospital incinerator building. Previously we spent over N125, 000 monthly to dispose our refuse here. So with the completion of the incinerator we are able to cut cost drastically. We also completed our previously uncompleted laundry, bought and installed a brand new 103 KVA generator for our Guinness Eye Centre at Onitsha as well as completion of its administrative block and a Comprehensive Health Centre at Umunya near Onitsha. It may also interest you to know that we have reached 90% completion of our multi-purpose theatre complex.

I think you have been able to accomplish a lot in just less than one year as the Chief Medical Director of this teaching hospital. How were you able to do that?
I think prudence in financial spending. The due process also helped a great deal. In fact we had just ten projects in mind, but by the time we went through the due process, we were able to add four additional projects in the budget from the N100 million Naira we had for the capital project. So due process helped us in being prudent in financial management.

That’s interesting. Now going through the SERVICOM CHARTER of the hospital, one would not be left in doubt that this hospital would be the best ran public hospitals in Nigeria, if they are followed to the letter. But I am curious to ask, do you really mean what is written there?
They are just like the advocacy meeting that the Minister is having at the moment with all the stakeholders in the nation’s healthcare. We have done our own advocacy within the teaching hospital and we are continuing to advocate that we treat our customers with utmost respect. That we will give them the necessary information that they need and that we will give them the dignity that they deserve as human beings. We also commit ourselves to giving them a timely and efficient service so that when next they are sick, that is not our prayer anyway, they will choose us as their healthcare providers. So it is continuous message, a continuous process and we are committed to preaching the message and practice what we preach. We are determined in being a model teaching hospital that has a cordial attitude and relationship with their customers. We also have a mission and our mission statement is to deliver qualitative healthcare to our people in a timely, effective and efficient way. Our vision statement is to improve the life expectancy of Nigerians by reduction in the incidence of communicable diseases and control of chronic disease conditions. Also as part of resolve to serve our people right as their right we have mandated that patients are not to spend more than 15 minutes at all other service points like revenue, pharmacy etc. All laboratory departments have produced their service charters indicating clearly when patients expect their results. We have also installed a service delivery unit whose function includes conduct of exit interviews on patients leaving all service points, monitoring compliance to the SERVICOM CHARTER by staff and receiving complaints.

Why the use of the word customers instead of the traditional patients?
Because that word patient connotes some degree of, will I say somebody pleading? But a customer is somebody who is willing to spend his money for value. So that is why we prefer using the word customer instead of patient. What we use to call a patient is actually a customer in need of healthcare and treatment and who is willing to pay for that care and treatment. So we should treat him as a somebody we so much desire his contribution towards our own development and growth and also see him as somebody who is a conditio sine qua non for our growth and whose absence would definitely cause our failure. They are needed for our hospitals to move forward and therefore we basically need them. And with these it becomes imperative that we change our orientation towards them otherwise we are going to be not just a failure but a monumental one indeed. These we have to do to ensure that their sickness do not get more complicated. But I think it will interest you more to know that we have reduced antenatal booking fee from N1, 200 to N300. This is our contribution towards reducing the nation’s maternal and infant mortality rate which is still one of the highest in the world. We have also procured Genotype Machine, Cold Centrifuge for blood fractionation by Haematology department and also resurfaced the laboratories, lecture hall, causality and other buildings with ceramic. This is to make our customers happy in line with the dictates of our SERVICOM CHARTER.

Professor sincerely speaking don’t you think that the recently launched National Health Insurance Scheme would be a complete and monumental failure because most of the hospitals that will provide the services especially public hospitals are poorly equipped?
Actually the National Health Insurance Scheme is a God-sent scheme because apart from the fact that it emphasis our being our brothers keeper which is an African concept, it will now enable the insurance companies to contribute their own quota to healthcare delivery in the country by providing more equipment to the teaching hospitals. It is better for an insurance company to get efficient treatment for Nigeria than to commit funds for overseas treatment for anybody. So they will now help to bring in some of the much-needed equipment into tertiary healthcare institutions, even at the primary and secondary care level. So the level of medical practice would improve with insurance funding.

Finally, take your teaching hospital as a case study. With what you have there on ground, do you think Nigeria would meet up with the health-related aspects of the Millennium Development Goals?
Certainly! If you listen to the Minister of Health, Lambo, he always talks about health being the cornerstone of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy. A healthy nation of course you know is a wealthy nation. We in NAUTH Nnewi are contributing our own quota to the health of the nation and we will continue to improve with more facilities. We have the manpower. We have the resources. We have the equipment at least to start with. Now with all these on ground I therefore have no iota of doubt that the nation would achieve the Goals if things are organised and galvanised well. And of course if all is spiced with little political commitment and will from all tiers of government.

“We Laid The Foundation Of This Church On The Grace Of God”

The Abuja Zonal Headquarters Church auditorium of the Foursquare Gospel Church Nigeria built at over N65 Million is ready for dedication. The Abuja Zonal Superintendent and Senior Pastor of the Church, Rev. Babatunde Idowu spoke to Chukwunwikezarramu Okumephuna on the journey made to complete the church, about the church and commented on other salient issues of spiritual and national importance. Excerpts.

The name of the church sounds mathematical. Why?
The name Foursquare Gospel Church has a biblical background in the book of Ezekiel Chapter 41 wherein the prophet had a vision. It was a vision that showed a face of a man, face of an Ox, face of a Lion and face of an Eagle. And our foundress, that is the international foundress, Aimee Sempe McPherson, a woman of God while preaching from that scriptural passage had this revelation of God wherein she now said ‘with this four images described in the passage, it must be the Foursquare Gospel’. So that is the origin of that phrase ‘Foursquare Gospel’. It is a gospel that preaches salvation to the man. It is a gospel that lightens the burden just like the Ox is used as a burden-bearer animal in those days. It is the gospel that preaches the baptism of the Holy Ghost power just like the Lion is the most powerful and king of animals. And it is a gospel that preaches Christ the soon-coming king and the Eagle is the bird that soars highest of all birds and our God is coming back again from the Heavens. So when we talk about the Foursquare Gospel Church, we are talking about the four full square gospel ministry of Jesus the Saviour, Jesus the Baptiser with the Holy Ghost, Jesus the soon-coming King and Jesus our Healer. That is basically what we mean when we say the Foursquare Gospel Church.

Tell us about the foundress of the Church!
She is a woman of God and actually had her foundation in Assemblies of God in the United States. But in 1922, she had this vision because she was an itinerant preacher and evangelist and that gave birth to the Foursquare Gospel Church in the United States specifically where we have our international headquarters in Angelus Temple in California. So the Foursquare Gospel Church started in the United States in 1922 but it did not come to Nigeria until 1955 when Rev. Harold Curtis, his wife and two sons came as pioneer evangelists bringing the Foursquare Gospel Church to Nigeria. Their first point of call was the Yaba-Sabo axis and that’s where we now have our national headquarters church precisely at 62/66 Akinwunmi Street, Yaba, Lagos. That’s how the Foursquare Gospel Church started in Nigeria in 1955.

How did you begin the journey that culminated in this big church auditorium?
The Foursquare Gospel Church in Abuja started in 1988 and the pioneer pastor then was Rev. Nathaniel Oke. I came in 1997 and by the time I came in what we had as a structure was nothing to write home about. It was something that could be described as an old hut. That is just the best description I could give. So as I came in 1997 and prayed and waited upon the Lord, I thought, that structure should be changed for people to come in and worship the Lord like the Scripture said ‘it must be in the beauty of holiness’. And there is an aspect of physical in the holiness we talk about which is more spiritual. So that is in a nutshell what brought about the issue of re-building. We started by faith. We had no money stocked anywhere but by faith we laid our foundation. We started around January 2002. There was no funfair. There was no ceremony at all. We just prayed and then prayerfully laid the foundation and there is it. That church building whose foundation was laid with faith is today to the glory of God Almighty ready for dedication.

What is the cost implication of the structure?
So far conservatively, I have to say conservatively because we have not called in any contractor to work for us. It is like a direct labour thing. The building committee comprises of structural engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and estate managers and others. So all we have done is to bring up these professionals who are members of this church. They came up with their advice and we have to carry it out here and there on direct labour basis. So conservatively so far, we have spent about 60 million Naira on the structures and may be another 5 million Naira on equipment so far.

Do you have any intention of putting up further structures?
You know, looking at what the town planner will call the land use, I think with this structure we have, we need a very large car park and that’s what we are trying to do. Later we intend putting up another one storey structure building to serve as both children church and kindergarten. If the Lord provides another big land in the future may be we can begin to talk of a full blown school system.

What is the population strength of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria today?
I think in Nigeria, speaking conservatively we should be, eh…am not sure. But in Abuja district, I know for sure that we should be between six and seven thousand. But our major strength is in Lagos. So I think we should be talking of something like a million but am not too sure.

Do you see any need of including religion in the forthcoming population census?
Well from my own point of view and it should be taken as a personal view, I think religion should be included in the census exercise. This is because we need to know who you are, who you serve and of course you know that whatsoever a person serves has an effect on the way the person behaves, his concept of ideas, his philosophy of life, his way of doing things. Except we know all these things we may think they are minute but they do go a long way to create a lot of impact. So it is quite important that we know what you are doing. Are you a believer or non-believer or even an atheist. They are important, so that while talking with you, I will have all these background at the back of my mind and easily expect what your reaction would be to a situation and that will also go a long way to help me know how to react well and then we will have less friction. But where we say, we shouldn’t have that and if we dare to initiate dialogue without knowing who you are talking with, that will only create room for more frictions. I think we will be running away from a particular problem today but creating a bigger one for tomorrow, if we don’t include religion in the forthcoming census.

Churches are springing up every day in Nigeria. Could that be the sign and work of the Holy Spirit?
Well I want you to know that whatever churches are springing up, if it is of God, it will surely stand. And if the Holy Spirit is there really, it will achieve a purpose. But let me tell you for the end of time that will definitely come, you will see more. What you are seeing now will not be compared with what you will see in the future for the Holy Spirit of God will saturate everywhere. And that has not happened. I think what is happening in Nigeria today is that God want to build believers not just for Nigeria because one of the things you will not see is the fact that Nigerian preachers and pastors have been able to make mark all over the world. A Nigerian in Ukraine, Pastor Sunday Adelaja, today pastors the largest church in the whole wide world. A Nigerian, Pastor Mathew Ashimolowu today pastors the largest church in the United Kingdom. I can go on and on like that to give you statistics without break. Also in the United States precisely in the State of New York a Nigerian also pastors the largest church there. So I believe that what God is doing is to build up materials for his end time move and Nigeria may just be the starting point before He scatters them all over the world.

Churches tend to lay more emphasis today on tithes and offerings. Why is it so?
Now tithes and offerings are biblical principles and biblical principles must be upheld by anybody who says he believes in the bible. So the issue is that God says that one tenth of your gross income belongs to me and if you say you believe in Him, then you give it to Him. It is like the Federal Government has come and said for every item you buy you must pay Value Added Tax (VAT) of 5% and nobody is arguing against that. So the issue is that, if you are a believer, the issue of paying tithe should not be a problem. It is a biblical principle and if you believe in God you need to do just that. Be reminded also that payment of tithe goes with conditions and the conditions are that ‘I will bless you. I will open the windows of Heaven for you’. You know God is not just saying bring your tithe and that’s that. No! He says if you are faithful to it, the blessings that follows it will follow you. So it is now left for you to believe God and hold on to him or disbelieve him and face the consequence.

Some churches also over-tithe their members. What do you have to say about that?
Well the terminology over-tithing is out of it. Tithe is one tenth of your gross income. May be you meant offerings but even at that when you look at Scriptures, the bible said you must not come to God’s presence empty-handed. So there is a difference between your tithe and your offering. And it must not be mixed together. So your tithe is one tenth. It belongs to God and you have to bring it. You know in the olden days when they do not have these coins and paper money, they come with their harvest. Now the offering is what you are giving to appreciate God for one thing or the other. For instance, you see people coming with their offerings to thank God for what he has done for them in the past week and at same time asking him to bless them in the coming weeks. So offering has its place. You are offering something to a deity. A God whom you believe in. Just like our forefathers, when they were worshipping other idols, they go with offering and you see in those days just like my senior pastor will always say, nobody goes to a deity and gives an offering to the deity and then go and complain ‘Oh! I gave so much to this deity’. Nobody talks about that. But when it comes to the Almighty God, people in their wisdom, so to say, come up with a lot of things and I think it is a matter of re-orientation. It is a matter of knowing whom you believe in. It is a matter of accepting by faith to walk with the God whom you profess to belong to.

Do you agree that our pastors are becoming too materialistic today?
Well! What is materialism in the first instance? I think we’ve got to define what materialism means. Because the truth of the matter is that there is an average life that everybody must be able to live up to and when you say Nigerians are poor, quoting you, then all you are saying is that basic necessities of life are not there. So materialism would be living in affluence and getting those things that you really don’t need. It means not being prudent with your spending and so on and so forth. If that is what you mean, it is not only Christians or pastors that should be cautioned. I think every human being should be cautioned. I think it is because pastors are supposed to be role models and that is why you see so many clamouring. But I think the issue is that nobody should actually live a materialistic life. If I have so much I should be able to help that brother or sister that has less or nothing. That is what the bible meant by fellowship. We are fellows in the same ship.

What is your view on the recent hike in the pump prices of petroleum products?
Well, if you look at what the Federal Government is saying, trying to let us know that they have deregulated and that they have a palliative committee to look into ways of cushioning the effect of the increase and soon. The Government have given us their views. It is now left for every other person to look at those views and be able to say I support those views or I do not. And over the time, there have been various reactions. For example the issue at stake is that the Federal Government is saying that they are importing fuel at high price and that Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC) is loosing its credibility amongst insurance companies and so on and so forth. So I think the Federal Government should look at this issue. We have a crude oil here. What can we do to make sure that every crude oil we need is refined in this country? So the issue of taking crude oil out for refining, buying at the international market as a finished product in order to sell here should be curtailed. And if we are able to do just that, then the issue of having our prices based on the international market would be out of it and I think that is where the Federal Government, some private individuals and businesses should come in together and be able to partner to see what can be done. They may think of having mini refineries here and there to solve this problem or more so come up with something bigger and with that all these problems would be solved once and for all. But our main question on the present stand of the Federal Government is how sure are we that this will be the last time for this increase. Nobody actually knows what will happen in the next few months. So I think that should be the area we should actually look at and see how we can find a lasting solution to this big problem looming on our face.

How about the feud between the President Olusegun Obasanjo and his Vice Atiku Abubakar?
Well am not a politician but if I must say something, I will only say or advise that if a boss has a score to settle with his second in command, they should do that by giving us good examples because the world is looking at us. Nigeria is the giant of Africa. So whatever we are doing, the whole world is looking at us. So when you look at it from that perspective of being good for democracy or not, it is not the issue. The issue is how would the world look at us. So I think we should be able to put our house in order and get ourselves settled such a way that we don’t become a laughing stock to the world. That’s my word for both of them!

As a man of God, do you see any future for Nigeria?
Nigeria has a future. Just like I told you before God has been raising giants from this country and putting them in position of authority in different parts of the world, telling you that God has interest in this nation. And whatever nation, God has interest in will have a future. You know Israel went through a lot of things. There was a time it was in captivity. They went into exile but because that mission is of God means Israel is still existing today. And I tell you because God is still interested in Nigeria, Nigeria has a future. A very good future for that matter!