By Eniola Bello
Last week, Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel organized a lavish Interdenominational Thanksgiving Service at Uyo Stadium in celebration of the Supreme Court confirmation of his victory in the April 2015 elections. “We are celebrating the victory of light over darkness”, said Bishop David Oyedepo, presiding pastor at Winners Chapel while delivering the message at Emmanuel’s Thanksgiving, Mid-January this year, Fr. Francis Ejike Mbaka of the Adoration Ministry fame took a dim view of the decision of his Diocesan Bishop to transfer him from Christ the King Parish, GRA Enugu to another parish in the suburbs of the city. “This is a calculated move to make me suffer by a certain leader of the church…. I know I’m going to suffer because I have no place to put my head”, lamented Mbaka even as the Southeast zone of the All Progressives Congress (APC) alleged Diocesan Bishop Callistus Onaga was manipulated by external forces to effect the transfer. Towards the end of January, Commonwealth of Zion (COZA) presiding pastor, Biodun Fatoyinbo, held a no-expenses-spared birthday celebration in Dubai, with dinner at 7-star hotel Burj Al Arab and a yacht party.
The three incidents, though isolated in space and time, strike at the heart of the problem of the church in Nigeria – the corruption and corrupting vibes from the pulpit, which have grown in leaps and bounds since the inauguration of civil democratic rule in 1999. Democratic politics brought up a new league of establishment pastors who love the good life. They enjoy visiting government houses, being buddies to top politicians, worshipping on the altar of waivers and patronage system, and encouraging theft from public till by requesting for and accepting hefty donations from public officials. Many have had cause to question the deepening corruption and decay in government despite the outward display of religious devotion by public officials and their visitations to ministers of God. The answer could be located in one burgeoning pastoral elite that has, knowingly or unknowingly, entered into an unholy alliance with the political elite to steal the commonwealth and live a life of affluence and showmanship. This development has impacted the church in four critical areas, unfortunately.
1) Religionisation of politics:
More and more, religion is being sucked into the vortex of politics and notable ministers of the gospel are savouring the wine of partisanship and throwing off the mantle of truth. Politicking in Nigeria is war by another name. Some politicians would do anything to win at the polls and have power. Since 1999, we have heard stories of politicians who slept in the cemetery. We have heard confessions of those who were marched to Okija shrine to swear at the feet of some gods. We have seen videos of those bathing with blood. We are all witnesses to the unresolved assassinations of notable politicians. At every election cycle, we read about the kidnappings and maiming and killings of many party supporters. It is no secret that judgments on election petitions are generally corruptly procured. It is hilarious, were it not so tragic, to watch politicians fraudulently win at the polls, corruptly validate that victory in court, and thereafter organize elaborate thanksgiving in church or government house or wherever catches their fancy where they dance heartily and praise God for their victory. As it is said, God is not mocked. Bloody violence marked the governorship elections in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States, in the one to a lesser extent, and in the other to a greater degree. Although Akwa Ibom’s Emmanuel and Rivers Nyesom Wike had their victories validated at the Supreme Court on technical grounds, to bring the God factor to election victories so stained with blood is turning the grandeur of righteousness on its head. God is a force of order, not of confusion and chaos. It is therefore curious for Oyedepo to conclude, as he did in his message at Uyo, that what was being celebrated “is the supreme hand of God in the affairs of men.” I would want to believe that all those wild thanksgiving services by our politicians, in the circumstance, do not, to use the words of Apostle Paul (Roman 16:18), “serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by sweet words and flattering speech deceive the mind of the simple.”
2) Politicisation of religion:
Bringing the church into politics, like two sides of a coin, unduly politicizes Christianity. And a politicized pulpit endangers the ministry, scandalizes the minister and does not advance the cause of Christendom. Where is Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor today? As president of both the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Oritsejafor could not conceal his support for the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and seized every opportunity to be seen in Jonathan’s company. He took advantage of his leadership of the CAN and PFN to ingratiate himself with that administration, organizing endless presidential pilgrimages to Jerusalem and visitations to different churches. In the process, he got presidential endorsement for his university and private jet. But under him, CAN, which had a long history of putting the Nigeria political leadership on its toes, lost its voice for righteousness and justice, forcing the Catholic Bishops Conference to suspend its membership of that body. Oritsejafor even had whatever remained of his integrity eroded when his private jet was mentioned in the almost $10 million cash smuggled to South Africa supposedly for arms procurement and seized by that country’s authorities. Since Jonathan lost the presidential election last April, Oritsejafor stands diminished, if not forgotten, despite still holding on to the presidency of CAN and PFN. When Fr. Mbaka resorted to unnecessary histrionics over his transfer to another parish and the APC could not resist politicizing a routine deployment in a Catholic Diocese, the priest did not enjoy any public sympathy. Having endorsed APC’s Candidate Muhammadu Buhari for the presidential election in the guise of a prophetic declaration, and much later, savouring the publicity surrounding his visit to the Presidential Villa, Abuja for a special thank you handshake, Mbaka exposed himself for what he truly is – a charlatan. As things stand today, Mbaka’s Adoration Ministry may never regain its lustre.
3) The lost voices:
In more ways than one, Jesus was a rebel. He took on the establishment of his time – the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes, denouncing their hypocrisy, their holier-than-thou attitude, their manipulation of law and traditions of the elders to oppress and exploit the people. Jesus brought fresh perspectives to tradition and interpreted the law anew, and in the process conscientized the people and liberated them. Before Jesus, John the Baptist denounced the corruption in King Herod’s court. Before John the Baptist, first prophet Elijah, and later Elisha, defied the kings of their time and held them accountable for their wickedness and folly. And long before the two prophets, Prophet Nathan reprimanded King David for having adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and arranging the death of her husband, Uriah. There are several examples of prophets and priests who confronted the political leaders of their time, condemning their excesses and perversion and corruption and wickedness, while crying out for righteousness and justice. In Nigeria, the church today is anything but Christ-like. Our jet flying pastors revel in the stardom their ministry confers on them, but shirks the responsibility of holding political leaders to account. They enjoy being addressed as ‘Man of God’, yet have thrown away the garment of humility and denial in service. Rather than raise their voices in calling for righteousness and justice, they collaborate with politicians in oppressing the people.
4) Neither work nor ethics:
Perhaps because God worked for six days, created man in his own image and rested on the seventh day, some scholars have argued that man is created to work, with a cultural mandate to make something out of something, embedded in what has been seen as the first miracle – man’s charge to have dominion over all creations. But then, many ministries place high premium on salvation, discipleship, and evangelism but hardly bother about the work people spend long hours on and the ethical issues impacting thereto. In not striking a balance between personal faith and public life, the church doesn’t seem to be doing enough in equipping those in leadership positions with the necessary moral fibre. And this is compounded by some pastors’ quick resort to peddling false miracles in ordinarily ordinary things of life.
The church should assume responsibility for the pervading corruption in the nation’s polity and the general decay in the land. Church leaders should look inwards and review their comportment and strategies. They have failed in giving moral guidance and providing leadership by example. A nation whose leadership is bereft of moral health flounders. The people want to see religious leaders, once again, raise their voices for righteousness and justice in the land.
Bello wrote this article originally for THISDAY Newspaper