Fellow Nigerians, let me confess that I have a soft spot for men of God, especially Pastors. The reason can’t be difficult to fathom. I’m not just a Christian; I had the great privilege of being born by my heavily spiritual mum and dad in an Aladura church in Ile-Ife.
That was in the good old days when men and women truly served God and prayed more than a praying mantis. We never doubted the efficacy of prayers or the supremacy of the almighty. We lived side by side with Muslims, animists, atheists and sometimes worshipped with them or indeed, practised whatever we chose to practice. That was your own business.
We celebrated every festival. We even sometimes chose to fast during Ramadan. For us, it was all fun, sitting down in the evenings, under the stars or moonlight, breaking fast with our Islamic neighbours. Or waking up in the early hours to partake in feast called Saari. Wow, my mouth and tongue are salivating together as I go through this process of recollection. We attended the same schools with the children of the privilegentsia.
The only difference was that a few of them rode to school in chauffeur-driven cars, even convertible Chevrolets and Phantom Rolls Royces like Ooni Aderemi’s children and grand children, while most of us ‘rode’ on our legs. But it wasn’t really a big deal as we lived happily as one.
A brief recital of my family’s religious origin is even worth repeating here and now. My paternal grandparents were Muslims from Ihievbe village, in the present day Edo State, Owan East Local Government. I can’t remember ever meeting my paternal grandmother but I knew my paternal grandfather as Baba Onirungbon Yeuke (a character from one of D. O. Fagunwa’s novels) because he had that long and curly beard like a Rastafarian. He was gentle and meek and prayed to Allah endlessly.
I often wonder how my father migrated from our village and meandered his way all the way to Ile-Ife where he met my beautiful mum, fell in love and got married. It is even stranger to me how a son of such a devout Muslim navigated himself from the Islamic faith to converting to Christianity. Not just that, he picked up the name of Jacob and my eldest brother picked up the name Simeon while I was given the name Joseph at birth as if to cement the nature of my birth and foretell my future as someone who would make certain forecasts as a journalist.
The essence of my preamble is to rhapsodise about how beautiful and tolerant life was in those wonderful old days before we lost our innocence in recent times. It is strange how things have changed since then. I think the churches in the bid to catch the new generation over-funkyfied the way we now worship. Religion has almost become an arm and leg of showbiz. And the Pastors have lost control in this era of totalitarian freedom. Beyond that, there are too many challenges confronting our youths today. The first is the collapse of education. The second is the lack of jobs even if you manage to graduate from one of our troublesome institutions. The third is lack of social welfare. The fourth is lack of hope in the foreseeable future. The last but not the least of the debilitating factors is lack of parental care and attention.
To further compound the volatility of our combustive situation, our churches have misread and misjudged these children of hate and anger who attend services with their attention elsewhere. What I’m trying to hint at and explain is that our men of God must wake up to the shocking realities of the 21st century. These youths have acquired a massive power via information technology. Indeed it is almost akin to a god they worship. Many of them have become so paranoid about life and our society so much that they see virtually everyone as the enemy who contributed to their misery and disillusionment.
These youths can be divided into three categories. The first are those who have managed to survive against all odds and are trudging on with the hope of a greater tomorrow. The second are those acutely frustrated who have given up on society as it is and believe they can cause a peaceful or bloody revolution in the land. This category breaks into two parts; those who prefer the subtle approach and would encourage the democratic process and those who feel the whole system should come all tumbling down. The last are those with inordinate ambition who feel they can only make it in life by being errand boys to every government in power. Their mission is to survive any government in power and preserve the status quo with the hope of picking up some crumbs, or even power itself, sooner or later.
To exacerbate matters, the long and short of our current dilemma is that our politicians have succeeded in tearing our social fabric apart using the instrumentality of religion. What I find most bizarre is the present game of trading ridiculous religious propaganda. The Christian politician tells us to beware of Muslims who may choose to Islamise Nigeria. The Muslim tells us to avoid Christians who are likely to Christianise the Northern Muslims. For God’s sake why are we doing this to ourselves at this time and age when smaller and less prosperous nations are doing great things devoid of religious wranglings.
Our proclivity for matters of faith seems to have assumed the most dangerous dimension in the course of campaigning for the February 2015 Presidential elections. The visit of our President to Bishop David Oyedepo’s church last Sunday was the climax of it for me. Since I joined Twitter and became addicted to it, I doubt if I’ve ever witnessed the torrents of attacks that came out of that innocuous visit. A new coinage THE GATE OF HELL went viral because it was reported by God knows who that the famous Bishop rebuked those opposed to the second term ambition of Mr President, promising to banish them to the Gate of Hell and lock them in. Till this day, I have searched fruitlessly for any such statement and found none.
I have endeavoured to watch the video of the Presidential visit which was mercifully uploaded on YouTube and nothing of the sort emanated from the Bishop unless the full footage had been cleverly edited which I doubt. I’m one of those converts to Buharism but I will never support anything that would further divide our nation. I’ve had only two encounters with Bishop Oyedepo and he left me in awe of him on both occasions. The first was a Virgin Atlantic flight to London many years back and he sat next to me and we chatted like we were old buddies. I was impressed with his simplicity and candour.
The last time I saw him was about three years ago in Ghana at the opening of Jimoh Ibrahim’s Energy Bank. As soon as I walked into the board room and greeted everyone, I noticed that Bishop Oyedepo and everyone in the office remained standing and I said to him, “Daddy, you can’t stand up for me sir”, to which he replied, “I have to stand up for our future President.” I was truly humbled by such humility. Therefore, I’m always sad to read all those vicious attacks on this great man of God.
I have read many reports about his fabulous wealth, his private jets, his expensive universities, etcetera, and concluded that the Bishop is a victim of success. Chief MKO Abiola had a way of putting it succinctly: the bigger the head, the bigger the headache. I don’t know of anyone who would tell the number one citizen of Nigeria not to attend his church for fear of a political backlash. And if the President comes, his duty is to bless the august visitor. Even our Lord Jesus Christ did not discriminate against anyone.
What has happened is that many of our young folks want to know where our Pastors stand today and that can’t be an easy task. They want to know if our respected clergymen feel what the rest of society feels. This is the basis of all this agitation.
In fact, I don’t envy our Daddy G O, Pastor E. A Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Many of these young guys have been asking how neutral can he be now that a senior respected Pastor under his mentorship, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN is now the Vice Presidential candidate of APC. The dilemma is further compounded by the fact that the President enjoys a warm relationship with Pastor Adeboye. It is not going to be easy but God will guide His men aright. They will still pray for everyone fortunate to come in contact with them. I was a beneficiary of such blessing during my own Presidential campaign. We need to appreciate the enormity of their responsibilities to society at large.
Our leaders also have some lessons to learn from this debacle. They should try to visit Pastors as anonymously and incognito as possible. I did so when I contested in 2011 choosing to visit one of the most revered Pastors Daddy Adeboye in his office at the Camp, unobtrusively after one of the Church’s major celebrations.
It would be terrible if we open up our icons to public odium because some leaders want to exploit the Pastors’ spirituality and popularity to electoral advantage. The religious card being played is fast becoming ineffective and divisive.
A top Pastor sent me a few messages which I intend to consolidate and paraphrase and share with you because of their relevance given the climate of religious hatred being fomented by our politicians.
“Good day people, vote your conscience. Don’t be manipulated. If your Pastor says don’t vote for a Muslim, ask him if Daniel served a Saint, whether Modeccai did not serve King Ahasseurus and if Joseph was not a Prime Minister under Pharaoh. This election is not about North versus South, nor is it about Christian versus Muslim. It is about Nigeria and good governance. Don’t allow politicians to divide us. When they share money, they don’t talk about religion. When they want donation from Aliko Dangote, they don’t remember he is a Muslim. When they enter an aircraft, they don’t ask the religious faith of the pilot… They and their wives go to Dubai to spend money.
Dubai is in the United Arab Emirate but they have no problem buying houses there. But when it comes to politics back home, they say their opponents want to Islamise you…
“Vote for your conscience. If you want to vote for Jonathan, vote for him based on your conviction that he has performed in your estimation and not because he’s a Christian. If you want to vote for Buhari, vote for him because you feel disenchanted with the Jonathan government, not because he is a Muslim. Say no to bigotry. God bless Nigeria…”
There is nothing more to add. The choice is yours. Decide on who your preference is. It shall be well with our nation… !