In Lagos recently on my way to Benin City (during a month sabbatical) I boarded a Goddy Edosa mini-bus in Mile 2 that took me to the ancient Edo State capital city. But before we took off a mobile ‘man of God’ was preaching and praying for our safe journey. In the process he made a reference to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor by saying that if the Warri-based high-flying Pastor could become a servant of God after his early years as a ‘bandit’ and ‘weed-smoking delinquent’ then repentance was possible for everyone else. I had listened with rapt attention as he spoke and in the end passengers were donating ‘offering’ to the man for his biblical eloquence and sound prayer.
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s ‘transformation’ is a remarkable story of sin and redemption, a life whose transmogrified past could be described as a ‘miracle’ — God’s supernatural intervention in the natural affairs of men! The man of God is a study in spiritual rebirth, one who wins souls for Christ having himself been won over by the Saviour! He started his work in the vineyard of the Lord with the Church of God Mission International established in Benin City by the late enigmatic pentecostal preacher Benson Idahosa. Archbishop Idahosa revolutionized pentecostalism in Nigeria by becoming one of the pioneers, watering the seed of faith and contributing to the blossoming of the ministries across the nation.
As a young student in Benin city in the early 90’s I remember watching a weekly evangelical TV programme tagged “IWO And You” anchored by the late ‘Ogboni’ nemesis himself — preaching the good news, recounting his encounters with the devil and his agents as well as overseas tours and miracles. (IWO stood for Idahosa World Outreach). Archbishop Idahosa, whose survived wife, Margareth, has taken over the ministry, would captivate viewers with his polished English betraying no fear and waxing wholesomely spiritual. He waged a ‘war’ against occultic and fetish elements in Benin city and elsewhere in the then Bendel State to the extent that he spoke about his nocturnal triumphs against principalities and dark powers!
The Archbishop, during his eventful life, touched many lives and performed many miracles in Nigeria and outside the shores of the country and the African continent. He narrowly escaped assassination attempt on more than one occasion. On one such occasion the hired assassins, perhaps overpowered by the holy spirit, didn’t recognise Idahosa in person as they met him in his home asking the same man where to find Idahosa! The marked man simply pointed upstairs to the killers and disappeared from the building! As the title of one of his books reads Idahosa was indeed one of God’s battle axes in Nigeria of yore.
I remember meeting him with a fellow student in his GRA church headquarters in Benin City after a crusade. The brief encounter revealed a deeply-spiritual man with wide network, a foreign connection (especially in the States) that made it possible for him to visit God’s own country and came back with some ‘goodies’, some preachers of the gospel for home evangelism. During his time Archbishop Idahosa never had time for politics; he squarely engaged himself with edifying matters of soul-winning, writing books and pursuing pious causes.
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor ‘graduated’ from this disciplined spiritual school of thought and went to establish his own ministry in Warri Delta state known as Word of Life Bible Church. Ayo has come a long way indeed and the battle for the lost souls continued unabated albeit tainted by the syndrome of lucre that has ‘invaded’ the house of God. Ayo has changed as Nigeria has changed — for better or for worse! From a relatively poor background the controversial pastor is now ‘swimming’ in both adulation and dollars — thanks to the work of prosperity preaching and tithing.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is currently passing through a crisis of confidence leading to apparent division. CAN is the umbrella organisation for all Christians in Nigeria irrespective of church denomination. And Pastor Ayo is the current controversial President. Recently the Catholic Church announced that they were pulling ‘temporarily’ out of the association for what they called “some recent attitudes, utterances and actions of the national leadership of CAN which in our opinion negate the concept of the foundation of the association and the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.
In a letter dated September 24, 2012 and signed by Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBNC) and addressed to Pastor Oritsejafor Rev. Kaigama said his group was suspending “participation in CAN meetings at the national level until such a time the leadership of CAN reverse back to the original vision, mission and objectives of CAN”. The Oritsejafor-led leadership of the association, the bishops lamented, had “politicized” CAN thereby failing in its duty to “promote peace and unity in the country” maintaining that “CAN is being dragged into partisan politics thereby compromising the ability to play its true role as conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless”.
Quite an apt censure; one cannot agree more! When the head of a religious organisation is perceived to be pro-establishment, defending sometimes the indefensible in favour of the corrupt ruling party then that man has deviated; associating with such a man without scrupples becomes a moral problem, a moral burden worth shedding. It is as simple as that!
CAN is a larger religious organisation than the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN). And the Catholic Church represents one of the association’s most influential blocs. So when the Bishops speak they are bound to be taken seriously because the Roman Catholic church, established more than a thousand years ago, does not play to the gallery. Highly organised and moderate in everything the church is showing good example despite the distracting issues of paedophile and sex scandals here and there.
But CAN’s spokesman for the 19 northern states, Sunny Oibe, came out swinging in a brash reaction. He said they were free to leave the fold accusing the Catholic church of “arrogance” and seeking to “dominate”. But that is begging the issues raised by the pondering Bishops. Mr Oibe’s reaction sounded hollow, more like the ruling party responding to the opposition criticisms! Yes, the petulant spokesman sounded more like a local embattled politician trying in vain to ward off accusations of mediocrity and/or treasury looting.
One wonders aloud how and why Pastor Oritsejafor was elected in the first place as the CAN President given the fact that the Catholics dominate Christendom in Nigeria; if the election was democratic in nature the majority should have carried the day since numbers count. Or, like the NBA election, the Warri man was ‘rigged’ into office by some forces outside the ecumenical fold? Nothing is impossible in Nigeria as corruption has since attacked and subdued the church! You have ‘419’ pastors and those who abuse young girls sexually. You have heretical pastors and those that worship satan at night and Jesus in the day!
While the new generation Pastors are intensifying their prayers for more prosperity in a nation suffering from moral quandary we are always reminded that ‘our God is not a poor God’! Yes we agree, God is rich indeed! But common sense ought to guide us to know that whilst prosperity is good enough we must seek first for righteousness and concomitant salvation. And every other thing shall be added unto us. If Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, were to come visiting today one wonders whether He would not dissociate Himself from the distorted doctrine that pervades the landscape pandering more to material acquisition and conspicuous consumption.
The Pope in the Vatican does not possess any special jet for his overseas trips but uses Alitalia commercial flights! If the Catholic Pontiff flies commercial flights to his destinations around the wo
rld then Pastor Oritsejafor’s argument that he needed a private jet for easy evangelical movement sounded preposterous indeed. Logically the Vatican as an entity (seperate from the Italian state) with the Pope as the head ought to, ordinarily, have a plane for the Papacy. It is a very rich ‘state’ with millions of adherents worldwide. Pastor Oritsejafor’s Word of Life Church cannot be placed on the same global pedestal in every way imaginable. He is neither Pope nor his church global in reach or significance.
In Malawi President Joyce Banda has ordered that the presidential plane be put forward for sale asking bidders to come forward! Her predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, was strongly criticised for buying the jet five years ago at a cost of about $13.3m and as part of cost-cutting measures she has decided to sell it off having refused to travel in the jet since she took office last April! Can a Nigerian President be such frugal in a polluted environment dripping with sleaze and unaccounted oil wealth? More and more politicians and pastors are going for jets with the Federal Government asking for more presidential jets and more budget for refreshment hitting billions of Naira!
The wholly mundane way the pentecostal pastors in Nigeria in general are going about the issue of acquisition of riches leaves one with just one logical conclusion: they must have believed that paradise is better obtained here than the hereafter! In this wise the promise of heaven is then made to look more and more like a mirage in the imagination of the faithful. Pastor Ayo and his company of jet-possessing preachers of the gospel cannot claim to be targeting heaven when their ‘heaven’ is already made here. We wish them ‘Goodluck’!
Between Pastor Oritsejafor and CAN holiness is spectacularly missing, a glorified victim of politics of religion and religion of politics! Between them there is an established ‘unholy’ case of betrayal, deception, delusion and collusion with power. We can only take the flamboyant Pastor and his ‘factionalised’ CAN seriously if he can tell us how the funding for his recently acquirred private jet came about. Failure to convince us otherwise would expressly vindicate the Catholics and make their indignation veraciously justified.