Wole Soyinka’s Trials of Brother Jero narrates the story of a self-acclaimed man of God – Brother Jeroboam, and his many battles with his demons which in this case were his lust for women and cunning deceit of his congregation regarding his true purposes, and the nature of his apostleship. The narrative gave readers a preview of the mind of some modern day Pentecostal pastors – their fears, ways, triumphs and tribulations long before the Pentecostal movement swept through Nigeria, and we began to see Pentecostal churches on every street in Nigeria and in major cities abroad with large Nigerian and immigrant population.
Some have argued in the past for non-interventionism, secularity as well as neutrality of the state in religious affairs. They maintain that the state and religion should be clearly separated from each other, as a result many Nigerians (Christians mostly) have not forgiven former military dictator Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) for his government’s role in converting Nigeria’s membership of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) from observer status to full membership, despite the heated arguments, protests and debates generated by the issue in the 1980s when his government was still contemplating the move.
But still, despite the OIC issue, there are justifiable reasons for some kind of government intervention in the activities of churches and religious organisations. This is necessary to protect the interests of the citizens, many of whom continue to display characteristics that can at best be described as religious gullibility, immaturity and naivety, thus making them easy targets for exploitative and dubious pastors posing as men and women of God.
This debate is not just about the Christian’s dual responsibilities to the state and to his God, as even Jesus Christ tried to separate the duties owed to the state and to God when he told his disciples to give unto Caesar what belongs to him, and unto God the things that belong to God. Sadly, certain practices by some modern day pastors especially in the Pentecostal community increasingly make a strong case for the active involvement of the state in church activities.
In the UK, churches are registered as Charities and regulated by the Charities Commision, and so when the Commission felt that Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo and his Kingsway International Christian Centre (K.I.C.C) were not operating according to the charter and regulations governing charities in the UK, it stepped in and appointed KPMG to take over the management of the finances of the church due to the allegations of financial impropriety.
Several of these and related cases abound especially in Nigeria, but the one that is shaking the whole of Nigeria at the moment is the case of Rev. (Dr) Emeka Ezeugo King of the Christian Praying Assembly (CPA) located at No 1 CPA Base, off Bishop Ojo drive, Benson Anorue Street, Ajao Estate along Oshodi-Airport road, Lagos. The 40 year-old pastor with the trademark goatee beard and skin head, alongside two members of his church – Donatus Chiazor (53) and Kelechi Chikere Queen (26) are currently standing trial at a Lagos court on a four-count charge of attempted murder, for setting seven church members ablaze after pouring petrol on them, The names of the victims according to Lagos state police records are Ann Uzoh King, Olisa Chiejina, Onuorah Chizoba, Uche Chukwu Iwoba, Vivian Ezeocha, Bunnia Olisa and Nwere Jessica.
Rev. King is known to have played god in the past in his admonitions of erring church members, some of whom are known personally to this writer while living at Ajao Estate. He has been getting away with his heavy-handed approach to resolving church issues including flogging members of the church, an allegation which he does not deny; according to Rev. King, “I flog a lot. I have canes. If husband and wife mess up by having misunderstanding, I have to settle them. But the person that is at fault, I must flog. If the person refuses to be flogged, I will send him out of the church”. That he has gotten away with these brazen acts for long is probably due to his vice-like grip on the church and its members, but it does seem now as if ‘his cup is full’.
A member of his church speaking under anonymity narrated his ordeal at the hands of Rev. King to the Sunday Independent newspaper in these words, “He is used to having everybody cleared from his way whenever he is entering or coming out from the church, one day, in the church, I was physically manhandled by King because I laid in the direction that he was facing and was unable to move away due to a sickness that made me nearly unconscious, he beat me in my unconscious state until my limbs were broken. I was admitted in the hospital, and due to the prayer of my brothers and sisters in real Bible believing churches, I was miraculously healed. I left the CPA immediately after that incident.”
Both members and non-members of CPA are now wondering the type of spirit that led a self-professed man of God to pour petrol over his church members and light a match to roast them alive, right before the congregation. This murderous act obviously continues to baffle right thinking observers, including his church members, some of whom it appears are now beginning to see clearly the psychotic state of a man that they have looked up to in the past and whom they refer to as Daddy and ‘Jesus of our time’, though he prefers to be called ‘his holiness’.Which dad will carry out such a wicked or callous act on his children?
His church members are coming to his defence as would be expected, claiming that the allegations are false. Part of their defence is that he was not the person that actually carried out the act; and point their fingers at another church member known as Kelechi. According to a Daily Sun report, Pastor (Mrs.) Chinwe King, a senior pastor in the church and Barrister Ebele Obi, who spoke on behalf of the church deny all the allegations against King calling them spurious and unfounded.
We would never know exactly what happened, unless the police conduct their investigations thoroughly, although there have been insinuations from the victims’ families that Rev. King’s people are trying to compromise the judicial process by bribing the police to ‘doctor’ some of the witness statements, but the fact remains that seven young women lie critically ill in hospital, one of them is now reported to have died from the burns, according to recent news reports by the Daily Sun newspaper.
The Nigerian government has stepped-in in the past through the National Broadcasting Commision (NBC) and other agencies to ban the broadcast of miracle crusades on television, in their quest to check the excesses and spurious claims of some of these 21st century pastors, but it appears that more still has to be done to sanitise this rapidly growing sweepstakes industry, and check the excesses of the pastors, since it is now clear that the preferred self-regulation through the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) are not effective.
Interestingly, the PFN has distanced itself from the Rev. King and CPA saga. According to the National secretary, Bishop Joseph Ojo, “Rev. King is not a member of PFN, that place is not a church, it is a demonic enclave. Those things they did there are not of God, the Bible does not sup
port such acts”. He also went to say that “The Bible is very clear on how we need to serve God and that is through Jesus Christ”, but failed though to say why the PFN had to wait till this latest incident before making such statements, and what the PFN is doing to ensure that Nigerians don’t continue to fall victims to the many Rev. Kings and CPAs that are scattered all over the country.
Certain observers have remarked that it is the harsh economic conditions, coupled with our tendencies to recline into the ‘victim’ mode, and the general psyche that everybody is an enemy (homefront philosophy) thus blaming our woes and misfortunes on others, without actually claiming any responsibility for our failures, that drive Nigerians to seek supernatural help meditated through some of these pastors, who then go on to exploit the situation.
Residents of Ajao Estate are rejoicing over the downfall of the Reverend, who they have had running battles with in the past, they are quoted to have described him as “evil rather than a true man of God”, thereby echoing Bishop Ojo’s words that “What has happened there (CPA) is barbaric, satanic, and demonic. It is a true picture of what people who are looking for unqualified miracle can get. Many Nigerians do not care where they go to get miracles; they desire miracles by all means. They do not care what is involved; all they care about is getting miracles”.
As Nigerians eagerly await the outcome of Rev. King’s trials, there is also an expectation that the government and other key stakeholders should not just take a passing look at the unfolding drama, but should also explore the possibilities of addressing this rapidly increasing and worrisome trend of abusing the trust, and manipulating the faith of Christians. Abandoning them to their fate, and to the evil ways of some of these unscrupulous ‘men of God’ is wickedly and irresponsible on the part of the government. This may ultimately lead to a serious crisis of confidence in Christ’s living church and portends danger to the society.