Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chris Okotie made me work without pay for 14 years, man tells court

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A former Church worker said Mr. Okotie made him work for 14 years without pay.

On February 5, 2013, the flamboyant head of the Household of God Church International, Chris Okotie, is expected to appear before an Ikeja Magistrate Court.

In his trademark smooth, and colourful language, Mr. Okotie will tell Magistrate T.A. Akanni how and why his church did not pay a former church worker and keyboardist for 14 years salaries totalling N39 million.

Dafiaghor Okiotor, a former keyboardist at the church before he fell out with Mr. Okotie in 2009, said that the money covers the 14 years he worked for the church without emolument.

The church, however, insisted that he was “working for God.

Coming to Lagos

A 21-year-old Mr. Okiotor arrived in Lagos in 1993 to pursue a music career with his friends – a dream he said made him abandon his study at the Delta State University.

“We wanted to become superstars overnight,” said Mr. Okiotor, 40, leaning forward from his seat in his lawyer’s office.

“I came to Lagos to do music,” he added.

On arrival, he joined Winners Christian Centre, Surulere, where he doubled as a keyboardist as well as choir master.

For his efforts, he said that the church gave him a one room apartment as well as a N4,000 monthly salary.

However, his sights were still set on a musical career and, on his way to Tabansi Records at Alausa, he bumped into a charismatic Mr. Okotie at Oregun.

And a 14 year affair ensued; a relationship that would later become tempestuous, landing Mr. Okiotor a short stint in prison, and eventually ending up in a court room.

The Okotie connection

In mid 1995, Mr. Okiotor said that he met the head of Household of God Church after he learnt that there was an opening for a keyboardist.

The perks that accompanied that opening included a N10,000 monthly salary and, after an undisclosed probation period, a three-bedroom apartment, according to Mr. Okiotor.

“He (Okotie) said that he wants to see my faithfulness before giving me the three-bedroom apartment,” Mr. Okiotor said.

“But first, a room apartment, and when that expires and they think that I’m good enough…

“I was so excited; from a N4,000 to a N10,000 monthly salary,” Mr. Okiotor added.

The keyboardist said that barely two months into his new job, the salaries stopped coming.

“About 5 to 6 months after I’ve not been getting anything, I met him (Okotie) and he told me that ‘Didn’t I tell you that we have to see your faithfulness? It was because we thought you were good that was why we rented you an apartment.’

“That sounded like a subtle threat, so I left the matter,” said Mr. Okiotor.

“Then again, it is easy to believe if a pastor says ‘I’ll give you N50 million’ because he can wake up anyday and give you.

“And again, other members of the church will tell me, if I want to grumble, that ‘Do I know how much he is worth? How much is my salary?’”

At the expiration of the one room apartment rented by the church, Mr. Okiotor said that he was unable to renew it and was subsequently evicted by the house owner.

“I told pastor about it, he was not even in the mood to listen to me. He said he was travelling and when he gets back, he was going to sort it out. He never did.

“I didn’t quite feel it was good for somebody that was quite popular in church coming to sleep in church. So I slept on the streets for two months,” Mr. Okiotor said.

With the help of a friend, Mr. Okiotor said he got another apartment, where he stayed for about a decade before he was thrown out again.

That was when Mr. Okotie told him that the time was ripe for the three bedroom apartment he’d earlier promised him; but with some conditions, according to Mr. Okiotor.

“He told me that I cannot have a studio in the house, because in my small place I used to have a studio where I do my personal recordings.

“Again, that I have to stay there with his younger brother, Julius, who is way junior to me,” Mr. Okiotor said.

Afterwards, a disagreement with Julius over who would take possession of the new apartment’s master bedroom led the pastor’s brother to reveal an information that “startled” Mr. Okiotor.

“He (Julius) told me that the house was rented in his name. House that this man said he’s getting for me, he paid with his younger brother’s name. So I don’t even have a house,” he added.

Mr. Okiotor said that his continued stay in the church, despite the ‘failed promises’ was due to repeated re-assurances from co-church workers.

“There was no written agreement. I know him (Okotie) as a man of God and I have worked with churches all my life. Nothing is written,” Mr. Okiotor said.

“One of the reasons I still stayed…it’s like when people tell you you are closer to your blessings.

“Having put in so many years, why would you leave when you are close, every day that passes, you are closer. I was like, if I’d been patient for this long, just keep being patient,” the former church worker said.

In 2009, when he travelled to Abuja to seek for financial assistance from his elder brother who returned from the U.S.; Mr. Okiotor said that his planned two-day stay stretched to one week.

He missed the church’s midweek service.

“On Friday, he (Mr. Okotie) called me and said that he had made up his mind that he doesn’t need my services anymore.

“He told me ‘You can go and do whatever you are doing. Household is grateful to you for everything that you had done.’ He dropped the call,” Mr. Okiotor said.

The Showdown

After a two-year stint in Abuja, where he worked as Personal Assistant to Abel, his elder brother, Mr. Okiotor said that he returned to Lagos to claim his “entitlements.”

“When I returned in January (2012), I called Pastor (Okotie) and told him we have an outstanding. That since he fired me, he’d have to pay me off, or even pay what he owed.

“He dropped the phone on me. He wouldn’t pick my calls anymore. If I call him with another number, once he realises it’s me, he will cut off the phone,” Mr. Okiotor said.

“I sent him an email, he didn’t reply. I inboxed him on facebook. The next time I tried to inbox him again, I found out he had blocked me.

“I wrote a letter and couriered it to him. I told him that since he doesn’t want us to sit down and compute what I’m entitled to; that I think he is owing me N39.1 million,” the former church worker said.

To arrive at that figure, Mr. Okiotor said that he used a N20,000 per service agreement (the church holds two services every week) they had in 2003 to cover the entire period he worked for the church.

He also asked for an additional N10 million for the songs he claimed he co-produced with the musician-turned pastor, particularly ‘Yonder Place’ a song Mr. Okotie used extensively during presidential campaigns as well as in his televangelism.

In one of the emails Mr. Okiotor wrote to Mr. Okotie, he informed him of his intention to come to the church on July 10 to “occupy Household” over his unpaid entitlements.

To stall the ‘occupy Household,’ on July 9, Mr. Okotie wrote a petition to the police Area Commander in Ikeja, complaining against the “despicable and criminal acts of blackmail, threats, intimidation and forgery by one Mr. Okiotor to extort N39 million” from him.

In the petition, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Okotie told the police that Mr. Okiotor had, through several phone calls, threatened to embarrass him and defame his character.

“Therefore, I am notifying you of the criminal actions of Mr. Dafiaghor and request your office to investigate, restrain and prosecute him for his unlawful and criminal attempt…,” Mr. Okotie further said.

A second letter attached to Mr. Okotie’s petition called on the police to be “at alert.”

“Mr. Dafiaghor was a member of our church, he used to be one of the people playing keyboard in church during service…,” read the letter signed by Niyi Ajayi, Special Adviser on Security.

“The most interesting thing is that he has promised total violence and high level of lawlessness in the church premises on Tuesday 10th July 2012.”

On that Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Okotiotor arrived at the Household of God Church International, Oregun, and stood outside the church’s premises.

Boldly written on his white shirt were the words: ‘Rev. Chris Okotie. Pay me or kill me.’

“I didn’t want to embarrass him on a service day. He always comes on Tuesday for counselling,” Mr. Okiotor said.

“The gate was locked. I stood in front of the gate. One of the security men asked me to come inside.

“Immediately I got inside, all the security men and some police officers attacked me, bundled me into a vehicle at the back of the church and drove off.”

After he was released by the police officers, Mr. Okiotor resumed his ‘occupation’ of the church, this time, at the next Sunday service.

“I stayed on the road. The police and the security were civil because there were church people around,” Mr. Okiotor said.

“They took me to the station and later released me. I went back to the church, at about 6 p.m., they (police) now came in their real colours, because there was no one in the church, beat me and took me to SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad).”

Police records of the various statements written by the church’s security guards and seen by PREMIUM TIMES indicated that Mr. Okiotor was disturbing the Sunday’s service with his shouts.

“He came and started shouting in front of the church and the police took control of the case,” said Olufemi Mudashiru, a paid employee at the church.

Mr. Ajayi said that the “very loud noise” caused the church members to panic.

“The ones coming (to church) started running away and the pastor could not continue with the officiating,” he added.

The church’s response

In his second letter to the police, Mr. Ajayi insisted that the keyboardist was a volunteer at the church.

“We all know him (Mr. Okiotor) as a volunteer, just as many of us are, and volunteers in the church are not paid salary,” Mr. Ajayi, a security consultant, said.

In a response to a PREMIUM TIMES enquiry, the Household of God Church said that Mr. Okiotor had embarked on a “smear campaign” and should be ignored.

“Daphe’s (Mr. Okiotor) case is already in court. I can therefore not comment on it as extensively as I ought to because it would be subjudice to do so,” said Ladi Ayodeji, Head, Media and Communications, Household of God Church.

“However, I’d like to make it clear that his claims are false and mischievous. Our church does not engage paid employees in the worship department, the most we do is to give financial support or honorarium, at the pastor’s discretion,” Mr. Ayodeji added.

Mr. Ayodeji also described Mr. Okiotor’s claim of co-producing the song ‘Yonder Place’ as “spurious and laughable.”

“Those who know Rev. Okotie’s music pedigree will dismiss the claim as ludicrous and an attempt at self aggrandizement. He (Mr. Okiotor) is neither qualified nor talented enough to aspire to such musical elevation,” Mr. Ayodeji said.

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