Renowned Nigerian pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Founder and Senior Pastor of Kingsway International Christian Centre, who recently had a week-long crusade in Ikorudo, Lagos, Nigeria, has called on the government to revisit its policies, emphasising the level of poverty in the country.
The 71-year-old televangelist recently held a first-of-its-kind crusade in the Igbogbo area of Ikorodu, Lagos State, where he distributed relief materials to the locals at the crusade tagged ‘Christ Compassion for Rural World’ (CCRW) and shared his thoughts on the state of the nation during an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
The cleric in this interview spoke about the turn-out during the crusade and how the government could alleviate Nigerians’ poverty.
PT: You recently held a week-long crusade in Ikorodu, similar to the late Reinhard Bonnke crusade in the early 2000s; how would you describe the outcome?
Matthew Ashimolowo: Exhilarating. It was both expected and unexpected; when we were coming, we knew we would be overwhelmed by the size of the response, but it was beyond our imagination.
My friends in Ghana, Steve Mensa and his twin brother, whose own I observed before for almost a decade, whenever I told them that whatever we do in Nigeria will be ten times what they do in Ghana, they did not believe. When they came, they professed that this was not ten times; they said it was 20 times what they did in Ghana.
PT: How did the people of Ikorudo respond to your crusade?
Matthew Ashimolowo: It’s been beyond imagination; the opening night was something else; the heavens opened, the rain fell, and on that night, we didn’t have many people. We had about 12,000. They refused to go; they stayed in that rain.
On Tuesday, we commenced distribution; about 65,000 clothes were all gone; we also distributed 110,000 cartons of noodles; then, on Wednesday, we gave rice, oil, buckets, and soaps; that day was overwhelming because people filled this stadium about three times.
We thought we were done with the largest attendance and that Thursday would not be as much, but to our surprise, it was overwhelming again; that day, we had beans, garri, more soaps, oil, noodles, and more buckets. What we had was just multiplying.
Friday, we thought to give them the leftovers of everything we had distributed and the 15,000 Ankara. The place got packed, but this time, even those who used to be chaotic and rowdy began to be more organised, mainly while we talked to them, and the word about it spread into the town.
PT: Speaking about rowdy, how did you manage the crowds?
Matthew Ashimolowo: We had to spend money to buy barriers outside to avoid stampede, any disasters, and broken bones or casualty problems. God helped us; that is all I can say by 5 a.m. the queue is three kilometres.
We want to thank Mr Governor, the governor of Lagos State, who handed over the Lagos State security apparatus to work with us. We had 80 police officers, 100 Neighbourhood Watch, and 40 Secret Service Officers; you might just see a woman dressed like an older woman; she may be Secret Service.
PT: How much would you say hosting this crusade had cost you?
Matthew Ashimolowo: I am trying very much not to sound critical because at a stage in life, a person like me, my words are quotable, and because my words are quotable, I need to choose what I say, but all I can say is that it has cost me and some of the gifts of some of my friends the left-side of N1 billion, and honest, without sounding critical, I know a few governors which that is the cost of two and half of their cars. So, two state cars could do this.
PT: Why spend so much money on a crusade?
Matthew Ashimolowo: There is poverty in the land, and sometimes we underestimate it. I mean, some people came from other states came here, and some of them had to sleep in the stadium for one week so that every time we gave out our relief materials, they were collecting and gathering for each day so they would have something to carry home, they came from other states.
Some of the people who came for the medicals came from other states. One of the days, I left the stadium by 11 p.m. a woman with her son saw me at the gate; she came from Abeokuta. They didn’t even have money for transportation, and I had to empty my pocket; we are moved with compassion when we see the need.
We had the pastor’s conference, where I gave away 2,000 of my Bibles 2,000 books. We expected 2,000 pastors, but we had a severe overflow; there is poverty in the land.
PT: You mentioned poverty in the land, but the government has initiated a palliative sharing policy. Is that a sustainable initiative?
Matthew Ashimolowo: Honestly, palliative is not the answer. I think palliative is short-term; we don’t call ours palliative because the dictionary definition of palliative is something you give a man who is sick as temporary relief; ours is not palliative; ours is to bless. We are not the government but here to touch people’s lives and show Christ’s compassion.
PT: What should the government do?
Matthew Ashimolowo: Create short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Using Kingsian economics, Menian King argued that the government should encourage industries to overproduce. The government should buy excess; that way, there would be production, causing employment, and the price will decrease when the government believes the surplus.
So, for instance, if sugar is supposed to be N50, the government says to overproduce, sell it at N30, we will buy the balance, and we can give it to people experiencing poverty who can’t buy it. In the UK and Europe, they have a food mountain, so the government buys the excess and gives some poor people a lot, which is short term.
Mid-term, forgive my French, take away the power in Nigeria from over-empowering four to five men who you splash in our newspapers every time as multibillionaires who can only hire a maximum of a hundred thousand people.
Empower Small and Medium Enterprises. That is the power of Nigeria. If you go to any street in Nigeria, you will only see a house with a shop. The government call that place a setback, but it is not a setback; Nigerians are entrepreneurs. Empower those small places and create a system whereby you can give them a loan.
PT: Perhaps the government is afraid they might not recover the loans, don’t you think so?
Matthew Ashimolowo: Nigeria knows how to trace you with your National Identification Number, NIN; they now know how to trace you with your Bank Verification Number, BVN, which creates something that will make you trace all these small and medium enterprises. Give them a loan to do business. If you empower 10 million SMEs and the N10m SMEs, hire five people each; how many people are employed? That’s a lot of people.
PT: How about the long-term solution?
Matthew Ashimolowo: For the long term, industries must be encouraged. They would say come to Nigeria, where it is easy to do business, but it is a lie.
I am 71, and by March next year, by God’s grace, I will be 72; I can say what I like. I have businesses in Nigeria, and doing business in Nigeria, you are harassed, FIRS will harass you, then Lagos Inland revenue will also harass you, so every week you are getting letters from both federal and local, in the United Kingdom where I live, revenue only visits when necessary, once in five years or ten, but here in Nigeria they visit you every week. The moment I have said this now, they will revisit us. They should come we are waiting.
PT: What advice would you then give to the government, especially this administration.
Matthew Ashimolowo: It is an Oxymoron that at a time when everything has lost price, it is the same time that the National Assembly is spending over N170m each for their excesses and excuses.
The leadership of Nigeria should learn to cut costs. The challenge this administration has inherited is that the system needs to be fixed. They are still debating minimum, yet we see the examples of cutting costs they are showing.
The challenge of this administration is like a man who received a DHL parcel and the item was already damaged; DHL would write in the article, ‘Damaged on Arrival’; this administration should have announced to us the cost of fixing Nigeria.
PT: What advice would you give to other pastors who want to take up a similar feat as you did?
Matthew Ashimolowo: It will go a long way with one or two people doing this in the Nigerian church. We have an avalanche of churches in Nigeria, but the only thing is a project like this is not easy to come up with; if you don’t know how to manage this crowd, it would be a tricky thing, even with the resources.
Forgive my French, the poor person, even if he sees loads of what you want to give him, he thinks it will not reach him, so he pushes and rushes, even if you provide him with the assurance that you have more than you would need, he would still become violent, but you won’t blame them, that’s poverty at work. So a stamp can be caused if you do not know this; I had to study it for 9 to 10 years.
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