“Our nation stands in great need of the truly prophetic.”
When in 2010, the founding and Senior Pastor of Word of Life Bible Church Warri, Delta State, Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, was elected the President of the 36-year-old Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body of the Christian faith in the country, I was genuinely apprehensive and worried. His emergence to that exalted position marked the first time a pastor of the Pentecostal bend will head an organization whose leadership over the years have become a rallying point for not only Christians but as the voice of the voiceless and a thorn in the flesh of corrupt and oppressive leaders in the country.
Oritsejafor succeeded John Onaiyekan, a Catholic who had himself succeeded Jasper Akinnola, an Anglican in 2007. The Christian body which was founded in 1976 had had the luck of being led by men who had used their positions as Christian leaders to unwaveringly speak truth to power; Olubunmi Okogie, Sam Mbang, Bolanle Gbonigi were also noted for the Spartan lifestyles they lived as clergies- a virtue they also encouraged among the faith and Nigerians. But it was the Okogie years that significantly defined the role of the church and church leaders as agents of change in a society bogged down by the crises of leadership. Olubunmi Okogie was your quintessential pulpit activist. He unpretentiously used his leadership to speak truth to power at every given opportunity. Usually seen in his white cassock; he was fearless and abhors the ostentatious lifestyles of leaders and the corrupt. Even when the risk to his life became dangerously evident during the military years, Okogie rejected the suggestion of extra security details. His ubiquitous official car, a Peugeot 404 and later 504, could be seen in traffic crawling along with the rest of the masses. He lived the life he preached. He shunned all pretences of the affected. Olubunmi Okogie fought for the interest of Nigerians no matter their religion or ethnicity. Even in retirement, he has not wavered. He still lends his voice to the unending follies of our leaders. He and other CAN leaders of their era represent the role of Christianity and its leadership as the conscience of the nation. Can the same be said of today’s Christian leaders especially in this age of unbridled flamboyant living by so-called pastors and one-man churches that have turned Christianity into a joke?
How can we reconcile the paradox of vice and the unrestrained religiosity of Nigerians of all faiths? You can imagine my concern when Oritsejafor emerged the leader of the influential CAN. Do not get me wrong. I do not have anything against the “man of God” (if indeed he is). I know it is a fad to be referred to as the man of God these days. A friend made a point recently about how easy it is to claim to be an “anointed man of God or being called by Him”. I do not doubt Oritsejafor’s ability to lead Nigerian Christians. After all, he has led his church. Never mind that the church is founded by him as the overall CEO. But that was also a source of worry. How can a man not used to leadership structure as a leader of a “one-man show church” emerge to lead an umbrella organization of all Christians where he will have to consult widely among Christian leaders before taking decisions? Did he for example consult widely before accepting the gift of a private jet from his church bearing in mind the position he occupies as not only the leader of his Warri church but that of millions of Christians all over the country; those whose sensibilities have now been hurt by his indiscretion? Perhaps if he had, he would have known that the acceptance of the jet will bring his leadership of the respected organization into disrepute. In defense, he claims the jet is for evangelization! Really? Why not wait for the entire Christian body to buy a private jet for the CAN leadership? How can a private jet purportedly bought to mark his birthday now become the property of CAN for the purpose of evangelization? Or will he donate the jet to CAN when his tenure expires? One question has become relevant here; how did Ortisejafor’s predecessors evangelize while they presided over CAN? His excuse of “jet for evangelization” is shameful at best.
As expected, the jet issue is being sadly debated among Christians and Nigerians. While some are condemning it; others see it as a “testimony” to the lifestyle an average Christian should aspire to because as they say, the Christian God is not poor. So, instead of the CAN leader uniting the Christian Faith, he has succeeded in dividing it with this endless and unnecessary debate fuelled by his flamboyant lifestyle. This is dangerous. The division will serve to further energize the corrupt political class to strengthen their divisive agenda which will drive a nail into the coffin of a critical part of the civil society capable of providing the checks needed for good governance to thrive in our country. Oritsejafor’s ostentatious lifestyle and his new dalliance with the occupier of Aso Rock Villa are an affront to the position he holds. The picture of the CAN president flying around in an expensive private jet, while the laity wallows in abject poverty and die on neglected roads is far removed from reality. But the Oritsejafor tragedy is a metaphor of the Nigerian situation. Yet we cannot despair. It is a passing phase.
The modern church is in great need of prophets of old who had led CAN on the part of respectability. Not the self-appointed and wild eyed fanatics’ clan of three-piece suit, jewelry wearing, and jerry curled pretenders “men of God” seen on religious broadcasts who add their delusions to the revelation of Scripture. Those who equate sweating and laughter with anointing leading millions further down a road of deception and delusion. Instead, we need men in Christian leadership who will stand on the side of the masses and speak truth to power. Our country needs men of vision who are not selling out the church so they can become a celebrity in the ‘religious conference tour in the guise of evangelization. We need men of proven integrity; not the ones who brazenly tell us to pray for our leaders to steal us blind. The current crises of leadership in CAN have left me wondering lately; where are the prophets? Are there any real prophets cut from the same cloth of an Elijah who confounded the evil King Ahab or a John the Baptist who called out the sins of Herod? Are there any among our Christian leaders who are willing to break political ranks and speak truth to power? At this critical point in our nation’s history, the next generation will not forgive those Christian leaders who look the other way while the country heads to the abyss. Solutions to complex issues like corruption, poverty, healthcare and growing insecurity will require greater vision than what is currently possessed by those in power and those seeking to replace them. Our nation stands in great need of the truly prophetic.