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A man, his mission; a nation of headlines; a slap in the face; Ogufere, my friend

By Bisi Lawrence
For weeks, my former neighbour was counting the days. Then suddenly, “It’s this weekend, you know”, he said with a catch in his voice. “Yes,” I replied. “Wish I could come with you.”

That was some four years ago. He was in that state of prolonged excitement about the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s Annual Convention. It was a condition of mind I could not share. For one thing, I did not subscribe to “conventions”.

A good church service on Sunday, okay; festive occasions of religious significance like the Easter, Christmas or even the Harvest – all of that is welcome. But Conventions, and Synods, and what-have-you, one would conveniently leave for the impassioned believer. That was my idea of Christian worship.

And of course, miracles and the testimonies they evoke simply leave me only slightly amused. The lame walk, the blind see, the dumb speak, and all that may be all right as revelations of what God can do, and really did do, in the Bible, but I always maintained that I never actually met someone who experienced such wondrous deeds. In fact, I took a dim view of such narratives, just as I could not get too enthusiastic about “vigils”. I described myself as a “straight” Christian, church-going, communion-taking, neighbour-loving. What else do you need?

It is not yet up to a year since I began to feel differently. I believe I have written about that change here. It is not anything as earth-shaking as St. Paul’s conversion. It was simply a growing awareness of an inward uplifting – that is the only way I can describe it; an internal effervescence that fills you with a gripping desire to ascend to a plane of higher thoughts and nobler deeds.

And you give yourself to this urge and strive to attain its demands because you are now fully conscious of the fact that attending the church every Sunday, and observing the Easter and Christmas festivities alone simply will not take you there. The urge is the touch of the Holy Spirit of God. Some might call it the “anointing’.

These are statements I would not – in fact, could not – have made a few years ago. I had not been “touched” then. I would have been reluctant to admit openly that I had established a close relationship with Christ. I mean, it sounds so “unsophisticated”, almost disingenuous. But there is somebody, a university teacher, and a scholar in the rarefied realms of mathematics, who went through the experience and stayed with it.

The yearnings of millions of human beings have been fulfilled through his efforts at interpreting and extending that “touch” today. The mission of the church that he heads is to have, at least, one member of every family, and plant churches in every part of the globe. It is a vision he personally and passionately shares, and tirelessly pursues.

Many people express a profound surprise about the humility of Pastor Enoch Adeboye at the first meeting. He is so down to earth and yet that is what fuels the awe with which they grow to regard him. After his recent birthday, he recounted that he had no less than five cars among the presents he received, for which he really had no need. And so, he decided to give out those five cars to other people as gifts. At that point, he continued, someone came to offer him yet another car as a birthday present and, this time, it was a Hummer.

“I’m keeping that one”, he concluded, nodding engagingly. That is the kind of simplicity and honesty that warms the cockles of people’s hearts. At the base of that is the humility of a cleric who chooses a bow-tie in preference to a “dog-collar”, who would rather be “pastor” than bishop or even archbishop, and to whom the planting of churches all over the world is just a calling.

This year’s Convention, which came up last week-end, pulled in millions as is now usual, in what is reckoned as the largest religious congregation venue in the world. It might have to be enlarged still. A municipal community is growing around it. More and more people are being drawn to it. My neighbour has grown even more enthusiastic about it. I saw him about two days ago, and he said, “Look, you mustn’t miss that Convention next year!”
“No way,” I replied.

With virtually the population of a mega-city milling around, what does he know!

The Information Bill will not be popular with the legislatures of our country, at any level, very soon. In fact, any government might never adopt it. It touches too closely on several issues that may be characterised as “sensitive.”
You will agree with me that nothing can be more sensitive to anyone than his or her personal emoluments.

Our legislators are not an exception. Several other cadres of the public service, including university lecturers, civil servants and policemen, may not mind sharing the secrets of their earnings with members of the public.

In fact, they are sometimes eager to make everyone aware of how little they are taking home at the end of each l-o-n-g month. On the other hand, the earnings of our honourable members are shrouded in mystery, presumably for the reason that what they take home is not so little. Although some aspects have been published overtime, the suspicion is that quite a chunk had been left out.

This has been mentioned before in the media, but we regret that the press sometimes assumes some attributes of a faucet by being liable to be turned on and off. It was an issue that needed to have been allowed to run a satisfactory course. But where is the Information Bill once projected on to the centre stage of discussion in the public domain?

The earnings of our legislators have given rise to misgivings about the wisdom of the creation of the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. It is the independent body (independent like INEC) that determines what the legislators earn. It also determines what its own head earns. No one may question its decisions or the criteria on which they are based, if any. The secret of what our legislators are paid lies within its vaults and the pockets of the payees. We really don’t know how much it is, but not much complaint has been heard from them.

However, in a very responsible manner, the commission recently announced that the emoluments of our honourable members might be slashed, in response to the global economic meltdown.

Welcome as that may be, a group of legislators is still of the opinion that the Nigerian public, whose money it really is anyway, should be favoured with the exact amount of what is to be slashed. What is more, the group is willing to take drastic action to actualise their desire. The members are even contemplating litigation over the issue.

Well, where were they when we were shouting about the Information Law? They would not need to strain themselves if the instrument of extracting such information were in place. But then we live in a nation of headlines. Now that they seem to have made their own point in print, let the rest continue to blow gaily in the wind. Nothing will come out of it. Nothing ever does.

One thing that the wind will never be able to blow away, however, is the problem of our universities. The Federal Government is reported as declaring that it has come to the end of its tether, and will no longer engage in any dialogue with the lecturers and their union known, for short, as ASUU. That is a slap on the face of peaceful engagement between dissenting parties as observed and recommended in a decent society.

We insist that the government cannot simply walk away. It has a responsibility no less weighty than that of ASUU to resolve the dispute, one way or another.
Sometimes, we need to pinch ourselves to snap back into the reality of our indeed being in a democratic dispensation. Can this be a government for the people, even it could claim to be of the people?

Even then, we would still have to ask, which people? The parents who cannot afford to send their children abroad, or to private universities? The teachers who are going through so much pain to provide the country with qualitative tertiary education? Indeed, if the mess is allowed to end like this, the government must be for the people who have become so supine that would not know the difference between decent governance and government by an army of occupation. In which case very well is it said that a nation deserves the government it gets.

The teachers will have to go back to the lecture rooms. The last time this kind of thing happened, my son’s graduation was delayed by two years. It took him some four years, actually, to fully recover due to lost opportunities. There must have been many other young people who went through that same experience as that time. Some probably had their education ruined by that prolonged trade dispute.

We are once more walking down that pathway. And we may have to do it all over again, for nothing is settled until it is settled aright.

Chief Jonathan B. Ogufere is one of those gracious people who allow me to call them my friend. He has done that for decades. We became friends through our love for sports – football, in particular. He is a giant in football administration. This was the man who founded the Vasco da Gama Football Club of Enugu fame, the only team to have bearded the Rangers lion in its den.

Those were the days in the ‘seventies, when Vasco used to terrorise Rangers by this insuppressible rivalry, right in their own backyard. “J.B” had formed the club much with the same intention as Jerry Enyeazu had brought Rangers to life – as an object of revival to a land devastated by war. Ogufere was posted to the East circuit of the P&T to revive the telecommunications system there, which had been virtually destroyed during the hostilities of the civil war. In doing that, he also recalled many a human spirit to life along the way through the exploits of the P&T Vasco da Gama Club.

He later emerged onto the national stage, occupying several positions in football, like the Vice-Chairmanship of the Nigeria Football Association, and the Chairmanship of the West African Football Union. Yet he remains a modest sideline commentator, always humble despite his attainments in sports. In fact, it’s well-nigh impossible to write about “J.B” without writing about sports – which he insists I should continue to do. So, I better stop here.
Time out.


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