Is'haq Modibbo Kawu

September 25, 2014

Between the Pastor and the General Overseer: Nigeria’s moral burden

Between the Pastor and the General Overseer: Nigeria’s moral burden

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome; Ayo Oritsejafor; Enoch Adeboye; David Oyedepo and Mike Okonkwo

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
THE past week has not been a fine one for the rightwing Pentecostal Christian movement in Nigeria. And by extension, the moral burden of Nigeria’s  ruling class and all our compatriots who swear loyalty to these two sets in our nation’s firmament, also got heavier.

Almost as if coordinated, two heavy scandals fell on the laps of two of the most notable representatives of rightwing Pentecostalism that have shaken their sureties in the most profound manner, exposing the serious moral dilemma associated with the scandals of the past couple of days. Early last week the report broke that two unnamed Nigerians and an Israeli security contractor based in Abuja, were held in South Africa, for attempting to illegally import into South Africa the sum of $9. 3million in cash.

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome; Ayo Oritsejafor; Enoch Adeboye; David Oyedepo and Mike Okonkwo

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome; Ayo Oritsejafor; Enoch Adeboye; David Oyedepo and Mike Okonkwo

The said sum of money was allegedly packed in three suitcases and had been ferried into South Africa in a Bombadier Challenger 600 aircraft. It turned out that the plane in question belonged to the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. It is not only the prominent position that he occupies as the leader of Christendom in Nigeria that was brought under sharp focus as a result of the embarrassing story from South Africa, but his place as the expression of Aso Villa-at-prayer or more explicitly, the religious arm of the Jonathan presidency, added fuel to the scandal.

By Wednesday last week, a thoroughly compromised Nigerian government sloppily announced to their South African counterparts that the seized money was to procure arms on behalf of the Nigerian security services. It seemed that the South Africans were not convinced by the explanation with their authorities being quoted as saying the explanations were “flawed and riddled with discrepancies”.

Consequently, the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) of South Africa obtained a court order to freeze the money, because the illegal importation had breached the country’s laws that dealt with transfer of foreign exchange of such proportion.

The NPA further showed that Tier One Services Group, the company that the Nigerian government claimed to be procuring arms from, was neither authorized to sell nor rent military hardware. The Nigerian government’s explanation was hogwash! Tier One Services Group apparently issued an invoice to a Cyprus-based company, ESD International Group Ltd., in respect of the procurement of armaments and helicopters for delivery to Nigeria.

But South African investigators said the time the invoice was prepared and the time money was brought into their country “threw up some serious issues of intent”, according to VANGUARD newspaper of September 18, 2014.

Nigeria’s image was brought to an all-time low by the incident but people seemed more shocked by the connection of the CAN President, Pastor Oritsejafor, with the episode, no matter how tangentially, and despite his denial and the spirited defence of his position by some commentators. In a statement, signed on his behalf, by one Bayo Adewoye, it was stated that “we can confirm that he holds an interest in Eagle Air Company, the aircraft in question is not operated by Pastor Oritsejafor”. It added further that: “the aircraft has been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited”. What is conveniently forgotten here was that when faceless members of his church donated the aircraft to him, Oritsejafor had stated that it was for the purpose of doing God’s work.

But the lease out of the plane didn’t resemble anything spiritual; pardon my ignorance of these matters, but it appeared more like the service of mammon: at least in the moment that it was caught ferrying money illegally into South Africa. And when efforts have been made to excuse the illegality, what came to mind is the level of outrage that would have been deliberately generated, if the plane had belonged to the Sultan of Sokoto, and two Northern Muslims and a Saudi citizen (for example!) had been caught ferrying such sums around the world! Those who have defended Pastor Oritsejafor, like Femi Fani-Kayode, would have ratcheted up anti-Northern and anti-Muslim hysteria, while calling for the breakup of Nigeria, as he regularly does!

And to show the level of ruling class irresponsibility, the House of Representatives could not even probe the issue, when it sat on Tuesday this week. A voice vote was enough to kill the plan to examine the scandal. The “Honourable” members preferred that Nigeria was smeared and brought to disrepute abroad, than the truth of the situation be brought out in the open. The individuals caught up in the illegality are far more important than Nigeria!

The mess is even more criminally obvious in the culpability associated with the collapse of  a building in Lagos, that belonged to Senior Pastor TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations. As I write these lines on Tuesday night, the death toll has climbed up to 115 people. South African President, Jacob Zuma, in response to the tragedy, told his grieving country that: “Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country”.

South Africa’s SUNDAY TIMES newspaper of September 21, 2014, incredibly reported how chaos, incompetence, lies and the refusal of Pastor TB Joshua’s church and the Nigerian authorities to cooperate in the rescue attempt, all conspired to deepen the tragedy.

While TB Joshua preferred to tell the absurd story of a mystery plane which hovered over the building and the story took a more bizarre turn, with allegations of an attack by Boko Haram, the authorities in Lagos state, through the Commissioner for Physical Planning, Toyin Ayinde, had revealed that the 5-storey building had no government approval for its construction. Similarly, Ibrahim Farinloye, of NEMA, pointed out, that church officials prevented rescuers from accessing the church: “some of us were even attacked (by church members)”. The church members were also hostile to journalists and smashed at least one television camera.

Farinloye was quoted by SA’s SUNDAY TIMES as saying that rescuers lost the two or three critical hours immediately after a disaster when most lives are saved.

It was amazing that two days after the collapse and with casualties mounting, TB Joshua was telling the congregation on Sunday that: “they were trying to scare you from coming to this church. Don’t be scared, you are not the target, I am the target. I know my hour has not yet come”. As the report added, it took him 30 minutes into the televised sermon, before he mentioned the dead!

And to underline TB Joshua’s far-reaching influence, the Lagos state governor who visited the church, disappeared through a backdoor, in order to avoid the media.

Similarly, President Goodluck Jonathan, with an eye on the 2015 elections, visited TB Joshua at the weekend. It was more important to be on TB Joshua’s side than to demand justice for the 115 people who died as the tragic episode was shrouded in mumbo-jumbo, about a “mysterious plane hovering” and an alleged Boko Haram attack.

This is the sorry pass that our country has been taken today, by an alliance of obscurantism; a coterie of rightwing religious bodies and their incredibly rich pastors, primates, overseers (as we have seen in these two different but interrelated scandals) and our irresponsible and unpatriotic ruling elite!

This alliance resides at the lowest moral depth of society, because on the one hand, the rightwing nonspecialists exploit a genuine spiritual need amongst Nigerians, who are caught up in the soulless world of neoliberal capitalist uncertainty inhabited by the demons and principalities of poverty, underdevelopment, insecurities, violence and economic deprivation. On the other hand, they are in cahoots with a ruling elite whose choices have largely fostered the hopelessness that the Pentecostal denizens exploit.

They are the two sides of oppression for the Nigerian people and so need and reinforce each other constantly and therefore carry the same moral burdens. It should therefore not surprise us, if the lives lost at General Overseer, TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations, end up counting for nothing and never find justice; just as they are spiritedly sweeping under the carpet, the illegal ferrying of $9.3million in Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s plane.

These are scared cows living above the laws of the land; furthermore, they are friends of President Goodluck Jonathan and will shortly be expected to carry out important spiritual assignments, for Jonathan’s 2015 re-election project. That is why they DON’T GIVE A DAMN that lives were lost or monies were illegally exported from Nigeria!

The Scotland referendum

I STAYED awake all-night last Thursday, watching the returns of the Scottish Referendum. It attracted worldwide interest, because what was on the line was the 300-year old union that is the United Kingdom.

It is true that for the two years leading to the referendum, most polls had predicted that the NO votes would prevail. But in the two weeks before the vote, a SUNDAY TIMES poll in London had put the YES vote ahead, for the first time. And alarm bells were pressed within the political circles of the United Kingdom. The SUNDAY TIMES is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the rightwing media mogul, who has an axe to grind with the British establishment in London.

He had openly supported the YES vote for Scottish Independence. The final days led to the most feverish political maneuver as both sides made a desperate effort to woo those who had not committed one way or the other.

The Scottish Referendum caught the imagination of the world, because the outcome, especially if the YES vote had prevailed, would have had far-reaching consequences for many countries around the world. A YES victory would have strengthened secessionist forces around the world. In Nigeria, the open and closet secessionists would have become emboldened and there was no gainsaying the fact that they would have stepped up their agitation into the future, presenting such Scottish outcome as a vindication of their platform.

It was the same attitude that was ratcheted up, when South Sudan broke from a united Republic of Sudan, until the tragic civil war, premised upon the vicious ethnic rivalries and leadership irresponsibility, gave them the pause around the continent.

I was very delighted that the NO votes prevailed in Scotland, just as I was happy that there would be newer constitutional tinkering to devolve greater autonomy within the United Kingdom. Similarly, the fact that the issue was resolved democratically, spoke for the deepening of democracy around the world, but in Nigeria in particular. A united United Kingdom speaks for unity in our country, badly governed now, but with incredible possibilities for liberation and development, into the future.