By Femi Aribisala
The entire incident was a big conspiracy; but the chief conspirator was God.
When Jesus finished praying on a certain occasion, one of his disciples said to him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1).
I was a so-called Christian, born and bred, but I did not believe in prayer. My mother was a prayer-warrior who regularly forced us to engage in communal bedtime prayer, but in over 40 years of my existence, I don’t believe I ever once initiated a petitional prayer. I was long on thanksgiving. I thanked God for just about everything. However, I never asked God to do anything for me.
Jesus says: “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For each one who asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8). However, I don’t remember ever reading this or internalizing it. Instead, I created God in my own image.
As far as I was concerned, God is someone who knows what I want and need without my having to ask him. If I have to ask God for something in order for him to give me something or do something for me, then God cannot be Almighty God. Therefore, I never asked God for anything. However, I attributed every good thing that happened to me to him and thanked him profusely for them. That is as far as it went with what might be described as my prayer life.
But one day, before I finally met Jesus one-on-one on my Damascus Road experience, he decided to create situations and circumstances designed to teach me to pray.
One day, as a Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, I was served a query out of the blue by the Director-General accusing me of “gross incompetence.”
This was balderdash. I have a Master’s degree in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, U.S.A. I also have a doctorate in International Relations from Oxford University, England.
For two years, I was Special Adviser to Professor Bolaji Akinyemi who was Nigeria’s Minister of External Affairs. The year before my query, I was appointed Special Assistant to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his campaign to be Secretary-General of the United Nations. The year of my query, I coordinated a Ford Foundation-funded project on ECOWAS, subsequently published as a book. Nevertheless, for reasons of professional jealousy, the Director-General said I was incompetent.
I derided the whole thing as some kind of a joke until two of my colleagues warned me they had it on good authority that the decision had already been taken to terminate my appointment because I was considered a threat to the Director-General. Without waiting for my response, I was also informed the Appointments and Promotions Committee (A&P) of the institute had been convened specifically to look into my case. The plot was just to go through the motions. Once the A&P met, I would be sacked.
When I asked what they would suggest I do under the circumstances, they said there was nothing I could do; but they would pray for me. I told them to go ahead and pray. But as for me, I would seek legal protection.
Saving my life
I consulted a high-powered lawyer, asking for an injunction against the scheduled A&P meeting. The lawyer told me I could not prevent them from meeting. “Every step they are taking is legal and procedural,” he said. “But I have inside information they have already decided to get me fired,” I replied. The lawyer said to me: “Dr. Aribisala, if they fire you, then we will take them to court.”
I concluded then that the legal system could not help me. So, I decided to contact the Foreign-Minister. When I phoned him, he pretended and said I got a wrong number. When I re-dialed, somebody else answered and said he was not in. Everywhere I turned to for help; I met a brick wall.
Jesus is the Saviour
Then one day, Mrs. Yetunde Ogunseye came to see me. She said: “The Lord says he understands you don’t pray. But he says I should tell you to pray on this occasion and see what happens.” I asked her if that was all, and she said yes. I said: “No problem, I will pray.” So I did.
A few days later another friend, Michel Vogt, said the Lord told him to tell me that when I go before the A&P, I should say a short prayer before entering the room and then leave the rest to him. Again, I had no problem with that. I told him: “If that is what it takes, I will do so.”
But I refused to rely entirely on prayer. I prepared a huge dossier for each member of the seven-man A&P. I spent a fortune photocopying articles, chapters of books etc. When the day of my inquisition arrived, I went to the meeting armed with a suitcase full of documents. But before entering the room, I did remember to say a short prayer.
Seeing my suitcase, someone asked me jokingly if I was travelling. I was not in the mood for jokes; I went there to fight. I gave each person my carefully-prepared dossier of supporting documents and then waited like a cat to launch a counter-attack against my enemies.
The Chairman calmly introduced the members of the A&P to me one-by-one. Then he said: “Dr. Aribisala; you have no case to answer before this Committee. Is there anything you would like to tell us?”
I could not believe my ears. George Obiozor, my main adversary, quickly sent me a note scribbled on a torn sheet of paper. It said: “Femi, you don’t have to say anything. Everything is alright.” He was now afraid of what I would say.
I was not really bothered with him. My mind was elsewhere. I said nothing and was excused to leave. When I got back to my office, I sat down and burst into tears. My friends were convinced I had been sacked. But I wept for a different reason. I wept because I got neither self-satisfaction nor personal glory from the case. I wept because I was irrelevant to my victory. I wept because I was denied the opportunity to defend myself.
The entire incident was a big conspiracy; but the chief conspirator was God, and not the Director-General. The Lord was determined to demonstrate to me the efficacy of prayer.
He made sure all avenues of self-defense were shut against me. None of the Committee members even bothered to look at my elaborately-compiled dossier. Since the case against me was summarily dismissed, it was pointless to engage in my carefully-prepared defense. Otherwise, I would have convinced myself my acquittal was a testament to the brilliance of my presentation. As it was, my frustration was because I could only attribute my victory to two fervent prayers asking God for help.
Thus says the Lord: “Call on me in the day of trouble; and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15).