To your jets, o pastors!

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: Twitter: @mightyng

Olumide-IyandaThere is a pastor reading this article praying that the Almighty would touch the heart of someone or a group of people to sow a private jet into his life. He probably wakes up every morning praying that the God of Ayo Oritsejafor should bless his ministry, so he can take evangelism to the sky.

One man who may not be saying amen to that prayer is the founder of Latter Rain Assembly (LRA) and convener of Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Pastor Tunde Bakare. The radical man of God once knocked jet-setting members of his constituency, asking, “Where are you getting these private jets from? Where are you getting the money from?”

He argued that with “the havoc that religious institutions have done to our nation, when the revolution comes, it will not spare us”.

Continuing, he said, “I am not inciting the public against the church and the mosque; but the congregation must demand explanations from their leaders. They must demand to know where they are getting the money; if it is not from the church offering, then it is from Abuja – all general overseers must go to prison.

“If the revolution does not begin in the church, it cannot spread; if it does not begin in the mosque, it will not spread, because they control the population.”

With that sermon, Bakare may have sealed his chances of ever getting a private jet as birthday gift. Many of his colleagues have, however, told him he is on his own, describing his comments as blasphemous.

The view from some pulpits is that if people in the secular world can acquire jets for chief executive officers of private enterprises, there is nothing wrong in offering gifts to men of God who travel across the world.

The debate about clergymen owning private planes became rife in 2012 when members of The Word of Life Bible Church, in Ajamimogha, Warri, Delta State, presented their overseer and president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Oritsejafor, with a jet as birthday gift. The occasion also celebrated his 40th anniversary in the vineyard.

President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta were among eminent personalities who attended the ceremony and spoke glowingly about ‘Papa Ayo’. American televangelist and pastor of the Wisdom Center Ministry based in Fort Worth, Texas, Mike Murdock, known around the world for his promotion of prosperity theology, also gave a brief sermon on seven laws of success.

The media went into overdrive as soon as the ceremony ended, with many criticising what may be described as the champagne lifestyle of some superfine pastors.

Rev. Musa Asake, a CAN official, however, rose in defence of his president. “What is wrong with giving a gift to Pastor Oritsejafor? Did Pastor Oritsejafor embezzle church money? Did he collect somebody’s money? Some people came together and bought it for him, so as to ease his work. This is to help him to continue with the work of the gospel. Oritsejafor is a man of God. He is doing everything for the work of God.”

President, Delta State Baptist Conference, Rev. Gideon Oyibo, also spoke in Oritsejafor’s favour.

“These ministers of God travel from one place to another frequently. What is morally wrong if their movement is eased by getting a jet? What is morally wrong if someone gets a car for the purpose of making transportation easy? What is wrong if a pastor is given a jet as a gift so as to contribute to the expansion of the gospel which the Lord has entrusted to his care?” he asked.

I do not know about Bakare, but I can bet a year’s worth of tithe that many pastors will exchange half their congregation for a jet. Those whose membership and influence are not as strong as Oritsejafor’s may settle for a brand new car. As a student back at the University of Ibadan (UI), I knew of colleagues who lied to their parents to get money for contribution to buy a car for a graduating student pastor.

Some have argued that churches are not expected to query people, even if they use all their sweat to make their pastors look good. I was reminded of Mary in the Bible who took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. But while Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick and rode on a borrowed donkey, many pastors fleece the hungry, con the sick and fly jets bought with proceeds of crime. Not only is there a morbid rivalry among some pastors for material things, they even boast about their acquisition right on the pulpit.

With the state failing to provide even the most basic of human needs, people have turned to religious leaders for almost everything. That is why members of the flock would ask pastors to lay hands on them because of rashes, when properly-administered antibiotics would do. Churches built free schools and hospitals in Nigeria in the past. Today, such ventures have become a meal ticket for some “daddies”.

It will be uncharitable to condemn everybody on the pulpit in Nigeria as living off their congregation. Having dedicated their life to the service of God and humanity, it is expected that such people be provided for by the congregation. The trouble is when people see that as the means to a life of luxury at the expense of their poor flock and the nation as a whole.

One is tempted to agree with Bakare that the ruling class in Nigeria gets away with crime against the people because they are yoked with the clergy.

For those who see evangelism as a passport to the good life, the message is ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God, and a private jet shall be added unto thee’. Such people are milking the ministry for all it is worth because the closest they will ever get to heaven is flying in their private jets.

This article was originally written in November 2012