Oritsejafor: The maverick high priest
On November 10, 2017, Pastor Joseph Ayodele Oritsejafor added one year as an octogenarian Church leader and former High Priest of the nation. He’s eminently qualified as a High Priest of Nigeria, being a former President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). One of the most indelible eras in Christian leadership in Nigeria and, indeed, a very trying period for that matter was during Oritsejafor’s tenure between 2010 and 2016.
Oritsejafor needs no introduction, as his public image means different things to different people. While his critics are often misled by what they hold as facts against him, those that identify with him are much more informed about issues involving him. Many people, especially in the political and sectarian orbits, couldn’t stand his guts because of his boldness, outspokenness and brilliant articulation of his positions and opinions.
He is not a lone ranger in the path of boldness; other vocal Christian leaders in the league include Bishop Mike Okonkwo, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Bishop Hassan Kukah, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie and Prelate Ola Makinde, among others. These fearless clergymen are never intimidated, and they care less about criticisms against their convictions. They are brave, alert, articulate and well-informed about happenings within the Church and secular world, all because of their mandate to speak up for the Body of Christ in Nigeria and in defence of her interests and members.
The Christian faith leadership in Nigeria became vocal against overt and covert acts of injustice since the campaign against Nigeria’s membership of Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) during regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd). The Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos Diocese, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, was a fire-spitting CAN President then. Successive CAN leaders have maintained the culture though at varying degrees depending on the nature of the man in charge. However, it may take a while for Christian community in Nigeria to have another leader like Oritsejafor.
To date, Oritsejafor remains the most criticised and vilified national church leader in Nigeria. He received scathing remarks for the very reasons he assumed mantle of Christian leadership – service! The primary reason Oritsejafor was drafted into CAN Presidency was because the preceding leadership was not doing enough at checkmating the sliding moves to make the Church play second fiddle in the nation’s religious affairs. Being the Pentecostal leader at the time, Oritsejafor was more than able to face the challenge, knowing full well that Pentecostal Movement in Nigeria, right form the era of late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, has spoken consistently for the Church.
Noticeably, Oritsejafor has refrained from public appearances and making comments on national issues since completion of his tenure. This, he said, was because there’s a new leadership for the Christian body, which he supports wholeheartedly.
“There can’t be two captains in a ship. When I was in the saddle, they all rallied support for my tenure and we did the best God enabled us to do. And now we have another leadership in place and I support everything they do. So, it is wrong for me to be competing for attention with our leader. It is not in our culture as an organisation to do so. Yes, once in a while we could lend a voice in support of whatever the leadership is doing or canvassing, but not to compete or embark on showmanship with the incumbent. We are a well-organised body and we respect leadership so much,” he explained.
Though this year’s birthday is a landmark in his life, but he opted to have a low profile celebration because, according to him, as much as there are genuine reasons to celebrate, there are also compelling reasons to be sober and reflective. Oritsejafor wouldn’t like to remember how his critics had employed political colouration, absolute lies and propaganda to combat many noble intentions he had. His tenure had a couple of serious challenges because it was at the height of Boko Haram insurgency up north, when many Christians were killed and several churches destroyed. Also, the tenure contended with the issue of Islamic banking among other matters that were of interest to Church leadership.
The systematic and strategic vilification of Oritsejafor was activated right from his days as PFN President. During his time, PFN was de facto mouthpiece of the Church in Nigeria. When he signified his intention to vie for CAN Presidency and knowing that he wouldn’t ‘play the game by the rule,’ he was roundly worked against by contending interests from outside the Church fold, but the church’s unity prevailed. I watched current CAN President and President of Baptist Convention in Nigeria on April 23, 2017 during his sermon at the 104th Baptist Convention, where he acknowledged that in such short time as CAN President, he could now understand why leaders were often criticised and negatively portrayed. He then told Vice President Yemi Osinbajo present at the service not to be distracted by negative media and criticisms. This goes to show that the yoke of leadership is burdensome and, most of the time, thankless.
For example, sometimes in 2012, Oritsejafor and Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar addressed a press conference at Sheraton Hotel in Lagos on the festering Boko Haram insurgency. While the Sultan dismissed the ‘terrorists’ label on the sect and rationalised the murderous activities of the Islamists as that of misguided, wrongly indoctrinated rascally youths, who will be corrected and rehabilitated in the process of time, Oritsejafor flatly disagreed with him. He said Boko Haram was a pure terror organisation.
According to him, activities of the dreaded insurgents were part of grand plots to Islamise Nigeria, adding that the insurgency was well coordinated, funded and armed by some powerful elements in the country for religious and political purposes.
Later that day, when a television station reported the news at 7pm, it said both Oritsejafor and the Sultan agreed that Boko Haram was not a terror group, but merely a violent group of misguided and irate youths. It played the audio-visual of the Sultan, which corroborated the news story, but did a voiceover while showing Oritsejafor’s part. When Oritsejafor’s attention was drawn to it, he called the station’s chairman, who himself is a renowned broadcaster, and complained to him about the lies and twist of his own side of the story. The proprietor promised to look into it and get back to him shortly after. About 90 minutes later, the man called to profusely apologise to Oritsejafor and promised that it will be rectified at its 10pm prime news hour. It was corrected accordingly. Both Oritsejafor and Sultan’s audiovisuals were played. Immediately, the headline of the story on its news bar changed to “Oritsejafor, Sultan differ on Boko Haram.”
For the better part of his tenure as CAN President, Oritsejafor was roundly misconstrued and criticised for being close to former President Goodluck Jonathan. Yes, they are still close as brothers from the same Niger Delta region. In addition, Oritsejafor is a spiritual leader of the oil-rich region to whom Jonathan also subscribes. Former Prelate of Methodist Church, Rt. Rev. Ola Makinde, led a delegation of some Christian leaders to meet President Jonathan at the Presidential Villa, when he expressed his displeasure that the CAN President, in his capacity as leader of the largest religious body in the country, didn’t have the President’s phone number, which made communication at leadership level sometimes cumbersome. Jonathan then wrote the State House switchboard number on a piece of paper and gave it to them. It may sound incredible, but it’s the truth that Oritsejafor doesn’t have the private mobile phone number of the former President even till date. This goes to show that things are not exactly the way they seem sometimes.
In a somewhat uncomplimentary manner, Oritsejafor is also being described as a ‘prosperity preacher,’ who majors in fund raising messages. But way back in the early 1980s, he was widely acclaimed as a ‘Faith’ preacher and ‘Evangelist.’ Far more than prosperity messages, Oritsejafor has harvested thousands of souls to the Kingdom of God on crusade grounds across the globe.
I was present at an open-air crusade along Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, Lagos, in 1987, where he preached. With almost 30,000 people in attendance on the first day, Oritsejafor shared testimony of his youthful delinquency as a pickpocket on Eko Bridge in Lagos among other rascally misdemeanors.
His testimony converted hundreds of miscreants and armed robbers present at the crusade ground, as they willingly went forward to commit their lives to Jesus Christ and publicly renounced Satan and his deeds.I also remember his stints with the famous late American Preacher, Robert W. Schambach, many years ago, when, during Oritsejafor’s healing ministrations, cripples were lifted from the wheelchairs, blind received their sight on laying of hands by Oritsejafor. These, among other monumental raw miracles God performed through him as proof of his calling as an Apostle of Jesus Christ and not as a derided money-seeking prosperity preacher.
We shouldn’t wait until great men die before we celebrate them. Oritsejafor is maverick in his dealings, leadership style, strategic thinking and priestly delivery. He’s one of the most travelled Nigerian Pastors and arguably the most connected Nigerian minister among Pentecostal and Evangelical missionaries around the world, especially in Europe and America. May he continue to age gracefully, until his glorious exit to eternity with his Lord and Maker. Amen.
West, a Media Consultant, wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org
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