‘Why many clerics can’t make leaders accountable to Nigerians’
Bishop Charles Ighele is the General Superintendent of the Holy Spirit Mission Church, which was started in 1974 by the late Bishop M.A Marioghae. The graduate of History and Political Science from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) is also a co-presenter of the television programme on marriage and family intimacy known as Love Arena. In this interview with Felix Kuye, Deputy Editor, he speaks about making political leaders accountable to the people, and other issues in the society.
Why is corruption so widespread in Nigeria?
No nation develops above its culture. Culture is a very powerful thing. So powerful that it is what determines how we live our lives. Nations and tribes have their own cultures. Families, churches have their different cultures. The Catholic Church has a culture that is different from that of Anglican Church. The Pentecostal churches have their different cultures. Everything about us is culture. When cultures clash, in some instances, there will be war.
Our culture in this country is different from that of Ghanaians. We have Yoruba in Benin Republic who form part of the population as citizens. We also have Fulani in Benin Republic who form part of the population as citizens. But the Yoruba in Benin Republic behave differently from the Yoruba in Nigeria just as the Fulani in Benin Republic behave differently from the Fulani in Nigeria. The same people but different behaviour because of difference in country of residence. The Nigerian culture encourages corruption. The culture of a family is ‘determined’ by the head of that family just as the head of a nation determines the culture. The leaders determine the culture of the people. The Nigerian political elite have put a culture in place that encourages corruption. And it is on the increase and we have not seen anything yet. In Nigeria, there is culture of corruption, stealing, culture of impunity, culture of ‘nothing will happen.’ These cultures are now more powerful than the rule of law in Nigeria. The situation is so bad that even the people at the grassroots, the villagers have been highly corrupted. There is now a political culture that when you go to the village and ask them to vote for you, they ask you to give them money or rice first. You must give me something before I vote for you. This is one of the ways the elite have corrupted the people. Originally, without the people asking for money, rice and other similar items, the politicians were giving them to the voters. This is one nasty culture the elite put in place so that they can remain in power. Now it is becoming a threat to democratic governance in the country. In other places that are more civilised, things can get better with the rule of law in place. But here in Nigeria, it may never get better. Unless there is a drastic change at the top, corruption would get worse, impunity would get worse.
Religious leaders have a role to play in changing whatever is generally considered to be bad in the society. We don’t see much of that happening in this country. What could be responsible?
When a society is bad, it will give birth to many bad things and people. There will be bad medical doctors, bad religious leaders and of course many bad journalists. Because the society is bad, it has given birth to many bad religious leaders. This does not mean that there are no good ones. There is culture of “I want to be rich” without labour. When a programme is put up that people should come to church and would become rich without labour, and that when they are prayed for, something would happen, what type of society would evolve when we give people this type of mindset? At a stage in this country, the religious institutions were becoming part of the elite. Materialism crept into a section of the church. Materialism and prosperity are two different things. As materialism crept in, we started having a large number of pastors preaching materialism instead of the gospel of the kingdom. One way or the other people want to run to these local churches. Such preachers would tell people that if they bring N10, 000.00, within six months, they would get half a million naira. People would go and borrow money and take to them. What I am saying is that a crop of pastors rose under this materialistic syndrome and were further corrupting part of the body of Christ, making it a laughing stock. This is the reason some comedians would crack jokes referring to these type of pastors in the church. It is those pastors that the society has corrupted that are now bringing corruption into the church, making some members to be materialistic. Such values of hard work are being relegated as if they do not matter again. But there are still pastors standing firm that things should not go this way and I am glad that their voices are coming up, telling people the true way to make progress as opposed to the messages of those fake pastors.
I met someone at a time who stopped going to one of such churches and when I asked him why he left, he told me it was because he wanted deeper messages of God that could take him to heaven and also make him to prosper on earth not messages that would make him proper without labour on earth but without the hope of heaven.
Specifically, why is it difficult for religious institutions to make the nation’s leaders accountable to the people?
It is partly because politicians or the political leaders, directly or indirectly, pay for that not to happen. Any religious leader who is not very careful, who is materialistic and does not allow himself to be guided by the scriptures, will fall to the antics of the political elite and become a subject of ridicule. Politicians believe that everybody has a price and when the price is paid, they can always have their way. They want to see that the religious elites also are under them. With that kind of system in place, if we do not stand firm, politicians would influence church leaders. When an average politician comes to the church in the name of thanksgiving or wanting to attend the pastor’s birthday thanksgiving in the church and discovers that if he should donate N5 million all the church’s problem would be solved, he would make the donation. And when the pastor bows in appreciation, his price has been paid. He would invariably pocket such a pastor. As far as God is concerned, that is bribery. There are some pastors who would bluntly refuse such a gift.
Have you ever experienced this in your church?
Let me give an example. The late former Works Minister, Chief Tony Aneni knew me very well. He came to my house a couple of times. I made sure I gave him honest advice. No one naira from him entered my pocket. He would not even offer me money because I was always telling him those things that were not good in the country for him to correct. If I had wanted him to give me money, I would have been singing his praises that would induce him to give me money, but I never did that. I was always drawing his attention to the areas where he needed to do the right thing. So, the way I offered my pieces of advice to him was as an advocate of national progress. That was how I related with him. Some politicians found it difficult to relate with me because of my stance on issues. But he kept relating with me as he saw me as a genuine man of God.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo was to leave office, people were talking about whether the power should go to the North or remain in the South.
Some southerners were agitating that power should remain in the south, but I told him that agreement should be an agreement and that the power should go to the north. The truth is that power should rotate round the country among the geo-graphical ones. He knew that was the relationship I wanted and, therefore, never offered me any money or bribe. The relationship was defined right from the beginning. As a man of God, the relationship should be defined right from the beginning, without telling those politicians about the projects the church wants to execute. Pastors, who stylishly ask for their contribution and they give, would hardly give honest advice. Many men of God have fallen into this trap and so cannot offer credible advice to politicians. Even the culture of inviting them and giving them the pulpit has now entered the church. They now talk and campaign in the church and people clap. It never happened before. It is not good and we need to find a way to redeem the body of Christ from these politicians whose aim is to pocket the church.
How do you think religious leaders should speak against perceived wrongs in the society?
Church leaders do their things differently with regard to speaking against perceived wrongs in the society. Some prefer to follow the pattern of Nichodemus in the Bible who came to Jesus in the night and Jesus did not condemn him for coming to Him at night. Some leaders do their things quietly while some will blow their own up. For example, leaders like Bishop Oyedepo would prefer to shout it out while leaders like Pastor Adeboye would prefer to talk one-on-one with the person without telling you what they discussed. I know that Pastor Adeboye talks but quietly and would not want most of the things he says to be press matter. This is contrary to the style of Bishop Oyedepo. As far as I am concerned, I appreciate the two different styles provided they say something. Many people would prefer the leader that would talk aloud to encourage others. But I know that Pastor Adeboye talks and Bishop Oyedepo talks and I am enjoying both of them.
What advice do you have for churches where activities of Yahoo Boys are threatening the moral foundation of other youths?
In one or two branches of our church, we got a report that some of these boys were there trying to recruit innocent ones into their midst by flaunting money, flaunting cars. They were becoming influential in those churches. What I did was to call the pastors in the churches, sat them down and told them to be strong, that leaders are expected to be strong. We then said it was either they leave the church or stop their nefarious activities.
In fact, I cursed them, should they refuse to stop or leave the church. I was happy that the pastors there were also concerned. A few of the boys repented and the rest left those churches. If we did not take such bold steps, they would have overrun those two churches.
Also, when we newly came to Lagos from Benin. An anonymous person would just drop a huge amount of money in the name of tithe in the offering box every week. We were first praising God that He had started blessing our people. But because of the consistency, we became concerned. My wife, who then was a manager in a big bank’s branch before she resigned in 1998 to join me, decided to use her skill to investigate and find the person. Eventually a woman was discovered to be the one dropping the money secretly. My wife commended her for wanting the church to make progress by donating such an amount of money regularly. But when my wife asked her about the job she was doing, the donor said she was pushing cocaine. And she was bluntly told that the church did not want such money. My wife and I were very strict on the matter, insisting that we did not want dirty money in the church. I may be riding big cars but they are from genuine givers. My first jeep that I had was a loan from the defunct Oceanic Bank to be paid back in three years. We have people who are wealthy in our church, but I never asked any of them to give me anything. It is the kind of lifestyle we have decided to live. We boldly told the woman not to bring the money again and she stopped coming to the church. In fact, she was already bringing her friends and if we did not take notice or we had allowed such money, she and her friends would have overrun the church. So, it depends on what the church wants or the pastor wants for the congregation.
I am interested in making heaven than even being a pastor or being famous. As we educate pastors, the church would become effective in the area of tackling corruption and materialism.
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