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Pastors as Monarchs: Managing opposing tenets of Christianity, traditional institution

By Chijioke Iremeka
23 July 2022   |   4:22 am
The traditional institution in some parts of the country has been witnessing enthronement of pastors from the Pentecostal wing of the Christian religion as monarch.

Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse III being crowned in 2021

The administration of some kingdoms in Nigeria is witnessing what can be described as unusual fusion of traditional institution that is characterised by all kinds of lesser gods and rituals, and the Pentecostal wing of the Christian religion that emphasises obedience to the ten commandments of God, and denouncing most activities of the traditional priests as sinful. This development, which some people say is good for the country even as others fault it, is manifest in the rising cases of pastors being crowned as traditional rulers in different parts of the country. Though this nuptial is flourishing, CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes that it may be recipe for crisis.

The traditional institution in some parts of the country has been witnessing enthronement of pastors from the Pentecostal wing of the Christian religion as monarch. The situation is expected to lead to amalgamation of the tenets of Christianity and the traditional institutions.

After many years of preaching to the Christians on the pulpits, the pastors now feel, perhaps, it is the time to serve the general public at the community level irrespective of whether some traditional requirements of being on the throne are in conformity with the standards and principles in their religion.

This development appears to be putting pressure on the traditional institution. The believers are skeptical of the reason the ‘Born Again’ pastors are coming into what they believe to be their space. They are worried that the clerics would cause some reforms in the system and rock the boat of their cherished traditional beliefs. Their fear is reinforced by memories of the skirmishes with Christian faithful since the advent of European missionaries in Africa in the wake of the 19th Century.

Indeed, there has been controversy over the current interest of the pastors in ascending traditional thrones. While some people argue that a pastor could become a traditional ruler of high repute in his community, others believe that it is not part of their (pastors) calling. According to them, the clerics have chosen to serve God at the altar, and should therefore leave the earthly throne. The critics say the pastors getting enthroned as traditional rulers may indulge in certain fetish activities that will make them to compromise their faith in Jesus Christ, including offering blood sacrifices to lesser gods against the commandments of God. They expressed fear that the ‘Born Again’ pastors would destroy the tradition because they may not want to get involved in necessary rituals activities so as not to compromise their faith. The failure to do this may have grave consequences on the people and the community.

A Catholic Priest, Matthew Chineme argued that a priest can become a traditional ruler but needs to renounce and abstain from all fetish traditional rites, in agreement with his subjects.

“The immediate past monarch of Imeko Town, the Olumeko of Imeko in Ogun State was a member of Celestial Church of Christ before he became the ruler of his town. He refused to undergo all the usual traditional rites, sticking to his born-again belief,” Chineme said.

After his enthronement, he was said to have banned all traditional rites and festivals in the town during Celestial Church’s ceremonies and pilgrimage in the town, expanding the frontiers of Christianity in his community.

According to Chineme, the Olumeko was later taken to court by some of the traditional leaders but he won the case on the premise that since the people willingly accepted to crown him without going through the traditional rites, they were subject to his directives whilst he remained on the throne.

“Christians can hold any position on earth. The Bible even instructs us to ‘subdue’ the earth. Again, the former Akila of Erin Ijesha was a member of the Christ Apostolic Church (now dead). He stopped making of sacrifices to the god of river,” Chineme added.

In spite of the fear of what could happen to the tradition, more pastors are getting involved in the traditional leadership of their communities even though there are cases where some pastors-turned traditional rulers were maltreated and dehumanised.

Though he is not an ordained pastor, Olu of Warri in Delta State, Ogiame Atuwatse III, can be described as a sitting Christian king, who has done a number of things to bring about certain changes in the way and manner the palace activities are run. He was crowned the 21st Olu of Warri on Saturday, August 21, 2021 at Ode-Itsekiri, succeeding his uncle, Ogiame Ikenwoli I, the 20th Olu of Warri.

Last year, December 18, 2021, he hosted the first ever Christmas Carol in the history of the Warri Kingdom at the Aghofen Warri (The Palace).

Warri Kingdom was adorned in robes of many colours for the grandiose ceremony designed to memorialise its cultural heritage and thrill the indigenes and other members of the public to a striking display of music, arts and culture. Also, the king has introduced reading of the Bible in his palace.

Recently, a Deeper Life Pastor, John Elaigwu Odogbo, emerged as the paramount ruler-elect of Idomaland in Benue State. He emerged through an election conducted by the kingmakers. The four contenders for the stool were Andrew Idakwu, John Bamaiyi, Sunday Echono, and Pastor John Eliagwu Odogbo. The names suggest that they are all Christians.

Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle (left) with Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun.

At the end of the voting by the kingmakers, Idakwu got one vote, Odogbo got 19 votes while Echono got eight votes. The Idoma traditional council presented the Och’Idoma-elect to Governor Samuel Ortom at the Government House, Makurdi.

The paramount ruler-elect hails from Agatu Local Government. His predecessor, Elias Ikoyi Obekpa who joined his ancestors in October 2021, was a native of Ogbadibo and ascended the throne in 1996 following the exit of Abraham Ajene Okpabi.

Also, in 2012, a pastor in one of the Lagos branches of the Redeemed Christians Church of God (RCCG), Kehinde Olugbenle, became the new Olu of Ilaro and paramount ruler of the Yewa-Awori axis of Ogun State.

The kingmakers unanimously supported his candidacy after an election where he won by a vote to defeat his close rival, Adedeji Olugbenle.

In a 2016 interview, Oba Olugbenle was asked how he felt when asked to ascend the vacant stool, following the demise of his immediate past predecessor, Oba Adekanmbi Tella. “I have said it earlier, it was not a sudden acceptance; it was gradual. I went through a little bit of spiritual guidance (to accept the position),” he said.

Another Pastor, Gabriel Ayodele Adejuwon was crowned the king of Isan-Ekiti in 2017. Before ascending the throne, he was a pastor at the RCCG and a civil servant.

In an interview in 2018, he was asked if there were things that would conflict with his faith as a pastor. “When God created heaven and earth, He created everybody and different faiths and He is managing every one of us. As a king and a representative of God on earth, you should be able to manage everything that is under your control. Before I was ordained king, the kingmakers knew that I am a pastor and yet they supported me.

“I don’t get in their ways because we all want the same thing for the community. We want peace and growth in the community. I contribute my quota for Muslims, Christians, and traditionalists.

“The traditionalists give me heads up on their activities but I don’t go with them and it does not mean I don’t pray and support them. If we say we want to focus on Christianity alone, our prayers might not be answered. These people have ways of blocking your prayers, it is written in the Bible.

“I do not partake in rituals; the traditionalists are the custodians of the rites and they have been doing it before I ascended that throne. However, I’m involved when the traditionalists dance to my palace. I have to leave the door wide open and give them my blessings.”

A Deeper Life Bible Church pastor, Matthew Jegede was in 2020 crowned as the first Alahan of Ahan Ayegunle Ekiti in Ekiti East Local Government Area.

In an interview, Oba Jegede opened up on some challenges he faced on the road to becoming a king, saying that his church members were not in support when the talks of him taking the kingship came up.

The monarch said he had his reservations about it as he had thought that becoming a king as a Christian was against God’s plan. “I initially thought it was against God’s plan to become the King…I also thought that if one wants to go to heaven, it will be difficult.”

Oba Jegede said the church told him to pray about it but he ignored their directive before committing to it. He recalled that he kept having king-like dreams, confirming that he was born to be the king. After running away from becoming the king for 10 years, he accepted the offer, not minding his church members’ sentiment against it.

To his surprise, however, on the day Governor Kayode Fayemi handed him the staff of office, the same church members who knocked him for accepting to be the king attended the occasion.

Following the demise of the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Jimoh Oyewunmi in December 2021, the kingmakers in the town picked Afolabi Ghandi Laoye, a pastor of the RCCG, Jesus House Washington DC, United States (US) as the new monarch.

In a video posted on social media by the Parish, Olaoye, who addressed members of the church, said it was never his ambition to become the Soun. He said he never wanted to be a king but God spoke to him about it and he had no option but to take a step of faith to obey God and watch what the creator wanted to do.

He argued that pastors and kings perform basically the same roles in different environments. A pastor, he said, is a shepherd, much like a king who looks after varied interests in a larger community.

It was learnt that the Laoye’s family, the family whose turn it is to produce a new king, according to the 1953 Soun Chieftaincy Declaration, screened all the interested applicants to three and were unable to settle on a consensus candidate and so allowed the kingmakers to make the final selection.

Sustaining the argument that a pastor can become a king as long as it does not compromise his faith, the founder and Senior Pastor-in-Charge of Lekki-based Trinity House, Lagos, Ituah Ighodalo, noted that the problem with Nigerians is that they have a mindset that everything traditional is fetish, occultist or concerned with idol worshipping.

“It may have had that influence in the days of ignorance, where that was all we knew. But traditional leadership should be simply leadership. Why can’t a pastor aspire to the leadership of his community, town or village?

“He only needs to make sure that his tenure or reign as a leader excludes anything fetish or of idol worship. David was a prophet, and eventually became a traditional ruler, king of Israel. In those days, priests combined both roles as in the case of Samuel, Gideon, Elisha, and Elijah.

“As a matter of fact, every ruler of Israel before Saul was a prophet. It was called theocracy. God ruled through the prophets. So, there was no grandeurs king. It was just a simple prophet; more like what you would call a judge who just looked over affairs and who both spoke to God and spoke to men.

“It was later on that they wanted a separation, wanting a king, and a prophet. So, there’s nothing wrong for a pastor or prophet to aspire to become a king or ruler,” Ighodalo explained.

On whether he could consider such if his community comes calling, he said: “If I feel that it would be a way of making life better for the people and influencing people in the right direction compared to what I’m doing right now, I will give it a thought.

“My own aspiration in life is to make things better for others and serve others better. So, if for instance, in my church now, I’m influencing about 5, 000 people on a regular basis through my activities, and I feel that as a traditional ruler, I can influence up to 30, 000 people in a better way, then why not?

“It doesn’t stop me from pastoring my church if I so choose. It’s just another way of influencing people. And as long as it doesn’t compromise any of my beliefs or my faith, of course, I will give it a thought.”

An academic research titled ‘The ‘Born-Again’ Oba: Pentecostalism And Traditional Chieftaincy In Yorubaland’, and conducted by Olufunke Adeboye of the Department of History & Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, found that there were cases when some pastors-turned traditional rulers tried to change certain traditional practices but their subjects were not comfortable with the move and the efforts failed.

On July 19, 2003, the 14-year rule of Oba Adara Aderiye, the Olode of Ode-Ekiti in Gbonyin Local Government Area of Ekiti State, suddenly came to an ignominious end.

According to media reports, the monarch was beaten up by irate youths, stripped of his paraphernalia of office and later chased out of the town naked. Shortly after, the traditional trees at the strategic shrines in the town were cut, symbolising his demise.

The kingmakers then wrote to the Ekiti State government that the Olode had been deposed. Thereafter, the ruling house, which had nominated Aderiye for the Obaship, publicly disowned him.

His offence was that he refused to participate in community rituals on account of his Christian faith, particularly being a ‘born-again’ Christian.

The researcher also found that in 2004, Oba Samuel Popoola Adelegan, the Ogboni of Ipole in Atakumosa East Local Government Area of Osun State, was banished from his town after a 22-year rule. The refusal of the monarch to continue to appease the two major deities in the town (Ogun and Owari) following his spiritual ‘rebirth’ infuriated his people. He was reinstated in 2007 by the government after three years in exile, amidst continuing protest from the womenfolk.

It was learnt that as Oba Adelegan was about to re-enter the palace, he opened his Yoruba Bible and repeatedly read Psalm 24. He did the same thing at all the entrances to the palace. He also led a prayer session that lasted about 15 minutes.

The General Overseer, Vision of God Bible Church, FESTAC, Lagos who doubles as the Chairman, Apostolic Global Leadership (AGL), an union of pastors in Amuwo-Odofin and Oriade areas, Rev Victor Obiora, said a genuine pastor should not have any business becoming a traditional ruler.

“Both callings are parallel lines. There is more than meet the eye. Unserious pastors will tell you that they won’t get involved in rituals and traditional rites that come with the traditional ruler’s office. Many of them will tell you that they don’t do anything fetish, but there are a lot of things they do in secret that if you hear you will marvel. You may say you don’t want to get directly involved but you have commissioned it for others to do or you have paid money for it to be done.

“If a pastor leaves the flocks of God to become a traditional ruler in one tiny community or the other, for who has he left the flocks God has put under his care? There are a lot of fetish things in the palace. I can tell you this because I have witnessed a number of them before I became a pastor.

“I have seen it in the compound at Maza-Maza where I lived and I have to pack out of the compound. That was just for Baale. If they will tell you the truth, you will know that a genuine pastor with the fear of God should not venture into this.

“Don’t also forget that there are evil people who call themselves pastors and people also call them pastor but they are cultists and ritualists. If tomorrow, such a person becomes a traditional ruler, people would say that a pastor has become traditional ruler whereas it’s an extension of such person’s cultism and ritualism.

“A pastor in charge of a church, who is genuine, will not leave God’s presence where he affects more lives to become traditional leader of mixed multitude and others. It’s not his calling. The calling is clearly stated. You cannot serve two masters at a time. You serve one, you reject the other,” he said.

Pastor Joseph Asuquo holds the same opinion, saying that a pastor should maintain his calling and leave traditional leadership to traditionalists. “The most a pastor can do is to proffer advisory roles to the king,” he added.

An Igbo traditional chieftaincy holder, Chidike Okeke (Ochendo), said the workability of a pastor becoming a traditional leader depends on a number of things.

“Let the truth be told, for a traditional ruler, it is Chukwu (God) and NdiAni (mother earth) that decide after consultation with Agwu (Devine spirit of clairvoyance). If Afa says it’s the pastor, that pastor must rule and learn the ropes of what is and not, in the traditional sense.

“A traditional ruler isn’t a ruler for just traditionalists in a community but for both Christians and all other religions. The traditional ruler must always be fair and just, acting with reason. He must have an open mind and know that being a pastor is an imported religion and tradition comes first.

“A pastor can be a king if only he will uphold the laws of the land and does not have problems with them, carrying out the customs and traditions of the people, sacrifices and festivities according to the land.”

Traditionalist and an Ozo tile holder in Igbo traditional institution, Ikuka Okoye, said: “We do not need help in this aspect. Let the pastors mind their churches and let us deal with our thing. There is division of labour here and every religion should stay within its space.

“The pastors will destroy the remnant of our culture and tradition. They do not have Nso Ani (Sacrilege) but we have. We don’t need them. They should leave the traditional leadership to Ceaser and retain that which is God’s.”

A native doctor and custodian of Okwu Idemili deity, Adigo Ogidi, said: “I have no problem with a pastor becoming a traditional ruler of my town but there will be problem if he begins to commit sacrilege in the spirit of ruling according to his religion. We have the traditional institution on how we want our gods worshipped and our culture protected. He is welcome but will rule according to the traditions of the people.”

A human rights activist, lawyer and custodian of Igbe deity, Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, who stirred controversy at the Supreme Court after he appeared in the court in a lawyer’s gown with a ‘native doctor’ attire, said the coming on board of pastor on traditional rulers space, showed how confused Africans are.

“We have been brainwashed to a point of no return. You can’t be a traditional ruler and be a Christian or Muslim. As the custodian of our tradition, a traditional ruler must be a traditionalist.
“Tell me, so what happened to his many years of practising Christianity? It goes to show that most of us have dual religion. Our official religion, which is neither Christianity nor Islam, is the African traditional religion. Africans need to wake up from their slumber.

“We need to get away all negative foreign influences. We need to believe in ourselves and our own to be able to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery,” Omirhobo said.