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Why the Church must invest in grassroots politics, by Pastor Femi Emmanuel 

By Seye Olumide
07 August 2022   |   4:02 am
Presiding Pastor of Livingspring Chapel International, Femi Emmanuel, was a former Deputy Speaker in the Oyo State House of Assembly during the aborted Third Republic (1992 to1993). He started his career as an engineer before joining politics and later became a cleric.

Pastor Femi Emmanuel

Presiding Pastor of Livingspring Chapel International, Femi Emmanuel, was a former Deputy Speaker in the Oyo State House of Assembly during the aborted Third Republic (1992 to1993). He started his career as an engineer before joining politics and later became a cleric. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE (Southwest Bureau Chief) on the need for the Church, Christians to participate in politics, especially at the grassroots, among other issues.

How did you go into politics, even as a born again Christian?
I became the Deputy Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly from 1992 to 1993 before the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd) led-military administration terminated our tenure with the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election acclaimed to have been won by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola. I was a Christian before joining politics and this is my 58-year of conversion. I gave my life to Christ in 1972 at the age 17, at the Foursquare Gospel Church, Agege, Lagos State. I never knew I would be a pastor. I just love serving God. While growing up I carried out any duty assigned to me in the church with due diligence and joy. I love helping people, but the passion for politics came much later after my conversion. It was while I was the Deputy Speaker that the clarity of God’s calling on my life became clearer. Every vision has its appointed time to manifest; I love the Lord and serve Him, but the idea of becoming a pastor of a Church became stronger and clearer in my second year as Deputy Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly. So, the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election was a blessing in disguise for me. It made me to move into what God called me to do.

Did your parents or mentor play any role in your conversion?
No! I came from a very humble background; my parents were peasant in the village. I always call myself a village boy because I grew up there. My parents were of the African Church; they were lovely, but illiterate. Somebody took me from the village after my elementary school to Agege, Lagos, where I began to find focus for better education. It was in the process of my going to Agege that somebody ministered Christ to me. Before then, we were mere Churchgoers because we lacked the knowledge of Pentecostal fire, getting born again, the filling of the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues. And going on evangelism was not in our minds.

The Foursquare Gospel Church was the church to look up to in the early 70s when I gave my life to Christ. The Redeemed Christians Church of God (RCCG) has not become what it is now. The Winners Chapel also has not become what it is today. When you are talking about Pentecostal churches in Nigeria then, the late Dr. S.O. Odunaike was in forefront. He was among the noted Pentecostal preachers. Right from the beginning of my Christian life, I have always been involved in praying for Nigeria. ‘Pray for Nigeria’ started a long time ago. We would go to conferences and retreats purposely to pray for this nation. As I was growing up, I came to Ibadan where I got involved in Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International; I was the first general secretary of the organisation.

How did you navigate through the murky waters of politics, especially in Ibadan where real grassroots politics is played? 
The Bible says every place that the soul of your feet shall tread upon is what God will give to you. I came to do business in Ibadan. I had a very popular bookshop at Mokola. However, when the military administrator established the two political parties, National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), I chose to join the SDP, whose ward’s meeting venue was behind my shop.

This further became possible when the decree setting up the parties stated that we are co-founders and co-joiners, which removed godfatherism in both parties and made way for any Nigerian adult to join either of the parties irrespective of where he/she came from. So, I went to one of the SDP meetings to tell them that I want to join the party. The members laughed and said I am too clean for what they were doing. They said the meeting was for people of low background, but hardly do they know that I came from such background. They thought I would not be able to survive staying among them, but when they saw that I meant business and will attend every meeting beginning from the ward level, they were convinced of my stand. In the really sense of it, this made me to understand that to excel in politics, one should not ignore the grassroots. The ward is the starting point, which is the grassroots and for the fact that I am always with them and took part in the different discussions and never bothered about my education further impressed them. They saw me as being unique, especially with my contributions at meetings.

They were always fighting over little money sent to them by the godfathers. It was then that I understood that godfathers play significant roles in Nigerian politics. The ward members would fight over merger amount like N500. And each time I ask of the reason for their quarrel, they will give account of how someone had cheated them of the money sent to the ward. On many occasions, I had to give some money to the aggrieved for peace to reign among us. This attitude of mine looked strange to them.

Currently, nobody wants to give, we rather look forward to taking from any source. Most of our leaders are working for their own selfish interests and not for the betterment of the country. This attitude runs from the highest level of governance to the grassroots, so, when members saw someone who is willing to give, they were impressed and want to work with me. At a point, they said that I will be their honourable. I did not at first understand them until I was taken to the late Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the strongman of Ibadan political, who was their godfather.

Our constituency then was made up of 10 wards and I was in Ward 8, Constituency 2 Ibadan North. My ward chairman later became a good friend of mine and educated me on what grassroots politics is all about. He would take me round the wards and the local councils in Ibadan.

The chairmen of the 10 wards came together and took me to the late Chief Adedibu. They told him that I have been chosen to be their honourable. And Baba asked if they trust me and they said yes. From then on, I became responsible for their finances and I did the little I could.

The Christian Life is a generous one, so I used that opportunity to minister to majority of the people in the grassroots. I did that cheerfully, but did not know that that meant so much to them. So, they relayed my activities to Baba Adedibu, who later invited me and asked if I will not betray them and I gave him my word.

Knowing that I am a Christian, Baba instructed them to put all the money sent to the Ward in my care. I was trusted and loved.

However, during the House of Assembly election, Baba Adedibu brought another candidate to contest, but the 10 ward chairmen stood behind me and I won the election. When Baba Adedibu saw that I won the election, he carried me shoulder high. That again further connected me to him.

How did you become the deputy speaker in Oyo State, despite the fact that you are not from Ibadan?
I am not an Ibadan indigene. I came here to work, but the Option A4 system then allowed people from different parts of the country to join politics anywhere they live. I won the primary and the election because I was able to get the grassroots support. I have always emphasised on grassroots politics. Look at how the #EndSARS protests was organised; it is a phenomenon. Look at the huge population of Christians in the country, the following, network and spread, but we are not showing much presence at the grassroots politics. Politics is not played on social media or just about addressing the press; it is this grassroots people that determine who wins elections. Since I discovered that that is where the power lies, I have been drawing attention to it. If the #EndSARS youths had left the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos then, and organised themselves at the ward levels our story would have changed. As long as the wards and the grassroots politics remain the way it is, that is being controlled by political warlords, our condition will never improve for good.

Why is it difficult for the Church to penetrate the grassroots?
The problem with the Church has not just begun. The doctrine of separation of the church from the state is the undoing of the Church. The emphasis of do not take Church into politics and do not bring politics into the church was what spelt the doom for the church.

And that has been the doctrine from the onset. The missionaries that brought Christianity to this country were from a clime where there is standard. I always tell people that Nigeria is not like the United States of America, Germany, Canada and or the United Kingdom where politics is left for politicians. Political parties elect their candidates and present them to the public to be vote for, but the case is different. We rather have what is called political entrepreneurs; they own the political parties. The Christian communities do not even know that political parties are owned. These entrepreneurs are the ones that organise people at the ward levels. If you get to political parties ward meetings you will weep for this nation; the calibre of people there are stark illiterate and poor people, who have to be funded. That is why people could sell their votes for as little as N3,000 or N5,000. What would that amount to? Poverty has removed their thinking faculty. All the poor wants is his/her stomach that is why they talk about stomach infrastructure.

There is political apathy in Nigeria and even more in the Church. I belong to the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), which alone has 65 million docile and ignorant members, who are yearning for good government, quality education and enabling atmosphere, but they just felt their responsibility is only to preach the gospel, while politicians are to rule.

Nigeria lacks politicians that are thinking of legacies or of the next generation. Next to God’s power is political power, which is given by the people. God has given the Church people. Do you know that churches like the RCCG has over 50, 000 parishes, Winners has thousands, Deeper Life is in every district, and others such Chosen, Christ Embassy, CAC and other Orthodox churches that have many parishes across the country; the number is there, buy we are still docile. I think the doctrine of separation of the Church from state is what that has imprisoned the Church. And up till now, many still believe that church has nothing to do with politics, but that same politics controls everything the church does. All of us have seen that the church has been totally messed up; security, infrastructure, economy and every other thing have been bastardised just because of bad leadership.

The church must aspire for political power before they can make thing right. And I say this to patriotic Nigerians and the church community, even to the Muslim. You should not wait until election time to know who to vote for. I heard a lot of pastors telling their members to go and collect their PVCs and I ask such people who do you want to vote for? We can never get credible people to vote for just like that. We will keep voting for the same politicians that have brought us to this calamity if we do not participate in grassroots politics. These politicians will either put themselves there or their cronies because they owned the machineries that will produce who you will vote for. So, what Nigerians should do, especially the church and youths, is to go to the grassroots.

How true is it that politics can deprive one from making heaven?
It is a wrong teaching and that is the blindness that came upon the church. This is ignorance because the church fathers that received the message initially and taught the church came with the mentality that politics is dirty and evil. The First Republic politics was very bloody, which was the image the church had continued to nurse about politics. In Nigeria, political power has been associated with wealth and stealing of public fund, which is not supposed to be so, because politics is meant for leaders to serve the people. It was the military intervention in politics that destroyed the entire system in anyway. However, politics is godly and I say there is politics in the church too. Whoever said that politics is dirty is not speaking the mind of God and that is what the church must deliver itself from.

The church community is the only force that I see that can match this political power because the various labour unions and human rights groups are dead. I do not see any other body that can match these politicians except the Church. It is the only structured body with people of intellectual power and the money, so, that it has what it takes to challenge the present status quo. Unfortunately, the church has not realised its relevance in politics.

How can the Church achieve what you are saying even when within itself it is not united and there is this challenge of ‘doctrinal pride’ among its leadership?
The church is afflicted with disunity and it is so because of doctrinal leaning, which should not be. There is a fundamental belief that most churches agreed on. Firstly, most Churches agree that Jesus is Lord and that He died for our sins; that if you repent and accept Him as your Lord and saviour you will be saved; that He is coming back and also, there is heaven and hell. These are the fundamentals, which almost all the churches believe in, but when it comes to little things like dressing, should women cover their heads or baptism, things that have no relevance with heaven they disagree. I just believe that the Devil simply used those things to divide the church.

I think church leaders should come together and address these issues before the coming tsunami sweeps Nigeria and their congregations away.

What are your fears for this country and those conservative church leaders?
I said Nigeria is at a precipice and unless something is done urgently and drastically too to rescue it I am afraid of what to come. That is why I wrote the book titled: “Urgent Need To Save Nigeria: The critical role of Christian leaders.” Nigeria needs to be saved. Abuja is almost overrun with Kuje Prison broken and other things like the attack on the presidential convoy. Terrorists now have their cells in the states that surround the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, and are even coming down to the south. Terrorists seem to have taken over the country, we have to wake up and take back this country to avert the looming danger.

If the church will not wake up to fight this battle, its huge congregation will one day disappear. It will not take more than a month for these terrorists to scatter them. With three, four, five or seven bomb explosions in Lagos alone, you will not find anybody in the church again. Terrorists are willing to die, but we do not want to die. How do you fight a man who wants to die?

So, the earlier we stand up and speak the truth to power, the better for all of us.

The National Assembly recently threatened to impeach Mr. President; a thing that ought to have been done a long time ago, but they cannot carry that out now because we are divided along ethnic and religious lines. Buhari’s people would still stand by him if the lawmakers make the move to impeach him. We need to go beyond these religious sentiments and save Nigeria and the only way to do this is to change the leadership.

We are preparing for another election. What is your take?
I have a different concept about 2023 elections. Election is not and should not be our priority for now. Our priority should be how to save Nigeria from collapsing. Our priority should be to restructure this country. It is unbelievable that a president said state police is not his priority. A president that is still talking about cattle routes in the face of the onslaught ongoing in the country should be changed. Imagine, how everything is nose-diving, the naira is on a free fall and no sanction, a whole battalion of soldiers wiped out and nothing followed. As long as the president still wants to keep shielding those terrorists, we can do nothing. There is complicity and it is unimaginable.

Doesn’t Nigeria’s political problems have any spiritual inference?
Nigeria’s problems start a long time ago. I remembered the 1979 election problems that brought the late President Shehu Shagari and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). There have been some challenges in the way we run our local politics, but things have never been this bad as we are currently experiencing them. The passion to see what we can do to rescue Nigeria has been very great in me and having been praying all these years, a point came in my life when it became very clear to me that we need to do more than praying for this nation.