By Lukman Olabiyi Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed October 16, to rule on whether or not to discharge a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA ), Patrick Akpobolokemi, who was charged with N2.6bn fraud. The court fixed the date Friday after hearing…
David Yallop is the original owner of the above headline. For those who may not know him, he is the best-selling English author, whose book, a bombshell actually, In God’s Name, grossed over six million copies sales worldwide.
The author says the book ‘is an investigation into the murder of Albino Luciani, better known as Pope John Paul 1.’ The publishers also write in the blurb of the highly volatile work: ‘Only 33 days after his election, Pope John Paul 1, died in strange circumstances. Almost, immediately, rumours of a cover-up began to circulate around the Vatican. In his researches, David Yallop uncovered an extra-ordinary story: Behind the Pope’s death lay a dark and complex web of corruption within the church that involved the Freemasons, Opus Dei and the Mafia and the murder of the ‘Pope’s banker’, Roberto Calvi.’
When it was first published in 1984, In God’s Name was denounced by the Vatican, as a book that took ‘fantastic speculation to new levels of absurdity…Infamous rubbish!’
However, The London Daily Mail described the work thus: ‘An astonishing book…a story of corruption, lies and disinformation.’
But for many adherents of the faith, the book is nothing other than ‘a heretical, fictional work, passed off as investigative journalism, to debase the Catholic Church and the Vatican.’
Of course, not all will agree or believe all the author has thrown up in his book, but it surely offered great insight into how deadly, power game in religious organisations, in modern times, can be: The fight for relevance, positions, money; deploying God’s name as tool and justification. That, for me, is what Yallop offered. That, beneath the façade of holiness and religiosity, most religious organisations shield carnal war dictated by materialist quests.
A truly astonishing book, I have read it a couple of times, and began a reread only recently, in view of the controversy generated by the Financial Reporting Council directive to religious leaders to step down, after a number of years in leadership.
A trigger of the above has been as dramatic as the directive itself: The charismatic septuagenarian leader of one of Nigeria’s largest denominations, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, stepped down from his position as General Overseer, later became G.O. Worldwide, later Spiritual leader and global Missioner, and later G.O., while a new N.O. (National Overseer) was appointed.
Other founder/heads were warming up to throw in the towel. Then, something happened. Thisday newspapers captured it creatively on its front page the day after it happened: ‘He Flew too close to the sun and melted.’ Executive Secretary of the FRC, Jim Obazee, is fired. The Board of FRC is dissolved and reconstituted, all within 48 hours!
End of story? I don’t think so. Many Nigerians are still wondering and asking, What actually happened? The debate is on: Was there an extant law that Jim acted on or not? Is it an appropriate law (to regulate places of worship and fix tenures or term limits for church heads?) Why should government dabble into purely spiritual, ecclesiastical issues, while it has myriad of other economic, political and social problems on its table?
Stormy petrel of the bar and cerebral Senior Advocate, Chief Mike Ozekhome, brilliantly puts the whole issue in context in an interview with Saturday Sun of January 14. First, he argues that it is unconstitutional for the government to have dabbled into purely spiritual matters.
His words: “It is inconceivable that government should legislate on matters that concern people’s religious beliefs and headship, concerning the church. Such a law would be unconstitutional because it is contrary to the section of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.”
“In the same way they dare not intrude into matters that concern the Catholic Church, because it is both apostolic and universal, which has its orthodoxy and set ways…So, it is inconceivable that such an orthodox church that is covered by Canon laws, not secular laws could have had the Federal Government meddling in its issue.”
On the Redeemed Christian Church of God saga, Ozekhome says: “A church is as strong as its spiritual leader. In the over 190 countries where there is RCCG, they are doing well because of the high moral and spiritual grounds occupied by Pastor Adeboye.”
But, he argues that Jim Obazee, the Executive Secretary, who tried to enforce what has now turned to be a toxic law, ought not to have been fired, because he was only doing his job.
“So, the statement released by the Presidency, suspending the law and removing Obazee from office is clearly illegal, unconstitutional, highhanded and even immoral because, the person that should be garlanded with national honours is now being punished for applying the law. That is not how to grow a nation,” said Ozekhome, who also faulted the fiat manner the contentious FRC code on worship centres was suspended.
I agree and disagree with some of the views canvassed by the learned silk. But, I will return to it shortly, as well as my views on the Pastor Adeboye, RCCG and the Jim Obazee debacle.
First, we must agree that so many things have gone wrong in God’s house among His servants and children. If we want to be honest, we must agree that materialism has taken over many of the churches and groups.
In God’s name, worshippers are fleeced. While the spiritual leaders, pastors and Imams live in opulence, their congregant wallow in abject poverty. Hit by the flamboyant lifestyles of swashbuckling pastors, flying in private jets and luxury homes, many can’t understand the contradiction of rich pastors and pauperised worshippers.
In God’s name, we have seen our citizens hoodwinked, duped and hypnotised by so-called miracle workers, whose miracle has seen to only the transformation of their nuclear families, relatives and cronies.
Of course, there are genuine men of God, who are extending the frontiers of the kingdom of God, who detest worldly pleasures and truly desire to increase their flock, both spiritually and materially. But, sadly, how many are they?
Government’s enactment of a law to regulate the conduct and practice of religious organisations would seem to some concerned citizens, as one way to deal with the derailment of the religious bodies. In my view, it is a lazy approach to the problem it created in the first place.
Come to think of it, if successive governments had been alive to its responsibilities, many depressed and hungry citizens would not flock to places of worship seeking breakthroughs and quick-fixes to purely economic problems.
In Western countries, the church population is dominated by the aged and those who seek spiritual unification with their creator, especially in the twilight of their lives. Of course, the infirm and spiritually afflicted are all there. But, here, if a research is carried out, it will not be shocking to discover that those seeking financial breakthroughs, in the productive youth and middle age class, would be tops. Reason: Failure of government; failure of the system to cater for its army of the unemployed and economically displaced. So, what you find is that as the unemployment index rises, so the churches, mosques and other places of worship boom. Again, I emphasise, there are also those who go to worship centres in worship of God, not necessarily because they are poor or financially handicapped. There are certainly churches doing a lot in counselling and building a strong, virile nation; duties family units and those saddled with that function have since abandoned.
The irony of our situation is that, the same government that has failed in its responsibilities, now turns round to enact a law, code or whatever it is called, seeking to regulate religious practices, forgetting religion is personal, private, spiritual and ecclesiastical. So, I align with the view of Chief Ozekhome that government lacks the moral power to regulate religious organisations, as it sought to do in the RCCG affair.
However, here is where we part ways: There was nothing wrong, in my view, in the fiat way it suspended the toxic law. If application of a law is bound to cause anarchy and disaffection in the land, should we take a tortuous process or delay before its suspension? I don’t think so. The law, from my understanding, has only been suspended not abrogated. The government should still approach the National Assembly for its final death and burial.
Should Jim Obazee, the messenger or bearer of the bad message have been kicked out? Ozekhome says he was only carrying out his assignment according to extant law. My view: The Bini say when you are sent the message of a slave, you deliver it as a freeborn. Since he has been relieved of his job, I am sure he would have learnt whatever lesson he has to learn. Kicking him further or dragging him on the floor after his exit would, in my view, be akin to a double jeopardy, an overkill