All my earnings now go to charity, I want die empty- Odutola, ex-GS Bible Society
Dr. Fred Odutola was the 7th indigenous General Secretary of the Bible Society of Nigeria. He served as GS between year 2000 and 2013 when he retired at the age of 55. He was one of the longest serving GS of the organization. During his tenure, he made so much strides taking the society to an enviable financial status and making it earn the needed respect in the church body.
Odutola who is also a lawyer is a member of the Governing Council of West Africa Theological Seminary. He also serves on many international boards and organisations. He spoke with Church Times Nigeria at the recent graduation ceremony of WATS. Below are excerpts:
It’s been a while that you retired. What have you been doing with your life?
I retired six years ago and went back to my law firm. But three years before I retired, I had built a nursery and primary school purposely for charity. We started with a school fees of N3000. The school is just before the Air-force base at Idimu, Lagos. By next year it will be 10 years that it has been running. God has been helping us to help the poor get quality education.
But how do you cope running a school with that paltry sum as school fees for a start?
That is the question many are asking. At a point the parents were afraid because they could not match the school fees with the teaching staff and the quality of infrastructure in the school. They were wondering how I came at such a small amount. We have only increased the school fees once since we started. I fund it from money from my estate. It is a charity. It is my own way of giving back to the society. As of today only one of my children is a member of the governing council. I do not want them to see it as a business that they are hoping to get anything from.
But then one would expect that you will leave something behind for your children?
I have already given them what they need which is education. I tell my children that they have already been trained. So they are not depending on me again or on what I would leave behind after I must have gone. I tell them, if I drop dead and they find N1M in my account they should ask if a client dropped money in the account. I want to die empty. All my money presently goes to charity. And I am happy that children are being blessed through me. The first thing in the morning in the school is about Jesus. The school is about Jesus. But it is not limited to Christians. We don’t discriminate in our admission. Muslims, Budhist, animist are all welcome to the school. But the school is founded on Christian principles. We praise God in the morning at the assembly and we expose children to the love of Christ.
You run a secondary arm of the school too?
Yes we do. The parents actually asked me to start a secondary school and I told them that one will not be charity because of the cost implication. And since I didn’t have the financial muzzle for that. But then we started the secondary school three years ago and I had to look for money to do that. The students pay just N25,000 which I think is reasonable and affordable. The goal for me is not profit even when I told them it’s not going to be charity.
But then, how will react to schools run by churches that charge exorbitantly?
I think we are missing it as Christians. We are now in serious competition among ourselves. It is no longer my Mercedes is bigger than yours. It is now my jet is bigger than yours. We are no longer thinking eternity. I think for me it should be about modeling lives and impacting the coming generation. I am happy for this. I know it is not easy to manage an institution. But my concern is why make it out of the reach of the members who contribute to build the school in the first place? I find it difficult to reconcile that.
If members contribute money to build the school then there should be some form of scholarship at least for pastors’ children and if possible for members of the church. That is my concern. That is why I chose on my part to make the little impact I can make from my little corner. I expect that churches should find a way of mitigating the cost of the schools. I am happy my money is going into the school project and lives are being touched and blessed. My last child left university six years ago. So I don’t have anything I am spending money on. I am frugal in living. We have no lasting city here on earth but we seek for one to come. If we have that understanding we won’t spend all our lives acquiring what we don’t need and making life difficult for others.
You have left BSN for a while now. Are you happy the way the place is presently being run?
We did a lot of succession planning when I was there. So I do not think there is any cause to fear how the place is being run. I employed people who are qualified and who will not steal because I did not steal when I was there. The people I trained are the ones who took over from me. The current GS is somebody I can vouch for. His leadership style is not like mine because we are different but he is making waves and he is making the desired impact.
With the Bible online and availability of different Bible versions at the click of a button online, do you still think it is cost effective to invest in the hard copy of the Bible?
I have about four versions on my phone but I can’t mark on phone. The Bible is better studied with the hard copy. Presently Nigeria is number 2 Bible distributors in the world. Electronic Bible is out of market now since people now have Bibles on their phone. But it is always easier to have the print. For a long time the print will still be with us. Some people want to have that feel of carrying the Bible. I advise people to have the hard copy. My phone is so big. It is 128 gig. I have a lot of information on my phone. But then it can’t compare with having a hard copy of the Bible which you can underline and study. I think for a very long time we will still have the hard copy Bible with us. It is not going to fizzle away. I carry my phone everywhere I go in the world to do presentations and lectures but like I said there is still that affinity for the hard copy of the Bible.
So do you still travel the way you used to travel when you were GS of the BSN?
Not as much as when I was in the BSN. Then I was using one passport in one year. In 2012 I used two passports for one year. I travelled to 74 countries. But now I have had to reduce my trips. My journey is now Lagos, London and New York. I am 61 going to 62 so I need to slow down. The passport I took in 2013 lasted for five years. I think wisdom demands that one should slow down as one grows old.
But what has travelling done to you as a person?
It allows me to have a lot of respect for people. I am able to appreciate different cultures and worldview. For instance I know Asia has similarity with our culture in Africa. They also have a culture of respect for elders unlike in the US where young people can call elders by name. In France they eat bloody meal. In Congo they eat bloody meal. That is why they come down with all kinds of ailments. There are all kinds of cultural persuasions across the globe that make one appreciate the diversity of life.
To what extent has this affected your theology?
To a large extent in the sense that in the Middle East for instance, women are not counted and women are not reckoned with. But in my own culture women can amount to anything as long as they have the credentials. The culture of the Bible is the Middle East culture. Hebrew people write from right to left. For us to understand the Bible very well we must understand the cultural milieu in which it is written. The stories we read in the Bible have cultural connotation. The woman caught in adultery for instance has an accomplice in the man. But the Bible is silent about the man because of the patriarchal leaning of the Middle East. As a lawyer I see the non-prosecution of the man who committed adultery with the man as injustice.