The excitement on the campus of West Africa Theological Seminary, Ipaja, Lagos that Wednesday, January 19 was palpable. It was the day the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Dr. Samson Ayokunle came visiting.
He did not only visit the campus, he came to deliver an incisive lecture that took about 45 minutes. Representatives from the local chapter of CAN and leaders of the Baptist Conferences in Lagos were around to welcome him. The entire staff and students of the foremost non-denominational theological institution were also on the ground.
WATS, Nigeria’s foremost non-denominational seminary
The provost of the school, Pastor Oluwafemi Martins could not hide his joy while introducing the CAN president. He spoke glowingly of him recalling his candour and carriage since he met him.
Earlier the chairman of the Governing Council of the school, Dr. Emmanuel Oluwayemi expressed deep pleasure at the presence of the CAN president. He said the school was witnessing for the first time in its 20 years of being in Lagos the visit of a CAN president.
Dr Oluwayemi also hinted how pastors from the Baptists Church dominate the student population of WATS urging the CAN president who just completed his term as the President of the Baptist Convention to use his influence to garner support for the school.
Certainly, the WATS community did not take the president’s visit for granted. Pastor Martins seized the opportunity of his visit to intimate him of the school’s milestones.
He said WATS is undoubtedly the only seminary that can boast of students from all denominations in Nigeria. The school according to him has churned out thousands of graduates who are doing great in various walks of life.
Ironically, the school is not funded by any church directly. “We have so far depended on friends and donors,” he said, regretting however that “many have withdrawn funding support as a result of the global pandemic and the paucity of funds”
He reasoned that a monthly subvention from denominations would go a long way to put the school which was founded by Dr. Gary Maxey, an American missionary on a sure footing.
CAN president’s lecture
The CAN President was to deliver a lecture titled, “Seminaries, Church and State: In Search of Christ-Centred Leadership”
He however first paid homage to the founders of the WATS describing the decision to start the school as a bold step. Generation yet unborn according to him “will come to drink from the pool of knowledge in the school.”
He took time to hint his listeners of some of the progress made by CAN since he came on board. “If it were not for CAN Christians in Nigeria would have been more subjugated than we are now.” he said, adding also that “Nigerian Christians in the diaspora are asking for a feel of CAN.”
In his lecture, he underscored the importance of purposeful leadership while also giving suggestions on how the seminary can help build credible leaders in society.
Ayokunle who is also Co-Chairman, Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) observed that the challenge Nigeria is facing is a product of bad leadership.
Leadership failure and Insecurity
He said the leadership failure is responsible for the insecurity and economic pains the nation is passing through.
He recalled his encounter with daredevil robbers on his way to the airport in Ilorin in 2012 and how God miraculously saved him and all those in the vehicle despite the rain of bullets on their vehicle by the armed robbers.
The CAN president enthused, “Some people have referred to Nigeria as a failed state.’ Without sentiment, it may be right to call us a failed state. However, with optimism and determination from all Nigerians to rise above our present situation, I believe that Nigeria wouldn’t be a failed state eventually but rather ‘a state in the making, a state in progress.’
“It is not over until it is over. We shall not give up hoping and working towards positive change in Nigeria as long as the Lord grants us our beings. With determination from all of us to let the change we are expecting in Nigeria begin with us, we shall very soon see a new and better Nigeria which would be a land of prosperity for everyone.”
Seminary graduates as Christ ambassadors
According to him, all those who pass through seminaries are expected to be good ambassadors for Christ.
“Their sense of righteousness must rub on what they do and those they come across. These seminary graduates may be in the church or outside the church. In whatever assignment or profession they may find themselves, they are expected to manifest Christ’s lifestyle of integrity and godliness. They must be agents of positive change.” he said.
While noting that no nation can rise above the quality of its leaders, he said, “God has tremendously blessed this nation more than any other nation in Africa. We have the highest concentration of black people all over the world in Nigeria. This on one hand makes available to us abundant human resources which if rightly employed through effective leadership can make us one of the most developed nations in the world.”
Nigeria greatly endowed
He observed also that Nigeria is endowed with enormous natural resources and cheap labour which could be harnessed with purposeful leadership.
Ayokunle lamented the endemic nature of corruption in the country especially among politicians and civil servants.
“The civil service cannot be exempted from corruption. They are even almost worse than their brother politicians in terms of corruption. If you have anything to do in any government ministry today, you would understand better what I am saying. Unless you are ready to play ball, you will be frustrated and unable to get what you need from the government office.”
He stated that “the state of leadership failure in our nation is unimaginable and shocking. It is equally embarrassing and shameful to those of us who know that we have the potential to do far better than what we are doing. Nigerians go abroad and excel! Why can’t they do so in Nigeria?
Why we are concerned
“Our situation is a great concern to the church and of course, the seminaries because some if not many of the people in politics or the civil service are our members. If we had taught them the right thing if we had lived exemplary lives, why should our members fail to be Christ’s ambassadors in the market place? Why can’t they shine as light in the world?”
He also bemoaned the state of corruption in the church. He said from experience, many church leaders have sold their souls to mammon “The world has entered the church and both members and leaders of the church are no longer living as saints in the world.
“The love of money, in particular, has removed worth from some, if not many of the servants of God. Some can be bought over with any amount. Today, eternity is not in the heart of some leaders of the church who incidentally were products of the seminaries or one Bible School or the other.” he lamented.
He observed that some church leaders have started going around praying for a certain presidential aspirant all because of the lure for filthy lucre.
How the church and seminaries can change the narrative
For Nigeria to experience Christ centred leadership, Ayokunle said “the church and the seminaries must appraise what they had been doing and the method they were adopting and be ready to change some things that are not working well so that those who get to leadership from the church and seminaries might be Christ-centred in all they do.”
According to him, the “product of any company at any time can never be better than the wisdom of the producer. That is, the value of the product is limited by the wisdom of the person that produced it.”
He also suggested that there must be a process of monitoring seminary graduates with a view of making them accountable to the church and seminaries one way or the other.
“The seminary, in particular, must be able to withdraw the certificate of any of their old students who is not doing well in leadership or bring such person back for a refresher course.
“The seminary assessment of the seminarians must not emphasize rote learning or academic brilliance alone but rather put equal emphasis or more emphasis on character.”
Be the change you want
Dr. Ayokunle called on Christian leaders to be the change they want to see. “If we leaders live right, it makes it more convenient for us to monitor and discipline those who are not living right. Our leadership by example would additionally make it difficult for our followers to live anyhow. No matter how bad, some of our followers would like to live like us.”
Christians and politics
He however did not end his delivery without urging Christians to participate in politics.
According to him, the nation is where it is today because many Christians have refused to participate in politics. “The truth is that politicians will only give positions to those who are active among them. If there are no Christians participating right from the grassroots in the activities of a party, there is no way the party will give positions to them.”
He recalled an incident in one of the states where some Christians alleged they were being marginalised.
“I had to step into the matter. I went to meet the governor and tabled the complaint to him. He called for a meeting and he asked the Christians who brought the complaint how many of them were card-carrying members of any party. Nobody raised his hands. At that point, there was nothing I could say. That goes to show that we are not participating. The only way we can be relevant is to participate from the grassroots.”
Go and Vote
He said further, “we must be directly involved. For us to vote, we must register. We must not only register but go to vote on the day of the election. Refusal to go and vote is a disservice to yourself which one may live to regret for long. Remember that development in any society has to be driven by its leadership.
“It is after you have registered as a member of a political party and you are a card-carrying member that you can contest for a political office or occupy a political office. I urge you whom God has called into politics to make yourself available by contesting for offices. The Christian Association of Nigeria would pray for you and give you all the supports within us for you to succeed.”
While commending the innovation of the card reader, he said, “One of the things that I think must be resolved quickly to enhance the credibility of the 2023 election is the electoral act. The legislative and executive arms of government must resolve their differences on this so that we might have an election that would reflect more the wish of the people.”
Leadership, not bread and butter
The CAN president observed that leadership is not bread and butter. He urged his listeners not to seek leadership roles if God has not called them. He however said “It is only Christ-Centred leadership that can give our nation the expected future. It is only in Christ that all things consist. Nigerians need to deliberately vote God-fearing people into power, not the money-bags who have an insatiable appetite for acquisition of more money.”
He explained further that the “way to the choice of right leaders, is in the seminaries raising the right leaders through training and discipleship. It is in the church teaching the word of God without an iota of compromise. It is in both the church and the seminary leadership and of course, all Christians deciding to live exemplary life wherever they found themselves”
Ayokunle urged Christians to offer themselves to contest for political offices in order to make a difference for Christ and our fellow citizens.