Pastor Samuel Odunaike, one time General Overseer of Foursquare Gospel Church of Nigeria was perhaps the first pastor that will participate in politics to the point of aspiring to be president of this country. From that time till now, how will you assess the involvement of church leaders in politics?
Pastor Tunde Bakare does not mince words. He is an interviewer’s delight any day. On January 10, the duo of Gbenga Osinaike and Foluso Daudo of Church Times Nigeria was in his church to pin him to a 30-minute interview on the involvement of church leaders in politics and his own experience. His verdicts and observations are quite intriguing. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Thank you very much for that question. I happened to know Dr. Odunaike personally and I happened to be in the finance committee of his team when he was aspiring to be the president of this country. The committee included Dr. Christopher Kolade his bossom friend, an RCCG pastor and a one-time director in Mints. That goes to show the extent of my involvement during that time when he was aspiring to be president of this country under the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party before the Lord took him home.
It would appear that not so much impact has been made, especially by those who are church leaders who find themselves in politics. However pioneering efforts are like that. In 2011, years after Dr. Odunaike has gone to be with the Lord, it looks like, what is a pastor doing in politics. Then by 2015 it is fashionable. Pioneers always suffer. But we will not give up on it until Christians begin to embrace what Jesus said as he was closing the beatitude in Matt. 5 that Christians are the salt of the world and the light of the world. We will also not give up until believers begin to manifest what God had deposited in them. Romans Chapter 8 tells us that the whole earth is in the bondage of corruption. And the world is awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God.
In Genesis Chapter 6 the Bible talks about the earth being corrupt. So the antidote to corruption is the manifestation of the sons of God. When we begin to operate in every sphere of influence and we begin to extend the frontiers of the kingdom of God beyond the church then we will begin to see the impact of the church in the society.
You were involved with Pastor Odunaike. How was it like, what were the flaws of that first attempt by a clergyman of Odunaike’s status?
Dr. Samuel odunaike was a phenomenal preacher, an astute manager of resources, both human, material as well as a highly spiritual person. He took Foursquare church to a level that if subsequent pastors had built on his legacies, Foursquare would probably have had greater impact in our nation than what presently obtains. I got born again in the Baptist church. One of the leaders in the church that was also involved in politics was Dr. Akande.
And Dr. Onosode?
Deacon Gamaliel Onosode did not do much in politics. Onosode was a deacon in the church when I got born again and became a youth pastor in that church in 1980. He was a technocrat and was in business for a long time. He went into politics briefly and came out.
But you see a number of things happened that was not handled well with Dr. Odunaike. And when he was going into politics he went in as a presidential candidate in our environment here without a strong support base. But because he was a pioneer he had to do what he did. He ventured into politics and what he has done is an encouragement to a lot of church leaders who have ventured into politics after him. They don’t like this spoken, but when we get to heaven there will be surprises. I imagine in heaven and God says today he is rewarding his children and he says for all the exploits of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria and all over the world, please give this trophy to Samuel Odunaike and people will say, “What”?
How can an Odunaike get the reward for what the RCCG did. But Odunaike was the one who was preaching when the founder of the RCCG got born again.
But that is not known by many. I’m a church historian. Akindayomi was an aladura man and he was at Row Park when he gave his life to Christ in the crusade where Odunaike was preaching. I’m saying this to let you know that Odunaike’s impact was not just political but spiritual. It’s like saying for the great exploits of Pastor Adeboye, Kumuyi and Archbishop Benson Idahosa, let’s give a trophy to Pa. Elton. Pa Elton was a missionary in Nigeria. He had planted churches and in fact built hospitals. One of the hospitals he built is now a teaching hospital. But 25 years after he had done so much in Nigeria God called him one morning, and said to him “when will you start what I asked you to do in Nigeria.”
Pa Elton himself made this disclosure in 1988. I was at the forum. He said God told him he didn’t ask him to do what he had done but that he should raise leaders. And the leaders God used him to raise are the likes of Pastor E.A Adeboye, Emeka Nwankpa, W.F. Kumuyi and a host of others.
So a man’s impact and measure and contribution cannot be duly assessed by humans but by God who sent him.
But what in practical terms are the lessons from these various adventures by church leaders into politics?
I don’t think we are ready to learn any lesson. We just want to support those in politics in prayers and we are happy when they come to our church. We have forgotten that we are supposed to lead them through the part of righteousness. One of the gifts of the spirit is leadership. He who leads should lead with diligence. That is what the Bible says. When Jesus said, go ye into the world, he also implies go into every sphere of human endeavor. Christians are supposed to go into politics, business, medicine and all human endeavors to make impact using the principles of Jesus.
Let’s come home a bit. You were involved in politics in 2011 and in fact you were a running mate to General Mohammadu Buhari? How will you describe you own experience?
It is difficult for me to start talking about that now. It is like asking me to tell of a life time experience in thirty minutes. It is really difficult. But I have endeavoured to put together a book which will be presented to the public on February 4. In that book there is a chapter in it titled, The 2011 February election: The story for posterity. The book itself is called, Strategic intervention in governance. I want to make sure it’s in the hands of people within the 10 days before the election. My experience is too long an elaborate discussion for a few minutes interview.
But let me say this, I did not stumble into politics. I had played politics during my student’s days in the University of Lagos as far back as 1978 campaigning for the presidency of the students union. How many people knew the times I was going to Chief Obafemi Awolowo with the likes of Gbenga Daniel for tutelage? Many people thought I just woke up and entered politics. At the University of Lagos Otunba Gbenga Daniel and I started the Dyna Club which was the youth wing of the Unity Party of Nigeria.
We were the first to bring Chief Awolowo to UNILAG to sensitize students during his campaign and when the UPN was formally launched at Eletu Odibo, I was on the platform with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his wife and party chieftains, like chief MCK Ajuluchwiu, Herbert Ogunde, Ebenezer Babatope who became the director of publicity and a host of others.
Here we are, years after and people think I just woke up one day and joined politics. Psalm 78 tells us that David was a shepherd whom God took from the bush to come and shepherd the nation. God will not use untested vessels. You don’t just move from one place to the other because you have some change in your pocket.
Then sir, would you rather have been on the soap box campaigning for elections and vying for political positions than being on the pulpit?
Pulpit occurred only once in the Bible. It’s is wooden platform that was put on the ground for Ezra to address the people. Anything you stand on to appeal to the heart of the people is welcome by God. There is no difference. There is nothing like pulpit or soap box. Any platform that is available to appeal to the heart of the people and to impact them positively is of God. In Romans 13 Paul called Tax collectors ministers of God. He says are they not also ministers of God? The confusion in the mind of the people in the church is that priesthood has nothing to do with governance. The words used in politics today are Biblical words. The word senate means elders. The Bible records in the book of Psalm that God raised Joseph to teach the senators of Egypt wisdom. Isaiah 33v20 tells us that the Lord is our judge, lawgiver and our king. All these are attributes of God. He is the judge which is the judiciary. He is the law giver, which is the legislature and He is the King which is the executive. So the three arms of government were lifted from the book of Isaiah. That is why he says unto us a child is born but unto us a son is given and the government shall be on his shoulder. This God who is our law giver is the same God who is in us and wants to manifest these attributes through us. But unfortunately his children don’t want to go through it at all and they start praying that God should remove the wicked when they get to power. The punishment you go through if you don’t participate in bringing good men to power is that you will endure the rule of evil men. When righteous men are in authority the people rejoice but when wicked men rule, the people mourn.
In my church for example we have the senate and the church council. It is not political it is simply administrative to run the church so that it’s not a one-man show. If I drop today and I’m no more the church will continue. I only come to church on Sunday like any other person.
Since you have been in the political fray, what will be your recommendation to the church?
I do not think except God expressly orders that the role of the church or ministers of the gospel is to form political parties. Those that God used tremendously in the political arena in the Bible days did not look for power. David did not look for power until power came to him. Saul was looking for donkeys and he found the kingdom. Joseph was in prison until he was invited to rule Egypt. He did not get to become the prime minister of Egypt because he interpreted Pharaon’s dream but because of the economic blue print he gave Pharaoh on how to salvage the economy of the country. Daniel became part of the government in Babylon because of the spirit of excellence that was found in him. John 4 tells us that God is sending us to reap where we do not bestow labour. I think God in His wisdom will give us training here and there and will look for the right time for us to manifest that what he has bestowed upon us.
When they needed me they will looked for me. And that is what happened in 2011. I was just doing what God put in my heart and General Buhari said he wanted me to be his running mate and I said no. The first person I called was Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu I told him I was not interested in the offer of Buhari but that he should help me prevail on Osinbajo to take the offer. I also discussed with Niyi Adebayo who was my colleague in UNILAG and also a BOT member of Congress for Political Change, Ife Oyedele.
I spoke with Pastor Enoch Adeboye and asked him to speak with Oby Ezekwiesiele to take the offer. But the attempts to get these people failed. That was why I took up the challenge. Now four years after, we have this scenario. The same Osinbajo that I recommended is now the running mate of General Buhari. The difference between history and prophesy is the difference between foresight and hindsight. I was not looking for power, I already had power because the Bible says, you will have power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.
I did not ask President Jonathan to send for me but I have sat with him on a number of occasions and I have counseled him on what to do several times. We must position ourselves in such a way that when opportunity meets preparation there will be breakthrough. We are not training our people in that line but we are training them in tithe and offering and make them to always look up to us. We are not really equipping ourselves. Daniel purposed he will not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat but he had a company of people with him. Never go into politics as a lone ranger. You must have people that are backing you up in prayers else you will be standing on banana peel. The situation in the church is that the support base is weak. I learnt that much in 2011. But my joy is that we went into politics and came back and nobody can trace any scandal to us because God has given us the grace to know how to maintain contact without being contaminated.
You were involved in the national conference and have related so well with President Goodluck Jonathan. Today, some Nigerians are saying he has not lived up to expectations. He is being criticized for not performing.
What in your candid view of his person and his tenure?
History will always repeat itself. What did people not say about Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when he was president? We called him all manners of names and criticized his government. So the criticism of Jonathan is not new. This Day Newspapers today (January 10) talks about this. Those who don’t learn from history will repeat history.
Was Jonathan looking for power? Did he tell anybody he wanted to be a deputy governor? And he has been in power since 1999. That is why he can’t afford to be afraid now. When people criticize his government he should just bring facts to confront his accusers. I don’t care what people call me. If you call me a bastard and I’m not a bastard you are just wasting your time. How do you know a crooked rod from a straight rod, put the crooked by the straight. If people say he has not performed he should come out and give facts and statistics of what he has done. That is a honourable way of doing things. And in areas he has not performed he should tell them these are the reasons I have not performed. When we say Jonathan has not performed we should not start from the surface. It is deeper than that. Amunku eru e wo oni oke lenwo ewo isale (a cripple carries a load and those who see him are saying the load is not standing straight on his head and he says to you, you are looking at the load and not paying attention his legs) I believe Obasanjo packaged the sick and the weak and imposed it on Jonathan because he could not get a third term. But I believe nobody gets to power without God ordaining it.
Many people in the church criticized you for running with Buhari because it was believed he was a fundamentalists. What do you think now?
Very good. It was easy for church people to say do not support Tunde Bakare because he was with Buhari a fundamentalist who was supporting Boko Haram. But that was not true because I found that out for myself that Buhari is not a fundamentalist as people would want to paint him. People say I was too controversial. But now, an Osinbajo is running mate to the same person, has Buhari changed?
Many church leaders who supported Jonathan then and got tax wavers and other largess are they now going to withdraw their support from him and say we are giving it to our tinwa tinwa? (our own person since Osinbajo is involved) That is the problem of double standard. If you are digging a hole for a man make it shallow, you may end up in it.
But why are we like this in the church?
We have separated heaven from the earth, we have separated spirituality from reality. We are heaven bound but earthly irrelevant. I gave a simple example in church, one person to be praying and the other shopping. And I asked the congregation who is spiritual among the two and they say the person praying because the person shopping is buying material things. And I say okay let’s open the content of what the person shopping was buying and we found out that person shopping was buying things to go and give to the poor. Prayer is good but it is not only prayer that makes you spiritual. Every act of kindness which you exhibit to promote God’s kingdom and to impact lives has heaven’s approval.
The son of God became the son of man so that the children of men will become sons of God. We have to be heaven bound but earthly relevant. I got born again over 40 years ago and I have seen a lot in the church there is too much hyprocrisy in the church. We say one thing and mean another. I will not judge anybody because every church leader and people who profess to be God’s servant are accountable to God. But I think we have to begin to accept responsibility that our job is to disciple nations and also ask God how he wants us to go about it.
Jesus told Pilate his kingdom was not of the world because he does not use force in His kingdom. When he rose from the dead the Bible records that the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord.
Finally, because we realized that our 30 minutes is up though we would have loved to ask more questions. You were a Muslim and got born again. The pain in the neck of the country today is the tireless onslaught from Boko Haram. How best do you think the problem can be approached?
At the national conference I presented a paper on that. I have sat with the president and those who are in the military to share experiences and give advice on what to do. All those things will be made public when I come out with my book on February 4. (interview was conducted on January 10) But we must appreciate that where there is no error there will be no terror. I ask people If the agenda of Boko Haram is to islamise Nigeria why do they burn mosques also?. We sometimes get angry for nothing. Eve took of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and gave her husband and humanity is in a mess. Sarah gave her husband the fruit too when she asked him to sleep with her maid. Her maid gave birth to Ishmael who was the first child named from heaven. The angel said, you shall call his name Ishmael and he will be a wild man and He will dwell in the midst of his brethren. I will stop it there. When the time comes we will decode it. But let the terrorist know that no part of the country has monopoly of terror. Now it seems to me that those in the north are using terrorism to agitate for power. The South South youths did that and are being given amnesty and sent abroad for training.