The hypocrisy of religious leaders -By Ochei Akhigbe

Filed under: Letters |

The hypocrisy of religious leaders  -By  Ochei Akhigbe


Critics of the outspoken Pastor-politician, Rev Chris Okotie often ask: Why is he always swimming in controversy?I certainly don’t believe that the self-effacing celebrity preacher deliberately courts the limelight, but there’s no denying the fact that he boldly steps where angels fear to tread, but agree with him or not, he has become a beacon of integrity in Nigeria’spolitical landscape.

For Rev Okotie, there’s hardly a no-go area in public affairs, unless truth is not being perverted. That was why few years ago, he was the only top pastor who publicly challenged the authenticity of the ministry of T.B Joshua and his public embrace by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, even when the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) refused Joshua’s membership. Okotie’s grouse wasn’t as much as Oyakhilome’s freedom to associate with Joshua as the latter’s attempt to use Christ Embassy for ecclesiastical endorsement in the wake of the self-acclaimed prophet’s snub by mainstream Christian bodies.

Now, to the issue of the seizure of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s jet in the alleged cash for arms deal. Before Okotie’s scathing criticism of Pastor Oritsejafor, none of our respected Bishops or General Overseers spoke. Those who eventually did, queued behind Oritsejafor and his federal government defenders. But Okotie said he had to defend the image of Christianity which the jet seizure soiled, not because he nursed any personal grudge against Jonathan or Pastor Oritsejafor as believed by their apologists.

Even Rev. Okotie’s bold entry into the Presidential race in 2002, which was widely condemned by leading preachers at the time, has finally emboldened Christians to assert their constitutional rights to run for public office and be voted for. Since then, Pastor Tunde Bakare has contested as running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari; other prominent Christians are running for public office across the political spectrum.Now, there’s even talk that a Christian must be the next Lagos State governor.

Okotie’s political impact has led to a national debate about the plausibility of a Muslim- Muslim or Christian- Christian ticket in the governorship or presidential office.Largely, Okotie has sanitised CAN and the rot noticed in the activities of false prophets. He has also opened the doors for Christians who have now overcome their timidity in elective political participation.

It is quite instructive for instance that while Bishop Mike Okonkwo, Pastor E.A. Adeboye have risen in defense of Pastor Oritsejafor in the arms deal scandal, they’ve kept mum over the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s trump of Rev Okotie’s Presidential ambition by refusing to obey a court ruling which voided the Commission’s deregistration of the Fresh Democratic Party, FRESH. Even, Pastor Oritsejafor never said a word against INEC’s contempt for the rule of law in the FRESH case and that’s a man fighting for all Christians!

Turning their blind eye to the infractions in Camp Jonathan confirms the argument which FRESH and several pundits had canvassed, that they are using their religious offices as an avenue for personal benefits. It is these kinds of surreptitiousness that makes it difficult for them to challenge their allies in government, even when the polity is in the throes of socio-economic anguish.

The constitution states the criteria for political participation, and if they are desirous of ascending the political rostrum, then they should follow the laid-down format, rather than engineer a false facade of an endorsement of President Jonathan and the ruling party by the Christian community. Not even Okotie for all his assumed posturing attempted to leverage on the organisations, to fulfill his mandate, despite calls to use them as his political constituency. He rather advised that Christians should associate according to their conscience.

Even the PFN which is already positioning its political machinery does not come clean as to what side of the divide it falls. The hierarchy of the organisation is pro-PDP/Jonathan, and makes no secret of this fact. While everyman is entitled to self-expression, the problem here, as with the issues raised in Pastor Oritsejafor’s jet/arms deal scandal is that it sends a worrying signal, when viewed against the history of religious fundamentalism, mixing with polarised politics. Nigerians and Christians particularly need to know that their leaders are above board in their dealings and representation, and repose the trust placed on them, and that there is a marked difference between political deviousness and ecclesiastical duplicity.

Leadership should be based on personal integrity and the ability to deliver the yearnings of the society or organisation the leader finds him or herself in. This is one message Rev. Okotie has consistently sold, going into 2015 general elections.

Christian leaders need to understand that standing shoulders above the religious inclinations is the personality of aspirants and their integrity quotient, if what we desire is a nation where faith, responsibility, equality, security and hope are enthroned.