church leadersABOUT this time in 2014, as political campaigns gathered momentum, activities of many church leaders became a subject of daily debate in the media. Regardless of how noble or well-meaning their motives were, insults, tirades and jibes were hauled at the pulpit officers for showing interest in the affairs of their nation. Depending on which side of the political divide the critics belonged to, barely all vocal clergymen in the country suffered one form of vitriolic attack or the other.

When the much touted “Change” government eventually took over the reins of power mid-2015, every church leader identified to have aligned with former President Goodluck Jonathan’s failed re-election bid became a subject of odium and invectives in the media. At the mention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) failure or its alleged looting spree while in power, these cassocks-wearing venerable clerics were tagged into random condemnation either as accomplices or as direct beneficiaries of the malfeasance.

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When President Muhammadu Buhari’s dragnet for alleged or perceived looters and their accomplices was launched early in his administration, not a few times had the president resisted the pressure or instigation by baleful critics and cynics for the arrest and prosecution of some Pastors believed to have been enmeshed in the corrupt latitude of Jonathan administration. Investigation in deed took place but none of the church leaders was found culpable as anticipated by the “wailers” who were waiting to see men of God in jail.

An informed source revealed that President Buhari believed that spiritual fathers and religious leaders are entitled to show interest and possibly take a stand in the political affairs of their nation. It is a known fact that Christian faith adherents, especially from the South, were a catalyst to Buhari’s victory in 2015. He has consistently been amassing millions of votes from the North since 2003 when he first threw his hat into the ring, but those tons of electoral support were a waste until he built a political fraternity with the south as midwifed by Senator Bola Tinubu. Firmly coordinated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, then a PDP member, who aided mass defection to weaken the ruling party to prove a point to his estranged “political son,” the water-tight political conspiracy ultimately ousted Jonathan out of power. In all of this, Southern Christians who will ordinarily not have anything to do with a conservative Fulani Muslim like Buhari became his campaigners and mobilisers. Many a pulpits became desecrated with political sermons in favour of the then coming “Messiah of Change” (Buhari).

Those who received underserved bashing for their leadership roles in the polity prior to 2015 polls have since joined other believers to intercede for the nation and its leadership every day. One of such Christian faith leaders is Pastor Ayodele Oritsejafor, the immediate past President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

Every November 10 is Oritsejafor’s birthday. He has a unique style of marking his day wherever he’s in Nigeria or abroad. One of the events he inculcated into his birthday celebration is to “deeply reflect on the state of our nation. I owe it a duty, not to any man or government in power but to God that called and ordained me to His service, to hold a special communion with God in thanksgiving through which I pray for peace, stability and prosperity of Nigeria on my birthday. In addition, I also reach out to my people, this has been my usual practice for years.”

In a private chat with the outspoken founder of Word of Life Bible Church in his Warri office, Oritsejafor said he’s not speaking frequently these days for two major reasons: “One, there’s a leader in place, Rev. (Dr.) Olasupo Ayokunle, is the sitting President of our umbrella body, C.A.N. He is the official mouthpiece of the Church as well as the one that interfaces with governments or non-governmental bodies in Nigeria and across the world. We are cooperating with him. Two drivers can’t control a car simultaneously. During my time, nobody was sharing the space with me. It is sheer lack of respect for constituted authorities to compete with your leader in a group you willingly subscribed to.

“Two, I do share my opinions with the leadership bodies I belong to: The C.A.N and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN. Let me correct one wrong notion out there, I still speak. The fact that I decided to stay away from the media for now for the reason I stated earlier doesn’t mean I have kept silent. Let me tell you, if I have a public function or interdenominational engagement, I will surely speak. My silence in the media has nothing to do with politics or with the people in power. I’m not a politician. I have no animosity towards anyone. I pray every day for the success of President Buhari’s administration as mandated by the Bible. If we fail to uphold those in authority in prayers, we will all be victims of their collective failure.”

As Oritsejafor quietly marks his birthday, he enjoins everyone out there to be true burden bearers of their neighbours by caring and sharing to meet the needs of others. “The poverty in Nigeria is not abating. Requests for help from family and friends on daily basis are becoming unbearable to those who share the little they have. Governance is not an easy task especially in a depleted economy like ours but measures should be put in place to cushion the effects of hunger as job creation should become a priority. I know these things because I minister to hundreds of people weekly with diverse tales of hunger, financial needs and joblessness.

“There have always been needy people in the society, it’s not new, even Jesus confirmed that ‘the poor are always available’ but the sprawling nature of economic hardship should be curtailed. The impact of poverty is being felt by everyone; like some people do say: ‘the rich also cry’.” Oritsejafor added that Nigeria is one of the most blessed nations of the world but “the bane of our development is inept leadership.” He sees it as a problem that Nigerians must determine to solve. He wouldn’t like to be dragged into discussing political matters as regards the 2019 elections as he tactfully responds: “May the will of God be done so that it can be well with our nation.”

Considering all he had endured, sacrificed and done in service to the body of Christ and the nation at large, Oritsejafor deserves appreciation as a church father, commendation as a nationalist and reverence as a priestly ‘General’ who, without combatant soldiers, defended the people of God courageously even in the face of threats to his life.

It was believed in some quarters that Oritsejafor’s support for Jonathan was “bought” but Pastor Wale Adefarasin, former General Secretary of PFN who worked with him while in office as the body’s President snapped at the statement: “Not at all. It is because you don’t know Pastor Ayo (Oritsejafor). Nobody can buy or pocket him. Tell me, with what and how much? Whoever Pastor Ayo chooses to follow or support is based on his conviction and nothing else.”

We shouldn’t wait until great men die before we celebrate them. Oritsejafor is exceptional in his dealings, leadership style, strategic thinking and priestly delivery. He’s one of the most traveled Nigerian Pastors and arguably the most connected Nigerian minister among Pentecostal and Evangelical missionaries around the world, especially in Europe and America. May he continue to age gracefully until his glorious exit to eternity to be with his Lord and Maker. Amen.

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from Tribune https://www.tribuneonlineng.com/172988/