26 August 2008

Nigeria: Tackling Niger Delta Problem - Exploring Spiritual Option

Lagos — Since human efforts designed to solve the crisis of the Niger Delta seems to have brought no solution, all religious bodies in the region recently took the challenge to God in prayer. Agha Ibiam, who witnessed the interdenominational entreaty in Port Harcourt, writes

Just as the Psalmist, King David in the Bible lifted his eyes to the hills to seek for God's mercy when he is in troubled, so also all the churches in the oil rich Niger Delta region converged on Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State to ask for God's face over the problems that have confronted them for decades.

The non-interdenominational prayer was held at the Civic Center, Port Harcourt. The nine states which makes up the region went to the capital of the 'oil city' to fervently pray that God should intervene and take preeminence on the neglect of the region and the sudden kidnapping of people and wanton destruction of property and lives. All the states displayed their placards in identification at the event, especially during prayers.

The prayer started at about 11am and by 4pm the congregation had deposited their complaints to God. The assembly tagged, "A New Dawn in the Niger Delta," was organised by all the Churches in the Niger Delta and in partnership with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The venue was well secured as bomb squad of the Nigerian Police and other security agents kept surveillance of the place throughout the worship.

The centre was filled to capacity. A lot of worshippers also stood outside the main auditorium to commune with the most High God. Those who could not pray took time to sell some prayer materials and Bibles. However, the pray session was well attended and people left convinced that God will do immeasurably more than they had asked or imagine.

The programme was divided into three sessions. There was short exhortation, prayers of repentance and special numbers by the mass choir. Rev. Emmanuel Kure, leader of service, virtually conducted all the prayer sessions.

In his words of exhortation, the National President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, a man who has the burden of liberating the region at heart and in action said, the greatest thing that has happened in the region is the partnership between the church and NDDC.

He said other regions of the country are united by one thing or the other, but in the South-south, they are united in suffering. But he said since 80 per cent of the people in the region are Christians, according to a survey, therefore it is necessary the churches and their leaders are united in prayer.

"If the churches refuse to pray, the politicians will continue to take wrong decisions about the people. If the church has a united front, we can help solve the problems facing the region and make input in the future of our nation. The time has come to lead our people out of the problem. The politicians are not serious and they are using the boys to prolong the problems. This is the time for us to stand in the gap and pray for the deliverance of our people," Oritsejafor said.

He was optimistic that the boys in the creeks that have been christened 'militants' will have more regard and believe in the God than the politicians who use and dump them for self aggrandisement. Even at that, there is the general believe that the current neglect in the region is a product of years of organised and sustained oppression of the people whose only means of livelihood is farming and fishing, which has been taken away from them by decades of oil exploration and exploitation.

The PFN leader, during the prayer, read the Book of Luke chapter 8:43. He explained to the congregation that life is full of issues, and of course, Niger Delta is an issue. He listed the issues to mean corruption, violence, cultism, militancy amongst others.

Oritsejafor gave three spiritual implications of what issues can do to individual, groups of people, society and to nations. First, he said it takes away the identity of the people and give them names they never had. Therefore, Niger Delta has a name due to issues. Secondly, he said issue of life drain resources. The assertion, he said is happening today with the people of the region where their resources have been drained away. Thirdly, issues of life drain strength, and sometimes derail and deny people of their rights and life.

"It is important for God to touch you and also you touching God. We can liberate our people by starting a non-violent movement. Desmond Tutu did it and Martin Luther King Jr. also did it. When God touches the leaders, they will see the need to do right to the people of the Niger Delta. But it is only prayer that can do it," he said, quoting the book of Jeremiah to buttress his point.

The prayer was not observed by mere closing of eyes and shooting of words either in tongues or natural words. There was a physical display of action by using salt and anointing oil to symbolise restoration and healing of the people of the Niger Delta, according to Kure. But leaders of various churches present at the centre were called up to the stage before the anointed oil was poured on the salt.

"I called the leaders out for a purpose. It is to pray that God should forgive us our sins. President Umar Yar'Adua thought he can solve the problem of the Niger Delta, but today, he is confused. But God has solution to the problems and a better road map.

"After today, there will be a shaken in government cabinet. Also before the end of the year, there will be a sweeping away of evil in the land and God will change the season. The salt which we have prayed with, will be used by God to restore everything back to the people," Kure said prophetically.

The second prayer session was conducted by Rt. Reverend Cyril Okorocha, the Lord Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Owerri. He led the prayer of forgiveness and asked God to cause a total change in the land. According to Most Senior Evangelist Ogbonnaya Ukpabi of the Celestial Church of Christ and General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Cross River State, this gathering is something the churches have been longing for so that it could be used to fight the ills affecting the country.

God, he said is universal and there is no problem He can not solve. "We have a spiritual problem in Niger Delta and we have to pray that things will improve for better because we have been oppressed and our blessings have been taken away. Since fighting and shedding of blood can not solve the problem, the only way out is for us to pray," Ukpabi said.

Prince Alazia another participant from Yenegoa, Bayelsa State and member of the Mountain of Fire Church, said anything about God is the ultimate, and there is nothing anybody can achieve without Him. He strongly believes that the prayer offered to God, will surely liberate the people from their years of long suffering. Miss Priscilla Oriji, a former member of Assemblies of God Church said the prayer has changed her personal life. "We the people of the region should work hard to uplift the land, than destroying it. I am happy that I participated. Government needs us and they should carry us along because we put them there," she said.

The prayer was well attended by so many dignitaries. The Managing Director of NDDC, Mr. Timi Alaibe, said the need to invite God into what is happening in the region is a welcome development. He wholeheartedly said he has handed over the challenge in Niger Delta to God and to the church. Other participants include Dr. Aloysius Aguwa, representing Imo State Government, Rev. Father Mark Ikeke, represented Archbishop R. Burka, Bishop of Warri and Benin Diocese, Special Apostle B.T. Okene, CAN, Delta State and Rev. Peter Bob, OAIC, Akwa Ibom State and host of other dignitaries were also present.

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