THE news media and the social internet sites like Facebook, Twitter and several Nigeria online portals have been abuzz since Saturday, November 10, 2012, after reports that Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), had joined the rarefied ranks of Nigerian pastors who owned private jets.
It was Pastor Ayo's birthday as well as his 40th anniversary as an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, some wealthy members of the church where he serves as the Senior Pastor, Word of Life Bible Church, Warri, contributed money and bought an airplane as a gift for him.
President Goodluck Jonathan was among the several local and international dignitaries who were in Warri to rejoice with Pastor Ayo on the august occasion.
Criticisms trailing development
Expectedly, criticisms have trailed the development. Pastor-bashing is now commonplace in Nigeria, and especially on social media like Facebook, even by some who claim to be "Christians" but have no understanding whatsoever of the Bible and have no respect for spiritual authority.
Not unexpectedly, even the latter-day "social critic", good governance "crusader" and President Jonathan-basher, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, joined the bandwagon not wanting to miss an opportunity to politicise the matter. He tweeted "@afo4u: @el-rufai And the church members are wallowing in abject poverty"...irony of life, but it is CAN, PDP branch...so anything is possible.
And, in response to el Rufai's malicious tweet which went viral on the internet, some have even alleged that it was the Presidency that actually bought the private jet for Pastor Oritsejafor!!
The statement by el Rufai, a chieftain of the Congress of Progressive Change, who has been critical of the Joint Task Force for its response to Boko Haram activities in the North, underscores the manifest mischief of some who have been attacking Pastor Oritsejafor using the airplane gift as their excuse.
This is not surprising. Pastor Oritsejafor's election as the president of CAN was historic. It was the first time that someone from the Pentecostal fold would become the president of CAN. His emergence as CAN's leader also happened at a time when the terrorist jihadist group, Boko Haram, began escalating its murderous activities in the northern part of Nigeria.
And in January, 2011, just months after Pastor Oritsejafor's elevation as CAN's president, the Central Bank of Nigeria under the leadership of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, introduced its Malaysia-style Islamic Banking which Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, recently declared to be unconstitutional and illegal.
It became incumbent on Pastor Ayo to arti-culate and voice out the stance of the Nigerian Church on these two issues. And his passion and conviction in dealing with these issues have come to define public perception about him.
For many Christians, particularly in northern Nigeria, Pastor Ayo's leadership of CAN could not have been more timely.
Not one to be intimidated into silence, Pastor Ayo's forceful statements on national issues cannot be ignored. For those who would have preferred him to be sub-servient and kow-tow to the reactionary elements who, though not even of the Christian faith, had successfully influenced the actions of some of the past CAN leaders, Pastor Ayo was soon accused of "heating up the polity" even when it was clear to all that he was merely responding to the actions of those who were actually causing division, strife and the death of thousands of innocent and hapless Nigerians.
For a man known for his utmost commitment to God and the establishment of His Kingdom, hypocritical posturing and pandering to the gallery for photo opportunities to be hailed as a politically correct "pacifist" while thousands of his Christian brothers and sisters are plunged into utter misery and rendered widows, widowers or orphans was not an option.
Mallam el Rufai merely gave voice to his constituents who have been frustrated by Pastor Oritsejafor's uncompromising and principled stance on the ongoing war against the Church and Christians in Nigeria!
As far as I know, the Nigerian pastors that currently have private jets are Bishop David Oyedepo, Pastor Adejare Adeboye, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome and, of course, Pastor Oritsejafor who was given one just last Saturday by members of his congre-gation.
These men have to travel very frequently around the world ministering. RCCG has thousands of branches and millions of members on all continents of the world. Winners' Chapel and Christ Embassy equally have many international branches and hundreds of thousands of members.
Pastor Adeboye, Bishop Oyedepo and Pastor Oyakhi-lome travel thousands of kilometres monthly doing God's work and have to be in places not well-served by commercial flights. On his part, Pastor Oritsejafor travels every other day within and outside Nigeria as the president of the CAN.
I know him person-ally and can confirm that he hardly spends a full week at home in Warri because of his very busy ministry itinerary. So, for logistic reasons, having private airplanes is actually a necessity for these men of God. The private jets are imperative if they are to do the work God has committed into their hands effectively and efficiently. This is not just about luxury or status.
The Pope rarely travels more than thrice internationally in a year. Yet the Pope has a private jet. Why has nobody complained about that?!
Very few know about the social and philanthropic work which these men and thousands of others, are doing. In reality, the Church is doing more than any government, international agency or non-govern-mental organisation to fight poverty, illiteracy and diseases in Nigeria today.
The Church in Nigeria is much more effective than the government at all levels! It is not just in the habit of churches and Christian ministers to be boasting about their poverty-alleviation programmes and charity works like companies and many non-faith based NGOs love to do for public commendation and approval.
They leave God, the Rewarder, to judge what they do in the "closet" and reward their good works both here on earth and in the hereafter.
That there are some pastors who are fleecing the sheep and whose god is their bellies, does not mean all wealthy pastors are scammers. Many of them are entrepreneurial and do not even get remuneration from their churches. In fact, they are often the biggest donors/givers in their church.
Prosperity is scriptural. The worship of Mammon (money) is not. Let us not be like those "Christians" of whom Kenneth Hagin Sr. wrote in one of his books that they prayed: "Lord, please keep our pastor humble. We will keep him poor"! What was Jesus' exper-ience with matters like this? Let's see John 12:1-16.
If Jesus were alive today and a Nigerian, religiously-minded "Christians" would abuse and condemn him for not agreeing to Judas Iscariot's suggestion that the expensive perfume be sold and "given to the poor".
Some people like to point to the fact that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. But, they conveniently ignore the verses in the same chapter of the Bible (John 12 above) where we are told Mary poured perfume worth one year's wage. That is about N216,000 today if we use the minimum wage of N18,000 per month!! Designer perfumes sell for no more than N20,000 for a 100ml bottle of a high-end eau de parfum!!
The point is: "Moderation" is subjective! For example, if a person has a net-worth of say N1 billion, why would you begrudge him for having a car that costs even N50 million? Or why com-plain if he owns an air-plane that costs $5 million if he thinks his business and lifestyle demand that he owns a jet? And who says that means he cannot or does not give generously to the poor?
What then would be said about very wealthy people in the Bible whom God blessed exceedingly like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, and Solo-mon, for example? And they were men of God: Prophets and Teachers. David wrote a lot of Psalms and Solomon wrote much contained in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Solomon was so lavish in his lifestyle that the Queen of Sheba heard of his opulence and travell-ed all the way to Israel to see for herself.
So, how does one explain King Solomon's immense wealth (which God Himself gave to him) and his obscenely opulent and exotic lifestyle? In fact, Jesus even endorsed King Solomon when He said: "A greater than Solomon is here" in reference to Himself.
And, today, those of us who are truly Christ's can even exceed Solomon's wealth IF we would be Kingdom-focused and walk with God in complete obedience and holiness. Personally, I am looking forward to being a billionaire and being used by God to advance the gospel of Christ in these Last Days. Like God said in Zechariah 1:17, it is by prosperity that His cities (His Kingdom) shall be spread abroad.
Let us honour our men of God who are celebrated worldwide. If there is any veritable case of fraud or embezzlement against any clergyman, let the law take its course. To general-ise that all wealthy pastors are thieves and assume that they must be exploit-ing their church members is twisted, unjust and wicked.