4 December 2012

Nigeria: Nkoyo Rapu's - Common Ground in the Law and Church

A lawyer, Nkoyo Rapu's strong calling and passion for education and development motivated her to establish the Bethesda Child Support Agency, a not-for-profit organisation currently running four schools in extremely poor neighbourhoods of Lagos, with over 600 students on scholarships. She was also involved in the setting up of some model private academic institutions, including Redeemers International Primary School and Redeemers International secondary school, Lagos having served as the chairperson of the founding Board of both schools.

Pastor Nkoyo Rapu also serves on the Board of Elders of The House of Freedom an evangelical movement with four main expressions: The God Bless Nigeria Church, The Water Brook Church, The Underground Church and This Present House.

She is also a Consulting Partner at Gbenga Biobaku & Co, a law firm.

Her office at The Dome, where This Present House is located and where this interview took place, is an eye-catching edifice in Lekki Peninsula, Lagos.

A mother of three and lover of the home, Nkoyo finds pleasure in the arts and expresses this passion through writing, gardening and painting. Her latest work 'The Gilded Cage' is the first of her Lifestyle Books Series.

Born of a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, she is married to Tony Rapu, a medical doctor and Senior Pastor at This Present House and they have three children.

Nkoyo Rapu - Lawyer, Pastor, Educationist, Author, Poet, Counsellor, Encourager, Wife, Mother and much more.

Yinka Olatunbosun and Kunle Ogunfuyi had an engaging session with her recently...

From Court to Church...

Her warm smile is as infectious as her strong beliefs. Sharply dressed, as any self-respecting lawyer should be, Pastor Nkoyo Rapu explained how she began a career that has broadened beyond the scope of the courtroom.

'I was called to the bar in 1983. I practiced from 1983 to 1990. I did more of solicitor's work but I remember way back when I was carrying out my primary assignment at the National Youth Service Corp Legal Aid, I represented a man who allegedly committed murder. Then, I was in Port Harcourt.

'You see, my father was a judge as far back as 1958, long before the civil war, and I had the benefit of his tutoring even though he had retired during my NYSC.

'For me it was interesting because there I was working as a Youth Corp member and somebody's life was about to be determined by my contribution. I left before the matter came to a conclusive end as the case kept dragging on and on.'

If anyone thinks that becoming a pastor is a hindrance to her legal practice, then it is a wrong assumption because she found common ground in both fields of endeavour.

'I don't think I had much of a choice. I think it's the way God comes up and arrests you because you were created and designed to function in a particular calling. I don't think my pastoral work as you call it limits what I am able to do as a lawyer; I don't see both as separate. I think the Christian pulpit is your work place and vice versa.

'In other words, to take the light of the Gospel and shine everywhere you go. There really should not be a dichotomy between your profession and the pastoral work. You should be upright in everything you do. That's what it means to be Christian'.

Relishing Reading...

In this electronic age, Mrs. Rapu is one of the few people who still love to read at least one book in a week, in spite of her busy schedule. Still, she does not judge others by her standards and this is evident in the volume, content and use of language in her books.

'I believe in reading. What is happening now is that people are reading but in a different way. A lot of young people are reading but electronically. But I still feel that there are people like me who want to read a book.

'I still love to write letters. Some people see that as archaic. But there's something nice about getting a parcel and there is a card in it. I believe that you can speak a message and also write it and transfer it by electronic mail.

'Having 'The Gilded Cage' in book form is a starting point. I have people asking, "Why don't you put it in electronic form?" so at the click of the button it is everywhere. That's the way technology is heading and one needs to adapt to suit current inventions. But I read and that may have been because of my legal background.

'I think that there is something soothing about sitting down and reading a book. When you look at The Gilded Cage, it carries a lot of my personality. It is done with a lot of landscape pictures. A book is like a companion that soothes you along the way. The aim is that as you sit down and look at the book you also draw some sort of inspiration.'

The Gilded Cage...

At first glance, the 85-page book is an inspirational book that anyone would find appealing for good reasons. One is that it addresses existential questions of life, death and faith in the existence of God. Another is that it unravels the mystery of unanswered prayers.

This amiable lawyer explains what motivated her to write the book asides her personal drive.

'I have worked as a pastor for 24 years and I have found out that sometimes, there is a gap between what we preach in Church and what people apply to their personal lives. You cannot do it all at a Sunday morning service; and then in counselling people, I have come to realise that there is a disconnection between what they hear and what they practice.

'The Gilded Cage is the first in the series of Lifestyle guide books I intend to write. It is to take what I'll call the fundamental principles of the Gospel and simplify them such that anyone can pick it up and say now, I know what to do. It is written in a very simple, easy to read format. I tried to minimise the use of lengthy words or lengthen the book unnecessarily such that you can take it and in sitting down at your leisure you can look through it and say I got your point.

'In that book, I addressed the mystery of unanswered prayers. A lot of people have a problem with "I pray so much and then calamity strikes". You'll hear, "I prayed so much and they all died in a plane crash."

'In the book I related a personal experience of losing a very good friend in a plane crash - another Pastor - and my crisis of Faith. How could God have let this happen? Why would bad things happen to good people? But you know the wonderful thing about God is get to that point, he will give you answers.

'What I felt was the resultant effect of my search for answers make up part of what I put in that book. When I came out of that trauma one of the things that made sense to me was that God is sovereign. It may not sound right nor would you want to accommodate that school of thought but He's got the power to do anything that He wants to do.

'It is that sovereignty that makes us long for him. He can do something but will He? That causes a lot of us to fall by the wayside in our Christian growth because we can't handle that. But the more you come to know about God, the more you more you realise that you don't know Him'.

In The Gilded Cage, the author relates the Biblical stories of Leah, Hagar, Abraham and other biblical figures in a vivid, practical manner that draws a parallel between these and modern-day examples of men and women of faith, as found in personal experiences of people known to the author.

She explained the reasons for this artistic style of narration and why the Bible is the cited authority.

'You cannot separate the Bible from our everyday life. The Bible was written as a guide book for our everyday lives. It's like having a manual, like a Constitution. Every country has to have a set of rules that codify what the country does or a set of rules that guide the regulatory process of such country.

'How do you function? What are the terms and conditions? What are the limitations? What are the rights? That's what the Bible is.

'You can't function without referring to your Constitution. What I have done in that book is to take the Constitution for daily living, which is the Bible, and try to help people see that the way we live and the outworking of our lives is no different from the stories in the Bible. Those stories are not fictional because the characters lived and their lives were directed by the Bible.

'You see, people don't have a lot of patience to read through voluminous content and I also want the young people to be able to read. It cuts across the age barrier. I don't think it is a good culture for young people not to have the presence of mind and the discipline to want to sit down and read a book.

'Even electronically, some would not read it; they would rather be on their Facebook and Twitter! You cannot advance in research and knowledge if you don't read. I had to find a middle ground - write a book and make it easy to read.'

A special feature of The Gilded Cage is the use of beautiful landscape pictures is a calculated attempt to create a relaxed ambience in the reader's psyche.

She spoke on the sources of the pictures, having being quizzed on why none was taken in Nigeria.

'I love to paint and I love pictures. I may have chosen to study Law because I found it a good foundation for the multi-faceted ways I like to express myself and I am glad I picked the profession because in a lot of what I do, Law has been a good foundational degree for me.

'I paint, I write songs, I write poetry and now books. The writing of books is a natural flow from everything else I do. I sat down and tried to write a conventional book but it wasn't just going to work! There was no stimulation for that.

'But the moment I got the pictures I was ready to write the book! The pictures were actually taken by a young man - Mike Woolman, who was acknowledged in the book - in New Mexico in United States of America. This is simply because a friend went to New Mexico and told me how incredible the landscape there is. I followed through until I found the young man who lives in New Mexico who had magnificent pictures of nature. Nature is soothing and it speaks of the wonders of creation and I hope it will stimulate people those who read the book.

'I thought about Nigeria when the idea of landscape came up. You see, you don't appreciate what is all around you and we do have beautiful sceneries. One of the places where I have taken pictures is the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan and I was so inspired by the landscape that I wrote a poem by just staring at a tree.

'Another place where I found good landscape was in Ghana and I took pictures of women in their fish market in Elmina. I hope that in the following series, we should be able to showcase our landscape and much beauty around Nigeria.'

The Lawyer as Song Writer...

Nkoyo Rapu's crisis of faith which followed the death of her friend and co-pastor in the November 7, 1996 ADC plane crash bore good fruits in that it inspired her to write several songs. Five of these songs have been recorded to make an album titled, 'Oh Lord God of Israel'.

In her introductory notes she recalled the self-examination and meditations that led to the creative effort while in a deep state of discouragement.

'Was God angry at us? Our theology had not prepared us for this and I was too perplexed to pray. Then one morning, as I sat in my study trying to make sense of the events, the words and tunes of this song came to me with a sensation that felt like a warm soothing oil. I erupted in singing.'

Busy but Focused...

The excuse of insufficient time has been tenable for ages until writers who had busy itineraries broke the time barrier and their works now grace the shelves of many book stores. Mrs. Rapu may just be one of those writers because she has to run a family, a Church, a parent NGO and a law firm as an off-counsel at Gbenga Biobaku & Co.

'I think a lot of women out there and men, but maybe more women, have to juggle a lot of responsibilities. I think it comes also as a gift that women are endowed to be able to multi-task

'You find a woman will have food on the table, children's homework, talking to the driver and many other things.

'The challenge there is that sometimes the average woman does not stop and take care of herself or notice that her body is not coping well with various functions.

'We tend to be auto-pilots and that is not very good. I have found that the wisdom to be able to juggle these tasks truly comes from God. You have to be terming what your priority is on the scale of 1 to 10. What really is your priority? Is it your marriage, the Church, work, children?

'Primarily I think that it is your relationship with God, then your home, and then the Church. Not the Church before the home because if the home is dysfunctional everything else is none existing, If your home is dysfunctional, then you are not functioning right. What I have been able to do over the years is to locate what my priority is and everything else follows.'

Unlike some who hold revered positions in religious organisations Nkoyo Rapu has an approachable stance without any perceivable air of superiority. She would not even want to appropriate the word 'successful' in describing herself.

'You have to be very careful when you are representing God as it were before the people and as one who speaks on behalf of the people to God, in other words as a shepherd over them. It is a privileged position and it carries a sacred responsibility.

'I have to use the word "successful" very carefully because it is God who ultimately determines how successful a servant of His is and I think that is a very humbling position. I'd like to leave the issue of whether or not I am successful to God to decide.

'I'd say it's a sacred responsibility not because I deserve to be where I am but rather because God chooses people. That is also a humbling thing; I have tried to be conscious of it and it has shaped the way I relate to people.

'I like to bridge the gap between clergy and laity so that people do not become so distant because if they are, you can't really know what their challenges are. I try not to carry myself (as a pastor) as I function. I try as much as possible to interact with people normally but then that does not diminish the privilege of your calling or the sanctity of your calling. I believe that if Jesus was on the earth it will be difficult to distinguish him.'

On Social Media and Societal Values...

When asked to comment on the recent story of the 24-year old lady, Cynthia Okwusogu, who met some friends on one of the popular social networking media, Facebook who led her to an untimely death, Mrs. Rapu in an emotionally laden voice lamented the decline in the socio-cultural values that existed in the past, when one looked out for the other's interest

'We have so many challenges that face us as a nation and the bedrock of every society is the family. I sympathise with the family of the young lady, but it is just one of many that we deal with on a daily basis.

'Our challenges as a nation are multi-faceted. It's going to take collective effort and the will power and determination of the people to want tackle these problems.

'You can see that the tone of my voice changed because it is something that weighs heavily on my mind. How do you begin to address a problem like that? Is it through the law?

'The problem we have is not lack of law but the lack of enforcement. It is also that justice does not come readily when the wrong is done, so people take justice into their own hands. You go to the courtroom and it takes so long for the case to be dealt with from the beginning to the end. That is very frustrating.

'There is the law and the procedures, but we live in a society where it seems like people can get away with anything they do with such impunity, without any regard for law and justice. Where do you begin?

'Going back to the case of the young lady, women have to be more alert as mothers. A mother to me is not someone who has biological children. In those days when we were growing up, everybody took responsibility for every other child you met on the road.

'Yesterday I was driving in an estate and I saw two little boys. One was probably 10 years old and the other, 5. They just crossed the road before me and I had to stop. There was a guard sitting a few yards away but it didn't occur to him to ask what they were doing crossing the road at that time.

'Where were the parents and the grownups in the house? Who was monitoring those children? I stopped and the guard asked if there was a problem. I said that I wanted to know where those children were coming from and where they were going.

'A teenage boy about 18 years later came out and said the children stepped out to view the waters. I thought that was dangerous. It shows you how the society functions now and what it was like when I was growing up.

'People took personal responsibility to follow up on children. But when you even tell people to do that they will say that they don't want to get into trouble with the parents of those children because they are not sure that they would get the backing for the discipline that they are trying to instill.'

Changing Lives...

Though resident in a high brow part of Lagos, Mrs. Rapu is very aware of the dangers of being unperturbed by the conditions of the poor and the threat that some of them may pose if they choose to resort to any means, especially violent ones, to survive.

Besides that, she has encountered many less priviledged children with talents and skills that can be converted to wealth creation. Her Foundation, Freedom Foundation, has spearheaded numerous projects that empower youths who desire to have better lives through formal and non-formal education.

'We have a foundation in the Church here, called the Freedom Foundation. This Foundation is the legal framework through which we do charitable work because we believe strongly that the Church is the solution to social maladies that we see and the Church has a pivotal role to play in shaping the society.

'We are supposed to be the salt of the earth and you know salt is a preservative. It means that is the beacon that preserves the values in the society and that is why I am so personally involved with children such that I even stop on the major roads sometimes to talk to children.

'The Foundation is made up of three major arms namely rehabilitation, empowerment and education.

'Rehabilitation involves taking drug addicts off the streets, going into the dens of Lagos where a normal person would not want to tread.

'We also take prostitutes off the street and we put them in Genesis House at Surulere. It is an opportunity for a new beginning and we have another shelter called the House of Refuge.

'I coordinate the educational aspect called the Bethesda school. Bethesda is opening its fourth school at Ijaiye-Ojokoro. The first time I went there I got caught up in traffic between the police and Area Boys right in the middle of a shooting!

'Frightened as I was, I was not going to be deterred. The vision of setting up the school is to go to very poor neighbourhoods. In Ikota, there are 164 children.

'The schools stand out of the congested and extremely poor neighbourhoods.

'We started in 2004 and that was our pilot project. We have about 660 children on scholarship on that scheme.

'The major donors are from the Church. The beneficiaries of the scheme enjoy industrial attachment at various organisations once they complete their secondary school education.

'Some will learn vocational skills which include furniture making. Some donors still continue to sponsor their wards up to University level. But for the others, they can work and save up for their university education and may be able to solicit for funding from those they have worked with.

'I am also letting the children see that paper qualification is not necessarily their meal ticket but that vocational skills training can help them in learning a vocation quick enough to make money. The Foundation has a micro finance institution called the King Solomon's Fund.

'When they go through the rehabilitation and vocational training school we can train them to develop business plans to raise some money to set up their own business. Mind you, sometimes all these people need is just N50,000 that is well utilised, to set up their own enterprise. We have had some of them go through Tara Make-Up School.

'I also encourage them to take up skills that do not required electricity. Some are going to learn how to make bouquets, as florists. Some will learn to be photographers. Some learn to be make-up artists.

'The people who donate also include Nigerians in the Diaspora. They may organise a Gala night or a Charity Ball and then raise money for us'.

Church and Corruption...

Mrs. Rapu tactically looked at the controversial question of the Church's role in ridding the society of corruption. Some opinion writers have frowned on the silence of many respected religious leaders who may have seeming affiliations with some public office holders who had been accused and found guilty of corruption. She examined the issue from her Christian point of view.

'Conviction is stronger than condemnation. Conviction is what searches deep inside your soul and brings you to your knees, that makes you realise how far you have fallen from the privilege position that God placed you in.

'When you are down there, you say woe is me, I need the mercy of God! That is very powerful because when you get to that point and you rise it should be extremely difficult to go back to your vomit.

'But condemnation is where you feel that you cannot ever repair the situation. Conviction brings you to the place of repentance to bring godly change from the inside out and make your wrongdoing repulsive to you and that brings lasting change. Please understand that I am not dealing with the subject of legal procedure and the due sanction for wrongdoing'.


Prior to The Gilded Cage, Mrs. Rapu had published 'Golden Whispers - A book of Tributes' in commemoration of her fiftieth birthday. The book is a compilation of comments from family, friends and poems that are socio-economic in nature.

Notable personalities such as Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN, Yewande Zaccheaus, Deola Bali and many more paid tribute to this dynamic woman whose talents are boundless.

Nkoyo Rapu is indeed a 24-hour mother whose motherly instincts could not help but pack some biscuits for the THISDAY LAWYER team on the 'legal grounds' that the snacks would come in handy in the traffic that they were likely to face on their way back to the newsroom.

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