… By Inibehe Effiong
Becoming a pastor is now the easiest way of making ends meet. Any rogue, hooligan or school drop-out can have the appellation- “man of God”, added to his or her name effortlessly. Given the very high emotional attachment and sensitivity of the average Nigerian to religion and religious leaders, writing a strongly worded opinion on the activities of supposed men of God, no matter how nefarious and despicable, is a rarity in public discourse.
However, there is a time for everything; there is a time to be reticent and a time to be vociferous. With the way Christianity is being violently raped, ridiculed and exploited for egregious ends by a section of the clergy in Akwa Ibom State shamelessly led by the now overtly partisan, highly politicised and undeniably discredited Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), one is impelled to call the bluff of those who have wilfully and serially lied in the name of God.
Dr. Cletus Bassey, the founder of Destiny Mission International Inc., who in the last couple of years has metamorphosed from Apostle, to Bishop and now Archbishop is the current Chairman of CAN in the State. He had previously served as the Chairman of the Penticostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Akwa Ibom State. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, Bassey is today an exemplar of the exploitation of religion for selfish ends.
Under the unenviable leadership of Dr. Bassey, CAN and PFN have become nothing but a willing political tool for politicians deployed for mischief and propaganda against gullible residents of the State. Other prominent Christian leaders in the State who have sold their conscience(s) to politicians are Rev. Dr. Angela Anshong (Mrs.), Bishop Isaiah Isong the Prelate of Christ Believers Assembly Inc., Bishop Josephine Eggah (Mrs.) the founder of New Birth Bible Church, Archbishop Emmanuel Udofia the archbishop of the Uyo Archdiocese of the Methodist Church, among others.
This article possibly wouldn’t have been written but not for recent provocative and nauseating activities of these political pastors which has completely exhausted my capacity to tolerate the nonsense, hypocrisy and lies of those who seek to use religion to emasculate people’s capacity to think rationally. Ordinarily, there is nothing intrinsically obnoxious in a clergy intervening in the affairs of the state when public good and the course of justice so requires. It is permissible for a clergy to offer opinion which advances the interest of the society since it could be presumed that they are speaking the mind of God.
The Bible is replete with examples of true men of God and priests who spoke bitter truth to power even at the risk of their lives. When idolatry was perverse in the land of Israel, the radical and powerful prophet, Elijah, confronted king Ahab and his wife queen Jezebel and challenged them to a battle at Mount Camel were 450 prophets of Baal were slaughtered. (Ref. 1 Kings 18:16-46). Azariah the High Priest, a courageous priest confronted King Uzziah when the king arrogantly attempted to burn incense at the temple. Instead of submitting to the Azariah’s direction, Uzziah started to rage at Azariah, immediately leprosy broke out on King Uzziah’s forehead. (Ref. 2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Prophet Jeremiah, the son Hilkiah was used by God to admonished the land of Judah to turn from their evil ways to repentance. Jeremiah spoke God’s mind with tenacity and audacity. For this, he suffered persecution including harassment, molestation, arrest and detention. Yet, he never reneged.
During the 2011 elections, Bishop Bassey and his clique of political pastors did not only openly endorse and campaign for the reelection of the immediate past governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, they went all out to spread falsehood in the name of God. It was as if the other contenders for the governorship race were atheists. Bassey took his political romance with Akpabio to a ridiculous level when on October 10, 2009 he went to Assan Ibibio, the most sacred traditional shrine of the Ibibio tribe to officiate at the paid endorsement of Godswill Akpabio for a second term by a section of Ibibio traditional rulers and people. That singular act by Bassey and his clique took away all doubts about the political inclination of this “man of God”.
Christianity has been wickedly put on trial in Akwa Ibom State for too long. It is becoming very difficult to separate the CAN/PFN from political parties. At almost all major events hosted by the government, special seats and table(s) are usually reserved for the “leaders of the Church” in the State. They wine, dine and gallivant with murderous and corrupt politicians shamelessly. When these merchants on the pulpit pray, it is not really for peace, justice and tranquillity in the State but for the continued enslavement of the people.
The marriage of convenience between CAN/PFN and politicians has been openly demonstrated over the years through regular “solemn assemblies” and “thanksgiving services” which are more or less the assemblage of terrifying hypocrites who think they can rig settled principles of Christianity in their insatiable quest to deceive gullible residents of the State into believing that their so-called leaders are spiritually attuned and God fearing. A politician rigs election and gets to power, the next thing is for him or her partner with CAN/PFN and hold a “solemn assembly” and or “thanksgiving service”. These people have wilfully refused to advert their minds to the scriptural passage that God is not mocked and that whatever a man sows is what he reaps.
Many pastors in Akwa Ibom State today are openly canvassing for support for politicians on the pulpit. These political pastors have completely ruined the sanctity of the temple of God. They are doing it shamelessly with reckless abandon. Nothing matters to them except money, money and more money. It was not that bad when Jesus Christ chased away the money changers from the Temple. The Church is now an open market where any idiot with money can go in and buy anointing, hold “thanksgiving service” and showcase stolen wealth.
Information from a reliable source indicates that Akpabio had at the twilight of his administration donated jeeps to “leaders of the Church” in appreciation for their faithful stewardship. Of course, one can hardly contest such claims given that donating cars and millions of naira to different Christian denominations was a common thing during the Akpabio era. Such Greek gifts is largely responsible for the criminal and conspiratorial silence of the Church to all the atrocities perpetuated by Akpabio and his cronies in the State.
On Sunday May 31, 2015, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, a product of fraud, rigging, blood and violence who is parading himself falsely as the “elected governor” of Akwa Ibom State held his own “thanksgiving service” to thank his god for becoming the governor of the State. He also declared three days of fasting and prayers for the State which he asked his fellow riggers, beneficiaries and supporters of electoral malfeasance to observe. I was in the State during that period and I never missed my meals, I ate very well, my family and friends also had their meals without any crude interruption. The response was the same in most parts of the State as reported by the Nigerian Pilot Newspaper of June 2, 2015. You do not ask people to fast after starving them of their constitutional right to freely elect their governor and representatives.
During the said thanksgiving service where Mr. Udom Emmanuel arrogantly declared himself as the “spiritual leader” of Akwa Ibom State, Apostle Isaiah Isong, one of the “men of God” running errands for the corrupt political class in the State during his sermon warned those that are “fighting” Udom Emmanuel, in an apparent reference to the petition filed at the Election Tribunal against the shambolic April 11, 2015 governorship election by the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Obong Umana Okon Umana, to desist or face the consequences.
To add salt to injury, the so-called religious leaders recently embarked on what could best be described as an insulting and heartless mission with the sole aim of pressuring some prominent elders in the State who they perceived are strong backers of the APC candidate, Umana Okon Umana, to withdraw their support for Mr. Umana and also pressurise him (Umana) to withdraw his petition from the Election Tribunal. The membership of the delegation which was led by Bishop Isaiah Isong included Rev. Dr. Angela Anshong, Bishop Josephine Eggah and others paid an ungodly visit to the elders, including; Dr. Okon Akpan Uko the Chairman of Ibibio Elders Forum, Obong Rita Akpan a former federal minister and Dr. Maurice Ebong the political leader of Uyo Local Government Area.
Unfortunately for the shameless delegation, they met a total brick wall as all those they visited rejected their overtures. For instance, Obong Rita Akpan bluntly told them that they were callous and insensitive for asking Umana to withdraw his petition from the Tribunal. Mrs. Akpan asked them why they never condemned the killings and massive frauds that characterised the elections in the State and whether they would have embarked on the mission if their children were among those killed during the elections? She ended by telling them that God will judge them for their actions. On his part, Dr. Maurice Ebong chased them away and denied them access to his house. The story was the same everywhere they went to.
Ostensibly angered by the outcome of their mission, one of the political pastors reportedly went diabolical by performing clandestine rituals at various road junctions in the night. Several reliable sources has it that the said clergy at each road junction broke a stick and proclaimed that the stick represents the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State and declared that the APC will break into pieces just like the broken sticks. What could be more satanic?
When Bishop Josephine Eggah for instance preaches her usual pro-government sermons at her New Birth Bible Church does she expect critics and opponents of the government in the congregation to carry their Bibles and walk away? Is it that these pro-government “men of God” only receive tithes from supporters of the government? Don’t they accept tithes from critics and members of the APC who attend their denominations? Or is CAN/PFN the propaganda and religious wing of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
Religious leaders ought to be the conscience and moral compass of the society. They are supposed to teach sound doctrines and represent the virtues of the faith they professes and not vices which endangers humanity. Instead of serving as a check to the excesses of the government and the political leaders, these spiritual leaders have sadly sided and conspired with those whose sins and evil deeds they are expected to rebuke. What a sad commentary! What a shame!
Where were these so-called religious leaders when Godswill Akpabio terrorised Akwa Ibom people for 8 years without the fear of God? Why didn’t these self – seeking pastors speak out when political assassinations was happening unabated in the State? Where was CAN and PFN when General Edet Akpan rtd. was kidnapped right inside the Church on a Sunday in the process of which worshippers were murdered? Where was Cletus Bassey, Isaiah Isong, Josephine Eggah, Angela Anshong and a host of others when on April 11, 2015 armed political thugs were deployed to truncate the right of Akwa Ibom people to freely vote for the candidates of their choice? Why are they now talking nonsense as if we are fools? Why are they so afraid of the petition at the Tribunal if indeed there was a credible, free and fair elections in the State? You do not rape a man’s wife and ask the man to clap for you.
One would have expected Bishop Cletus Bassey to be truly remorseful and repentant after the shameful humiliation he suffered at Assan Ibibio on Friday September 5, 2014 (the same place he endorsed Akpabio for a second term in 2009) during the grand reception held in honour of Obong Victor Attah, the former governor of the State, when he was booed and prevented from offering prayers by the crowd in protest against his atrocities and crass partisanship.
Instead of redeeming the State from the monstrosity of greedy, rampaging and cancerous politicians, the Church in Akwa Ibom State is in itself in need of urgent and total redemption. Christianity is now at the cross road of moral crisis induced by the dirty politics, greed and idolatry of soulless and ungodly “men of God”. It is very debasing for these religious racketeers to continue to use their advantaged position in the society to service the insatiable aspirations of the corrupt political elites.
Let me end by saying that I am not oblivious of that over exploited, over abused and over misinterpreted scriptural commandment: “touch not my anointed”, which has been wickedly and selfishly invoked by fanatics who idolise the hypocrisy of their religious leaders.
I do not know the type of anointing that the likes of Cletus Bassey, Josephine Eggah, Isaiah Isong and Angela Anshong are carrying. Neither do I know the god that anointed them. But I know the God that anointed Elijah, Azariah, Jeremiah and other great prophets in the Bible who used their anointing to liberate their societies from evil and never colluded with the oppressors of the people.
Inibehe Effiong is the Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD).
Email: [email protected]