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Founder of the Household of God Church and presidential candidate of the recently deregistered Fresh Democratic Party (FDP), Rev. Chris Okotie, invited SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, Hazeez Balogun, to his Lagos home for an interview recently and spoke on issues including politics, music, church and marriage.
How would you react to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s recent deregistration your party, FRESH?
First, we believe that this is a conspiracy between the ruling party and the INEC. It is unconstitutional and repugnant to the spirit of the constitution and it is an attempt by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to erase the voice of the opposition. It is also a ploy for the ruling party to perpetuate itself in power for as long as it can. We believe that the right thing to do is to go to court and expect the judiciary as the last bastion of our political and democratic experiment to remedy the situation and erase the aberration from our political landscape.
Will you join another party if at the end the party stands deregistered?
It is too early to say anything on that. What INEC has done is a frustration of the whole democratic process. If it is not arrested it is the beginning of what I call a medieval autocracy. This is how Hitler began. We need to, by any means possible, stop this move by INEC. I am very confident that what INEC has done will be reversed by the judiciary. That is why I said it is too early to talk about that now.
Before last year’s elections you asked Nigerians to vote President Goodluck Jonathan out of power, do you have a different view of him now?
With all due respect, I speak within the context of conventional propriety. He, as a Nigerian, has been given a great opportunity even though many of us say it is a great mistake and I still believe that. Look at the country; we are neither here nor there. It is the same story of corruption and stagnation. I still believe that Jonathan is a great mistake. I know that the elections were tampered with. He is the President today and I know that history will judge him based on what he does and what he does not do. I believe that, so far, he has done nothing beyond our expectations.
You and Tunde Bakare have a lot in common as men of the cloth who believe in Nigeria and also seek political positions. Do you think he is a man you can work with politically and should more religious leaders take part in politics?
I think Pastor Tunde Bakare has made a commitment to this country by all what he has done and I will be willing to work with him or anyone who has displayed same patriotic spirit. I may not agree with his political party and what they represent but, as an individual, he has demonstrated his own commitment to Nigeria. The Bible says that righteousness exalts a nation and sin is a reproach to a people. If Nigeria is going to change, there must be a paradigm shift; there must be a generational change. When I talk about generation, I am not talking about biological age bracket, but philosophy. The word generation comes from the word genes, and the capacity of an individual is contained within his genes. The genes that the PDP exhibits today have a pathological dysfunction within its protoplasm and therefore cannot take Nigeria beyond where it is today; we are just going through a vicious circle. I represent that generation that is waiting to take Nigeria to the next level and that is why we are not joining the PDP. The future does not belong to PDP and that is why people like me must wait for our time. A revolution is in the offing.
You went into music after obtaining a law degree
Actually, I was still studying law while I was into music. Before I finished schooling I had left music.
With a law degree in view, why did you go into music especially in those days when musicians were not really learned?
It was the music culture at the time. It exhibited a certain level of violence and irresponsibility. It created an atmosphere that did not go down well with parents and some music lovers. That changed when I was on the scene because people saw someone who was aspiring to be a lawyer and could sing very well. That was why my song was more acceptable. People listened more, not just to the music but also to what I had to say. When I began to speak and was able to articulate my thoughts, people were like this is new.
Was music financially rewarding?
It was good. We did not have the economic problems we have today. In fact, at that time, I was the highest paid musician in my genre. The whole country then was more united. You are accepted whether you come from the East, North or West as long as you are good. Music had a unifying power. Today, it is different because we do not have big companies that represent artistes. All we have are label owners. No company has branches across the country anymore. They really survive more now on endorsements.
When did you get the call to become a pastor?
Jesus appeared to me when I was three years old. My father then was a teacher in Uyo. I was a little boy then and really did not understand what it meant but I would tell everyone that I was a child of God. I had to accept Jesus completely when I was at the age of accountability. I did that when I was on campus in 1983. Then I did not know that I was going to be a minister. It was when I was in law school one morning when God spoke to me about going abroad. That was when I went to Oklahoma to study pastoring.
When people say that God speaks to them, is it that they hear his voice or He appears to them?
The first thing you have to ask yourself is that do you believe that God exists. Do you believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and you believe that they are persons? If they are persons then they can speak. He created the whole world when He spoke. It depends on what He wants to communicate. Sometimes He speaks to you through scriptures; sometimes through healings and prophesies; sometimes He speaks to you Himself and sometimes He sends an angel to speak with you like He sent to Mary.
After a life as a musician before going to study to be a pastor, how was it like when you began your ministry?
First, I was worried that I would not be taken seriously after my antecedent as a musician. I thought people would not consider what I was doing as a serious spiritual endeavour, but I was wrong. When I started ministering and I extrapolated from the scripture people started listening. We started very small. In fact, we started from my sitting room as a gathering point. Little by little we started to grow. That is how the work of God is. Like a seed we started to germinate and grow and today He has prospered the work.
It must have been challenging
Yes, there were organisational structures. I discovered that there are so many practices within the body of Christ that was unscriptural. I spoke up and said this is not the biblical position. It became very controversial. People thought that I was being overzealous. Some thought that I was presumptuous, but eventually they went back to the scriptures and found out that I was right.
Churches are becoming big businesses today and many pastors are living large while their followers are languishing in poverty. Some even fly private jets
Let me put it this way, every minister of God is entitled to what God provides. It is not the congregation that provides; it is God. God can use the congregation or whoever. So, if the Lord makes provisions for that (private jet) then such a person has no reason to decline. I do not know what is going on in any ministry, but I will say that anything that we own must be scripturally based. Prosperity is a part of the gospel and not the entire gospel. It is a means to an end and not an end by itself. Your congregation is your first priority. When you walk into our auditorium, you will see that I care about my congregation. The facilities we have there you will not find anywhere else. Go to our children’s church or our nursery, you will see the facilities there are first-class. You would think the children there are those of multi-millionaires. You have to take care of the congregation first and foremost before anything else. When we first began, I did not have what I have today. Before I became prosperous, God had to test me to see if I will take care of my congregation. That is why you will see that we had air conditioning in the children’s department even when we just began. We also made sure that the church had property. We have landed properties and things like that. We believe in ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and every other thing will be added unto you’. That is what I can say about my own ministry. We also cater for the poor.
If provided, would you own a private jet?
If it is necessary, why would I not? Right now, I do not need a private jet. I do not do the kind of job that requires a private jet. I do not have branches all around the country where I have to fly back and forth. I do not need it. It is not just about having a private jet; it is also very difficult to maintain. So, if a minister has the resources to do it, that is between him and God who provided it for him. It is really not my business. The most important thing is are you feeding the flock? Are you there as a pastor to teach? Does the spirit of God trust you to take care of the flock? These are the questions I ask myself even before I buy a car. Something must be clearly understood; prosperity is of God. It is not God’s desire that we are poor. Jesus became poor so that we can be rich.
Do you agree that some church leaders are getting rich at the expense of their followers?
I do not know. You need to supply me with empirical information to prove that. What I know is that there are many people who pose as Christians whereas they are not. I have challenged some of them in the past. They call themselves pastors and prophets. They do not belong to the flock of God. These are the ones we should be worried about because they are not Christians. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They claim to be children of the almighty God; you know those ones because I have dealt with them in the past. These are the ones who are involved in money laundering and behaviour that the church is being criticised for. It is not everybody who says I am a pastor that is a true pastor.
Large churches tend to own schools and universities; are we to see Household of God University soon?
It is possible. It depends on how the spirit directs. The church is the work of God; it is the vineyard of the almighty God. He determines what to do. Should Churches own universities? I say yes of course. It is part of the teachings. We must prepare this generation spirit, soul and body. If you remember in the past, churches owned schools. It is a step in the right direction. The moral rearmament of those times was stronger than what it is today. I will encourage churches to start schools and universities.
Are we to witness your third marriage?
I do not want to talk about that at this time. Spiritual matters cannot be understood by carnal minds. There are mysteries involved in the workings of a spiritual person. It is hard to be understood by minds that have not been elevated to such lofty heights. When we get to that bridge we will cross it.
Will it not be difficult for married couples in your church to approach you for counselling on marriage issues?
No. Those who spoke more about marriage issues in the Bible were not married. The revelation concerning marriage was given to us by Saint Paul who was a single man. Even Jesus spoke about marriage and he was not married. It is not the experience that teaches you what marriage is; it is the word of God. As long as you present the revelation of the word to your congregation and they apply it, then they will succeed. With the covenant that God has with man, God is stable; it is man who is not. If you notice, God brought Adam and Eve together in the Garden of Eden; they failed God, and God did not fail them. So, when people come together, they fail each other. If they do not subscribe to the word of God that marriage will not succeed. So, if there is an adherence to the word of God, the marriage will succeed. When you see that a marriage does not succeed, you should know that there must be a departure from the word of God.
You are a man of style; your hair and your suits always stand out.
Being a recording artiste sharpened my taste. I am more fashion conscious. I do not want to call myself a fashionista because that may sound cliché. I have good taste. The suit I wore recently on Sunday came off the runway from Dolce and Gabana’s new collection. When you look at the Bible, God was very particular about the apparel of the priesthood. I like good clothes and maybe it has to do with my orientation. Fashion has a way of giving you confidence.
It is said that when going to Household of God Church, you go with your Bible and your dictionary. You surely have a passion for fancy words.
It is called grandiloquence. Some people have said that I have elevated diction. Truly, I use that just to get attention. Coming from my background some people thought that I did not have the intellectual capacity to do the job of a minister where you convey deep spiritual truth to people. When I was in school, I just love that elevated diction. It became a part of my communication. I read a joke recently about Patrick Obahiagbon and I trading words. It was all made up, but was very funny. Each man has his own style. Communication is very personal and you choose how you want to communicate. When I am speaking with ‘the press I speak with the same level of grandiloquence. I am from Delta. Pidgin English is our lingua franca. When I am at home I speak our language.
You have also established the Karis award, how do you pick awardees and winners?
We have a department in the church called the Benevolence Department; it handles the selection. We have nominations from all over the country and we investigate who deserves it.
Will you be contesting in the presidential election in 2015?
That is if Nigeria survives till then. If you look at the trajectory of our development you will see that a nation moving on this part cannot survive. That is why the United States made a prediction that by 2015 or thereabout Nigeria would have become a failed state and disintegrate. That is because they see the part that we are toeing. The part that the PDP has mapped out can only lead to destruction. I believe people who say that there will be a revolution. If Nigeria is still here I will definitely contest. But I believe that there is going to be a new Nigeria. There is going to be a kind of revolution that will bring Nigeria to a place of awakening or renaissance of some sort.
When you say revolution, do you consider that in this part of the world, when there are uprisings, usually, the military takes over? What exactly do you picture as a revolution?
I do not know the form that it will take, but what I know is that it is not possible for Nigeria to carry on this way. The present government can only take us to the edge of the precipice. God dismantles every form of oppression, and I know that He is watching over Nigeria and He is going to dismantle all these juggernauts that believe that they own this country. This elitist philosophy of the PDP with which they have repressed Nigerian people will come to an end. How it is going to happen I do not know, but I know that something is going to happen that will remove from our consciousness, the nightmare that we have suffered as a result of irresponsible governance.
A lot of things are wrong with the country, if you indeed become the president, what will you do to bring immediate changes?
There is no difference between Nigeria and other African countries. The problem is PDP. If they go, things will change.