Wednesday 28 November 2018

The 100,000 seater church

Two things I think Nigerians hate the most, reproof and accountability. We want to do want we want to do when and how we want to do it, never mind its legality/morality or lack of it.
Granted, no one really like criticisms nor negative comments, I don’t suppose if you said you hated my brown locs, I’d respond with a smile. But these things will be said and some of them will have some truths.

Over the weekend, the church with the highest seating capacity in the world, was opened in Abuja, Nigeria. Yes, Nigeria. Interestingly, only a few months ago, Nigeria was rated as the poverty capital of the world. Nigeria, host to the largest church in the world. Nigeria, also host to the poorest people in the world. There is a likelihood that some of these poor people might have contributed to this very elaborate building; The new wave Pentecostal pastors can take your last dime from you in the name of the father. ‘What’s that you’ve got in your hands, is it your phone, is it your watch, bring it to the Lord, the Lord needs it so that he can bless you,’ they would say. And the people, semi educated, hungry and desperate for a miracle will rush to the pulpit to drop their widow’s mite.

Religion, they say is the opium of the masses. No place is this saying truer than in Nigeria. The Nigerian has got it quite bad, the leaders he voted to serve him do no such thing instead they seek to destroy him and the pastors called to feed the flock feed from the flock. Everyone takes advantage of the vulnerability of the hapless Nigerian.
While I have no problems with the message of giving, I don’t suppose that when God asked us to give to the church, the money was to be used for private jets and tall buildings particularly in a nation where many cannot afford decent meals.

The 100k church has come under a lot of criticism but many have also risen to defend it. The critics say the money could have been put to better use; build hospitals or at least donate equipment, fund schools, build welfare centres etc but the defenders say this is not the work of the job but of the Government. So what then is the work of the church if it cannot positively affect society? Are Christians not called to be the light of the world? I believe there is a correlation between the decadence in the society today and the absence of truth in the church. Heck, our thieving leaders sit in front rows in church and receive blessings from the pastor, no thanks to a very healthy tithe envelope. Our sons are not left out; when you’ve conned some white man, why don’t you bring ten percent of your earnings, after all, the Lord loves a cheerful giver. And our daughters, let’s not even go there. 

We can no longer differentiate between sinners and saints, perhaps because there are no more saints. The lines have completely blurred.
Let us remember that a church that should be preaching restitution once refused to give back tithes paid by a thief. Who remembers that story?
Let us remember also that a church was holding seminars for MMM.

People don’t always mean harm when they criticize. We must be open to it; the message of the church today leaves a lot to be desired. ‘Let’s get all we can, can all we get and sit on the can.’ What happened to helping the poor, what happened to preaching about love and kindness and holiness. Messages that would make a corrupt politician rethink his ways and a kidnapper repent but instead the church has made sinners comfortable in their sin as long as they bring their tithes and offerings. The church needs to listen and fix the holes before they become too large.

I’ll leave you with a story. I recently found that one of my coolest friends is a Cross Bearer. I’ve known him for years but never knew his faith till it came up in a recent conversation. Immediately he told me, it all made sense. He’s one of the kindest, most decent, principled beings I know. He won’t take a pin from work if he didn’t have the right to. There are not many Pentecostals that I can say that of. Sadly. Because the church is too busy building structures, it's forgotten about building character.

It’s human nature to defend ‘our’ own, love can be blinding but think about it, are Pentecostals really representing Christianity in Nigeria? When I think about early Christianity in Nigeria, I remember missionaries, I remember hospitals, I remember schools. But what do we have today? A race to build the tallest building. We now rate our faith not by fruits of the holy spirit by the seating capacity of our churches.

Recently a colleague told me about a good experience he had at a hospital run by a church, highly subsidized. I knew before he mentioned it that it wasn’t a Pentecostal church, I was right.

I’m not sure what the purpose of this 100k seater  church is but I remember Jesus asking ‘What man is there of you, if the son asks him for a loaf of bread will hand him a stone?’

The defenders of the church say the people saying the money should have been used to build hospitals should themselves build the hospitals. Perhaps they would, if the church didn’t take their money from them. The Church and the State have taken so much from the people and given so little in return.

They say that success is measured by how much good you do for others, but hey, This is Nigeria. Here, we measure it by the size of our pockets and churches, the poor can go to hell. 

Where is Nigeria's money?

This idea that most of Nigeria’s wealthy didn’t have to work for their wealth bothers me. 
That most of them simply got lucky. Who are these people? I don’t know them or maybe I don’t see them because they are not my immediate reality so when people say that there are no examples for young Nigerians to learn from because you can’t teach luck, I don’t get it. Let me give you a few examples from an industry that I am very familiar with: The entertainment Industry.

Kene Mkparu:  CEO Filmhouse Cinemas.  Kene worked at a cinema house in the UK, rising through the ranks to become a manager before returning to Nigeria to work with Genesis Deluxe cinemas. Mparu eventually set up Filmhouse Cinemas in 2012, one of the fastest growing  cinema chains in Nigeria. If there was Daddy’s money somewhere in the picture, there is no record of it. What I see is hard work, tenacity and a lot of guts. 

Jason/Mary Njoku. I think that everyone knows Jason’s story. He started from practically nothing, now Iroko is one of the biggest African brands. Mary: CEO of ROK, their sister company is one of the most hardworking women I know, combining motherhood, producing and still successfully running what may soon be the biggest production/exhibition company in Africa.

Emem Isong: I don’t have to read up about this one. I can tell you categorically that Emem started from scratch. Made her first film, Breaking Point, with a loan of less than a 100k from her parents( Did you ever pay back that money sis?) and support from Tunde Kelani. That’s it. That is what has grown to be Royal Arts Academy, your number one production company and film academy in Nigeria.  I accompanied her many times to Idumota, waded through floods to sit for hours unending waiting for marketers, now look.

Linda Ikeji. This is another one that is a bit personal. I have followed her blog from almost the beginning. I even featured her blog in my thesis. She tried modelling, ‘magazinning’ none hit but she was going somewhere. Even though blogging didn’t pay up immediately, the lady continued. I find it very laughable when people dismiss her hardwork; is it not just blogging, I’ve heard many say. You too blog nah. Like there aren’t a million blogs out there. She’s done it through sheer hard work and persistence.

Funke Akindele popularly known as Jenifa. Jenifa started as a film, became one of the most successful TV series of our times and I’m sure it won’t end there.  Funke also runs SceneoneTV, an entertainment platform showcasing movies, series and lots more. Akindele started as an actress and worked herself to the top. I’m sure she can tell you the many hitches she faced but I’m also sure you’re not really interested. All you really want is for her to star you in her films.

These are the first names that came to me. There are so many others. Everywhere you look, there are several successful business owners, people who worked their way from the ground up but in true Nigerian style we choose instead to focus on the ones whose wealth is ill-gotten.  How does that help the budding entrepreneur? You may also dismiss these ones as not matching the wealth you’re referring to but can we start with these ones first, then we can progress to the Elumelu type ones?

I think it's unfair to dismiss most of the nation’s wealth as ill or easy gotten; a way of excusing our own failures. Nigeria is extremely hard to do business in, I’ve had three of my generators pack up in one day. If I didn’t believe in witchcraft before, that day I was converted. Three! But try, we must continue to and draw inspiration from the many who have achieved successes in spite of these challenges.

Perhaps it’s the article from Paddy that has got many triggered but Paddy is minority you know. Think instead about Ebeano, Tasty Fried Chicken, Lekki Homes, So fresh, the many Alaba Merchants, the Lagos Island traders many of whom you’d be shocked at the meagre amounts they started with. There are several self made billionaires in Nigeria, they just may not be writing articles.