Source: thewillnigeria.com

Nicholas Ibekwe, a journalist with an Abuja-based online newspaper, Premium Times, recently alleged that the clerical point man of The Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN), T.B. Joshua, gave journalists hush money, commonly known as 'brown envelope.' According to him, it was a ploy of spin control, which undermines journalistic obligation of disseminating objective information and the public's need to know. Hence, he refused to accept the inducement.

Soon after the audio recording of the saga was released on Twitter, it went viral. Expectedly, T.B. Joshua's vast network of allies and sympathisers unleashed their arsenal of psychological warfare against Nicholas Ibekwe. They failed to ask if it is ethical for a religious leader to give brown envelope. Or, if journalists could collect money from news sources, yet, avoid conflict of interest and maintain credibility. Sadly, they did not make intelligent efforts to refute Ibekwe's claim with facts. Most of the reactions suggest that in religious issues, passion frequently trumps reason.

Again, the reactions were a sordid dramatisation of an erroneous perception: It is a point of honour to condone the misdemeanours of religious leaders. Exposing them is treacherous. This thinking is hinged on a misunderstanding of the scriptural injunction, 'touch not my anointed.' In fact, some Christians equate polite, nonjudgmental comments about clerical malfeasances with 'the unpardonable sin.' They think it is a taboo to lovingly admonish religious leaders via news media. Refusal to keep mute when a religious charlatan behaves badly makes one an anti-Christ, enemy of the church, and accuser of the brethren. This ought not to be. We should expect and demand accountability from leaders. Otherwise, it would create room for the spirit of lawlessness to rule.

In our beloved nation, it is easy to bury scandal. It is easy to transform villains to men of honour. The axiom, 'you cannot carve an image from a rotten wood' seems counterfactual. Very often, the embodiments of depravity are portrayed in public as champions of ethics. Surprisingly, the positive portrayals are mostly done by men of power and pen who are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of edifying society's conscience. It is hardly done by their uncritical fandom.

Brown envelope is now a critical determinant of newsworthiness. It is one of the downsides of the commercialisation of news. The need to inform the public is not accorded due priority compared with the need to make profit. Poorly paid journalists are likely to put self-interest above public interest. They are likely to compromise the news principles of accuracy, fairness, objectivity and timeliness when news sources induce them.

If the alleged giving of brown envelope by T. B. Joshua is true, it would be right to say, he does not subscribe to the high ethical principles of the ex-Anglican primate, late Abiodun Adetiloye. Reports have it that some journalists once interviewed the late Archbishop at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, on a range of topical national issues. At the end, the journalists requested for brown envelope. He blatantly refused to give them. Consequently, the interview was not published, even though, he made newsworthy comments.

The spirit of investigative journalism is stifled where brown envelope syndrome rules. Brown envelope is a muffler of vital voices. It triggers half-hearted commitment to factual information dissemination. It is near impossible for a journalist to join the crusade against injustice and corruption, if he is a collector of hush money. Instead of being a watchdog, he would be a pet dog on the laps of people of affluence and influence, and thereby, lend support to the reign of impunity.

The church and the media are vital institutions that should promote principled living, stem decadence, and guide government along ethical paths of sustainable and inclusive growth. When their operators are allegedly enmeshed in corrupt practices, they cannot perform these roles. Their commitment to the uplift of humanity will begin to wane.

The above partly explains why the Nigerian church is not a potent force in the war against corruption. Again, there are few genuine pastors and too many self-serving church operators. Self-enrichment by bewitchment is their true mission statement. Twisted truth is their stock-in-trade and instrument of control. On the other hand, true pastors inspire people to follow their lead by harnessing the transformational power of love to create a better world for mankind.

The subtext of the messages of a church operator that bewitches his followers with the splendour of material opulence would most likely be: 'Get rich or die trying.' If you fail to experience 'financial breakthrough,' his explanation would be, 'you have not given your Isaac.'

Wealth-amassing church operators are the exact opposite of genuine pastors. They are everything a good pastor is not. A good pastor is committed to strengthening the ethical basis of people-centred progress, while religious entrepreneurs exploit ethical loopholes in society for their private gains. Church operators have no qualms giving brown envelope, if it will conceal facts and burnish their image.

Religious entrepreneurs lack functional understanding of the culture-transforming mandate of the church. Hence, they hardly play transformational roles in society, state and government. Rather, they collect money from government functionaries. Thereafter, fight shamelessly over how it will be shared. A good example is Governor Kayode Fayemi's five million naira donation to a church, which virtually led to its split. It is worth repeating: Transforming culture is a core task of the 21st century church, not filling stadia, consorting with men of power, creating star systems, or fighting over money.

A church that fails to rise beyond the extant culture of its environment will be loved by power-mongers, miracle and fun seekers; because, it does not disturb the status quo. Such a church at best will function like a refrigerator that preserves perishables; instead of an incubator where culture-changing leaders are developed and released to uplift humanity to higher spheres of meaning.

Obviously, many churches fit into the refrigerator model as they strive to outdo each other in the art of whitewashing the decadent rich. Religious leaders are now the finest image-makers of pilferers of public treasuries. Thanksgiving services are often organised to enhance the political capital of integrity-deficient rulers. Televised prayer meetings are held to put seals of divine endorsement on the ambitions of political rascals.

If the devil could run for an elective office in Nigeria, church operators would unhesitatingly anoint him as the people's messiah, and give brown envelope to their allies in the media to do the same.

It is said that the battle for Nigeria's independence was fought and won on the pages of newspapers. Given the predominance of brown envelope syndrome, we cannot optimistically say that Nigeria's war against corruption will be fought and won on the pages of newspaper. It is difficult to say it will be fought and won on the pulpit, simply because, many religious leaders are enmeshed in corruption.

If Nigeria will take her due place of glory in the comity of nations, church operators and media practitioners must leave the league of ethically compromised fortune hunters, and awaken to their social responsibilities of humanising savage politicians, edifying the public mind, fighting corruption and promoting equity, fairness and justice, which are the lifeblood of peaceful and prosperous coexistence.

Written by Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi.

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