The Role Of The Church In Nation Building By Obiageli Oby Ezekwesili
I am delighted at the privilege of being asked by the leadership of FOURSQUARE Church to deliver this Diamond Lecture in celebration of sixtieth year of the Church in Nigeria. Let me specially thank Reverend Felix Meduoye, The General Overseer of FOURSQUARE for the honour he bestows on me whenever he asks me to speak to his congregation of fellow believers in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Please accept my congratulations for the Diamond celebration which is happening under your inspiring and visionary leadership. I wish to also thank a dear brother, Femi Adesina who pressed on until my very swampy schedule opened up to enable me fulfil the promise I made several months ago when I could not be with you at a similar event in Lagos. Speaker of our House of Representatives- Honourable Yakubu Dogara, delighted to have you chair this event. Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thanks for being here today to listen to this lecture.
The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, commonly referred to as the Foursquare Church, is a Pentecostal denomination founded in 1923 by one of the historically outstanding female preachers — Aimee Semple McPherson in Los Angeles, United States of America. She it was who described the basis for the naming of the Church from the revelation of Prophet Ezekiel as recorded in the Bible depicting the four faces of God that he ( the prophet) had seen. Pastor Aimee McPherson elaborated this even further stating that the four faces “were like the four phases of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the face of the man, she saw Jesus our Saviour. In the face of the lion, she saw Jesus the mighty Baptiser with the Holy Spirit and fire. In the face of the ox, she saw Jesus the Great Burden-Bearer, who took our infirmities and carried our sicknesses. In the face of the eagle, she saw Jesus the Coming King, who will return in power and victory for the church. It was a perfect, complete Gospel. It was a Gospel that faces squarely in every direction; it was the “Foursquare Gospel.”
The church propounds that its call is to preach Jesus Christ, God's Son, as The Savior, The Baptizer, The Healer and The Coming King. In so doing, it seeks to glorify God, advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus as it undertakes His Great Commission of preaching the gospel and making disciples of all nations. Over the ninety two years of existence, the Four Square has experienced successions which has helped with its growth into a world wide church. Today, the Foursquare Church has more than 1,700 U.S. churches and more than 66,000 churches globally and meeting places in 140 countries and territories.
Nigeria is one of those several countries in which FourSquare has flourished since the Reverend and Mrs. Harold Curtis first brought the message of Four Square to our country in 1955 to three founding members Reverend James Boyejo, Rev. Samuel Olusegun Odunaike and Rev. Friday Chinyere Osuwa. The year of the inauguration of the first FourSquare Church is remarkable seeing that it was just five years before Nigeria gained her independence. The Nigerian branch of the Church has since spread in prolific growth not just across the entire country but also across the continent of Africa. The FourSquare Church is according to data considered one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.
BIBLICAL CONTEXT FOR CHURCH.
The Bible documents the spoken words of God to His people, written to shape the sacred beliefs of those who were first called Christians because their observers declared that “they had been with Christ” as they scrutinised their conducts in the city of Antioch. So, it is natural for most people to assume that Church when defined as “organised gathering of people as a group and under some clear leadership” is a phenomenon only of the New Testament. The reality however, is that the Church evolved from the Old Testament into the New Testament in the form we know it today. It can be said that Church started in the Garden of Eden where God used to come down to fellowship with the first man that He had created- Adam; but that 'gathering' was interrupted by sin. The fall of Adam and Eve, aborted the awesome plan of God for humanity as expressed in Genesis. God subsequently made several other provisions, ranging from Noah to Abraham, to Joseph, to Moses, to Joshua, to Deborah, to Eli, to Samuel, to Elijah, Elisha and several other priests and prophets that were to “gather” God's people regularly in harmonious fellowship with Him.
The New Testament church as recorded in Acts2 started at the Pentecost in the Upper Room led by the twelve Apostles of Christ and the many other believers in His teachings who gathered in fellowship after His death and resurrection aptly captures this classic definition of the Church in its characteristic attributes. Acts 2:42-47 records:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The definition of Church as an “assembled group of people who met regularly under an organised leadership” places the emphasis on the human beings and why they gather much more than the building in which they do so. It is perhaps for this reason that Apostle Paul counsels the Hebrews to “not forsake the assembly of the brethren” making it all about relationship rather than a visit to a location. It is the people in fellowship with God and among themselves more than where they gather that makes a gathering of faithful followers of Christ, a Church of the modern ages. The Early Church of the Acts of Apostles still remains the model by which any gathering of people as Church is measured in terms of their relationship with God and with fellow believers.
When we read and observe the journey of the children of Israel as the ” The Old Testament Church” making their way to the the Promise Land, we are awed at the similarity their gathering has with the New Testament church. Reviewing both the old and New testaments of the Bible to understand the concept of Church better, one cannot but remember the roles of certain prophets of God as they led the children of God to the land of promise. The priests and the prophets who ministered in the temple were no different from our Pastors in churches today with a congregation of human beings that are no different from the flawed men and women of that era; who were beneficiaries of God's grace.
In effect, church may have evolved from Old Testament tents of meeting, to temples and synagogues into the Upper House, peoples' houses and then elegant church buildings; but the unchanging Owner of the Purpose of every gathering of His people remains steadfast in what He wants from His people. Even as they journeyed through the wilderness as His “…… treasured possession out of all the peoples” what He expected was that they “. . . shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” With the favoured admission of those who were formerly Gentiles through redemptive grace of Christ, Apostle Peter still declares in striking continuity in the New Testament: ” But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” The people of God are created to be exemplary to all others. Simple.
In the Old Testament, Micah 6: 8 the prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you?” And answers, “To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” Apostle Paul speaks similarly in the New Testament in Ephesians 4: 1 says “To the church at Ephesus Paul writes, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling.” Whatever may be the purpose that the people of God gather; if they be followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ; who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit; there is but one common denominator for both the Old Testament and the New Testament congregations. It is Holiness. There cannot be a “gathering” or “fellowship” of the people of God with God, without Holiness. In Leviticus 19v1-2, He repeated that same charge of Holiness which He had made to Abraham when He promised to make him “blessed to be a blessing” in Genesis. Without Holiness, God cannot be in the midst of those who have gathered to qualify it for His own definition of the Church that “the gate of hell cannot prevail against”.
The manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament Church differentiates it from the Old Testament church. The Spirit of God brought great liberty to the individual who having confessed Jesus Christ as Lord is spoken of our Lord as “being greater than the Great John the Baptist even if such a one were the least in the kingdom. The importance of this is best appreciated as one reads the assessment that God made of the Churches in Revelations2-3 where it is the Spirit of God that is expressly talking to the Church via the revelation experience of John the Beloved an Apostle of Christ. This is unlike in the days of old when God would speak to the Prophet or Priest who would in turn carry the message to the rest of the people.
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH IN NIGERIA
History records that the Church in Nigeria is some 172 years old having started with the Catholic priests who were part of the Portuguese trade incursion into the coastlands of Nigeria. It was only after some hiatus, that there was the arrival of a more sustained missionary exploits of the Methodist Missionary Society in 1842 pioneered by the works of Thomas Birch Freeman. The Christian Missionary Society followed suit later that same year with the visit of Henry Townsend from Sierra Leone. Some years later the Catholic Irish missionaries arrived and much later down the line, Nigerians saw the emergence of indigenous churches that interpreted the Christian experience to have local relevance. Churches such as the Aladura movement in Western Nigeria, the Apostolic movement, the Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal movements were founded and thus the Church in Nigeria was fully formed as an organizational concept coincident with the era of independence. For example, the Redeemed Christian Church of God a mission in which my husband and I have the privilege of having joined in the early 90s from our Anglican/Catholic backgrounds, is an indigenous Pentecostal/Evangelical church founded by Pa. Josiah Akindayomi sixty three years ago.
Each denomination of the Church in Nigeria flourished in numerical growth and in an environment of relative religious freedom and constitutionally guaranteed secularity of governance, they individually carried on with their respective missions without the need for any structured collective structure. However, when during the military rule of General Ibrahim Babaginda, the Church in Nigeria collectively felt the threat resulting from that government signing up Nigeria as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries they came together under the umbrella of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in 1976. Today, CAN is constituted by Churches under five groupings that are the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, The Christian Council of Nigeria, the Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria/Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, the Organisation of African Independent Churches and Tarrayar Ekelesioyoyin Kristi. The Christian Association of Nigeria enunciates the following objectives: to serve as a basis of [action for] the unity of the Church, especially as [intended] in our Lord's pastoral prayer: 'That they all may be one'to act as a liaison committee, by means of which its member churches can consult together and, when necessary, make common statements and take common action to be a watch-dog of the spiritual and moral welfare [of] the nation to propagate the Gospel to promote understanding among the various people and strata of society in Nigeria.
A critical analysis of the role that the Church has played in the nation along the lines of living up to its objectives of Unity of faith and collective action; its spiritual and moral watchdog of the nation objective; its promotion of understanding and peaceful relationship objective; is highly recommended for not just CAN but for all church leaders and their denominations. Any such objective assessment will reveal the deficit in acting to realize these lofty vision of CAN. Whereas it has done relatively well in some aspects of its vision, the association of Christians has a long journey to being the mega rallying point of Christians as the light of the Nigerian society that we are called to be.
WHAT IS NATION BUILDING?
Nation building in its simple definition refers to the use of the power of the state to construct or structure a national identity. Nation building is especially used in relation to countries in Africa and Central Europe where territorial habitation of people forces disparate nationalities to belong to a country and yet feel no common sense of shared identity among themselves. So, in basic terms, one could say that nation building aims to unify diverse people of ethnic, religious and other pluralities who have found themselves living together in a globally recognised entity known as a United Nations member country. The process of attempting to unify the diverse nationalities within a territorial construction to make it politically stable and viable, is something that would resonate for all Nigerians-North, South, East and West- seeing how so much it describes our story in the 101 years of amalgamation and 54 years of independence of our country.
“Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years, Nigeria has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent Sovereign nation. Words cannot adequately express my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept from Her Royal Highness these Constitutional Instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria's Independence. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember forever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country. This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now, we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations.”
These were the very gushing and giddy words of the first Prime Minister of Nigeria Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on October 1, 1960.
Sadly, the reality of our trajectory as a country is that we never transited from country to nation contrary to the poetic declarations of our first leader. To call a spade a spade, our nation building process has been extremely dismal in outcome and so fifty four years after, we are at the Diamond event of FourSquare Church which is five years older than independent Nigeria; still discussing matters of “Nation Building.” Our Founding Nationalists, simply equated our becoming a country with attaining nationhood. Our founding leaders forgot that a State- i.e. A country- is not always a Nation . True, Nigeria became a self-governing political entity that negotiated a federal structure in cognizance of the near autonomy of each of its constituent ethnic nationalities. The painful fact however is that our independent Nigeria does not yet act like a Nation after five decades. The inability to achieve the consensus necessary for nation building has robbed us of the fundamentals of shared identity, vision and values known as “nation formations”. Research proves that these fundamentals are what have helped other countries in similar circumstances as Nigeria to transit into the more progressive concept of “State Building”. It is after Nation Building that the phase of State Building which focuses on the building of the social, human and physical infrastructure as well as the critical institutions can commence on a solid foundation. It is State Building that progresses a territory of unified people to citizens of economically, socially and politically viable nation-state through what is known as a “Capable State”.
Countries with multiple divides do not just melt into one happy union. It requires deliberation and intentionality for diverse people with divergent interests, threats, opportunities and strengths to forge a common and shared framework for lasting unity of purpose. In some of the instances where this has happened either through wars and or dialogues/negotiations or their combination , it had required the elite of such countries to lead the rest of the people in a deliberative process of nation building. Nation building agenda envisions the forging of a common identity that all have resolved that they will defend at all time with clear mechanisms for conflict resolution. For countries like South Africa and more recently, the people- led constitutional process were their pathway. It is the visionary power of the elite to move a people of diversity beyond the lowest common denominator of mere citizens of one country into a nation of people. It is what makes the United States to stand out as a model multi-cultural society. Hence, even “with its multicultural society, the United States is also referred to as a nation-state because of the shared American “culture.”
Some people may of course dismiss this crave for evolution from country into a nation and say it does not matter. For those ones, I recall the wise words Carolyn Stephenson, who is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. She could have premised her thesis specially for Nigeria. Professor Stephenson states that “ Nation-building matters to intractable conflict because of the theory that a strong state is necessary in order to provide security and that the building of an integrated national community is important in the building of a state, and that there may be social and economic prerequisites or co-requisites to the building of an integrated national community” Simply put, if a people of diversity in a country truly wish to succeed, they must forge a shared identity, vision and values to realise their goal of building a strong, secure and viable nation- state.
THE PAST, THE PRESENT OF THE CHURCH IN NIGERIA AND THE NIGERIAN CONDITION. CAN THE CHURCH IN BECOME THE CATALYST FOR A NEW NIGERIA?
That failure to immediately use the early days of independence to commence the nation building process is what I consider the biggest missed opportunity in the history of Nigeria. So, it was not surprising that shortly after the novelty of our political independence wore off, the troubling underbelly of our nascent 1959/60 democracy was revealed in the rather prescient reading of the situation at that time by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States its memorandum of 1966. CIA wrote thus: “Africa's most populous country (population estimated at 48 million) is in the throes of a highly complex internal crisis rooted in its artificial origin as a British dependency containing over 250 diverse and often antagonistic tribal groups. The present crisis started” with Nigerian independence in 1960, but the federated parliament hid “serious internal strains. It has been in an acute stage since last January when a military coup d'état destroyed the constitutional regime bequeathed by the British and upset the underlying tribal and regional power relationships. At stake now are the most fundamental questions which can be raised about a country, beginning with whether it will survive as a single viable entity. The situation is uncertain, with Nigeria,……is sliding downhill faster and faster, with less and less chance for unity and stability. Unless present army leaders and contending tribal elements soon reach agreement on a new basis for association and take some effective measures to halt a seriously deteriorating security situation, there will be increasing internal turmoil, possibly including civil war”.
The question anyone of reading this should ask in the context of our topic is, “where was the Church in Nigeria at the time these lethal strains that became entrenched even up until today, were brewing? How could the Church have been irrelevant in the foundational work of unifying diverse aspirations by woefully failing to influence the individual actors of that era considering that many of them wore and do in fact continue to wear their ecclesiastic garment as boldly as they wore and wear their ethnic cleavage? Even if the other end of the dialogue was the mostly Muslim North, could there not have been a way that the church could have helped to prevent the needless deaths that started and degenerated into a pogrom, claiming the largest number of our people?”
In a similar situation in Rwanda, the Church has had to face the scrutiny on its failings or complicity in the genocide that almost wiped out an entire ethnic race. I do not recall that the Church in Nigeria has reviewed or been compelled to review its role in the 60s multiple tragedies of our country. The satanic seed of deep ethnic distrust, mistrust and hostility were sown unchallenged in that era. It pervades the Nigerian society today engulfing all generations in their relationships and explains why other ethnic groups often withhold empathy from any other of the groups which is faced with challenges at any given time.
Nigerians engage in what I call “equal opportunity suffering”. Not having received empathy in their time of pain, they see no reason to empathize when it is the “turn” of another ethnic group to suffer their “own pain”. Nothing is more revealing of the absence of the spirit of nationhood as this inability to rise beyond ethnic trenches and show humanness to another group, regardless of past hurts. What one has known from advocating for our abducted 219 Chibok School girls and the North East more broadly, reveals extremely deep divides that should not exist where the Church in Nigeria living up to its Reconciliatory role. Unfortunately, the Church is very woven into the fabric of inter and intra ethnic conflicts. Such conflicts have become very common within the Christian fold in Nigeria, thereby robbing it of the moral pedestal it must have in order to play the role of reconciliation in a country where conflicts easily erupt and escalate unnecessarily.
I dare say that our protracted failure to build a nation out of a country is what changed the course of Nigeria's history and squandered the huge benefit that empirical research shows is possible for diverse societies. That our political elite could not speedily and “sincerely act” on the lofty ideals espoused in their nationalist struggle when they successfully united against a common “enemy” and brought us our independence, is the reason our language remains divisive, churlishly clannish and religiously irredentist. Rather, our political elite turned their backs on the supposed “independent sovereign nation” and resorted to lethal ethnicity. Worse, they hid under their fiery brand of ethnic and religious politics to paradoxically unite in offering a toxic variant of leadership that is mostly devoid of altruism. Now, what remains of leadership if it is lacking in sacrifice?
Rather than thread a collective path toward nation building, what Nigerians know as the prevalent character of the political elite class across board is that they frequently push the country to a precipitous slide that has become the lot of Nigeria since independence. It was within this context of elite failure that the 1966 military coup struck and unleashed a huge canvass of governance instability epitomised by long period of military adventurism in governance, that abated only recently in 1999 with the coming on of the fourth Republic. It is only in the last sixteen years that our fifty four year old country finally got the longest season of the sins qua non democratic context that helps a people to negotiate their differences through freedoms of discourse, disagreement, dialogue and principled negotiation. The question however is, will our country ever seize the opportunity for such and achieve triumph through the pain and discomfort of the nation birthing process?
There is an incentive for us to push ourselves toward this painful choice. Not having deliberately engaged the best medium for shaping our consensus around a shared national identity, shared vision and shared values we continue to struggle. Even in the last sixteen years of the latest cycle of being a Democracy, Nigeria stays struggling to commence sensible and sustained “State Building” process. I mean, how can you possibly commence the structure of a house without laying the strong foundation required by engineering standards? That is precisely what we as Nigerians have been doing in “pretending to build a capable state” when basic nation building remains an unfinished business.
The unfinished business of nation building has created room for the wily elite class to cleverly capture what passes for the “State” and push the larger population of the excluded who dot the entire landscape of Nigeria to the fringes of the benefits of governance. Such elite capture and “pocketization” of the “pseudo state” is exemplified by the governance failures of the past fifty four years that has engaged academic researchers around the world. Nearly all of Nigeria's problem is traceable to poor governance and its more manifest symptom of cancerous corruption. Corruption is empirically proven to be the greatest obstacle to Nigeria's development. Grand corruption which is the variant popularized by the elite of our society created the current endemic and systemic corruption. That in turn, has produced the most unacceptable levels of poverty in a country that evoked great expectation at the time of independence. Today, poorer segment of citizens all over the country, who find themselves caught in the corruption-poverty-corruption trap are angry at the “crumbling state” that has failed to provide them the most basic services that people of other nations enjoy. Hence, regardless of what part of the country they come from, what language they speak, what culture they practice, what religion they believe, Nigerian citizens are gradually realizing that the ethnic jingoism of our elite may after all be purely self serving.
Over the years, the depth of poor governance and corruption by the political class and their private sector collaborators and to a lesser extent the acquiescing religious elite has worsened the cynicism, pessimism and skepticism of citizens leading to huge erosion of our Social Capital. No society can build for a lasting future without some reasonable measure of Trust of government by the people. That citizens do in fact openly express trenchant cynicism about the uninspiring role that the religious spheres including the Church has played in bring forth a values- deficit and broken down Nigeria- State is heartbreakingly opposite of the standard set for the modern church by the Early Church. The collapse of our values and the depletion of our social capital heightened have further sharpened the ethnic and religious fault lines and increases conflicts. Conflicts of all kinds have further deepened poverty among the poor citizens already excluded from the benefits of recent economic growth. Feeling abandoned by the Nigeria- State, our society is seeing a growing number of people among the excluded cynically following after the “examples” of their elite. They do so by engaging in all manner of acts of criminality and wickedness in apparent attempt at lashing out against the country which they believe has failed them.
And yet, the nation building process is one in which all of society must. play a role and happens faster when it is designed as an all inclusive process that leaves no one, no segment, no group, no gender, no class and no sphere behind. Lessons from other lands show that in negotiating and agreeing a shares identity, the religious sphere for its inherent tendencies to building and nurturing human relationships usually play a strong role. The Church therefore- both for its individual members and as a group/ organization has always had a central role to play in nation building – in fostering the sense of shares humanity of a people bound minimally by territorial neighborhood .
The question today however, is how has the Church in Nigeria fared as a potential catalyst that helps propel Nigerians toward a positive trajectory and progression into nationhood?
Let us even narrow this evaluation of the role of the Church to the fundamental premise of my considered opinion that Nigeria has been a victim of an elite crisis. Doing so, would mean asking how much of a restraining or constraining influence has the Church tried to be on the Nation-State destructive role of our “power elite”? Has the Church not mostly acquiesced with this class of people in the manner it is welcomes and honors those of its folks who ordinarily should receive its moral sanction?
There is if not empirical, at least some reasonable anecdotal basis for probing the role of the Church in so far as the public piety of its flocks is concerned. The privileged class are traced to the grand ills of the Nigerian society in nearly all the instances of truncation of governance by coups. Here is a classic description of the “power elite” of Nigeria in the statement “justifying” the 1966 coup: “enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalist, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”
Every other coup more or less repeated the text until the last one in 1993. One can reasonably conclude that what we today confront as systemic corruption only metamorphosed to the gargantuan scale as Nigeria's elite class perverted the values of our country and distorted our incentive and disincentives regimes. It has been so since the painful 60s unto this day, robbing the poor who the Church exists to be their voice of the better life possible in Nigeria.
So, sure the economy has been growing at 7% every year in the last ten years but what quality of growth have we had with still more than 61% of poor in the land, 24% unemployment level with more than 40% level among the youthful segment? We have a negligible changed structure of the Nigerian economy since independence with the consequence that manufacturing has stayed at less than 15% thus narrowing the opportunity for rapid absorption of labour. The massive unemployment and underemployment is because our indigenous private sector is underdeveloped compared to the countries of Asia and Latin America where small businesses account for more than 60 percent of the economy or 75% in America. Our private sector that thrives mostly does so by depending on the distortion of policies, the corruption of the public sector and influence peddling while the small businesses suffer the severe adverse effects of failure of the same policies.Inequality and growing disparity between few that have had grown deeper. Regrettably the elite fail to understand the implications of such an unsustainable pattern of power and wealth relations in any society even as the heinous effects of long lasting poor governance in the North East of Nigeria stares us in the face.
All of the foregoing are policy, institutional, investment and broadly governance matters that constitute the State Building process. Our effort at tackling them without tackling the faulty foundation of absence of nation building has produced disappointing results. The corruption-poverty-corruption trap has thus capped the possibilities of our larger population of citizens while unlike the Early Church, today's Church busies itself with materialism. That the Church in Nigeria provides a place of comfort rather than rebuke and sanction to the elite of the land who in one factually evidenced basis or the other are culpable for poor governance and corruption makes it unwittingly acquiescent in the entrenched inequality In the land. God cares for the poor. God wishes that His Church should also care for the equity and justice for the poor and to stand on the side of the weak and vulnerable and not with those who oppress them.
While the political and to a lesser degree, the business elite set the stage for the broken and deficit foundation of Nigeria, the rest of our society must also accept their fair share of the blame for helping to accelerate the slide by their apathy, lethargy or indifference. The governed, be they men or women have a major role to compel their elite to act in always that promote the collective good of society. Those citizens who not understanding the power they wield and to collectively deploy it in demanding for good governance and accountability for resources and for results from those that lead them pay huge costs for their ignorance. To simply accept and applaud acts that injure a citizen is injustice to both the person and the rest of society. When citizens of Nigeria fail to actively engage, participate and exercise their voice in helping shape course that the country is taking, nation building will be further delayed.
To return to the basics and compel this all too important and painful process of nation building, I recommend that the Church in Nigeria acting as a collective, can become the Catalyst that galvanises individual members, families, civil society to set out an agenda for a discourse of our common identity, vision and values. There is no better organisation of people to trigger a Values Renaissance as a lasting counter to the present “distorted normal” . What happened to virtues like honesty, integrity, character, dignity, hard work, selfless service? The distorted VALUES of the failing Nigerian society seeped so badly into the church such that we are reminded “if the foundations be destroyed or broken, what will the righteous do”? Is it not the case that we also have crisis of leadership values in the church today? Should we not first repent for failure to be the SALT, THE LIGHT AND THE CITY UPON THE HILL. Reading Prophet Hagia's first and second chapters, one will conclude that like the children of Israel in his time, we the Church of Nigeria of today sit in church praying to all become prosperous while the vineyard (Nigeria) that God had given us over grows with weeds. “Consider your ways”, the Prophet roared then. Where are our own Prophets to roar at His church? If today they will emerge, then God will return to us!
Who better than the Church can boldly take this agenda to the top of our national discourse determined to force our deliberation of the ideals upon which vibrant and successful nations emerge? The justification for the Church to make such a bold move is the urgency necessitated by growing inequality that seeks to engulf the land but which the political elite class that should provide leadership is too distracted by the pattern of power conflicts to give its attention.
A corrupted Nigeria will eternally rob the same poor that the Church should be protecting. Has today's Church not mostly failed to use its Voice on behalf of the poor in the land by systematically living up to its “watchdog” roles in the same manner as our Lord Jesus, John the Baptist, Prophets Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos and several others? How ready is the Church to champion a credible sanction era to punish the cancerous corruption that afflicts our land? Would it not be a tragedy if the government becomes actually serious to lead such a corrective war to rebuild our foundations and what the church does is to “blow the trumpet in an uncertain way” such that the people fail to prepare for battle?
The Lord understood that His children would have needs but His assurance that if we kept the matters of the kingdom— such as nation building, being the standard bearers in our nation as the “Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World”, excelling in our “Ministry of Reconciliation and Peace” unto which He has called us, then ALL THESE OTHER MATERIALISTIC “THINGS” ( Note that He belittles them as mere “things”) shall be added unto us. God forbid that the Church will become irrelevant because it joined the people of the world to mind the irrelevant things and not the Lord's mandate! The Lord goes further and warns that should His Church busy itself with “things” then it is no longer the “Assembly of the people of God” but a gathering of heathen.
I believe that this awakening calls the Church to deep retrospection and introspection to unreservedly discover where we missed it and veered into the path of perfidious acquisition craze. How did we, who should lead as His Light become the LED, into darkness? How did the Church become so “at ease in Nigeria” that we are now misled by our political and business elite who should have been under our positive influence? One pathway out of this quagmire is for the Church to judge itself and admit that it has fallen short as a cleansing ground; and that in order to qualify to function as a Cleanser in this land, we would all need to plead with the Lord of the Church to mercifully come into the sanctuary and purge His people. Is the Church ready for the painful purging?
When evil is prevalent in a society we know that God keeps for Himself a Remnant. There remaineth a REMNANT as Prophet Isaiah declared in chapter 10 verse 20. How come FourSquare Church has tied its entire Diamond Anniversary to the issues of the Nigeria condition? It is because the Church senses that a new season has come. It is a season of opportunity to “do a new thing that can spring forth!”. As Solomon said, there is a time for everything under the sky. A time to be indifferent and a time to become involved. A time to ignore and a time to no longer ignore. A time to sit in church and just pray and a time to both pray and work like Prophet Nehemiah and like the four carpenters that Prophet Zechariah spoke about. The season we are in is the season when the salvation of Nigeria is closer than when we first began. The season for a new birth has come and so there is a restiveness in the Spirit of the people of God. We shall both pray, groan in the spirit, travail and walk our beliefs for the birthing of the New Nigeria through deliberations that will transit us from country to NATION.
When Nehemiah heard the news of the broken walls of Jerusalem, his heart was burdened at what he was told about not just the city but the poor in the land. Nehemiah had no reason to be so distressed because after all, his situation as the King's cupbearer was remarkably privileged for one in captivity. Yet, his sorrow new no end. He prayed and asked God for a strategy and received it immediately because God loves and supports those who care about His vision. Nehemiah, set out on the journey back to Jerusalem determined to succeed. Of all the tools that Nehemiah needed for a successful reconstruction effort— money, men and material– a good read of his book shall reveal to us that it was none of these that brought the prophet his successful delivery on target. What did bring the completion of work despite all the challenges he encountered, was RIGHTEOUSNESS. Nehemiah new how to do the RIGHT THINGS. He did not engage in the wrong things while praying to get a good result. In nation building, we know that it is “Righteousness that exalts a nation while sin is a reproach to any people”. It was the Church as in the members not the buildings that Christ commanded to be known for “a pattern of well doing”.
Today, because it is appropriate to nation building, I have decided to use the concept of righteousness as the pattern of “doing the right things” even by a person or nation that is outside of the Christian Faith. We have an example of a country like that – of a people who do not confess our Lord Jesus Christ – as majority of our Christian folks do here in Nigeria. It is a nation with similar multi- ethnic, history of colonisation and poverty challenges like we had in the 60s at independence. That nation, is known as Singapore. Together with Nigeria and many other developing countries, it started on the Development journey with Gross Domestic Product – GDP per capita of less than $500 in the 60s. By first resolving the nation building process and then moving on to the state building process with leadership that “did the right things consistently” , Singapore today has a GDP per capita of $60,000 compared to our beloved country's $2300.
Where then are our own Nehemiahs? Where are our Deborahs? Where are our Ezras? Where o country of Nigeria, are your Modecais and Esthers who have made up their minds to not bow but to rather dethrone the STRONG MAN OF CORRUPTION that is sitting over NIGERIA? It is time, Church! This is the season!! It is time to:
To PRAY !
To BUILD …………. Until we become a Nation. ….. Until our New Nigeria emerges. Until the Nigeria of God's dream comes. Until Nigeria becomes a praise in all the earth. I BELIEVE.
Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili