SOME panic spread across Nigerian churches three years ago, spearing some faithful, and spraying dissonance among the men and women of God, who dreaded the possibility of people leaving their congregations. It had everything to do with the porous discovery that Paul Sanyangore, a Zimbabwean pastor called God on telephone.
My major and general concerns were not about the veracity of the story; it was about the consequences of not teaching history in Nigerian schools. How would God neglect the elect in Nigeria to call a pastor in Zimbabwe and that would cost a Nigerian, any Nigerian sleep? I doubted the story.
The last time a Nigerian pastor called God was in 1995. The effervescent, flamboyant Gabriel Oduyemi, (1938-2005), owner, founder of the Bethel Ministries Inc., whose pioneering work in running live broadcast of his vigils on NTA network made the station rich, who become a main developer of what is today known as the Ajah side of Lekki, holds that record. Lagos did not honour during its 50th anniversary in 2017.
He passed on 15 years ago. An extra-ordinary man who had a private jet when only a few did. He was the first Nigerian pastor to owe a private jet. His widow, Roselyn, has been running the Bethel Wonder City Church since his departure. The abandoned jet was given to a pilot, J. M. Ekehinde - actress, Omotola’s husband - in 2013, for educational purposes, when the government was clearing the airport in Ikeja of “scraps”.
There was a scare in Igando, a Lagos neigbourhood, when the jet was being toyed to safety. People who gathered at a fuel station where it was temporarily parked, thought it was a crash craft. The authorities had to make announcements clarifying that it was a scrap airplane.
Oduyemi ran those services so efficiently, effectively, and efficaciously, that his monthly innovative manners of selling front row seats to congregants, who wanted to be millionaires, or rule Nigeria, left little room in the church, which is today barely noticeable near the Ajah roundabout. Imitators used the trick to sell thousands of seats at National Stadium crusades, where bullion vans lined up to haul the offerings to the waiting vaults of banks.
In those days of financial sagacity, financial houses, bridging loans, personal and finances sold by nattily attired young women, Oduyemi keyed into financial services, in a pious way. Prosperity was his message. Technology was his messenger.
Telephones – lines, handsets – were the ultimate status symbol. One-time Minister of Communication, David Bonaventure Alechenu Mark, then a colonel and Minister of Communication, four-time Senator, President of the Senate for eight years, avid golfer, owner of a helicopter and a helipad in his Idoma country home, in the Oduyemi era, prophesied that telephones were not for the poor. I learnt that his domestic staff still tremble when they use telephones.
Apostle, or Prophet Oduyemi as many called him, understood these things. He also understood that the faithful had to seek him to obtain the miracles that he dispensed monthly with appropriate spirit-filled enthusiasm.
One day he pulled out a unique phone, one distinct from the off-the-shelf ones the cellular class ripped holes in their pockets to buy. The matter in which the phone was cast, remains the subject of a debate – gold, silver, diamond. Whatever it was, what the man did next confounded the congregants.
“Hello, God,” he drawled in that voice that only pastors of substantial standing have. “Are you saying Father, that I should tell them? Father, I should tell them?” Impatient congregants urged him to let out the message.
Oduyemi said God wanted to make 20 people extraordinary millionaires that day. He was saying this in-between prancing on the well-decorated stage that could be a preview of heaven, except that we are told heavenly colours were entirely different from anything we could imagine.
His prosperity messages were not in vain. The first 20 people to make the stage sowed seeds, his words, of N1 million each. A highly principled man, he rejected the entreaties of others to take their millions. God, he insisted, said only 20 extraordinary millionaires for that month.
Of course, one of them was Oduyemi, owner of the seeds they sowed. How could he miscount the number of extraordinary millionaires God made? He repeated the monthly performance until the front seats were bargained out of reach of even extraordinary millionaires. The scheme collapsed.
“Heaven is online,” the Zimbabwean, who came 22 years after Oduyemi, reportedly shouted, possibly the only audible thing he said, apart from appearing to be on first name terms with the Almighty.
No telecommunication company has claimed that its facilities put heaven online, a claim that would have seen the company open a new line of business that many churches would over-subscribe. The handset that supported the call to the Almighty would have been marketed along that capacity. Again, why the silence?
If the Zimbabwean thought his call that that never got to the roof of the auditorium would alter the status of Nigeria’s rebased economy, he should know certain things among them, that there are enough churches on the numerous Church Streets in Lagos, to populate every corner of Harare, which with a population of 1.6 million cannot fill some church auditoria we are building.
Nigerian pastors do not call God: God calls them daily, and in large numbers. If we were faithful to our history, we would have known Nigerian pastors stopped that stunt 25 years ago.
Why would God take a call from people who are so greedy that they would engage the Almighty’s line until eternity?
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