As first call, I would like to open my assessment of the state of the Church and the oppressed in Nigeria with a brotherly gesture at Barrister Festus Keyamo; his award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) after eight attempts, and his latest appointment as the spokesman for the reelection bid of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.
It should be noted that Festus Keyamo is warmly referred by the majority as controversial not because he is the foulest of men, but because, he, as I have been privileged to discover, is a man who hunts with extreme anxiety and desire for results by any means possible. However, one of the most destructive of creative sins is deploying one’s talents against the success of fellow man.It is the death of creativity when bad blood is allowed to become an obstacle in man’s life.
That Nigeria is fast getting on the list of countries where the minority, and to a greater degree, the Church, is persecuted is an obvious fact. No thanks to actions of certain professionals, who, perhaps, unconsciously have been of vast assistance to plots against opposition voices.
This article is focused primarily on the alleged sex drama involving a man of God, Apostle Johnson Suleman, of which the lead actor, one Stephanie Otobo herself later confessed was falsehood and a plot organized by a clique that included those feared by Suleman’s bluntness on the Church matter and national issues as well as opportunists struggling to milk the cleric through the open. Interestingly, Stephanie Otobo mentioned Keyamo as one of the ring leaders of the aborted plan.
The partial war was so heated that Apostle Suleman’s church, sometime in March 2017, raised the alarm that the celebrity lawyer and some others had planned to publish Suleman’s cloned video clips in a desperate bid to prove that he had an amorous relationship with Otobo. It was not long after the church’s statement that series of corrupt images were released on the internet purported to be those of the cleric and the accuser. However, while the drama lasted, Festus Keyamo cleverly avoided direct connection. A lawyer from his Lagos chambers stood in all through.
It would be unfair to Apostle Suleman’s attackers to allude that he is a stranger to such plot. He is not because he has always stood tall speaking his mind like true Church leader. And the sign was obvious one clear month before the Otobo attack that indeed future surprises awaited him. The cleric had been ambushed one night by men of the State Security Service (DSS) while on a two-day crusade in Ekiti State alleging that he made inciting remarks at one of his church sermons. But for the state governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, who prevented them, the cleric would have been arrested and taken to Abuja that night.
His sin? Suleman had told members of his church that he received anonymous calls about Fulani herdsmen that were sent to attack him and he told his people that if any strange faces came around him, they were not there for prayers, so they had better responded.
What should be of concern around this matter is, whether indeed there’s any connection in the failed act of Festus Keyamo and his co-schemers against Apostle Suleman with the present government’s attitude toward the Church.
Is it payback for Keyamo who after eight failed attempts at securing the SAN title eventually was awarded by the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government? Note also that Festus Keyamo was just appointed the campaign spokesman for President Buhari’s second term ambition. These are questions disturbing the mind since the ugly attacks on Suleman, a firebrand preacher known for his bold traits as Oracle of God.
The sorry state of the modern Church is aptly captured in this legendary quote by Martin Luther King Jr; “So often, the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often, it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silence and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”
However, with a voice like Apostle Johnson Suleman’s, it is professed that the Church is not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. The Church must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool.
In order words, it is time the Church freed itself from the shackles of political correctness, speak the truth, and face the facts about the violent persecution of the poor, especially Christians.
The war is real against the oppressed and the climate of injustice and oppression is more prevalent in today’s Nigeria. The attempted plots at shutting down voices against persecution of the Church is manifest in the fact that Nigeria has become like a giant Ponzi scheme in which the sweat, toil and earnings of the masses used to improve the fortunes of a privileged class at the leadership level. This is the battle voices like Apostle Suleman are determined to win, possibly. Yet, this is the vision a category of people by action and inaction are positioned to kill.
The most common idiocy in Nigeria now is criticism of the Church of God and servants of God; the reproach is focused on tithing, first fruits, private jets, church-owned educational institutions, testimonies, teachings, and more. But such debate is unwise. It is a debate so flawed that no matter how smart one may feel, the moment you participate in it, you are in the realm of the stupid.
I do not say the Church is beyond criticism, it is not. But I strongly believe that the church leadership must be ready to face the moral challenge of the day and stand up and be counted.
-Deacon Ademola Paul writes from Igbosere, Lagos Island