Sunday Ilori, an activist and member of the Latter Rain Assembly, has been with the church for about 24 years. Ilori tells SIMON UTEBOR about his misgivings about the church’s alleged spending of N13bn on its new building, about N560m to be used to purchase 5,200 chairs from abroad, and other issues
You are a member of the Latter Rain Assembly but at loggerheads with the management of the church over the construction of N13bn church auditorium, why are you so bothered about it?
I was never at loggerheads with the authorities of the Latter Rain Assembly. I am also a member of the Latter Rain Assembly. Yes, I had some misgivings about the building of another citadel for the church as well as issues pertaining to the plan to purchase N560m worth of chairs for the citadel, apart from the fact that they are to be imported. Those are the clarifications I want to make concerning the issues.
I only made my opinion on the citadel known and my disagreement regarding the proposed purchase of 5,200 chairs from abroad.
The building of the citadel was to have a bigger church. With your opposition, it will appear as if you don’t want the expansion of the church…
When we got to where we are now on Akilo Road, Presiding Overseer, Pastor Tunde Bakare, told us that God said the place was where He reserved for him. For me, I believe that is fundamental; I believe that should be sacrosanct. You can do something else in other places but God said that was the place he reserved for you. I think that should be enough reason for the person not to leave the place.
I believe that for Pastor Bakare to have said Akilo was the place God reserved for him, that means if he (Bakare) leaves that place, from what I know God to be, he can’t sell that place and can’t leave it for another person because when God says, “This is for you”, then it is for you. God is not like a man that sells his birthright; that is my opinion and that is the misgiving I have. And for the cost of the building, N13bn is humongous.
I still believe that no matter what they call the place, it will still be called a service place or worship centre. To me, it remains a worship centre, and a worship centre is a worship centre. It becomes the cynosure of all eyes when there is no other one built that will beat it. Yongi Cho has a 50,000-seater building. Today, I think Cho’s church will be like a kitchen when compared with other people’s churches, even in Nigeria. That is how I consider such things.
If they had used the money to build an ultra-modern hospital, which I personally believe is more plausible, we would have specialists, equipment and other state-of-the-art facilities because I know N13bn can build it conveniently and make it useful for the work of humanity.
Some church members say the figures you have been quoting for the chairs are incorrect. How would you react to that?
Well, I would not disagree with them now. Pastor Bakare made an announcement last Sunday that there was an ongoing review of cost of the chairs and the price involved.
I was not told how much the chairs would now cost but I was in the church when that happened – I was in the church when the announcement was made. Therefore, I can’t misquote what I heard – N560m. If any church member is saying that, he may be basing his argument on the fact that Pastor Bakare said there would be a review while he was responding to what I said in an interview. Even though it was said that a review was going on, no amount has been mentioned so far. I know the number of the chairs would not be reduced, that is 5,200, but the review of the cost may have been necessitated by the fact that I spoke out.
Do you still think that instead of the citadel, the church should have channelled the money into other church projects?
Yes, they should have channelled the money into other projects, especially, an ultra-modern hospital as I have said earlier. That will benefit all mankind – that will be more or less like a paying back to society, to provide what the government cannot provide. It will bring succour to underprivileged persons that cannot seek medical treatment abroad. That is my personal opinion and I still maintain it.
Pastor Bakare has always influenced the youth and the elderly and he is regarded as the conscience of the nation, do you think that has changed?
As I have always said, Bakare is the conscience of the nation. In 2010, he became the father of the nation – there is a difference between the two. When you become the conscience of the nation, you talk as and when you feel like talking, but when you become the father of the nation, you combine the two.
It is just like the father of the household; if the household is not in good condition, definitely, the head of the household must talk. Pastor Bakare has become the father of the nation and whatever happens to Nigeria must be his concern and I believe he knows, because he used to say, “The best of men are the men at their very best.”
How would you describe Bakare?
Sometimes, decisions made by leaders come because they are popular opinions, so that they (the leaders) won’t appear to be autocratic. I believe that if my coming out to talk about it could necessitate the review, it shows that he is a leader that listens. It shows that he might have unconsciously accepted it from those people that recommended it – he might have succumbed to the popular opinion of those people in the building committee.
Being a leader, he might not want to offend them by saying, “I want it like this or that,” which would appear as if he did not appreciate what the committee had done. But as soon as the proposal received a kind of condemnation and was disagreed with, he displayed his leadership quality by calling for the review of the proposal. He could have damned the consequences if he were not a good leader. But he said, “Let us review it.” For those who said I was bandying prices around, correct me if I’m wrong because by the time I disagreed with it, Pastor Bakare on Sunday showed the type of chairs (they were planning to buy) on the pulpit. It was to cost N560m comprising 5,000 chairs for the congregation and 200 for the church leaders. They were to be imported from Europe. Those are my areas I had issues with. I wouldn’t have had any issue if the chairs were to be constructed in Nigeria and at a modest cost, which I think would be beneficial to Nigerian artisans.
How has the relationship between you and Bakare been all this while?
Before now, Pastor Bakare and I were like father and son, even though we didn’t get to see (each other). It’s like that when you drink from the fountain of somebody’s knowledge. I was once a lecturer. I lectured for about 14 years – any of my students that I have imparted knowledge to would always see me as their father because one way or the other, they must have benefitted from the knowledge that I imparted to them. Pastor Bakare has been my spiritual father, even before I joined the LRA in 1996.
He was my spiritual father before I gave the interview, and he is still my spiritual father because I still drink and eat from his fountain of knowledge as far as his spiritual words, and model and style of his life are concerned. Pastor Bakare is somebody that I know lives his life in the open – that is one of the things that endeared him to me. He has no secret about his own life. Those were some of the things I considered that made me say, ‘This is not the father that I know’, let me bring his attention to it. Well, he disagreed with the medium that I used.
Couldn’t you have used other mediums to express your misgivings?
I didn’t have any other choice but to use that medium because firstly, it is not easy for anyone to see Pastor Bakare; secondly, the process might take a long time and the issue I planned to raise with him would have died down.
If I had his number, I could have sent him a message and whatever I said in that interview, I would have said it right there because I believe he is a father and must be able to listen to his son when his son calls his attention to an issue that should be reviewed. I believe that when he spoke about reviewing it, there would be a review and that must have necessitated why some members said the price was not what I quoted. The price as of the time I gave that interview was N560m and after listening to my interview, I saw his press release telling everybody to go and read my interview and not to form any opinion without reading it because I meant no harm.
He even said whenever they prayed for him, they should also pray for me. For me, I believe that is a love between a father and a son, I don’t want to believe that a father will be angry with his son just because he pointed out areas he felt uncomfortable with. Personally, I will rather call such a son and say come, even though I don’t like the medium you used, if you want to get across to me, this is how to reach me. He keeps no malice and has no time for enmity. Those are the things I know about him.
Since the whole thing began, have they reached out to you to broker peace or resolve the disagreement?
Last Sunday, some members called me and said Pastor (Bakare) had given an open invitation that if I were at the service, he would have asked me to come to the pulpit and repeat my grievances, so he would be able to explain the situation. I was also told there would be a meeting and that the same invitation had been extended (to me).
If I am in Lagos, definitely, I will try as much as possible to be there but if I am not, by God’s grace, there is going to be a combined service on Sunday (tomorrow) and I will be there. I don’t think he has any problem with me expressing my opinion as long as it is not out of bellicosity, defamation and act of political vendetta. So, as long as it is the truth and it is a reality somebody can relate with, I believe that there is nothing like truce because there was never a quarrel. All I expected from him was what I saw him magnanimously doing by saying, “We are reviewing it.” That is the trait of a good leader.
You reportedly said your love for Bakare is unending when it comes to preaching but you have not got that conviction on the issues of politics? Why do you say so?
I want to believe that everybody has their own calling and ministry. My ministry is human rights and consumer rights advocacy. By God’s grace, I am doing very well in it. I am the National Coordinator, Electricity Consumers’ Protection Forum. Whatever changes you see in the power sector today, either with the electricity distribution companies or with the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, it came because of the glory of God and the efforts that our group has made.
As I said, I indicated that Pastor Bakare had a ministry and a calling. His calling is genuine, unambiguous, and straight. He is one of the men of God I will say ‘missed no road’ in answering the call. He was not only called by God, he was anointed by God and his anointing has not been merchandised.
As I said, every man has an ambition but whatever propels people’s ambition differs. For him, he is a human being. Like Nelson Mandela said, “I did not regard myself as an angel; I have weaknesses, some of them fundamental, I am not a saint, unless you are seeing a saint in the area of a sinner, who keeps time, then I am one.”
If Pastor Bakare has a political ambition, I believe that is his human ambitious trait but for me spiritually, Bakare has a place with God as the father of this nation. As the father of the nation, you must be where you are.
Everybody comes to you to drink from your fountain of knowledge. They learn how things will be done from you. You will be like the director of political office holders. You don’t take any position. I am not condemning him either, because he also has his inalienable rights to seek a political office. But spiritually, Bakare, I still keep saying it, has a position in this nation that since 2010 that he stepped into that position, I don’t see him taking less out of it as his position is that of the father of this nation.
He doesn’t need to look for any power – powers in elective offices defer to him. He has been enjoying it since 2010 and he is still enjoying it even with Muhammadu Buhari in office.
Invariably, you are telling him not to run for a political office…
In 2011 when such happened, I wrote and gave my opinion but I was reminded that Save Nigeria Group was not a religious group and that anybody that had an ambition could venture into it, even though I believed that would be the end of SNG, and that was the end of the group. This time also, I am looking at it from the angle of the position he stepped into as a father to the nation. When he was the conscience of the nation, everybody wanted to hear what Bakare wanted to say next, but from 2010 till date, people want to see how Bakare advises the nation.
That is why when he gives his state of the nation addresses, he is more or less advising the nation, correcting the leaders and telling them the way God wants Nigeria’s leadership to go. That, for me, is a very veritable position that anybody should cherish because when you speak, they listen, even when you are not talking, the authority is afraid – that was the position of the prophets of the old – the Elijahs, Elishas, Samuels, Micahs, and so on.
What is your position on clerics commercialising the word of God?
Everything about Christianity today is about merchandise, it is like ‘in the name of God Plc’ and that has brought us to the level that people don’t fear the saints anymore. Before now, if you were a clergyman, and was going somewhere, if law enforcement agents stopped you, and you said you were a pastor, they would show reverence. But today, there is bastardisation of the activities in the house of God, profane worship and merchandising of what God has given. Today, you see some pastors asking members of congregation to eat grass; some sell handkerchiefs, while some sell oil and call it power of God in a bottle, among others
Culled from The PUNCH ON SATURDAY