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Popular Nigerian clergyman, Apostle Johnson Suleman was recently captured in a video that went viral on social media where he boasted about purchasing a new jet during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 49-year-old said he bought another Jet to add to his previous two while others were praying for Covid-19 pandemic to end due to the hardship that came with it.
The short video of the clergyman preaching during one of his Sunday services surfaced on social media.
Apostle Suleiman was also heard saying rumours have it that he has a machine that prints money in his house. The cleric further stated that he was praying for the pandemic not to end because he was prospering and resting.
He said, ‘In COVID, I bought a jet. The third one. I have three. I was praying for COVID not to end because I was resting. While people were complaining, my wife asked, ‘Can life be this sweet?’. Am I talking to somebody here?’
‘No stress. I read on the net that there’s a rumour going around that I have a machine that prints money. I like that rumour. They say, ‘He should be investigated. He has a machine that prints money.’
‘Somebody asked if it’s true and I said it is true. They said, ‘It’s risky o’. I said I didn’t know it’s risky because I already bought the machine. When you speak in tongues, you’re printing money.’
This phenomenon brings to mind the wealth and influence of a group of Pentecostal preachers in Nigeria. Apostle Johnson Suleiman who has been the head of Omega Fire Ministries for some years now has opened up numerous branches in Nigeria. In addition to these congregations all over Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, Omega Fire Ministries has thirty-five in the United States and ten in Canada. It also has a presence in Europe and Asia.
Johnson Suleiman’s new jet apparently puts him in the company of Bishop David Oyedepo, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, all of whom also have private jets. Bishop Oyedepo, head of the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry (also known as the Winner’s Chapel) is commonly regarded as the wealthiest preacher in Nigeria, with an estimated personal net worth of $150 million. His fleet of four jets includes a Gulfstream V, which cost $30 million. In addition to Nigeria, he has congregations in sixty-five countries, including in the United States. Pastor Adeboye is Head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God which claims some five million members; his denomination has branches in Dallas, Tallahassee, Houston, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Pastor Oritsejafor, also a televangelist, is the head of Word of Life Bible Church. His church in Wari is said to seat thirty-five thousand adults and seventeen thousand children, and it has congregations in the United States.
In all cases, it is unclear whether the jets are the personal property of the clergymen or whether they belong to the denominations which they head. In any event, the jets are evidence of the wealth of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. Of the clergy cited here, the denominations they head have slick, sophisticated websites which usually receive contributions, pledges, and tithes by online bank transfers, credit cards, western union or Paypal. It is difficult to pin down how many adherents each denomination has, but it is clear that their numbers are large.
It is no longer news that Nigeria; the country with the highest Christian population in Africa, is the Extreme Poverty Capital of the world – where more than 80 million of her citizens live in abject penury and below one dollar per day. Among the 80 million living in abject penury, at least, half of them (about 40 million) are Christians. Of this half, at least 50% of them are compelled by the damning messages of their Pastors and ‘Spiritual Leaders’ in their respective churches; to pay tithes, offerings, and other such monies weekly. And, despite the fact that the majority of their congregations live in penury, these pastors still exact tithes and other monetary commitments from them. These tithes and offerings, and other monetary commitments from Church members are monies for the Church – not monies for Pastors. However, these monies are susceptible to abuse because there is no established system of accountability to the congregation. To be clear, just as Elected Officials are accountable to the people, Pastors (and religious leaders in general) ought to be accountable to their congregations. The absence of a system of accountability makes abuse the norm and thus squander the hard-earned donations from their very gullible followers.
As long as Pastors like Apostle Johnson Suleman remain ‘messengers’ of the Gospel – as they would have their followers believe, they have absolutely no need to acquire private jets – not at this time – not in today’s Nigeria. Also, Biblically and morally, it is incontestably wrong, for Pastors to own properties as expensive as Private Jets or its equivalence, and quirkily defend such impropriety as a necessity in the propagation of the Gospel. For it is too much luxury, for Pastors to own luxurious cars, mansions and so on, in proportions only similar to a swarm of bees, while their congregations suffer in penury. During his days, the Bible did not record Jesus as one with wanton desires for the acquisition of luxury and wealth. In fact, Biblical records show that he traversed many places mostly on foot – covering about 3000 miles during his missionary adventures. Even specific parts of the Bible like Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33; Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35 and so on, enjoins Christians on how to manage personal and collective properties. It is, therefore, inexcusable, that in this day and age of widely affordable mediums of transportation and communication, those who traverse the face of the earth supposedly continuing the work of Jesus, are given to needless flamboyance and showiness, with a special knack for joining the propertied class, while their congregations are mostly urged to live modestly and cast their thoughts away from the things of the world.
Even morally, it is unthinkable, that pastors like Apostle Johnson Suleman who lead many congregations and benefit from their hard-earned weekly donations, would consider the acquisition of Private Jets and other luxurious properties to be more important than the elevation of those congregations from abject penury. And, to be precise, ‘elevation’ in this context is the existence of deliberate and effective programs designed to uplift their congregations from penury – not tokenism in the form of occasional reach-out where people are given devotional materials and a handful of food to last barely a week.
It is painful and disheartening that during these harsh coronavirus times in Nigeria, Apostle Johnson Suleman would ridicule the plight of Nigerians in general while rubbing their suffering in their faces. It is even worse that his gullible followers and congregation would not see anything wrong in his actions.
Nigerians in general must carefully observe how anomalies percolate through the length and breadth of different societies before becoming the norm: wherein it begins among a clique, it subsequently spreads to a larger group, and eventually becomes the sole aspiration of the whole society. Presently, there are only a handful of pastors purchasing private jets; but in no distant time, if this monstrous trend is not nipped in the bud, it will become the aspiration of other religious leaders and eventually become the norm. When such a time comes, there will likely be more impoverished people to cater for (according to the projection of experts), and a remedy may be farther from reach than now.
Regardless of how this issue is viewed, Nigerians have to urgently consider reforms for their religious organisations. They must question this untamed knack of pastors for ostentation and flamboyance. They have to question how leaders of religious organisations (non-profit organisations) – are able to acquire properties worth millions of dollars without any explanation as to how these properties were acquired. They must ascertain the sources of these luxurious acquisitions, to avoid a situation where pastors unscrupulously use the funds of their churches for themselves, or, even worse; use their churches to siphon stolen public wealth through their unholy alliances with politicians. Perhaps, when the latitude for abuse is considerably minimal in religious organisations, the ostentatious desires and lifestyles of their leaders will also reduce.
Before it is too late, Christians must begin to demand transparency and accountability from their Pastors and General Overseers; the same way we all demand transparency and accountability from elected officials. The Nigerian government, also, must review its sacred-cow treatment of religious organisations; for it makes no sense, that while these churches are enjoying exemption from paying taxes, their religious heads are busy accumulating wealth and luxurious properties. The country suffers deficits in numerous areas, and it is despicable to have people accruing wealth and living boisterously under false pretences while citizens continue to suffer.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK