When I saw that BBC story a few weeks ago which showed the wealth of five of Nigeria’s top pastors, like many, I was not surprised, not in the least. I have always thought so. The words of Karl Max come to mind easily when I think of religion, people and wealth. “Religion is the opium of the people”, was what he said. The value of these pastors is calculated in the same way as that of footballers such as David Beckham, Samuel Eto’o, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, John Terryand StevenGerrard. They speak of their wealth in the same breath as musicians such as Jay Z, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Lionel Richie; and actors like Denzel Washington, Brad Pittand Morgan Freeman. If you have any idea how much these athletes and entertainers earn, it should give you a good picture of the wealth of these pastors.
According to the story published on the BBC’s website, the total wealth of five top Nigerian pastors is about $200 million. Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry, AKA, Winners Chapel is worth $150 million. Oyedepo sensationally owns 4 luxury private jets. Four! Not to even mention his other assets across the world. Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of the Believers’ Loveworld Ministries, AKA Christ Embassy is worth between $30 and $50million. Temitope Joshua Matthew, AKA TB Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations is said to be worth between $10 million and $15 million. Matthew Ashimolowo of Kingsway International Christian Centre has between $6 million and $10 million to his name andChris Okotieof the Household of God Church is worth between $3 million and $10 million.
Are these figures not annoying and shocking?
I know that at least 4 of them have branches in Ghana. Which means some of us contribute in making these dudes super-rich for them to enjoy their flamboyancy. The news report did not say that the wealth mentioned belonged to the churches in which these pastors are the ‘Founders and Leaders”. I stand to be corrected but my understanding is that these are personal wealth accrued by these men. Yes some have businesses which someone may want to argue generates employment for some and so on. But my point is that most, if not all, of these monies were generated in one way another through the church first.
I had a very lengthy discussion with some friends of mine on Facebook a couple of weeks which I found very intriguing. There are people who will quote the Bible to support why pastors should be rich and how God wants his children to prosper as though the flocks that these wealthy shepherds lead are any less children of the same God or they do not deserve the prosperity that God expects of his own.
We generally are religious in these parts. You need to go to church on Sunday after a long night-out just hours before to see almost the same faces you found at pubs and night clubs busily dancing with full vim in the house of the Lord. We will want to associate every fortune and misfortune to some act of faith or another. It does stand to reason why some shrewd persons will want to take advantage of this strong belief particularly displayed by our womenfolk.
Let me explicitly mention that I have no qualms with people making money. But I do have a lot of misgivings about people, be it so-called Men of God or shrewd and callous businessmen, who amass personal wealth at the expense of others, especially those poorer than they. I am aware of micro-finance schemes set up by some companies which offer small loans to local folks and others to start businesses and in some cases inject finance into others. You may be surprised to know that some of the loans given to these people are sometimes as low as GHc100, and it makes a huge difference in their lives. But what do our beloved pastors do? They build mansions and drive in the latest model SUVs in long convoys. I recall when I was in Legon in 2001 there was a convention or crusade of sort by a leading pastor in Ghana here. He showed up in a convoy of six or so black SUVs with black suit-wearing bodyguards clinging on to the moving vehicles as though the US President was touring a state America was fighting an unsolicited battle like in Afghanistan or Iraq.
You may be one of those who will want to stay away from complaining because the Bible admonishes us not to judge or to speak ill of His anointed (I am personally not sure how to make out His anointed and the self-anointed!). So what do we see as a result? We are taken advantage of continually without an end in sight. I think it is ungodly, unchristian, inhuman and purely wicked to have a wealthy shepherd leading a pitiable flock and not give a hoot about it.
My piece of mind.