Outspoken Presiding Bishop of Calvary Kingdom Church International, Archbishop Joseph Imariabe Ojo, yesterday marked his 70th birthday. Few days before the Big Day, he sat down with Sunday Sun and looked back at his journey with joy and also a tinge of sadness over the state of the country. As he noted, he would not have been able to effectively utilise the grace of God and succeed in ministry if he had married the wrong wife, who he credits with giving him boundless, devoted and loving support in the ministry. He also eulogized his family and members of the ministry for their support.
The biblical three-score-and-ten is a milestone age, and a time to reflect and look back. So, what thoughts come to your mind? How does it feel to be 70?
Good question. The feeling of 70, the thought that comes to my mind is trying to learn new things. I have not attained this age before, and I have not had the privilege of meeting people who have attained it, to ask them how it feels to be 70 years old. So, I am going to experience some things first hand as they come. However, I think that at this age somebody will sit down and look back and see the areas where you made positive decisions and consider other areas where one can make improvements, and perhaps identify areas where I could have done certain things better and also fine-tune them.
You just mentioned that you made some positive decisions over the decades. Could you recall some of those positive decisions?
My best positive decision was the day I gave my life to Christ. Before I gave my life to Christ and submitted to his lordship, I was a very tough, tough guy. If I had continued that way, I am not sure that I would have lived to reach 70. Even though I had been alive, by God’s mercy, I would have not been in the Lord, not to talk of being a minister of the gospel. That decision to accept the Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior was a turning point in my life. That was in 1972.
Looking at Christian practice today, now that we have widespread Pentecostal expression, what was it like in 1972?
A lot has changed. Back then in 1972, Pentecostal experience was just evolving, and we were used to the Anglican and Roman Catholic dominations. I was a strong Catholic, and Pentecostalism was just coming up. The zeal with which we served God as new converts back then when we were just coming up is no longer seen in the present generation. Some time in the 80s, the gospel began to change. There is attempt to major on prosperity messages and materialism without giving a thought to the consequences, and may be talk about the hereafter. The concern is all about NOW. I want to be blessed, I want to prosper, I want to be a millionaire; I want to be known and influential. We have not been able to get out of it. Since the 80s, this thing has gripped the church. In our time it was not like that. Then you could hear people sing songs like, “Take the whole world and give me Jesus, you take the whole world and give me Jesus, I am satisfied, no turning back.” But today, people rather want to take the whole world say, “If you like you, you can keep your Jesus.”
How does that feel for people in your generation of Pentecostals?
After experiencing that kind of Pentecostal life, it is very painful to witness what is going on now. Even some of the front line Pentecostal ministries have gone too far in this new fangled Pentecostal materialism. It pains me really; I believe that this thing can be balanced. Nobody is saying that prosperity is bad but anything without a balance is a problem. Remember that God told Belteshezzar in the bible, “Thou art weighed in a balance and found wanting.” Our inability, and I want to stress the ‘our’ because I am a leader in the Pentecostal movement in Nigeria, our inability to balance the gospel today is the cause of the problem. When you have messages that are balanced, it goes a long way. They make people understand that they brought nothing into this world and certainly would not take anything out of it. But today, when you go to certain occasions, no matter how good you are, no matter your Pentecostal pedigree, no matter that you have a legacy of honesty and right living, you are assessed by the kind of suit you wear, the kind of SUV you brought to the event, the number of bodyguards that are around you and such other material considerations. And all these are going on in the Pentecostal churches.
In the early days of the Scripture Union in Nigeria, I heard that that Christians who were derisively called ‘SU” could be easily identified and there was a gap. Today, many people believe that the gap is closing very fast, such that it is no longer easy to differentiate between Pentecostals and the older denominations? Do you share this view?
No, there is still a gap between the Pentecostal and nominal churches (which some people refer to as orthodox churches). Orthodoxy refers to somebody who has the truth; the Pentecostals have the truth also. I prefer to describe the Catholic and Anglican churches as the nominal churches, which have tried to import Pentecostal practices and songs into their worship. But they are well organised. There was a gap back then between Pentecostals and the nominal churches. When you enter a Pentecostal church, you will know by the way they pray and sing choruses, you would know that you were in a Pentecostal church and by the way the members lived their lives, you would also know that they were Pentecostals. These things encouraged people to leave the darkness of ignorance of unbelief and come into the marvelous light of salvation through the finished redemptive work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. But today there is a big gap.
Does that the ‘gap’ in any way relate to what is now known as end-time manifestation?
Yes. Apostle Paul made a prophetic statement that in the last days, perilous times shall and people shall be lovers of themselves. That is the generation we are in now. It is the sign of the end-times. In those days, if somebody did something wrong, the person would be disciplined. There were two levels of discipline: you could suspend somebody if he committed evil and ex-communication. But today, if you just scold someone and give warning, he could leave the church and spread stories that you are a bad person, and nobody can work with you. The person would give you a bad name and then join another church. It is a bad thing.
Looking back at the Nigeria of your youth and the Nigeria of today, how do you feel?
The state of our infrastructure saddens me. The governments we have had since after the First Republic have not been able to manage the country well. Things were better when we were youths. I pity the youths of today. For example, Archbishop Benson Idahosa, my late mentor, was 26 years old when he built his first house. I built my first house when I was 36. But there are very many 36-year-old men today who cannot even pay the rent for a bedroom flat because there are no jobs. The economic situation is not even helping them to create something for themselves. The youths of today are just to be pitied. The government has not created jobs or expanded the schools. Thank God for the private schools which helped to expand opportunities for education. The quality of education then cannot be compared with what we have now. Today, some university graduates cannot express themselves or even know how to write application letters. I am saddened that the situation is so bad that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation advertised on its website for few vacancies but 26 million people applied on the online platform. The level of unemployment is so staggering that it has become a ticking human bomb.
The ninth National Assembly will be inaugurated in June. If you were invited to address the NASS, what would you tell me them?
I will tell the lawmakers to put sentiments aside and the politics and listen to the yearnings of the populace, the Nigerians and restructure the country. They should erase this belief of a big cake that is available for sharing. They should allow states to develop at their own pace and bake their own cakes with the natural resources that God has given to them, and then pay taxes to the federal government, to maintain relevant national security agencies. Restructuring and fiscal federalism will enable states to develop abilities to cope. I am from Edo State and we have very little oil, but there are other resources we can develop. There is no state in Nigeria that God has not blessed with natural resources which can be harnessed. If you allow states to develop their natural resources, they will begin to look inwards.
Until recently, I did not know that the cause of the problem in Zamfara State is the gold deposit in the state. I had never heard that before. But the government should create a system of mining the gold instead of what is happening in the state now. There is gold in Niger, Kebbi, Osun, Kaduna and a few other states. If the country is restructured, then states that have gold deposits would set up appropriate mechanisms for mining the gold and using the proceeds from the sale to fund the economy of the state. The same goes for other states that have other natural resources. It is unfortunate that successive governments since the end of the civil war till now have not been able to properly harness the resources that God has put in the soil for the good, development and growth of our nation.
What legacy would you leave behind?
I think that it is the people around me that would best explain that. But I will attempt to say a word or two on this. I will leave a legacy of humility, truthfulness and punctuality. I am known for keeping time. I tell people that if you know that you are inviting me for 12.00 (noon), don’t tell me 11.00am because I will be there by 11.00am. I don’t preach what is not biblical or what is not biblically understood. I don’t say it because others are saying it. I only say what I know is an established truth from the word of God.I will leave a legacy of faithfulness. I believe all that God has given me to do, I have done faithfully with his grace, both in the ministry as a pastor and in my home as a husband and father.
In the next decade and the decade after that, what is your vision?
I am looking forward to become an institution. In the next 10 years, I will devote myself to just counseling, mentoring, teaching and writing books. I want to use digital technology to propagate the gospel, so that it can go far and wide, by audio, video and the internet. I want to impact people and be a blessing to humanity.