When the Federal Government, on Tuesday, announced the sack of Executive Secretary, the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FCR), Jim Osayande Obazee, 48 hours after the controversial law on tenure of church leaders became an issue, I remembered the biblical story of Uzzah and the Ark of God. As the Bible recorded, when David and the people of Israel were bringing back the Ark of God, Uzzah was struck dead when he held the Ark, in an attempt to steady it.
The Bible stated, in 2 Samuel 6: 7-11: “And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.
“And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the Ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the Ark of God.
“And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, How shall the Ark of the Lord come to me? So David would not remove the Ark of the Lord unto him into the city of David: but David carried it aside into the house of Obededom the Gittite. And the Ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obededom the Gittite three months: and the Lord blessed Obededom, and all his household.”
Having gone back to read the story of the Ark of God and relating it to what happened to Obazee, I am beginning to think that the former FRC boss suffered the fate of Uzzah. Yes, the Ark of God shook, as the oxen moved on. Uzzah, in his wisdom, thought it wise to hold the Ark of God, to prevent it from falling. But God, in anger, struck him dead, for touching the Ark. And God’s reason was that he touched the Ark when it was not his duty to do so. Now, Obazee, as head of FRC, a government agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating the affairs of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and others, had moved to enforce a law on tenure and financial reporting, as it affects the religious sector. His agency had insisted, according to the provisions of the Act, that leaders of churches, who had been in the saddle for 20 years or attained the age of 70 or both should step down. The agency’s insistence caused the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, to relinquish his position in Nigeria, with his appointment of a National Overseer in the country, while he remains the worldwide leader of the RCCG. There was outrage in Christendom. And Obazee was fired. The board of FRC was dissolved. And the controversial code suspended.
Some people have said that Obazee was sacrificed by the Muhammadu Buhari government to save face in a perceived failed attempt to regulate religion. Others have said that he was axed because he overstepped his bounds, as a government agent. Whatever be the case, the issue is that government has retraced its steps. The code has been suspended. And we all can have some peace. However, I must say that there is nothing wrong with government taking interest in the conduct of religious leaders. Religion is a serious matter. It inflames passion and has the tendency of causing crisis, especially when mismanaged. Therefore, a close look at what religious leaders are doing could be the beginning of wisdom.
However, in looking at the happenings therein, government should not attempt to interfere in how churches or mosques conduct their affairs. I do not understand why government, for instance, should dabble into such issue as the tenure of the church or mosque leaders or the succession plan. I do not see how this concerns government. Yes, religious institutions should be public trust, but, whether we like it or not, there is something spiritual about them. Some people are called by God to lead the church. In the biblical days, God called prophets and they functioned in that capacity until death. If some churches say their leaders should be in charge till death, so be it. If other churches have tenure arrangement, where leaders step aside after serving for specified number of years, this should be respected. And when a church leader dies, it should be the duty of the church to decide who takes over. Making a law to say that family members of the church leader should not take over, no matter what members of the church think, is, to say the least, playing god by government. It is dangerous for government to politicise religion. Politics should be left for government and politicians, while affairs of the church or mosque be conducted by pastors, bishops, prophets and imams etc.
Obazee, may just be a fall guy, but I am persuaded that he did not help his case. We should not lose sight of the display of arrogance in his conduct. If what he told church leaders, who complained about the controversial Act, is true, then this former FRC secretary did pass the Rubicon. It was reported that Obazee had declared thus: “You must take this church to heaven, you can’t operate it here.” What impudence! The ex-FRC boss could have made his point without trying to ridicule the church or those who run it. By the way he presented the case, he destroyed all the salient points he ever made. I am, therefore, not surprised how he has ended. He descended to the arena, dabble in the affairs of God, as it were, and got burnt. His case is not far from that of Uzzah, who did what he ought not and got instant punishment.
I am particularly concerned about the church and Christainity. Yes, for the church and its leaders, this is a time for soul-searching. That people are calling for accountability in the church shows that there is something fundamentally wrong in the way God’s money is handled or how the affairs of the church run. Churches get money through tithe and offerings, which ought to be used for its running and the propagation of the gospel, in the main. But when church leaders begin to run the church as if it is their private estate, issues are bound to be raised. Churches should devote their energy to moral inculcation and upbringing, in the building of character and in the spiritual uplift of their members. When churches lay more emphasis on prosperity, to the neglect of the fundamentals, such as moulding of character and building of faith/spirituality, they will lose their essence.
Being at the helm of affairs of the church is a divine calling. Church leaders, who misuse their calling will certainly face the judgment of God. The Bible said that judgment would start in the church. This is why nobody should worry much about what becomes of church leaders, who mismanage their calling. Yes, God will give grace and opportunity for repentance, but certainly His judgment will always come for those who lead the church. And the world is replete with stories of church leaders, who have not ended well.
Last week, in my article, “Buhari Onnoghen and CJN succession tradition,” I stated that the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, has held the position for three months. This is wrong. The honourable CJN has functioned in acting capacity for two months. The error is regretted.