EMMANUEL UCHENNA UGWU
If Fela was still here, he would have shot the perfect retort at the Bishop who counseled politicians to pattern their stealing after the style of James Ibori. The Afrobeat legend would have tweaked his classical song, Teacher, No Teach Me Nonsense. He would have sang, ‘’Bishop, No Preach Me Nonsense!’’
Fela and I happen to share something in common: We are children of Christian priests. So I fill in for him and declaim: The Anglican Bishop of Ughelli Diocese preached arrant nonsense!
The bishop’s words are too offensive to quote. Here’s the diluted paraphrase: Delta state would have been a paradise if it was blessed with many Iboris. The master thief was a benevolent plunderer. He stole from Delta treasury and built some schools. All politicians should steal like Ibori.
Now, it’s somewhat understandable when a President Goodluck Jonathan comes on national TV to advance the proposition that ‘’stealing is not corruption.’’ The statement says more about Jonathan’s character than his vocabulary. He was feeble, fickle, and feckless. His presidency was one long night of a robbery operation!
But it’s an inflection point when an otherwise respectable religious leader abandons his sermon, takes to mind-bending deception, and tells his members that a Lawrence Anenih incarnate is the role model they should emulate!
Stealing is a sin. Even if the value system of today’s Nigeria accommodates it as an effete taboo, the church should not revise its teaching to suit the new normal of moral decadence. It ought to remain the indefatigable standard bearer of rectitude.
The bible prohibits theft. One of the Ten Commandments is ‘’Thou shall not steal.’’ Any person with the most elementary knowledge of the Bible knows that it does not, in any way, license larceny.
Which leads to the question: Which Bible does the Bishop read? What verse of the Bible did he find that permits stealing? What precept in its 66 chapters obligated him to urge his members to steal after the order of one Nigeria’s most vicious kleptocrats?
Some hold that the calling of a ‘man of God’ automatically puts him beyond human query. You cannot interrogate his speech or conduct, however obnoxious or divergent from with Christian witness they may be. They cite the ‘’Touch not my anointed” caveat as the pastors’ immunity clause. They say the priests are accountable to God alone. Only God may judge his elect–in eternity!
But that’s fallacy. Pastors are not above interrogation. They are ‘’subject to like passions as we are’’. They are fallible. They can be taken to task when they light a strange fire in the temple.
Pastoring is a trust. A pastor’s usefulness depends on his prudent stewardship of his spiritual influence. Thus, a pastor is not permitted to indulge recklessness. He must comport himself with couth and dignity. He must embody the message he preaches.
He is constantly watched and studied. His words should not stream from comic nerdom. They must be distilled from study and meditation. They must be ‘seasoned with salt.’
The pastor has a prophetic duty to instruct and correct. A mandate to rebuke and to reprove. To direct his society to a more excellent way.
The pastor nudges his members towards good. He introduces them to temperance, contentment, patience, mercy. He guides them towards honesty, meekness, gentleness. He inspires them to pursue the actualization of the vision of their regenerated selves.
He doesn’t tempt their fallen nature. He does not arouse their carnality. He does not tell them to covet more, to steal more…so they could bring him a bigger tithe next Sunday!
The bishop’s main mission is to win souls. He desecrated that very solemn assembly by pointing his worshipers to criminality. He stood the abomination that causes desolation in the holy place.
His flippant remark is a crying shame. It is unjustifiable. It’s so antithetical to the Christian belief system it can’t be excused as a gaffe, a slip of the tongue.
The bishop is not a rookie. He is an experienced pastor. He is a bishop. The pastor of many pastors. He was not supposed to elevate his personal opinion above the standard creed. The presence of big politicians, many of them Ibori’s surrogates, should not have excited him into a flirtation with heresy.
The Bible says that a bishop ‘’must be …vigilant, sober…apt to teach; not given to wine, not given to wine, no striker, not a brawler, not covetous…’’
Reading the excerpt of the bishop’s sermon, one gets the impression that he was probably not possessed of his full consciousness. He appeared to have preached while drunk!
That’s possibly the only reason why the awkwardness of his echo did not freeze him midway. Had he been as sober as the service demands of the minister, he would have heard himself and been scandalized. And he would have stopped dead in his track, recanted, and apologized.
But the bishop seems to hold the conviction he was reported to have espoused. One whole week has passed since the report gained currency. He has not deigned to walk back the nauseating statement. Neither has he issued a retraction.
This is very troubling. A man who expounded on that warped concept of morality and who is too proud to acknowledge his trespass is a security risk. He has no business wearing a mitre and posing like a bible teacher and a religious authority. He should not be in charge of the network of churches called a Diocese. He should not have even a single pulpit to propagate his toxic message.
This might not be the first time he is ‘preaching’ James Ibori, the thief, instead of Jesus Christ, the savoir. He may have been disseminating this anti-sermon and polluting many souls for years.
His likes mislead the fold. They disillusion people who are struggling with their flaws but who come to church hungry and thirsty for righteousness. His ilk send them away disoriented, distraught, and disappointed –after divesting them of their offering!
The bishop taught those who attended his church that day how to steal. Not how to conquer the temptation to steal.
Everyone knows the one incontestable truth about Ibori: He has always been an incorrigible thief. He has never passed up an opportunity to steal:
He stole from a convenience store. He stole a credit card. He stole a birth certificate. He stole US$250 million from Deltans.
Sue Pattern, head of the Crown Prosecution Service central fraud group, said Ibori ‘’stole from some of the poorest people in the world.’’
Even as the bishop was praising Ibori, a part of The Panama Papers, the biggest leak of financial data in the world, revealed how the thieving genius hid portions of his loot in secret offshore tax havens.
The plague of the Nigerian Christendom is the charlatans who purport to be its leaders. Of late, they have taken to spewing out sound bites that ordinarily belong to the mouths of Olisa Metu and Ayo Fayose. To listen to the ‘bishops’ is to experience embarrassment, shame, and disgust.
At the beginning of the Buhari administration, Matthew Hassan Kukah (he is a Bishop too!) ‘preached’ that Nigeria should make peace with the corruption of the Jonathan era. He asked that we tell our collective memory the lie that the rape never happened.
If President Buhari had listened to Kukah’s homily, we would not have been onto the criminal exploits of Sambo Dasuki, Patrick Akpobolokemi, Olisa Metu, Kingsley Kuku, Alex Badeh, and Diezani Allison-Madueke. We would still have thought they were their masks. We wouldn’t have known they were compulsive thieves. And they would have been preying on our ignorance of their true identity.
Then, John Onaiyekan (he is an archbishop; a Cardinal– a potential Pope!) gathered Catholic politicians and ‘preached’ that Buhari should handle corruption matters ‘’more gently’’ so that ‘’the word ‘persecution’ would not start coming up.’’
The other day in University of Lagos, Femi Aribisala, the self-styled ‘’faith columnist’’, worked a crowded room of undergraduates, and got the kids infatuated with his romanticized description of the beauty of unmitigated corruption!
It’s a pity that the bishop approves of Ibori’s rob-them-big-bribe-them-small fraud. The token schools Ibori built doesn’t make him a hero. Those schools are not the best of their kind in Nigeria. He couldn’t build quality schools because he spent his entire two terms divvying up state funds and allocating the lion share to himself.
The dearth of good leaders in Nigeria should not compel the beatification of a reprobate like Ibori. He may be the most ‘cheerful giver’ the bishop has ever met. But the rogue is certainly not the gold standard of gubernatorial excellence.
A plurality of Iboris would turn Delta into a disaster zone. The clones would sack the state to the point of scorched earth!
Thieves don’t come worse than Ibori. It’s a testimony of his class that he still steals in confinement:
He stretched his hand from behind the bars of a London jail… and stole the bishop’s heart!