United Nations Peace Ambassadorial Award recipient, philanthropist, preacher and singer, Bishop Isaac Idahosa, is the Presiding Bishop of God First Ministries International, with headquarters in Lagos State. He shares his thoughts on national and religious issues with RITA OKONOBOH. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to go into ministry?
It’s divine inclination. Nobody forced me into it. In fact, people were against it. They wondered why, as a mechanical engineer, I would rather tow the path of frustration. This was because in those days, pastors were viewed as hopeless people. Then, the gains seemed like nothing to write home about, especially for some of those pastors that were up there then. However, God is proving them wrong. When you receive God’s persuasion, you don’t need man’s permission.
What if you were not in ministry?
I would have been nowhere. Because the greatest discovery is that of purpose, that is, the will of God for you and the greatest achievement is the fulfilment of that discovered purpose. So, if I was not in this will of God, I would have been nowhere.
A few years ago, you received the United Nations award as an ambassador for peace in the light of your contribution to the growth of humanity and peaceful religious coexistence. When you look at the state of insecurity in the country, how does being the recipient of such an award make you feel?
Very bad. Insecurity in any part of the country affects all other sides of the country. So, it doesn’t give us joy that such things are invading the nation. You can only make progress where there is peace. And you can only make peace when there is common understanding, love for one another, love for the nation, both for the leaders and followers and knowing the vision that the leaders carry and the ability to sell or market that vision. There is also the need for the followership to imbibe and contribute to seeing the manifestation of the manifesto of the leadership.
As a Christian leader, how would you advise fellow Christian leaders on encouraging peaceful coexistence?
It must be lived. You can preach what you know but you reproduce who you are. As a leader, one must engineer peace by encouraging peaceful coexistence from the family level. There must be peace at home. If there is peace at home, there will be peace in the church, and that transcends into the society.
You grew up in the North. With your firsthand experience, how would you assess the religious tension in that region?
It is lack of understanding and tolerance. If we can tolerate what the Nigerian State stands for as a secular nation where everyone is allowed to practise what he/she believes, no matter the religious leaning, I’m sure such religious tensions will be reduced to the barest minimum.
You’re from the South-South. You grew up in the North. Why did you decide to have your church headquarters in the South-West: Lagos?
My first church was planted in the North, in Minna, Niger State to be precise on the 25th August, 1989, and I keep going there to pay homage because they have contributed immensely to the growth of the church. We even enjoy scholarships from the Niger State government. In fact, when I started the ministry 27 years ago, I was to go to Jos where I would have got a few people who would have helped me to bankroll the dream. However, God told me to go back to where I was brought up and let the first fruit come out from there. We have a regional headquarters there. However, it is where one is based that the headquarters is, and I’m based in Lagos.
It’s not strange for scandals to follow popular church leaders and you have not escaped it. When you hear such reports about people like you and other such ‘big’ pastors, how does it make you feel?
It makes me sit up. Two things determine your speed in life: what is pursuing you and what you are pursuing. Enemies are not walls; they’re doors to your next level. It’s not what happens to you that defines you, but your response. Scandals can be constructive or biased, that is, some scandals come through envy or what a person has actually done. If you really did what they said you did, then you make amends. Only great men make mistakes. The important thing is to ensure not to make same mistake again. When scandals come, it is time to take stock and ask yourself questions: what is it that I’m doing that I shouldn’t do and vice versa. Scandals help to move a person forward if viewed constructively and with a positive mindset. Scandals are like mirrors that help one make assessment, whether true or not. Even the dead are talked about and against, how much more the living. It takes a mark to attract an eraser. So, if you’re making impact, get ready for the good and the bad.
Twenty-seven years ago, you established the church. No doubt, you have produced pastors and daughter-churches. With the increasing number of pastors in Nigeria, immorality seems to be on the rise. What is the church not doing right?
It’s for humanity to dig a well; it’s for divinity to cause it to bring forth water. It’s for us to preach, it’s for the Holy Spirit to convict. Some time ago, I was going to minister outside the country and someone told me that I was leaving Nigeria that needed the message for other lands. We must keep doing what we’ve been asked to do. The church cannot do enough and that doesn’t mean the church is not doing at all. We’re not the light of the church but the light of the world. We’re not the salt of the church but the salt of the earth. So, we keep preaching while the Holy Spirit does the conviction.
You have showed your support for President Muhammadu Buhari’s resolve to fight corruption. How would you react to the notion that the move has been selective?
As long as people have mouths, they must talk. It’s a free world and people are entitled to their opinions. In the long run, we have been able to save some money and recover some properties. So, that is to tell you how much corruption has crept in if the ‘selective’ anti-corruption drive has been able to gather that much. If ‘selective,’ imagine the wholeness. Let’s watch and believe in the system. Let’s make constructive criticism. Let’s talk. Not talking is talking because evil thrives when good men don’t say anything. People should actively participate in politics. Whoever perceives that the fight against corruption has been selective should make that known through the appropriate quarters.
How would you assess the present administration?
So far, so good. When there’s life, there’s hope. Changes are inevitable. With the recent revelation by Mrs Aisha Buhari about some of the ministers being unknown to her husband, if that is really the situation, it is too bad. A man must be responsible for his actions. It is an understatement to say people are suffering. People call for help every time. Recently, in church, I observed a woman who was not moving as the Holy Spirit was moving. I didn’t need prophetic eyes to know she had a need. She seemed absent-minded in church. I asked what was wrong with her and she said she had been unable to pay her children’s school fees. I offered to help and immediately, she loosened up. When God blesses someone, it is expected such person becomes a blessing to others.
How would you advise Christians and Nigerians on creating a better nation?
The prayer in John 17 is still not answered – “That they may be one. The unity of Christians is largely determined by the unity of the clergy. We may have different doctrines but we preach one Christ, one Lord, one cross and one resurrection. We must see ourselves as our brothers’ keepers. We must team up to ensure that the teaching of the gospel cannot go wrong. Let our common factors bring us together. That’s all about salvation. There is no other gospel than that. Doctrines have set us apart but the teaching of the gospel – his suffering, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection is enough for us. We as leaders must come together, then membership will follow.
Your ministry targets a lot of youths. How would you advise the current generation of youths on embracing the gospel the more?
The church must come up with programmes that go beyond what attracts them. The church must not be dogmatic but dynamic. With television, social media and others, youths these days have so much begging for their attention, so the church must do something more striking. See the example of the burning bush and Moses. The gospel must catch their attention. That way, we can reach them. We must sit with the youths. For instance, we bring gospel artistes and comedians to the church. We also organise competitions and trainings. We also provide support for their education. It goes beyond saying ‘Jesus love you.’ We need to prove it.
It is not uncommon for people to assume many things about you. What are a few things people don’t know about you?
One, some say I’m proud. They say I’m not accessible, which is wrong. Two, some say I’m very wealthy, that I’m a billionaire. I receive it in Jesus’ name.
Some of the Chibok girls were released recently. How would you view the situation?
My take is that thank God the girls have been released. Initially the swap report was denied and later accepted. However, what makes us so sure that another set of girls would not be kidnapped? We just pray for more wisdom for our leadership. As the girls were released, there was a bombing. It is really sad. However, we need to know that the remaining girls are safe. We could strike a better deal for the freedom of the girls. We pray for more wisdom for such deals.
As a prophet, has God told you anything about Nigeria?
Nigeria would bounce back. Definitely. How soon is left in God’s hands. These first four years will be very rough. I’m not seeing recession disappearing soon as is being said because there are no structures on ground for dealing with recession. Although things seem to be like it’s the worst but when it gets the hottest, God shows up. God loves Nigeria; it’s a prophetic nation. However, we must not take God for granted. The foundation matters. We must sit down to understand what is really going on, especially at the foundation. The various calls for disintegration must be addressed. The national conference report can also be looked into. We should sit down and take stock so we can make headway. People are suffering and it doesn’t seem like things will get better soon. I was one of those pastors who said Buhari would win. Good leadership should create opportunities out of nothing. They should get like minds to get a way out. Blame games and aspersions are not the solution. After one year, we should face reality and look for a way forward.
You’re from the South South. What solutions would you recommend for addressing the problem of militancy there?
I would recommend dialogue. The greatest wars are won by dialogue. The Avengers have their reasons for destroying what is in their domain. They’ve raised concerns about the fact that oil money is used to develop other areas while their region is left to rot. I would say that is not a bad cause. But is that enough for them to destroy those pipelines? The reason the Niger Delta is important today is dependent much on the oil. The moment that dries up, it is over. Maybe they thought they couldn’t reach the government by mere talking. However, I would recommend dialogue. That is the way forward any day.