By Femi Falana
On October 8, 2017, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Cardinal Olubunmi Anthony Okogie criticised the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, over his decision to have as many branches of the church as possible. In his condemnation of such mushrooming of churches, the Cardinal described them as “mere business centres,” insisting that there was indeed no godliness in building churches in close proximity. Specifically, Archbishop Emeritus said that “I heard that one of my colleagues, Pastor Adeboye, said that he would love to build churches everywhere so as to make it easy for worshipers to walk to them. But for me, that is a useless statement. How can you say you will build churches everywhere? What kind of churches are you talking about?
The Cardinal further stated that “Look at traffic in Lagos for example, and those who are pastors are traders and a good number of them are businessmen. Such churches in most cases are more like business houses! Look at the number of churches springing up in Lagos. If the Muslims start building mosques like that, does it show that Nigeria is a religious country? Every day we hear of killings and other things that we were not hearing before. Churches must ensure that there is fear of God. They just rent houses and in order to make more money, they license them. They pay their dues to the bosses in the churches, every one of them. Some of them can’t pay their own house rents. Yet every Sunday, they gather in the house there and say they are opening churches. One must think twice; and I don’t think that God wants us to serve Him with force.”
During the Felabration lecture held on October 20th 2017, some media men and women asked me to comment on the vexed issue of the proliferation of churches. Even though I have my respect for the revered Pastor Enoch Adeboye, I was compelled to pitch my tent with Cardinal Okogie. I opined that the proliferation of churches could not be justified under the Physical Planning Laws of Lagos State and other States of the Federation. Since Nigeria has enough churches (the highest number in the world) I called for the proliferation of factories and workshops to promote prosperity among indigent worshippers. I also called on religious leaders to ensure that the children and wards of the poor members of their congregation could afford the tuition fees charged by universities built by churches.
I had forgotten about the matter since I expressed my views on it over four years ago. I was therefore taken aback when Dr. Doyin Okupe gave the mischievous impression yesterday that I had just been granted the interview. In his self-serving opinion, he advised me to stay in the areas of my core competence and not dabble into a religion where I am obviously “so uninformed.” Frankly speaking, my comment was anchored on law and not on religion. In justifying the proliferation of churches in Nigeria, Dr. Okupe stated that “Pastor Adeboye and the RCCG are obeying the instructions of our Lord Jesus when he charged his disciples to go into every corner on the surface of the earth and preach the gospel. Mark16:15”. Pastor Okupe will agree with me that Jesus would not have supported the establishment of churches in defiance of the Physical Planning Law of any State in Nigeria since he had cautioned the Pharisees “to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” Mark 12:17.
I am not unaware that Dr. Okupe has formally declared his intention to contest the 2023 presidential election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. No doubt, the politician needs all the exposure and publicity to popularise himself as he has promised: “a government that prioritises the needs of the poor.” While wishing him success in the electioneering campaign ahead I am compelled to advise him to refrain from misrepresenting or distorting my views on matters of public interest. Dr. Okupe is equally advised to stop dragging the name of Pastor Adeboye through the mud of the discredited ruling class political parties.
*Femi Falana is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria