The Nigerian church faces the challenge posed by a ‘generation of vipers’ who kill members, abuse women and commit fraudulent acts instead of leading sinners to Christ.
In February, a Chief Magistrates’ Court sitting in Port Harcourt remanded in prison custody one Pastor Chidebere Okoroafor, who claimed to be the founder of the Altar of Solution Church. His offence? The so-called man of God was alleged to have killed a 25-year- old pregnant woman and two others.
Shamefully, the man 32-year-old ‘pastor’ who should convert souls from disgrace and death was paraded among other criminals at the police headquarters in Port Harcourt.
The victims of Okoroafor’s wickedness included one Ada Concilia Ezenwa, Uluoma Onweagba and 1- month-old Christabel Joseph Ezenwa. They were his church members.
According to the outcome of an investigation by the police, Okoroafor allegedly lured his victims to an uncompleted building in a farm in Afam axis of Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State, where he killed the three of them.
The report claimed that the pregnant victim was having amorous relationship with the accused pastor before she was murdered alongside two others.
Okoroafor had confessed to the murder of the pregnant woman and other female members of his church, but denied killing the 11-month old baby girl. He reportedly told the court that he strangled Ada to death and pushed the pregnant Uluoma, who fell down, broke her neck and died. The accused is facing a three-count charge of murder.
The trial Chief Magistrate, Kariba Braide, ordered that the ‘pastor’ be remanded in prison custody, while the case was to be transferred to the High Court where Okoroafor will be properly tried for this capital offence. The case was then adjourned to March 27. If found guilty, ‘Pastor’ Okoroafor would face death by hanging or shooting, under Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
Okoroafor is not the only self-styled pastor who is reportedly engaged in criminal acts in Nigeria. Data collected from newspaper reports over a period of one year, from January 2017 to January 2018, shows that over 100 ‘men of God’ had been arraigned in various courts in Nigeria over allegations that they had been engaged in criminal activities. The cases reported are mainly from the South-West and South-East states. In these two geopolitical zones journalists are active in court reporting, hence the newspapers have been able to capture many instances in which ‘pastors’ have been dragged to courts of law.
In 2014, there was the famous case of the arrest and prosecution of one Pastor Timothy Ngwu for alleged sexual harassment, and indiscriminate impregnating of both married and single women in his church.
It was reported that “Timothy Ngwu, said to be a self-acclaimed Pastor, who also doubles as the Leader and General Overseer of Vineyard Ministry of the Holy Trinity, Ihe-Owerre, Nsukka Loocal Government Area of Enugu State” was remanded in Enugu prison for allegedly “impregnating over 20 female members of his church.” He claimed to be doing the ‘will of God’ while carrying out the criminal acts, arguing that his victims were “chosen and revealed by the Holy Spirit.”
Out of the 103 reported cases captured in the data analysis, 41 of them were about sexual offences, ranging from rape, camping of girls for sexual acts, impregnating church members, illicit sex, having sexual affairs with mother and daughter, turning the church into a prostitution ring, rape and robbery, and shameless incest.
Other criminal offences for which pastors have been dragged to courts include 20 cases of fraud and 10 cases of child abuse. There were multiple cases of armed robbery, theft, kidnapping, sodomy, land grabbing, trafficking in hard drugs, and sundry other offences.
In Nigeria, the activities of these criminal pastors have a negative effect on the Christian faith as many unbelievers or weak Christians see those who bear the title of ‘Pastor’ as potential criminals instead of oracles of God. The scripture may have predicted such sheep in wolves clothing in 2 Peter 2:1- 12, which says: But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.”
‘They are False Prophets’
So-called pastors who indulge in criminal activities fall into the bracket of false prophets and teachers which Jesus predicted, said Reverend Levi Adegbe, the Chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Oshodi Branch in Lagos State. “It’s a fulfilment of the scriptures,” Adegbe said. “Today, self-branded pastors indulge in adultery, divorce of wives, and even despicable activities, like making sacrifices in church buildings. This is unheard of in the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Rev Adegbe said he had initially thought such evil practices among pastors were incidental, but an encounter with a law enforcement officer changed this notion. He explained his perspective-changing moment thus: “I had gone to a police station to bail a pastor in detention. There, I met the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) who told me that there were many so-called pastors in the detention centre. Some were involved in forgery, fraud, international passport racketeering, trafficking of young women for prostitution, prayer-for-cash, ritual killings, and all sorts of criminal acts. They give the church a bad name.”
‘Called by Their Belly’
Blaming the difficult economic situation for these desperate activities by so-called pastors, Rev Adegbe alluded to Apostle Paul’s epistle to Philippians in which he warned against the emergence of greedy church leaders. He said “For as I have often told you before, and now declare even with tears: Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18,19). Such pastors see the church as a business enterprise, not a calling to serve God, Rev Adegbe said, adding that the Church leadership in Nigeria should find an avenue to bring together pastors and expose them to the purpose of Christianity.
“We need in-house cleansing within the church. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), PFN and other such organisations should have a mechanism to discipline pastors who misbehave. Ministers must constantly examine themselves, to ensure that they do not stray out the borders of Christianity,” Rev Adegbe counselled.
On his part, Rev Adebayo Oladeji, the Special Assistant on Media and Communication to the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) argued that “the menace of fake pastors is an end-time sign as clearly stated in the Bible. Jesus and the Apostles have warned us. Those who fall into their antics are not deep in the Word. A lot of people have no time to study the Word of God and whatever they are told by anybody pretending to be somebody in the vineyard of God is acceptable.”
The spokesman of CAN President Rev Dr Samson Olasupo Ayokunle quoted several scriptures to prove that false pastors and prophets have been besetting issues even in Bible days. He quoted 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, which says: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” Also, 2 Peter 2:1-3 warns against such prophets thus: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
The book of 1 John 4:1 adds that: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Rev Oladeji stated further that it would be an error for any one “to be using these fake pastors and prophets as the standard of the Church. Whatever that is real always has a fake. Every currency has its fake, but does that mean the genuine ones are not in existence or must be discredited? No. Some criminals have been caught impersonating prominent government personalities but that mean those they are impersonating are fakes also? No. I urge people to have time for the Word of God in order to be able to know if anyone is making lies out of it. For example, any pastor asking you to do what Jesus did not do should be ignored and even reported to law enforcement agents.”