Interview by Punch Newspaper.
Prophet Israel Ogundipe is the shepherd in charge of the Celestial Church of Christ, Genesis Global Parish, Lagos. He talks to ALEXANDER OKERE about the growing concern about the rising level of poverty and hunger in Nigeria and the recent #EndSARS protests
Hundreds of youths took to the streets in protest against police brutality, calling for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police. What are your thoughts about it?
It was long overdue but I do not support violence in any form. Peaceful protest is globally endorsed to correct abnormalities in society. It is a movement unforeseen by the authorities, hence the harsh approach. It was revolutionary enough until the hoodlums took over. But we have to give time for wounds to heal up.
The Lekki toll gate shooting has continued to generate reactions as to whether unarmed protesters were shot and killed by military personnel or not. What do you think about that controversial incident?
It was an unfortunate incident televised or broadcast globally. Yes, people were shot. Obviously, it was a grievous error by the leadership of this country and (Lagos) state. Regardless of the uncertainty on the number of victims involved, shooting peaceful protesters was bad enough and was avoidable. It is unfortunate indeed. Some people somewhere are trying to hide information which is not even hidden. One of the maxims of equity is that he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.
Do you think the Lagos State Government has been open enough about the incident?
When we talk about leadership, sometimes, loyalty will be involved. When we talk about leadership in Nigeria, we need to look at it from the foundation. I am always careful not to be judgmental because, sometimes, we judge some things from afar before getting to the root. So, they are investigating, maybe when we know the outcome, we will know who to blame.
Many Nigerians appear to be fed up with the current state of governance in the country. Do you think Nigeria’s leaders have failed?
It is not in my place to judge the failure of anyone. But the democratic government of Nigeria has much room to improve in all the sectors, especially in the areas of job creation, provision of basic amenities, youth development and inclusion in governance. Serious youths who have the heart to serve and not rule should be allowed in politics. But instead of doing these, we have in politics cabal-minded youths that will be submissive to some godfathers because they assisted them. As for me, I am not a politician and I am not into politics and don’t want to be, but leadership matters.
Some people have criticised the #EndSARS protesters for not having a clear leadership structure that the governments at the state and federal levels could dialogue with. Do you also share the same view?
They genuinely did that so that no one would take over the mantle of leadership and cling it to themselves. That was transparent enough. Also, many of them were careful not to be bought over. So, it was an eye-opener and a collective fight by the youths who wanted to be heard together.
How would you rate the performance of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in the areas of security, job creation and infrastructure in the last five years?
Governance is not limited to one person. We all should take take part in government, from the local level to the presidency. Until we see ourselves as a collective body in making the dream of a better Nigeria a reality, blaming others will be our norm! An average American sees themselves as having equal ownership in America, regardless of who is at the top, and passionately, they protect it.
Nigeria’s poverty level has been a source of concern for many people. As a philanthropist, how bothered are you about the level of hunger in the country?
I am very worried and concerned. That was why I launched different initiatives during the pandemic, to empower youths and my teachings have been centred on reviving agro farming, and ‘Operation Feed Your Neighbour’, which we did as a church, along with our partners, as we embarked on door-to-door distribution of relief materials to families.
Some Nigerians fear that the problem of poverty may force the poor to rise against the rich, who are in the minority, if nothing is done to address it. Do you think so?
That is coming. What happened (#EndSARS protest) was just an eye-opener. Another one is coming. I had a revelation that between now and December 2020, so many secrets will be revealed; many looters will be exposed. These will provide an opportunity for the youths to strike because hungry people are angry people and angry people are deadly people. I have been there and I know what it means. When I was young and saw people eating bread, I felt like taking half of the bread. As a boy, we ate bread in my house on, maybe, Sundays only. Seven of us used to eat it with water and that was all. We only ate rice on Christmas Day. Some of those who took cartons of noodles away might not have been able to buy one pack of noodles for themselves since the beginning of the year. So, when they finish eating what they have taken, they will come back. The way they will strike will even be worse and they won’t mind dying for food. As a prophet of God, I speak the mind of God without fear or favour. Months back, in one of my telecasts, I stated this emphatically. The nation is tensed by poverty; that’s not the mind of God and wherever injustice prevails, unrest is sure.
There have been reports of the looting of COVID-19 palliatives, public and private property in the aftermath of the protests and some of the suspects claimed the government hid the palliatives from poor Nigerians who needed them. What is your reaction to that?
Lawlessness is unacceptable. However, the hoarding of palliatives is the height of inhumanity of man to man. I can tell you that none of those who took palliatives away discovered the stores by themselves. Those in whom the managers of the distribution of palliatives confided must have given out the information.
What should political leaders do to prevent a mass action that could be worse than the looting and vandalism already recorded in many states?
They should restructure the country! It’s high time the ruling class in Nigeria gave autonomy of power and resources to states that produce them, decentralised and embraced a total reform of the security agencies. The state of security in the nation is nothing to write home about. The police are dehumanised and we aren’t ripe for such.
The visit of a popular Yoruba musician, Wasiu Ayinde, aka K1 De Ultimate, to your church, where he also addressed your members, did not go down well with some Nigerians and the church leadership. What prompted that visit?
The visit of KWAM 1 to my church prompted my getting the United Nations Ambassador for Peace Award. Contrary to what you think, the positive responses I got superseded the negative ones. It was not to spite the authority of my church. It was a unification move for religious tolerance. God is one. Almighty God is love. Regardless of our differences and beliefs, love should be the ultimate goal.
Some people believe your church, which is an affiliation of the Celestial Church of Christ, has deviated from some of the conservative practices of the CCC, like opening the doors of a CCC church. What’s your response to that?
Ironically, our doors are perpetually open and we have not deviated as some believe. I have a mandate to win souls to the celestial church without clamouring for the leadership of the church. I am a dangerous soul winner for God. I have the gift of discerning innate gifts of people and bringing them to the fore for global manifestations. Definitely, the strategies will be different. I am on a divine assignment as a servant-leader in the celestial church to harvest new generations of ‘graced kingdom giants’. I am on course and have not derailed.
Does your philanthropy have anything to do with your upbringing or childhood?
Absolutely! My background has a lot to do with my being and giving is what I do effortlessly because of my days of humble beginning.
In an interview in 2018, you spoke about how a woman assaulted your mother for wearing the same dress to church every Sunday. What were the challenges you faced as a child growing up in a poor family?
My parents were villagers. But I believe that if one is purpose-driven and consistent, they shouldn’t think about the money they want to make but the impact. My parents converted from Islam to Christianity. They attended Christ Gospel Apostolic Church, and it was very hard for my parents at that time as everybody in the family rejected them. My father used to sleep in a mosque and later went to learn how to print. My mother was a pepper seller at Oshodi bus stop; she used to sit beside the road there and I usually sat beside her. When it rained, she would used the nylon material meant for covering the pepper to cover me while she was drenched. When you talk about greatness, my foundation and story didn’t look great. It was so bitter that I never thought it would be better. But I had that conviction in my heart that I must be the best in anything I do. So, I started doing menial jobs, following bricklayers to sites and doing such things. I have the mentality of an entrepreneur; I sold oranges, ice water and was a squeegee boy. So, when I see children cleaning the windscreens of cars in traffic, I give them money because I have done it before.
I knew what it meant to return home with N5 or N10 that the whole family depended on it for one month. It was that bad. It was so bad that I had to go to parties to pack leftovers and take home to my younger siblings to eat. My parents didn’t eat them. I collected leftovers just like other boys people see as hoodlums, though some of the boys I did that with were criminally-minded. I had love for education but there was no way for my parents to sponsor my education. My father tried to enrol me in a school but couldn’t because there was no money. However, that experience taught me how to develop myself. I started reading books when I came into the ministry. I didn’t attend a Bible or theology school. I have a library in my house and in my office. So, I promised to help people if God helped me. To the glory of God, He used me to build a small house for my parents. My dad is dead now but my mum is still alive. She is 72 years old and she prays for me. But God didn’t let the suffering to continue for too long before proving to the community that the rejected stone would be important one day.
Many pastors have been criticised for preaching the prosperity gospel in order to grow their membership and become famous. What’s your opinion on that?
We are in perilous times, indeed, whereby men of God are criticised unjustly. Prosperity is a teaching of hope for the hopeless. There’s no magic to it. Jesus Christ was a rich man, indeed. For every incident of reproach and lack, he got provision. As a matter of fact, prosperity is a mandate of every believer of Christ. Read Isaiah 60:16. It’s a command for us to be favoured.
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