Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye: A Tale of Missed Opportunities?
Sung H. Bauta, Ph.D.
Journalist Adeola Fayehun argues that Nigeria will change for the better when Nigerian Christians, particularly church leaders, lead reforms. As a Christian and pastor, I resisted the urge to be defensive of Fayehun’s position. Moreover, as a self-proclaimed Christian, Fayehun is also placing the heavy responsibility on herself. Besides, her position aligns with Jesus’s statement that much is required from the one who has entrusted with much (Luke 12:48). So, I investigated the ways Nigerian church leaders have engaged in advocacy. In their book Advocating for Justice, Stephen Offutt, et al, argue for “transformational advocacy,” where evangelicals act intentionally to hold “people and institutions accountable for creating, implementing, and sustaining just and good policies and practices geared toward the flourishing of society.” Unfortunately, most Nigerian church leaders are deficient in advocating for reforms, they have failed to model transformational advocacy.
Most Christian leaders in Nigeria have not used their platforms to challenge injustices in the country. There are people who would disagree with my conclusion by pointing to pastors who speak publicly on political issues. But, as I show in this article, most of the pastors’ rhetoric and political engagements have been self-serving. Although pastors across Nigeria’s denominational and geographic spectra should be equally held responsible for the failure to advocate for a better Nigeria, most of the blame rests on the shoulders of Nigeria’s most influential pastors. There is a plethora of influential clerics in Nigeria. In this article, I focus on Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye. Adeboye’s recent announcement to resign as head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) makes him the perfect case study. Under his leadership, RCCG is deficient in transformational advocacy.
Of course, RCCG members and Adeboye’s admirers remember him fondly. They would highlight the many accomplishments RCCG witnessed under his leadership. Truth be told, RCCG witnessed remarkable achievements under Adeboye’s guidance. Adeboye should be commended for his years of faithfulness as General Overseer of RCCG. Under Adeboye’s leadership at RCCG, the Holy Spirit has brought many people into a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ! Other people have (re)discovered their purposes in life. And because of the church’s emphasis on literacy, many people have received a good education that positions them to succeed. Adeboye’s vision for planting a church in every major city of the world is a testament to his faith in God! He exudes remarkable humility in the ways he has steered the church in the last four decades. The achievements RCCG has gained under his leadership cannot be exhausted in this article.
Adeboye does not consider himself a political figure. Therefore, is it fair to critiqued him for his political advocacy? Adeboye warrants critique for two major reasons: First, he is an important political figure in Nigeria. His position accords him proximity to many prominent people in the country. Second, one of his pastors, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, is the current Vice President of Nigeria. This is significant for a couple of reasons: (1) Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Because religion permeates every aspect of life in Nigeria, Christian leaders such as Adeboye wield enormous influence on many Nigerians than politicians! His messages, for instance, find their way into the political arena. You will also find his pictures on billboards, sewing machines, car bumpers, and keke (commercial tricycle) windshields. He reaches hundreds of thousands of people in Nigeria and around the world through countless media outlets! Moreover, Adeboye encourages his followers to take their faith into the marketplace; and (2) Osinbajo submits to the spirit that guides the hierarchy within RCCG; thus, even as the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he is subservient to the “anointed” General Oversee!
Given the influential position he assumes in the country, why is RCCG deficient in transformational advocacy? If you visit RCCG’s website, the church’s “what we do” link shows the different relief and development efforts of RCCG. I should note that the home page advocates for Leah Sharibu’s release; but that is as far as the advocacy goes. Simply, RCCG is deficient in advocacy because Adeboye has not modeled transformational advocacy, especially during the Buhari administration. Because of its strong financial status, RCCG can pursue its laudable relief and development efforts without government interference. However, it is impossible to avoid interacting with the government when government decisions affect the lives of the people RCCG is assisting. Therefore, relief and development efforts are not enough to break the cycle of poverty. Advocacy is necessary to hold the Buhari government (and all governments) accountable for their decisions that plunge Nigerians into penury. It is important not only to call people to social action, but to embody such social action.
Adeboye’s failure to embody transformational advocacy for the Nigerian people is illustrated by the many reported meetings he has had with Buhari: In February 2016, he visited Buhari in Aso Rock. Adeboye also visited Buhari when Buhari was undergoing treatment in London in 2017. Then, Adeboye held a Christmas concert at Aso Rock in 2017. We are uncertain if he met with Buhari at that time. The last time they met was last year, 2020. Adeboye visited Buhari regarding the proposed Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) bill. Fayehun commended Adeboye for his meetings with Buhari. According to Fayehun, unlike clerics who “curse people out on their pulpits,” Adeboye opted for dialogue. However, self-serving meetings do not deserve applause, no matter the civility of the meetings. The fact that we are not privy to the contents of any of his reported meetings with Buhari is troubling. The direction of the country under the Buhari proves that Adeyoye’s many visits with the president were for personal, not national, expediency. Therefore, I did not take Adeboye seriously when, in February 2020, he participated in a prayer walk to protest the security challenges in the country after the brutal murder of Lawan Andimi, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Chairman in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State, by affiliates of Boko Haram.
RCCG members staged a massive turn-out during the prayer walk protest. Adeboye carried a placard with the inscription, “All souls are precious to God.” Overwhelmingly, his actions conjured positive reactions from many Nigerians. Among those who hailed Adeboye and the RCCG faithful include Omoyele Sowore, the leader of the #RevolutionNow campaign; Senator Shehu Sani, former senator of Kaduna Central; and Aisha Yesufu, a rights activist. Even Femi Fani-Kayode praised Adeboye and his congregation for their solidarity march. However, while commending them, he added that he hoped Adeboye and his congregation would be courageous enough to admit that supporting Buhari’s presidency was a mistake. Then, he inquired if the Vice President would join the match. Although one can sense the sarcasm in Fani-Kayode’s comments, he does have a point. Given his proximity to the presidency, why was Adeboye walking in protest? Was Adeboye’s protest walk an admittance that the Buhari government he endorsed has indeed failed the Nigerian people? Please, do not misunderstand me, protest march is a form of advocacy; but, for Adeboye, the protest march was the path of least resistance to denouncing the failures of a government he endorsed. By choosing the path of least resistance in championing for reforms in Nigeria, Adeboye has done the country a huge disservice!
Regarding Adeboye’s protest walk, Ayo Sogunro, another activist, who was among those that called the church to activism many years prior was delighted by what he saw: “I remember when, years ago, people like myself asked that Adeboye and other influential pastors do something like this. We were attacked by their congregation; this is not the job of a pastor. And what about now? And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord,” he tweeted. Sogunro’s words are quite revealing. What gave RCCG members the impression that it was not the job of a pastor to participate in advocacy? It is because Adeboye did not model transformational advocacy to RCCG members. He might not enjoy insulting politicians from the pulpit or inciting violent resistance, but he has not done much of anything to advocate for a better Nigeria. Other than the protest walk in February 2020 to highlight the worsening security situation in the country, Adeboye has not engaged in letter writing, campaigns, lobbying or other forms of advocacy. Only recently did I hear him agitate for restructuring Nigeria to avoid breaking up the country, but the ten-minute video failed to advocate for a better Nigeria. Restructuring Nigeria is not the crux of the matter towards a better Nigeria, good governance is! People and institutions must be held accountable for generating, executing, and safe-guarding right and fair policies/practices that enhance the lives of every Nigerian. If clerics like Adeboye refuse to demand change in Nigeria’s fortune through transformational advocacy, the evil that permeates the nation called “Nigeria” would persist.