Glamour pastor, Reverend Chris Okotie, once again, is hitting the waves on yet another controversial note. He seems to have blended sufficiently well with controversies that whenever such social storms blow, he manages to emerge unruffled, and soon trudges on in life, as if he was never fazed by life’s little hiccups.
But rather than get flustered, the worry this time, seems more from the members of his congregation at the Household of God Church, Oregun, Lagos, whom he openly told last Sunday, during church service, that “the union is not working,” as a passing explanation for the absence of his now separated wife, Stephanie, from the church.
Not a few of the members of his church were shell-shocked and speechless when the funky pastor, who has over time been known for his controversial lifestyle, announced that he has broken up with Stephanie Henshaw, his second wife of four years.
According to him, “Stephanie and I are no longer married. We have separated. You can see she's not in church today. It's due to irreconcilable differences and you should please respect our wishes at this time”, stressing that, “because there is no going back.”
The congregation was bemused. Although unvoiced, many must have exclaimed in their minds, “again?” Controversy had precipitated Okotie’s attempt to get married to Stephanie, a widow and mother of three, after he had divorced his first wife, Tina, who now lives in the United States of America.
The General Overseer of the Lagos-based church came to the attention of the public as a student with his I Need Someone track in the 80s, which became a monster hit. The single held night clubs spellbound for years. Ever since, the funky pop star-turned-pastor has remained a permanent feature on celebrity circuit in the country.
His claim to fame stepped up a notch when he joined partisan politics, seeking to become the president of the country under a party he formed – Fresh Democratic Party (FDP). As a politician, he served mostly as an entertainer, with his lofty and grandiloquent English at party conventions and campaigns, an idiosyncracy that earned him as much laughter as applause. Although he has never made an appreciable showing in the two presidential elections he has contested, his party (the FDP) won a seat in the Delta State House of Assembly a few years ago.
Just like his failed presidential bids, the entries on his marital life report have equally not been cheering. Given his charm, elan and panache, Okotie is generally believed to be a ladies’ man, an attribute that some might conclude conflicts with the Pentecostal genre. But he had managed to beat down (not very successfully though) scandals and rumours surrounding his private life.
So when he chose to “separate” from his campus lover and eventual wife, Tina, in 1998, many sympathised with him especially as the story pushed out was that there was a conflict over the choice on running the ministry here in Nigeria with relocating to the US, as allegedly preferred by Tina. Eventually, Tina moved to the US while Chris continued to pastor his flock in Lagos. That effectively brought down the curtain on the 16-year-old marriage to his first wife.
Ten years later, August 2008, to be precise, he remarried, this time to Stephanie at a colourful ceremony in Lagos. In telling fanfare, the socialite pastor was decked out in a regal Urhobo outfit on that day, all in a bid to express his joy over his marriage to Stephanie.
Despite the protestation from church and family members against a cleric of Okotie’s standing marrying a divorcee or widow, Okotie was purported to have said he was doing God’s bidding, who had directed him into the marriage with Stephanie. Who could controvert the declaration of a MoG (Man of God)? Okotie had his way and married Stephanie.
While justifying his marriage to Stephanie at the time as against Biblical injunctions forbidding divorcees from re-marrying, he had argued, “There is a difference between a man abandoned by his wife and the one that divorces. The only thing that breaks a relationship is a divorce and even when there’s a divorce, the Bible says you can re-marry.”
According to reports, Okotie had during a press conference, said his new bride was destined to marry him from birth and that people really did not appreciate what love is. He said he began ‘walking closely’ with Stephanie in 1999, a year after his divorce and he had asked her to marry him many times. “She was not particularly certain whether it was what God wanted for her. So I had a situation where I had to get the Lord to persuade her that he is part of this agreement,” he had said
But last Sunday, the cookie, once again, crumbled as the clergyman himself announced that things had fallen apart and that the centre could no longer hold. He followed this with a plea that the decision should be respected because they had mutually crossed the rubicon.
Besides, the divorce is now raising questions as to whether Okotie actually heard from God or if it was God that misled him. Now saddled with the reputation of not being able to keep his home together, his ability to serve as a good marriage counsellor to younger and intending couples is being called to question.
While Okotie is divorcing for the second time, Stephanie has now been married three times and has three children from her first two marriages. The breakup also puts an end to the dream twin babies that Okotie had expected her to deliver someday.
Now that Okotie has established himself as a man who flirted with marriage twice, will he someday remarry again? And what will happen to his claims of hearing from God. That perhaps is the harder part in this drama of reconciling a reverend pastor and a man no different from the rest of his congregation.