Nigeria’s Redefining Moments

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Foursquare Gospel Church, Asokoro, Abuja, recently celebrated its 14th year anniversary amid pomp and pageantry. The climax was the explosive anniversary lecture delivered by Pastor Tunde Bakare, where he explored various phases of Nigeria’s journey and the place of the church in the crises bedeviling the country. Omololu Ogunmade writes

It was a refreshing moment a fortnight ago when Foursquare Gospel Church, Asokoro, Abuja, took the lead in the religious circle to examine the role of the church in Nigeria’s biting economic recession.

With an incisive lecture, entitled ‘The Church and Economic Recession’, delivered by the Serving Overseer of Latter Rain Assembly, the occasion was the climax of the celebration of 14 years anniversary of the church’s existence.

Accompanied by resounding applause, Bakare’s lecture transcended spiritual concerns on economic crisis to involve the exploration of the subject of recession and factors which plunged Nigeria into it.

Before going into the lecture, Bakare paid tribute to the Senior Pastor of Foursquare Gospel Church, Asokoro, Rev. Babajide Olowodola, his associate, Rev. Adeolu Odusote, chairperson of the occasion, Senator Helen Esuene and the anniversary committee chairman, Senator Domingo Obende. He also paid glowing tribute to the memory of the first General Superintendent of Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria, the late Rev. Samuel Odunaike, whom he said influenced his Christian life positively in the late 70’s.

Bakare laid the premise for his lecture by asserting that recession was not an end in itself but rather a means to an end as he recalled how the founder of the International Church of Foursquare Gospel, Aimee Semple Macpherson, during the depression of 1920-1921 in the United States, raised $250,000, a huge sum of money at the time, to build a classic church edifice which has remained a reference almost a century later.

Bakare therefore, by his allusion to the feat attained by McPherson in a time of depression, attempted to challenge his audience that economic meltdown, irrespective of its degree, could be a platform for overwhelming breakthrough if it was systematically explored.

Hear him: “Nearly a century ago, a woman of God broke the jinx of man-made limitation and of confinement to the proverbial ‘kitchen, living room and other room’ by doing the unprecedented. She defied all odds – socio-cultural norms, religion and gender – to establish the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. As if that was not enough, she went ahead to build Angelus Temple, an architectural masterpiece in the heart of Los Angeles, the film industry capital of America, as the place of worship for the new church.

“The woman, Aimee Semple McPherson, driven by nothing other than simple obedience to God, and with no connections or earthly inheritance, raised $250,000, the modern day equivalent of just over $3m according to a 2014 estimate, to build that edifice during the economic depression of 1920-1921. In today’s Nigeria, Aimee Semple McPherson would have had to raise about N1 billion to build that new phenomenon in church architecture,” Bakare said.

Digging deep into the lecture, Bakare stated without equivocation that the current economic recession confronting Nigeria was not peculiar to Africa’s largest economy but rather a trend in notable countries such as Canada, Ecuador, Venezuela, Algeria, Brazil, Iraq, Russia, Libya, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Even though the lecture was organised by a church, Bakare did not approach it only from spiritual perspective, instead he adopted a holistic approach to the theme, exploring the concept of recession from both secular and spiritual perspectives.

Sounding scholastic, Bakare proceeded to educate his enthusiastic audience on the meaning of recession and how recession often climaxes with depression.

According to him, a recession graduates into depression when economic downturn becomes prolonged. This, he said, occurs when economic activities become unproductive for a longer period as evident in increasing unemployment rate, bankruptcy, declining investor/consumer confidence and negative growth as reflected in gross domestic product (GDP), among others.
“Experts define a recession as a significant decline in activity across the economy, lasting longer than a few months. According to Investopedia, a leading online source of investment related definitions: A recession is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail trade. The technical indicator of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“In my opening, I referred to Aimee Semple McPherson’s raising of funds for the building of Angelus Temple during a depression. Depression is a sustained form of recession. Again, according to Investopedia: Depression is a severe and prolonged downturn in economic activity. In economics, a depression is commonly defined as an extreme recession that lasts two or more years. A depression is characterised by economic factors such as substantial increases in unemployment, a drop in available credit, diminishing output, bankruptcies and sovereign debt defaults, reduced trade and commerce, and sustained volatility in currency values. In times of depression, consumer confidence and investments decrease, causing the economy to shut down.

“I am once again reminded of a profound re-couching of the terms recession and depression I heard recently: Recession is when your neighbour loses his job and turns to you for help; depression is when you lose your job and have no one to turn to. That seems to corroborate the technical position that Nigeria is in a recession as our leaders have been traveling the world in search of help in the form of loan deals, foreign direct investments and, more recently, advance payments to meet cash calls for joint venture operations,” Bakare said.

Although he acknowledged certain views that the current economic recession in Nigeria was spurred by the fall in prices of crude oil in the international market since the late 2014 as well as the protracted vandalism of oil pipelines by militants under the aegis of Niger Delta Avengers, Bakare was swift to blame the trend on mismanagement of the nation’s commonwealth when there was economic boom.

According to the fiery preacher, as much as God has been good to Nigeria, turning doom into boom at different times, Nigeria’s current economic regression has been largely caused by myopicism and complacency of its leaders whom he accused of failing to diversify the economy to other viable and productive sectors when the going was good.

Bakare recalled, for instance, that the 1973 oil embargo by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), cleared the coast for “Nigeria’s first oil boom.” This boom, he added, resulted in a steady rise in the nation’s GDP growth from about $10 billion in 1972 to about $90 billion within a decade. This he said culminated in the era of petro-dollars and thus prompting a statement credited to a Nigeria’s former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, that “our problem is not money but how to spend it.”

Bakare lamented: “With that posture, despite the aggressive industrialisation, import substitution programme and the broader national development plans of the government at that time, Nigeria ended up squandering an opportunity to diversify her economy and build sovereign wealth. Therefore, when the global recession of the early 1980s hit the nation, the gains of the boom years translated to doom and GDP fell to about $25 billion by 1989.

“However, with the Gulf War in 1990, oil prices rose and Nigeria’s GDP began to pick up once again. This rate of production was sustained for a few more years until 1996 when more intense exploration and drilling activities led to a sharp rise in production with GDP rising back to the $90 billion level towards the end of the decade. Rather than fund the development of the nation and the wellbeing of the Nigerian people with this boom, the military government and their civilian collaborators ended up looting the gains of that short-lived era of prosperity.
“Furthermore, as a result of the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003, Nigeria was given another chance at wealth creation and management as the price of crude gradually rose.
Laudably, the economic team of the Obasanjo-led administration, comprised the likes of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo and Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, demonstrated astute management of resources despite the limitations of the political atmosphere.

“By the end of that administration, the GDP growth occasioned by rising oil prices resulted in reserves of about $67 billion. Our external debt had also been severely reduced following the Paris Club agreement. However, not only were the macroeconomic gains of that era not translated to wealth creation and poverty reduction for the teeming population; the gains were also eventually lost as that administration left a legacy of ill-prepared succession.”

For Bakare, the current economic crisis was midwived by the advent of unprepared leaders whom he accused of failing to harness the available resources in the era of boom fostered by the height of political crisis tagged the Arab Spring, and the eventual sanction on Iran. These twin developments, the legal practitioner-turned preacher recalled, pushed up oil prices to the peak of $145 per barrel in 2008 before it later dropped to $100 per barrel until December 2014 when the price drastically fell.

Bakare added that the era of “unprepared leadership” did not only witness unaccountable spendings but also gave rise to “reported massive lootings through oil subsidies and diverted defence budgets.” The aftermath, he said, led Nigeria into “an economy in dire straits” which he said the current government had been struggling to fix in the past 18 months.

“A few months ago, the Minister of Finance admitted that Nigeria is officially in a recession. While the GDP shrunk by 0.36 per cent as at the first quarter of 2016, production dipped by 2.06 per cent as at the second quarter. Evidently, Nigeria’s recession is largely self-inflicted and could have been avoided,” Bakare remarked.

Now, how does recession affect the church? Or put differently, what role should the church play in this misfortune? Bakare answered these questions in different ways. First, he highlighted how the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa of the Church of God Mission, as one of the founding fathers of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), laid the foundation for prosperity movement in the spiritual circle in the 1970’s. He said the movement later culminated in prosperity within the Christian fold through the preaching of messages of faith, a move he said was later hijacked by covetous preachers in the 1990s.

Second, he highlighted the roles expected to be played by the church in times of recession, as he likened today’s economic upheavals to what was known as “famine” in Bible days.
Third, Bakare proceeded to classify the church into seven different categories, viz: the scandalous church which he said was usually characterised by scandals; the bankrupt church which he said would be plunged into bankruptcy by recession because the “income could not meet their obligations;” the struggling church which he said experienced a decline in attendance, tithes and offerings as a result of the recession and the passive church which he said was not concerned about economic crisis but rather pre-occupied with goals of making heaven.

Other categories of the church, as enumerated by Bakare, were survivor/humanitarian church, whose pre-occupation, he said, was how to survive the economic crisis by developing “creative revenue generation strategies to keep afloat”; the investor church which he said had “a sufficient resource base to fund businesses and capital projects and to lift populations from poverty.”

He said the investor/humanitarian church in this category would invest its resources in the economy and consequently help in boosting it. Subsequently, he said this church would deploy some of the dividends of its investments to cater for the welfare of the less privileged.
The last category, according to the preacher, is the governing church which he said would exalt Christian worship by bailing “out nations, influence public policy through God-inspired economic principles, and strategically position human resources…”

This categorisation, as done by Bakare, therefore presents every church with the window of opportunities to discover the category it belongs to.

In rounding off, Bakare again congratulated Foursquare Gospel Church, Asokoro, on the occasion of its 14th year anniversary.

He also expressed delight in the laudable feat attained by Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria which he said “now shepherds some key officials of the Federal Government of Nigeria through its Asokoro branch.”

Earlier in her remark, the chairperson of the occasion, Esuene, described the name “Foursquare” as unique. She also praised Foursquare Gospel Church for its ambitious barley harvest project which resulted in the planting of 1,000 churches between 1999 and 2009.