With Bola Akinterinwa
Religion has always been a critical issue in classical and contemporary international relations. It is both a source of social conflicts on the one hand, peacemaking and confidence-building on the other. In particular, the manner of use of prayers is another important dimension on which emphasis is hardly placed: what do people pray to God for? Do they ask God to curse or bless their enemies? Whatever is the case, saying prayers has become an important aspect of political governance and even global governance. They are generally said at the time of need and difficulties.
In the Philippines, often considered as the bastion of catholicity, political governance is said to be â€˜now plagued by an oppressive government and outside forces pushing secular humanism. â€˜Pillowsmeller 18 has it that â€˜the apathy and the selfishness is too much for the country and the people to handle.â€™ From the perspective of aletheia observatory, â€˜thereâ€™s something in a society that drives people to desperation, but we still have moral agency.
We still have the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and to choose good and reject evil â€“ may be that of our politicians and most of our people ought to remember, too.â€™ For the various problems in the Philippines, the general view is that the government ought to take â€˜responsibility instead of bickering, blaming and privatising everything… Needless suffering, needless desires all behind the country known for its faith, lies the grime of stagnation, because they are not willing to go further with their faith.â€™
True enough, prayers are said largely as a result of acknowledgement of wrong doings and therefore, need for forgiveness. Prayers are also said as a result of strong faith in God. The cases of the United States and Nigeria are good examples for illustration. In the United States, for instance, the past sixty years have witnessed the holding of a National Prayer Breakfast. The National Prayer Breakfast, which was initiated by Abraham Vereido, is held on the First Thursday of every February of each year at the Washington Hilton, particularly since the 1980s.
In the eyes of Donald Trump, at the last National Prayer Breakfast held last February 2017, the six-decade long traditional gathering was a â€˜testament to the power of faith,â€™ which was introduced by Mark Burnett, the television producer, who teamed up with Trump to create â€œThe Apprentice.â€
The National Prayer Breakfast is a forum in which lawmakers and religious leaders from about 70 countries meet in order to bring bipartisan political leaders and their religious counterparts together to pray and build relationships. It was first organised in 1953 and all US presidents normally take part in it. There is always a keynote speaker at the event. It is not only a forum for removing negative pointers to nation-building; it is an interesting forum to be joined in spirit with God to seek divine direction for the country.
In Nigeria, the situation of national problems is not different from that of the Philippines and even from that of the United States. While the United States is not seriously threatened by quests for self-determination or the Boko Haram-like threats, as it is in Nigeria, the United States is seriously challenged by international terror, which is currently challenging the international order.
Political governance in Nigeria is characterised by economic recession, political chicanery, increasing societal evils, new reign of terror, political party miscalculations, as well as error of acquiescence by the people, Arewa youthsâ€™ quit notice to the Igbo indigenes living in the North of Nigeria, deepening quest for self-determination and restructuring and broad day kidnapping on the public streets and private homes.
While there is no disputing the fact that government is making strenuous efforts to contain the foregoing social problems, many Nigerians have resorted to self-help mechanisms by particularly opting to pray for divine intervention. It is within this context that the special prayers for the government and people of Nigeria, organised by the Celestial Church of Christ on Friday, 7th July, 2017 at the Tafawa Balewa Square, should be understood and appreciated.
Celestial Church and Nigeriaâ€™s Problems
The conduct of a special service and prayers for a more peaceful and united Nigeria was quite significant in many ways. First, the prayer session was organised as part of the activities lined up to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the Celestial Church of Christ. The Church was founded on September 29, 1947 by the late Saint S.B.J. Oshoffa. As part of the mandate of the Church to spread the Word of God, it was considered necessary to seek enduring solutions to Nigeriaâ€™s problems through prayers and divine intervention.
Secondly, the choice of date for the prayers is symbolic. The prayers were organised to coincide with the Holy Mary Day. Holy Mary has a symbolical importance in two ways to the Celestial Church of Christ. At the early days of the founding of the Church, the very first spiritual song given to the Church through one of the early prophetesses of the Church (Wolisata), specifically requested all members of the Church not only to acknowledge the goodness and kindness of Holy Mary, but also to seek the path of goodness and Godliness so that Holy Mary could continue to be with the Church. Besides, on 15th July, 1977 Holy Mary appeared in a trance to the Pastor Founder of the Church, Reverend S.B.J. Oshoffa. In this spiritual trance, the Holy Mary told Reverend Oshoffa to set aside a day for the celebration of Holy Mary.
As explained in the Constitution of the Church, â€˜the Pastor, in a trance, saw himself climbing a number of steps until he got to a plane full of fallen leaves and sighted a fair white lady clad from top to toe in blue apparel and standing in a posture as if shielding something away from him.â€™ More importantly, the Constitution has it that â€˜the Pastor found himself descending steps until he sighted a Church from which a Reverend Father emerged and bowed in homage to him repeatedly.
Then the Pastor found himself ascending again back to the spot where he earlier saw the fair lady. This time, the fair lady opened up to show that what she was shielding away earlier was a baby having a crown on His head and she said, pointing to the baby, â€œThis is Jesus, He is Holy in Spirit. He is Holy in Mind, He is Life Everlasting.â€™ In fact, He is King of Glory and Grace. Whoever wants to worship him must first follow the path of attitudinal righteousness and spiritual cleanliness.â€™
And perhaps, most significantly, â€˜almost exactly a year after the incident described above, the Pastor fell ill during which it was spiritually revealed (also in trance) that the recognition shall be accorded to Holy Mary in the Celestial Church of Christ by commemorating the above incident annually.â€™ In this regard, the Pastor Founder declared the first Friday of July every year as Holy Maryâ€™s Day and the first observance of the Day took place on Friday, 7th July 1978. It was in the strong belief that the Holy Mary Day is a special day of grace and that the holiness of the day cannot but bring good tidings to people in need. This is why the Prophet Emmanuel Soyemi-led CCC 70th Central Planning Committee Executives decided to hold the National Prayers on the Holy Mary Day.
Thirdly, the prayer session was also significant from the perspective of the audience, especially the clergy. His Eminence, Baba Aladura, Dr, Israel Akin Adewo, the Secretary General of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Chairman of Lagos State Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), Senior Apostle Yinka Odutayo, and the United Aladura Churches Vice President were all there. The Onimeko of Imeko, His Royal Highness, Oba Benjamin Olanite (Akanku 4) was also in attendance. More interestingly, various CCC parishes in the Diaspora were also represented. It really was a congregation of Christian leaders brought together to pray for the advancement and peaceful coexistence of Nigeria and this brings us to the most important reason: the prayer session.
The prayer session was in two parts. The first part was organised within the framework of the main service. It was the 7-person prayer. The first prayer, which was to request for divine wisdom, fear of God and good health for the presidency and all members of the National Assembly, governors, ministers, judges, was given to Senior Special Apostle Yinka Odutayo to say in the English language. Mother Celestial W. Makinde prayed in Hausa for the progress of the Church, the whole nation, the elders in the society and also thanked God for his infinite mercies so far on Nigeria. Superior Evangelist Canon Luke from the CÃ´te dâ€™Ivoire said his own prayers in French and requested God to grant peace, unity and prosperity to the government and people of Nigeria.
The fourth prayer, said in Yoruba by Mother Celestial Bola Sodeinde, focused on blessing, economic development, restoration and progress for the nation and the Church. The last three sets of prayers were quite interesting, because they directly dealt with the peopleâ€™s behaviour and the need for a change for the better. The fifth prayer, said in Edo language, requested for the power of the Holy Spirit, holiness and righteousness for all churches and the whole nation. The sixth prayer said in Egun by the wife of the Pastor founder, Mother Celestial Hellen Oshoffa, asked God for victory over all evil machination, disunity and power of darkness, as well as protection for all. The seventh prayer in Igbo language, said by Superior Evangelist Okondor, requested for forgiveness of sins, sanctification and mercy of God.
The foregoing was a prelude to the second round of prayers as the first round of prayers was meant to prepare the mind and the soul for the prayer warriors and revivalists: Assistant Venerable Adeyinka, Sup Evangelist Sunday Sofowora, Evangelist Benson Aiyegbusi, Superior Evangelist Owatunde, Evangelist Ekunola Davies, Venerable Superior Evangelist Segun Olarinde, and Evangelist Oke.
One fundamental difference between the earlier prayers and those of the second round is that all those dark forces that might want to militate against the survival of Nigeria, the Church, the people of Nigeria, and particularly the President of Nigeria were all put in the hands of God almighty to deal with. Without doubt, all satanic forces were cursed without fear.
The second round of prayers took the format of prophecy with emphasis on what would happen to the enemies of progress. They commanded God, as His children, to do what he could easily do without qualms and equanimity. And without scintilla of doubt, there was nothing to suggest that God did not quickly hear and answer all the supplications to the admiration of everyone if we take a look at the message from the pulpit and what transpired at the concluding prayers at the end of the service.
The Message from the Pulpit
The epicentral message of the one-day prayer session for Nigeria was given during the sermon delivered in person by the incumbent and officially registered Pastor and Head of the Celestial Church of Christ, worldwide, Reverend Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa. He explained that there was absolutely nothing preventing Nigeria from being a major sanctuary of God. In Nigeria, he submitted, everybody talks about peace, peace, and peace, but without everyone making the necessary efforts to have peace. Everybody wants peace but does not know that Jesus Christ is peace; that He is the bearer and crown of peace, and that, without having Jesus Christ, peace in whatever manifestations, cannot exist.
In order to have peace, one must, first of all, have Jesus Christ. In order to have Jesus Christ, one must also accept to thread the path of righteousness and cleanliness of hearts. In the two biblical lessons taken from 2 Chronicles 7: 12-15 and Luke 1: 26-36, emphasis was placed on the conditions to have the favour of God and on the coming of Jesus Christ.
The first lesson, read in English, Yoruba and French by Evangelist Femi Osibona, HRH Oba Banjamin Olanite represented and Superior Evangelist Abdon Nziegui respectively, talked about the appearance of the Lord to Solomon and the assurances of the Lord that He had heard his prayer. More significantly, as noted in verse 14, â€˜if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and all heal their land.â€™
This is one major crux of the sermon by Pastor Mobiyina Oshoffa: the people of Nigeria must first learn how to seek forgiveness of sins, come closer to God with humility of mind and attitude, and particularly turn away from wicked ways. It is by so doing that they can qualify to be listened to by God.
In the same vein, the second Bible lesson has it that Angel Gabriel visited the wife of Joseph, Virgin Mary, and told her â€˜fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David.â€™
Again, without a jot of doubt, the word of God came to pass. Jesus was given birth to. He is a Prince of Peace, whose reign over the house of Jacob is forever and whose kingdom shall have no end. It was essentially on this basis that the sermoner has called on everyone to first of all seek the favour of Jesus Christ in order to have an enduring peace in their homes and in Nigeria.
The Celestial Church leader, Reverend Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa, has said his own and has also prayed to God. Good enough! However, to what extent is God convinced and ready to grant the supplications of the day? The first way is to posit that God heard the prayers but not ready to approve of the prayers simply, because the smallest in sin cannot stand before God for anything. This means that Nigeria must first set aside her ways of iniquity.
Whenever I remember that the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs preferred to cover up various acts of serious misconduct by some staff apparently because of the non-involvement of the Council in the building of a new international conference centre at the Institute, and the Mohammed Buhari administration also acquiesced to it by unnecessarily keeping quiet, there is no way God will want to bless corruption and sharp practices under the pretext of requested prayers.
On the other hand, at the end of the prayer session, either by designed favour or by coincidence, the very day of the prayer session was quite symbolic, not necessarily because it was Holy Mary Day but essentially, because on that very day, it was rainy. The service was conducted under heavy rainfall.
The church members however defied the rain with great faith. At the conclusion of the service, when they were shouting seven Alleluia to the four corners of the world, the day that had been hitherto cloudy and rainy, suddenly became bright, the sun in a miraculous manner, also came out. The environment quickly became humid and hot. There was also a rainbow, considered a mark of divine approval by the Church. Within the following five minutes after the appearance of the sun, it was a return to cloudiness of the day. The rain started again.
Thus, it appears that God lent His hands in support of the service and prayers rendered. This approval can rightly be justified since God had said in the Bible that He would bless who He chooses to bless. Put differently, God can bless a thief and agents of corruption for whatever reasons. However, why God would want to hearken unto the wishes of those, who disregard the law of the land, especially in the application of the Federal Character Principle, oppression of the honest people of Nigeria, and governmentâ€™s preaching anti-corruption sermons but also quietly protecting criminal suspects, it is not likely that God would want to have sympathy for Nigeria.
Nigeria and Nigerians must first change for the better in order to qualify for Godâ€™s favour. There is too much injustice and unfairness in Nigeria of today. There is the need for more prayer sessions. The Celestial Church of Christ should seek to institutionalise the Holy Mary Day, by particularly bringing other Christian church leaders to join in the future national prayers. Religious prayers cannot but go a long way in securing Godâ€™s favour, peace and security in Nigeria now and in the future, especially if Nigerians accept to change for the better. Meanwhile, Happy 70th Anniversary to the Celestial Church of Christ worldwide!