As Pastor Gbola Sokoya, a chartered accountant and Chairman, Pinnacle Leadership and Entrepreneurial Academy, clocked 60 on July 25, he didn’t throw a party to mark his birthday but chose to do something very unusual and remarkable. Sokoya who is the helmsman at the Redeemed Christians Church of God, Faith City, instead, held a lecture that x-rayed the present state of the Nigerian economy and the way forward. In this interview with Mary Nnah, he reveals what informed the lecture, while reminiscing on his life in the past 60 years
You chose to hold a lecture instead of throwing a big party to mark your 60th birthday. Why was that?
I actually clocked 60 years old precisely on July 25, 2018. A thanksgiving service was held on that particular day. But usually, you would have people say that after the thanksgiving service, they would go and throw a big party but I decided that I do not want to have a party. I wanted instead to contribute something to what I call the greater Nigeria project. And so the idea of a public lecture came up. The lecture titled: “Sustainable National Development in Globalised Economy”, was held a day after my birthday thanksgiving service. The lecture was spearheaded by Pinnacle Leadership and Entrepreneurial Academy and had a discussion panel which paraded high profile individuals who are accomplished in their fields of endeavour. Prof, Sesan Sokoya, a doctorate degree holder in Economics and Management, delivered the main lecturer for the day. Prof Sokoya is a lecturer in the United States of America and has been teaching management for almost 25 years. He has done extensive work in China and Finland. You would know that China is probably the most vibrant economy in the world today and Finland can be said to be the best country that anyone can live in today and I believe that with the amount of research work he has done in those major economies, he would be able to contribute positively to the Nigeria content.
Incidentally, I happen to serve as Chairman of Pinnacle Leadership and Entrepreneurial Academy. We started three years ago as a vehicle to promote entrepreneurial discussion and training for the society and we are a training outfit. We are into training and developing entrepreneurs from the grassroots to the top. So the lecture was organised by Pinnacle in commemoration of my birthday.
As a pastor, are you not expected to veer more into spiritual aspect rather than the economic aspect like you are doing now?
As a former banker with a 25-year banking experience who retired from Union Bank of Nigeria as Deputy General Manager in charge of Compliance and Corporate Governance, I have been a major player in the nation’s economy for many years. So the Nigeria economy is my concern. I believe the Nigerian economy is not achieving its full potential and so I decided there was need for us to contribute our little quota.
How do you think the lecture would impact on the Nigeria’s economy generally?
It will stimulate discussion. There is a lot of government involvement in the economy, which shouldn’t be so. So we are trying to simulate a lot of private sector discussion on the issue of the economy going forward and this is coming at a time when in another few weeks or a couple of months down the line, we are going to gather the budget for 2019, so I am believing that we can begin to pick up bits by bits of what we can do to assist in building a good budget for next year for the country; so the issue of sustainable development is very key. We cannot say that we have not had development but it is like Nigeria keeps going back and forth and with a lot of other problems down the line, we are not fulfilling our potential yet.
After this commemorative lecture, do we hope to have more lectures of this nature in future?
Pinnacle will have to decide on that. Of course like I said, we intend to streamline discussion on the area of the economy. So there would be regular seminars from Pinnacle but not necessarily tied to my birthday.
How do you feel at 60?
I didn’t just clock 60 but I grew into it one day at a time. So I think by and large, one can say that it has simply been God who has kept me. I have had my benefits from this nation and I believe that it is important for me to also try and put something back into the system and that is what informed a lecture to commemorate my birthday. At 60, I feel accomplished to a large extent but, I will also say that my best is yet to come.
Take us back to your childhood days. What was it like growing up?
I grew up as the last child of a family of four. My father was an educationist while my mother was a nurse. My father was never at home because he was always on tour of inspection of works all over Western region in those days, so it was my mother that brought us up. I went to Government College Ibadan for my secondary school education and I had a very normal upbringing. Essentially, there was a very close family relationship. We called ourselves Osusu Owo, which literally means a bunch of brooms that cannot be broken. I was trained as a chartered accountant and today I am a chartered account by profession. I qualified in 1985. I am a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria.
You were once a banker and now a pastor. Did your parents or upbringing influence what you are today?
Parents don’t raise pastors. However, we had a godly upbringing and I remember that even in my college days I was in the choir but being a pastor didn’t come till much later. I actually gave my life to Christ in 1988 and became a pastor in 1996. It has been worth it all. It has been a good journey so far and it will not end until I see Him in glory.
You traversed from a banker to a pastor. How did it happen?
It was not a transition. I became a banker in 1990. I got born again in 1988. I became a pastor in 1996. In RCCG, you are allowed to do your secular and pastoral works together and that was what I did and neither works suffered because I was able to commit myself to both. I had a good banking career. I retired as a Chief Compliance Officer from Union Bank Plc in 2015 and as a provincial pastor in RCCG in charge of Lagos Province 5; I think God has been good to me.
What have been the challenges of being a pastor?
I discovered a long time ago that the pastor is only a steward. It is God that builds the church. And so for me I do not see any challenge. My only challenge is to make sure I follow God. Once I follow God, He would build this church and that is what God has been doing.
Looking back at the past 60 years of your life sir, are there things you wish were done differently?
I think that question is a tough one … I would just say that I do not believe in regrets. I just keep moving on. I believe in looking forward and once you are looking forward, even if there are mistakes in the past, it can be corrected. And I always pray that nothing in the past should affect my future. That is why I say to people that there is a perspective to life that goes beyond what one sees here and now. And when one has a focus beyond the here and now, it gives you a drive for tomorrow, so I always believe in tomorrow and that tomorrow will always be better than today.
What more do we expect to see from you after 60?
If God grants me breath for many more years, I will continue doing what God has given me the mandate to do which is to preach the gospel and to raise divine champions. I love talking to young people because I see them as potentials. Everyone must strive to keep going forward. Like we have a theme that we developed at my parish for this month of July which says, “Faster, Further and Higher”, every one of us must strive to go faster, to go further and to go higher. In that way, we would achieve excellence in many things.
What would be your advice to Nigerians, particularly as it concerns the economy of the nation?
I believe we need to involve more of the private sector. We need to simulate the private sector. If we need to see the nation through these difficult times, there must be more of private participation in the running of the economy of this nation. There is too much of government involvement in the day to day running of the economy in Nigeria. Government is involved in everything that happens and this, to a large extent retards the economic growth of the nation. If more money is invested in business by the private sector, the development of this economy of this nation would be more rapid. Private sector has better efficiency than public sector, which is a proven case everywhere. No doubt, the plan of the present administration to stimulate the economy is good. I have read the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of this administration and I think it is in the right direction. That is why I want to stimulate the private sector, so that we do not just sit down and criticise the government but take initiatives to contribute to the growth of the nation’s economy. I don’t know how many people have looked at the ERGP document, which the budget of 2018 is based on; there must be involvement by everybody. You don’t need to talk to government before you know that the 180 million people in Nigeria must eat, start something. Even if your own business is going to feed just hundred persons, just start it. Even if it means for you to sew cloths, everybody has to wear cloth, just start something. We have a huge market. You need to see the numbers of foreigners that come into this country on a regular basis looking for business opportunities. They are even trading in businesses that you and I can easily handle. There is too much of government in the economy, we need more of the private sector presence.
Sir don’t you think a lecture like this should have come earlier than this?
May be I should have been 60 earlier than this. I don’t know. Or the lecture should have come when I was 50, I don’t know but wherever it comes, let us just move in the right direction. I want to encourage Nigerians to keep believing in a greater Nigeria. Nigeria will not turn to dust. Nigeria will not be destroyed because God has interest in Nigeria and all of us must have interest in Nigeria and all of us must work it out.