By Reuben Abati
“I do not believe in my mind that the way things are in Nigeria, any Catholic priest has the mandate to decide which of the political contestants should be voted for…I don’t believe a priest should be doing that…If he was in my archdiocese, I will have sanctioned him long ago for the kind of utterances he makes.” – John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Catholic Bishop of Abuja Metropolitan See on Fr. Ejike Mbaka (2015)
Prophecies and predictions by Christian pastors often mark the end of a year and the beginning of another in Nigeria…egged on by the media, looking for juicy material for their overtly religious and superstitious readers, these pastors sometimes overreach themselves as they dish out prophecies as if they were some kind of annual merchandise. This year has not been different with interesting prophecies offered by Apostle Johnson Suleman, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Camillus Ejike Mbaka and a host of others. What I find curious every year, is that each Pastor ends up saying something different from the other, whereas what we know is that there is only ONE GOD – absolute and indivisible. The teleological concept of God is monotheistic, but today’s Pastors in their prophecies convey a pantheistic concept of God: a God that speaks in many voices and forms, creating a dissonance which is then exploited by the media, as the year unfolds, measuring the prophecies against actual developments, to determine who among the many prophets is the true seer. This seeming retailing of prophecies in the public sphere should be a source of concern to the Church.
Of all the prophecies that I have read about this year, I find two particularly interesting. The first is the New Year Day declaration by Pastor Tunde Bakare before his congregation at the Latter Rain Church that God had just spoken to him not to leave politics, because he still has an assignment for him in the political arena. “God told me to run for President”, he announced. When – he does not know but he tells the congregation to pray along with him. “When He tells me the time, you will hear about it.” It will be recalled that Pastor Tunde Bakare was the running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) during the 2011 Presidential election. His decision at the time to go into politics was quite controversial particularly amongst his Christian brethren who argued that a man of the cloth should not swim in the dirty and dirtied waters of Nigerian politics. The CPC lost the Presidential election and Pastor Bakare returned to the pulpit.
He won’t be the first Pastor to declare interest in the highest office in the land. Pastor Chris Okotie of the Household of God Church first ran for President in 2003 as a candidate of the Justice Party. Then he ran again in 2007 and again in 2011 on the platform of the FRESH Democratic Party. He lost on all occasions. Yet each time Pastor Chris Okotie declared interest in the Presidential office, he always said he had heard from God. Listening to his campaigns, he always sounded so sure that he had indeed been anointed by God to be President. In 2015, God apparently did not speak to Pastor Okotie because he did not bother to join the race.
Do Pastors Okotie and Bakare, both learned men, hear the voice of the same God? Is it possible for God to anoint two of his servants as Nigerian President at the same time? For, indeed, when Pastor Bakare’s critics opposed his decision to go into politics, his stoutest defence in 2011 was that he had heard the voice of God, and that the voice of God is superior to that of man. He quoted the Scriptures: Psalm 78: 70, 71; Romans 13:1. We, lesser mortals, may probably not fully understand the ways of God and the prophetic Ministry but the clergy must resist the temptation, unwitting temptation may be, to project God in negative light. The doctrine is that the omniscient God, the I-am-that-I-am that we know never plays politics with His words. He does not contradict Himself. He keeps His promises.
The second prophecy of interest is from Rev. Fr. Camillus Ejike Mbaka of the Adoration Ministry, an evangelical arm of the Catholic Church based in Enugu. In recent years, Fr. Mbaka seems to have turned himself into a spiritual authority on Presidential politics in Nigeria. A prophet since his primary school days, by his own declaration, Mbaka now tells Nigerians who should be President. In 2015, he had predicted that President Muhammadu Buhari will be President. He was very critical of the Jonathan Presidency. When then First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan visited the Adoration Ministry in Enugu, Mbaka reportedly rejected her offertory and gift – an indication that he would not associate with someone that God had not chosen for another term in office. As he put it: “There is no one kobo of Jonathan or Mrs Jonathan in my hand. The Holy Spirit rejected all of them. When the saga was going on, I put my hands on the altar, swore an oath that if I ever touched Jonathan’s one kobo, may he win the election and that if I never and I am being accused of it, he will fail the election…”
President Jonathan lost the election and Mbaka was triumphant. He gained more credibility among his followers and the APC and the Buhari Presidency took him as a friend and their beloved priest. He received special praise from President Buhari. He would later be invited to the Presidential Villa for an audience with the President who commended him for his “steadfastness.” When the private jet that took Mbaka to Abuja touched down at the airport, and Mbaka showed his face and waved to the crowd, you would think it was the Pope himself visiting the capital city.
Mbaka’s career as a celebrity priest assumed a new flavor at that point. After his visit to the Presidential Villa, he continued to sell the Buhari Presidency, and on occasions even did a better job than government spokespersons. Buhari could do no wrong in his eyes. He accused the Jonathans, whom he had earlier accused of plotting to kill him, of creating all the problems that the Buhari administration was confronted with. In the heat of the pro-Biafra agitation by Nnamdi Kanu and Indigenous Peoples Organisation of Biafra (IPOB), Mbaka dismissed the agitation as “evil.”
On New Year Day 2018, this romance between priest and president ended. Fr. Mbaka who had anointed Buhari as President in 2015, withdrew the anointing. He told President Buhari not to consider seeking a second term in office. He addressed President Buhari thus: “As I was waiting on the Lord, I’m asked to advise you, don’t come out for second tenure; after this, retire peacefully. Come back to yourself or you will cry by the time you will be sent out of office. Those who are encouraging you to come out and run again want to disgrace you shamefully and publicly.” The Holy Books are full of similar stories of the prophets delivering God’s messages to rulers. When God withdraws the anointing of a particular king or commander, or issues a stern warning, it is usually as a result of an offence that has been committed.
Fr. Mbaka soon provided a justification for his prophetic message when he accused President Buhari of (1) failing to listen to his wife – “an adviser, a wonderful mentor, a visionist, a matriarch”, (2) allowing himself to be hypnotized by the wrong people who surround him, (3) failing to deliver on his promise of change, and “toying with the privilege” God has given him; and (4) running an anti-corruption campaign that is “…archaic and barbaric, a witch-hunt, terribly selective”. Fr Mbaka did not pull his punches. He says: “…Heaven demands Buhari, our President to change all those who are holding and caging him in captivity. If he will not change them, he will be changed… Change or you will be changed…God said that Buhari is in trouble. Buhari is in a horrible bondage. Nigerians are dying in your hands…Your change mantra is questionable. You are to change your change or you will be disgraced out of office.”
In these words, Fr. Mbaka sounds like he was delivering God’s own assessment of the Buhari government. Although he advises the President to “wake up” and “sit up”, the thrust of his message is that the President should embrace the Mandela option and not seek another term in office. Fr Mbaka reportedly further disclosed that the anointing for the office of President has been passed to Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Fr. Mbaka’s messages, coming at a time when politicians are beginning to position themselves for another round of elections is bound to ruffle feathers. President Buhari’s supporters have since rejected his condemnation of their administration. His choice of Dankwambo as future President has also similarly been rejected, with innuendoes, in a scathing piece by Muhammad Jibrin Barde that there “may be more than a handshake from his darling Governor Dankwambo.”
Prophets in the Bible were not always liked for their messages but should Fr. Mbaka run into troubled waters with his mouth, he may not enjoy the support of his bosses in the Catholic Church who have for too long warned him to stop using the name of God and the Church to select political candidates for the Nigerian electorate.
He reminds me of Samuel in the Bible. Samuel was judge, priest and prophet. Mbaka also sees himself as a judge, priest and prophet. Samuel anointed Saul to be king over a united Israel, at a time when the Israelites wanted change (1 Samuel: 9-10) They were tired of the rule of judges and prophets, and wanted a king like their neighbours. Saul, having been chosen, following a message from God, became the first King over Israel. He was a strong military commander who won many battles for his country. But he was also jealous, rigid, insecure, dictatorial and covetous.
When David who had been his armour bearer, and who nursed him back to good health with music, later defeated Goliath at the battle of the valley of Elah and the people sang in David’s praise: “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:8), Saul became insecure and wanted him put to death. It didn’t matter that David was his son-in-law, and the best friend of Jonathan, Saul’s son, who was of a much kinder and affable nature. King Saul’s anointing was withdrawn when he transgressed in the eyes of the Lord and the Lord departed from him. (1 Samuel 15: 9 – 29; 1 Samuel 28: 16 -18). The same Prophet Samuel who anointed Saul also anointed David, the son of Jesse as next king (1 Samuel 16: 1-13). Saul was told that his anointing had been withdrawn and he would come to a bitter end. This prophecy was fulfilled: at the battle of Mount Gilboa, the Philistines defeated the Israelites, three of Saul’s sons were killed, and he himself fell on his sword.
Bible commentators have criticized Samuel’s reign as judge, priest and prophet in terms of its mixture of politics and spirituality. Fr. Mbaka is similarly guilty, even if his role as judge is utterly presumptuous. By naming Dankwambo of the PDP as next President, he may also have invited unto him, the same kind of persecution that David faced. What is different and instructive in this instance, however, is that with Fr. Mbaka and other contemporary prophets in Nigeria, it is most difficult to know where the spiritual becomes political and where politics feeds into spirituality. Nigerians knowing this to be true continue to listen all the same to their prophets and pastors because many of our compatriots believe in the idea of God and His dominion over all things. What we do not know and may never be able to establish is how to make that necessary distinction between when a Prophet actually hears the voice of God, God as in God, or when a prophet hears voices as in psychiatry. What is certain is: as prophets, it is possible to hear the Voice of God, but as human beings, it is possible for the same Prophets “to hear voices.”