My travails in Ukraine, by Nigerian-born pastor of Europe’s largest church
THROUGHOUT THE LAST PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, YOU ATTRACTED A LOT OF CRITICISMS FROM A SECTION OF THE CHURCH OVER YOUR STANCE AND POSITIONS. WHY DID YOU SUPPORT THE BUHARI/OSINBAJO TICKET?
I supported the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket first of all because truth is my greatest friend. As I quoted in one of my articles, “Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is the truth.” That is a word by Isaac Newton but to paraphrase that, I meant to say that “Jonathan is a Christian, Goodluck is my president but Nigeria is my greatest love.”
I don’t like to compromise the truth. It has been my long-time position. If such compromise is because of moral weakness or failure, it becomes different. But if someone knows the truth that is as clear as day and night, I can’t go against it intentionally. I cannot do that.
My conscience told me that to support the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket was the right thing to do. My logic and mind told me that was the right thing to do. The Spirit of God in me told me that it was the right thing to do and the facts on the ground told me that it was the right thing to do. I had no other option but to oblige.
Another reason why I supported the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket was because, in my own opinion, the PDP-led Jonathan government squandered the economy and the treasury of our country. Under former President Jonathan, the impression I had about Nigeria was that the people ruling us were clueless, which is tantamount to saying our kings were children. Not because they are children in age but because they are children in understanding, in insight, in values, in their attitudes and in their responses to life. When rulers act as children would act, then that is a catastrophe to any country.
As a matter of fact, it is a sign of a curse on any nation when people who are not mature are ruling that country, because they go feasting in the morning. Children don’t care if their parents have eaten or not. They don’t care for the welfare of others around them; they only care for their own stomach. Kings who are children are only concerned about feasting, organizing a shopping spree for themselves, caring for how much wealth they could amass. They feast at the wrong time. The problem is not just that they amass wealth but they do that in odd hours, in odd circumstances.
Morning is meant for work. Morning is meant for meditation. Morning is meant for prayers and for serious stuff. People don’t feast in the morning. They go to work in the morning. They prepare in the morning. Morning is meant for preparation. When leaders wake up in the morning and the primary thing they do is neglect the primary duties of running the country and managing the economy, then they are children. If what they are mainly doing is enjoying, calling themselves big names, wearing flowing gowns, travelling abroad, living large and big, that means they have misplaced their priorities. In that kind of circumstance, their governance becomes a curse to the people upon whom they govern.
I knew that going by the antecedents of Buhari and Osibanjo, they are sons of nobles. It is visible in their biographies; it’s clear from their lifestyle that these people are not ordinary people. Everything they did in their history tells us one story: that they are serious men who know how to curtail their appetite. They know how to manage their values. They know how to limit their desires for the good of others.
That means that they are sons of nobles. They are people who feast at the proper time. They would not go feasting in the morning; they would go feasting at the right time, not for drunkenness but for strength. I saw clearly that, that is the future waiting for us under Buhari/Osinbajo government. If we had continued the way we were going, the country was going to be run down and that was going to be catastrophic for our nation.
I knew that was the truth. It would be a betrayal of myself, a betrayal of the nation and a betrayal of my conscience if I were to say I would not do what I knew to be right.
MANY OF YOUR CRITICS BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE TOO FAR WAY, DETACHED FROM SITUATIONS AT HOME TO BE MAKING SUCH SWEEPING COMMENTS. WHAT WOULD BE YOUR REACTION TO THEM?
I think anybody that has read my articles would know for sure that the fact that you are physically not present at home does not mean that you don’t know the facts on the ground. The world is so intermingled now. We are actually living in a global village. Anything that happens in any house or apartment could become public knowledge even to the end of the world.
People might live in Nigeria and not be aware of what is going on in Nigeria maybe because they don’t read. As far as I know, most Nigerians don’t like to read. If they read, they don’t like to read long articles and voluminous books. If you don’t conduct research, if you don’t read long articles, if you don’t read regularly and constantly, you would not even know the information people outside know.
There are lots of hidden intelligence information. They are not in the newspapers or on the television which Nigerians prefer to follow. They are in research books. You find them in research papers. They are in intelligence papers, which fortunately I have access to. So I have access to things about Nigeria that people in Nigeria might not have access to.
Anybody who has thoroughly and objectively read my articles would tell you that. The response I have been receiving, the impression that I have is that even writers in Nigeria might not have written in more details than I did about the things going on in Nigeria. It’s not about geographical location; it’s about the access you have to information.
YOU SUFFERED A LOT AS AN IMMIGRANT. ARE THOSE CONDITIONS ANY DIFFERENT NOW? WHAT WILL BE YOUR ADVICE TO AFRICANS MIGRATING TO EUROPE?
Although a foreigner living in Europe, I don’t like to call myself an immigrant because I didn’t migrate to Europe to live forever. I’m here on a mission and what you call suffering is really not. That is another problem I see in our culture. What you view as suffering, I don’t call suffering. I call it paying the price.
Any form of greatness has its own price. For my elevation in life, I needed to pay a price. It didn’t matter how hard it was. It is the price for greatness that I am enjoying today. Any elevation must have its own price, any promotion must have its own price and you must be willing to pay a great price no matter where you are either in your country or in another country. You must be willing to pay a great price for the promotion and for the good life you want to live; so I don’t think it would have been easier if I was living in Nigeria.
Yes, if you want to live a mediocre life, then you don’t need to suffer. Suffering is an investment, an investment into your future. For example, when I studied in secondary school in Nigeria to do my WAEC, I knew that if I didn’t suffer by not sleeping, by using candle light, studying and reading all night, by depriving myself of fellowship and friendship; by denying myself the right to go and play with my friends; I wouldn’t have been where I am today if I had not won that scholarship.
It was so difficult to get a scholarship when I was travelling out of the country in 1985. When I applied for this scholarship, there were 350, 000 people applying for the same scholarship all over Nigeria. Only 300 scholarship spots were going to be awarded. Thus I needed to pay whatever price necessary to be one of them. I faced a similar challenge when I got to the university in the former Soviet Union. I had to speak the language and be as fluent as the Russians were. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be able to compete with them at the university, and so that is just life.
In regards to the persecution that I went through as a pastor, well that is part of the price I had to pay to pastor one of the greatest churches in the world today. I needed to pay the price, though some call it suffering because they are going through hardship. It’s paramount that we change that mentality in our society. Paying the price for your future is not suffering.
Anyone that ever became great had to pay the price. If you won’t, then you will pay the price of regret, which is perpetual suffering for the rest of your life. Because you never studied, you never went to school, now you’re poor and you can’t live in a favorable condition. It is because you didn’t pay the price for greatness. People who don’t want to suffer don’t want to be great.
I don’t think I suffered in Europe. I simply paid the price. If I come back to Nigeria today, I could suffer more but then I would attain more greatness. Its good Jesus suffered, He paid a great price for my salvation and He didn’t see it as suffering. If you see paying the price as suffering, you begin to pity yourself, that’s why we don’t throw a pity party for ourselves.
We just need to regard those challenges we go through in life as a necessity and as something that will be rewarded eventually. I don’t think I suffered in Europe, I attained greatness in Europe for which I needed to pay a certain price.
FROM A BOY BORN IN THE LITTLE KNOWN OF IDOMILA IN OGUN STATE, YOU HAVE RISEN TO INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM. WOULD YOU SAY GOING TO EUROPE AT AN EARLY AGE INFLUENCED WHO YOU ARE NOW?
Oh, definitely! That is the main factor apart from God that has influenced who I am and whom I have become. When I was in Nigeria I didn’t know a lot of laws of nature and laws of greatness, laws of success, laws of light. I was not exposed to that. Maybe now it is better because everybody has access to the internet and we can go online and access any kind of information you want. In my own case, I was young when I left Nigeria. I was only 19. Although I was limited in my knowledge, travelling to Europe to study in the university, mingling with people from different countries and then getting to read and access the knowledge base that makes Europe what it is today has been a major factor for me, for which I am grateful.
HOW HARD OR EASY WAS IT FOR YOU TO LEARN RUSSIAN LANGUAGE?
It was hard but I just had to do what I had to do. It was necessary for me to be able to study and attain my goals. So I comported myself to do it. We should not be looking at how hard or how easy something is. We should instead be concerned if it is right or wrong. If it’s wrong we don’t do it. If it is right we do anything for it to happen.
So I needed to learn the language. I needed to subject myself to rigorous work and conditions to make sure I attained my goals. The only thing we want to know is if it’s the right thing for us to do. If I conclude it is the right thing, then I pay the full price for it. I thank God I was able to do that.
MANY CHARISMATIC CHURCHES BELIEVE YOU SPONSOR CULT PERSONALITY AND SELF-AGGRANDIZEMENT. ARE THEY RIGHT?
I don’t know how people believe that. I am the least of the people anybody can accuse of self-aggrandizement. The people who have accused me of that either don’t know me or they are seeing my profile from the public eye. Yes, if you look at my image from a distance you might think like that. You might think I live rich because I dress well. The reason I dress well is because I live in a part of Europe where there are not a lot of black people. Where I live, people are not used to blacks.
For example, in our church, 99% of the people of over 25,000 are white. Only about 1% are black people. Blacks are in the major minority. So, I needed to always create the best impression not just about myself but about my God, about my color and my race to people around me. Whenever I go to London or New York, while in the car, I look out of the window and I see black people walking to work. I’m always very discouraged and sad because most of the time black people wear gray, dark and even black colored attires. The problem is that in the eyes of the white people who are seeing you, you already are a disadvantaged minority.
They look at you as dejected, they see you as depressed and they think you are disadvantaged. Most of the people in that society already look down at you. Now you make the case worse by putting on some grey color, black color, something unflashy and unattractive. Though to a black man, a dark color on another black man might look appropriate but to white people who see you from a distance, it doesn’t look too attractive. Then you’re totally black.
Moreover in Africa, we are colorful people, we wear color. However when the white people in Ukraine see my colorful attires, they sometimes view it as self-aggrandizement or self-promotion. But in reality, it is just my way of trying to let people know that there is life here. There is a positive mood here. God is a God of diversity and life. I want them to simply acknowledge that there is something good happening here.
On the other hand, people who might have accused me of cult of personality are those who have seen the way I’m loved by people around me. People always surround me since I’m not that kind of leader that puts a distance between himself and his followers. It’s my style of leadership.
The reason I lead this way is because, when I was in Nigeria, I only went to church for six months after I got born again. When I visited churches, I used to feel that the men of God are always distant from their members. You are almost looking at them even as God. It’s like you are somebody who is just a second class creation somewhere there. You almost feel like just a sub-man. I wanted to break that barrier and let people know that you are okay too. You’re also sons and daughters of God.
I encourage people to sit around me, I hug people, I embrace people. I bring them close and I make them understand that I am flesh and blood. On the other hand, the Bible says we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched by the feeling of our infirmity. I want people to come with their infirmity and touch me with their feelings of infirmity, just like Jesus.
Therefore that is the kind of leader that I strive to be, people love me as a result of that. We cannot say that is cult of personality. I also read the Bible and saw that the disciples of Jesus were always leaning on Him and lying on His bosom. That is what the Bible says. It is not like today where the people sit in the pew and the pastor is in the pulpit. Yes, that’s what the Jews did in the synagogue, but not Jesus. I don’t think that is cult of personality. I think that is down to earth ministry and going back to the New Testament.
IN NIGERIA, YOU ARE NOT SO POPULAR WITH MANY PROMINENT MINISTERS. THEY ALLEGE YOU CRITICIZE THEM. IS THAT A HOBBY FOR YOU?
It is important to know as a man of God, you shouldn’t seek to be popular with men. You should seek rather to be popular with God. My position has always been the fact that it doesn’t matter who is against me, when God is for me. What I must concern myself with is that I am in the position of God. I’m on the side of God and my position is in alignment with God’s position. As long as I am sure that God is on my side, it doesn’t matter who is not on my side.
On the other hand, God forbid, if God is not on my side then it doesn’t matter who is on my side. So to me, it doesn’t really matter much what people or churches or leaders think about my person. If some leaders are thinking that I criticize their actions, I don’t even know if it is the ministers’ actions that I criticize. I criticize what is wrong. I don’t care who does it. I just criticize and seek to correct what is wrong. I would not even like to use the word criticize. I don’t think I am a critic. I’m just somebody that corrects what is wrong.
I try to uproot the practices that are wrong, not just in Nigeria. I have not even done much in Nigeria as far as I am concerned. But I have dedicated my life to doing this in Europe, in Russia, in America and all over the world. It is just now that I started paying attention little by little to Nigeria. It is my calling to address the things that are wrong in the society and to fix them. I don’t pay much attention to who is practicing them. To me, that is secondary.
Is it a deliberate act to criticize the actions of men of God? No it is not. It is a deliberate act to correct what is wrong and to stand for what is true. I always say I would rather stand-alone, but with truth. One person on the side of the truth is a majority. I believe if you are standing on the side of the truth, you are standing on the side of God, and as long as I am standing on the side of the truth, it doesn’t matter who is pleased as a result or who is displeased as a result, but I am not deliberately targeting anyone at all. I love everybody.
I might criticize, correct, seek to correct and condemn actions of individuals that might be wrong in my eyes or thinking. But I still love the individuals. I still respect the individuals; I still honor the individuals. I just want them to do what is right according to the truth of the word of God. I seek for people to do what is right according to the truth standard of common sense, and the truth standard of civilization.
WOULD YOU THEN SAY THE INQUEST WAS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED?
Yes definitely, anybody who is a right thinking person knows that the case against Pastor Sunday Adelaja was politically motivated and a lot of political statements/declarations were made, making it clear that it was all political, although it was much more complicated than that. The country and the security apparatus of the country were afraid thinking our church was too strong, too powerful and too influential and that I was becoming a threat to the national security.
This was especially when the Governor/Mayor of Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine was a member of our church and then, 34% of the members of parliament of the city were also people from the party that we started in our church. It became a threat and they were looking for a way of stopping us.
We had another dimension of the Orthodox Church that sees itself as the only legal church in the country or the national church of the country. They too were putting pressure on the politicians to attack us. We also had such pressure from the Russian government to try to limit our influence. Russia was always interested in Ukraine. They didn’t like the fact that we were having such a breakthrough spiritually in the country. They also thought that if they could stop Pastor Sunday, then the revival will stop in the country.
There were political parties that wanted to get our members to vote for them. So, when that situation happened with the King’s Capital Company owned by some members of my church, they thought it was a good opportunity for them to now come out full-fledged against me. Much of these political issues were actually about control. Who will Pastor Sunday and the church support in the upcoming election? But thank God that it’s almost over now and we will soon hear the news by the grace of God sooner or later.
WHEN NEXT ARE YOU VISITING NIGERIA?
I will be able to visit Nigeria by next year by the grace of God. Maybe this year, but we will see.
YOUR ROLE IN THE POPULAR ORANGE REVOLUTION REMAINS CONTROVERSIAL. COULD YOU KINDLY CLARIFY WHAT ROLES YOU ACTUALLY PLAYED WITH THE CHURCH?
I was able to motivate and educate a large percentage of Ukrainians to take responsibility for their nation and know that the destiny of their country is going to depend on them. The fact that thousands of our members were outside for all the events of the orange revolution is another proof that we contributed a lot to it. We had about half a million newspapers distributed, which was also important.
Our people were there praying and leading prayers. I’m sure our efforts prevented a lot of excesses from happening. We made our church building available to people who wanted to sleep and who needed shelter from the cold. The prophetic dimension was me being able to perceive what was coming. I saw that the orange revolution was coming in six months. I prophesied it, declared it, prayed for it and we saw it. Those are some of the roles I and the church probably played.
NIGERIA HAS A NEW ADMINISTRATION. ARE YOU STILL CONFIDENT IT WILL DELIVER GOOD GOVERNANCE?
No, I cannot just be confident out of nowhere. I have to see what their plans are and what they are doing and what their efforts are. I believe in them, but I’m not confident, we have to assess them by their results. I’m not going to support anybody blindly. I’m going to see and assess what they are going to do. I know they are men of integrity. They are men of hard work and things should be better under them.