Archbishop George Irivbemi Amu: Boko Haram is trying to send a message of discontent, Nigerian leaders never know whether followers are with them or against them
WorldStage Newsonline (INTERVIEW)-- Archbishop George Irivbemi Amu is the founder of First World Goognews Mission International who missed his flight and escaped a plane crash involving an Aero Contractor plane in 1980. He is also the Secretary-General of the Lagos chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Until recently when he turned 70 and was consecrated Archbishop, he was a Bishop. In this interview with the group of SEGUN OTOKITI, TAIWO AYANGBILE, NNENA IWUOHA and ADEJOKE ATANDA, the now septugenarian priest shares his experience, thoughts on Nigeria and many of the critical controversial matters in Christianity, Boko Haram including the possible succession dispute that many are expecting will come with the one-man churches after the death of their founders. Excerpts
Q. At 70 you are no doubt a man of wisdom and one with wider experience about life. Using this benefit of age and experience, what will your advise be to the country in this trying moment of her life?
We all must be grateful for the privilege of being born in a territory called Nigeria and appreciate it because no one has the choice of selecting where to be born. But if we found ourselves in a location called Nigeria, we should appreciate it and thank God.
Q. In your early days, you were described as a good sportsman, why didn’t you move ahead to become a professional?
Then there was not much in professionalism, it was drop outs that you see playing football. Then it was academics, you must qualify, you must be a doctor, or a lawyer, or engineer; but suddenly we find boys from Ajegunle, Mushin being football stars, playing under-17. Nowadays you find under-something players becoming stars. It’s a phase in the life of man.
Q. Do you think Nigeria is better now compare to your own days?
Of course Nigeria is doing great and it will continue to be better. See, what you cannot do, another would do it. Life should be a progressive factor. You just have to allow progress or you will be left behind.
Q. You were once a corporate person and you rose to the level of a General Manager in BEWAC Ltd, did it occurred to you at anytime that you would become a minister of God?
No, not at all. It was when I escaped a plane crash in 1980, Aero Contractor that was going to Warri, I misses the flight and those that went with the plane perished in a crash. But when I came back and considered that I narrowly escaped, then I said to myself ‘there is more to life and I must put something in life’. That’s where I began.
Q. So, what has been the challenges as a minister of God?
The problem with Nigerian leaders as a whole, both political and religious, is that they never know whether people who are following them are with them or are against them. You just have to do the best you can and leave the rest for God to handle. But as I have analysed before, since I got involved with the ministry, I don’t like the intimidation I see; I don’t like the manipulation I see and I don’t like the domination I see. Every aspect of life is as what George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm: ‘Man is born free but everywhere in chain.’ But anywhere he is he should be free. This is the same thing I try to avoid: I don’t manipulate people, I dominate people neither do I intimidate my member. I give them freedom and it comes with responsibility. We respect ourselves, we don’t shade comments, we don’t quarrel on issues, we discuss. There’s one aspect of life I believe in: Freedom of man. You have the right to express your views but your views must be with moderation and respect for the authority. Confrontation I don’t like, dialogue I support.
Q. What will you recall as your most memorable moments in life?
That I am alive. I have escaped many things, plane crash, and stray bullets and yet I am alive.
Q. Stray bullets, when?
Long time ago, in this house.
Q. By armed robbers?
No. It's stray bullets from Police. Some got into my roof, my ceiling, my bed and I was asleep. So I just thank God everyday. That’s why the theme of my message for consecration is titled: ‘See what the Lord has done, it’s marvelous in our eyes ‘.
Q. Does your church have branches?
Yes, it has all over the world. We have branches in London, in Accra, in Sabongida Ora in Edo State and so on.
Q. Is the position of the archbishop you are to occupy decided by the church or it comes just you are the founder of the church?
The Council of Trustee may decide that and mine is a unique position. When I started the ministry, I had said to myself: God as I get to 60, I will like to consecrate as a Bishop. Also when I get to 70, I want to become an Archbishop. Somebody once asked me “when you get to 80 what do you want to do? I said I want to have a peaceful country that will know what to and what not to do.
Q. With your consecration as archbishop, do you face any opposition from the orthodox churches, being not one of them since the title is known with their institutions?
Not at all, because I’m not in their organization. What we have is consecration of Amu as archbishop of Good News Mission International.
Q. On the Boko Haram crisis still plaguing the country, would you agree with those who are saying it is not religion-motivated?
Boko Haram is an issue that is trying to send out a message, message of discontent, message of not satisfied, message of justice. So that is what they should find out and the group will disappear.
Q. If they are sending a message, don’t you think it shouldn’t be against innocent citizens, particularly people that don’t belong to their religion?
When they throw bomb, Christians and Muslims die. When they want to bomb, they need western knowledge education to do so, so what are we talking about. Does a village man know how to make bomb, he doesn’t know how to make bomb. They are trying to send a message which I think they should look into and see what to do.
Q. Do you agree with suggestion that government should enter into dialogue with them?
It depends on the leadership of the country, whatever satisfies him (the President), he should go ahead. Since I am not in the position to dialogue with Boko Haram, I can’t dialogue with them. If it was things involving religious body, I will step into it.
Q. On the Islamic banking dabacle, where do you stand?
The concept is interest-free banking; there is no need to antagonize it. If Amu and Otokiti want to form a bank, Amu-Otokiti Bank Limited, and it will be foolish to go and say Christian Bank Limited. So, this issue should be discussed by the Board of Directors of Central Bank and they have a media section, so let the media man talk, not Sanusi talking. By that, we will know that there is order. I think the man, Sanusi, should be careful. Everybody must be very careful, because whatever anybody is doing, he or she should know that people are noting and in some cases, writing it down. So one must not be an agent of destruction or agent of setting the country ablaze, because eventually one's children will say one man, Sanusi, made pronouncement in 2011 and started the controversy, and many things will follow.
Q. In your biography, it's stated that as a sportsman then ladies flocked around you like bees. Now that you are a minister of God, have you been able to subdue the pressure?
I appreciate anything, if you are good looking, and nice looking, I like you and then we get along. But at the same time you must be disciplined. Do you think it is easy to marry a wife for 43 years? Can you even keep a girl for four years? Two months, six months or by two years, you’ll break up with her. For me to keep my wife for 43 years, keep my driver for 25 years, keep my cook for 22 years, there must be something about me; that is strong character. I don’t get carried away easily, I appreciate good things, dress well, I always say dress the way I want to be addressed. I can’t tolerate fools. Discuss very intelligently around me, me and you will remain. Also, it’s the Lord’s doing because you can do anything on your own, the Lord must order your footsteps to all righteousness. And once you are in the ministry, you don’t allow such, because to whom much is given, much is expected. So you must be very careful and prayerful because on your own, you can’t do anything.
Q. In one of your books, you said when you are a leader you cannot be sure whether people are following you or chasing you out from office, I believe you are talking from experience, so have you had such experience before?
Yes, in my ministry, we sent many members to Bible College and when they came back, they stayed one year, six months and they left. I have to start again. So we keep on doing it and that’s why I said you do the best you can, when you can, how you can, because nobody knows tomorrow. At one time we sent 20 people to Bible College so as to have a strong foundational background in Good News, they came but because of the human nature, they left.
Q. In spite of high number of churches, a lot of immorality still pervades the society. What then is the essence of the church?
There are not many churches already, we only have few churches and many churches are still needed. We should have what is called neighbourhood churches, because some people travel from Ketu to Winners Chapel and that is too far. There supposes to be churches around you in your community, and the more churches you have around the neighbourhood, the pastors will go there and ethics will then begin to manifest.
Besides, human nature are diverse. For example, years ago, in the time of Okotie-Eboh, Tafawa Balewa etc, if somebody stole ten thousand pounds, people would shout their heart out. But now, people steal one billion and some don’t even take one billion, they want 10 billion. It is the developmental mentality nature of human being. Just like young girls in the university, when they go shopping for bags, shoes and the rest, the expenses are more than my salary for one month. Whereas before, ladies could buy necklace less than two thousand naira. But now if you ask them they will tell you things have skyrocketed. One needs to train his mental ability and accept that situation is progressing and you just pray and then move along with it, that is the only thing.
Q. There is this argument that it's wrong to ordain women as priest. What your position on this?
God created man and woman and he want us to go and preach the gospel and he didn't say man go and woman stay back. The argument is not that women should not preach, but that they should not lead a church or exercise priest rites at the altar? Leadership can only come up only when the call come to you because a woman leader can even rule better than men. This depends on the calling and the ability. And since the scripture did not say “woman don't do this, man do this.” When I went to Bible College I found out the importance of enrolling into Bible College and then I make sure my wife join us in the Bible college. If one is a leader of a church and when the person is no more, should it be that the driver or just any other person in the church take over and the founder's family members now merely back the person up, then how would the church be? That is why you must have a board of trustee that could manage the church. Like now, my first daughter in America, in that far away country, was identified and was ordained as a priest. So, one needs to put thing in order in this aspect, this is where the board of trustee comes up. And in my case, it's my wife that will take over after me. After my wife, the priests will pray and any one that wins the ballot will then take over. That's what I've laid down in my church. That was where the Celestial Church of Christ got it wrong and the reason they are having leadership crisis till date. Their late founder did not name who to take over when he's no more. This led many pastors coming up and wanted to take over and this created room for confusion among them.
Q. Some churches are into running of schools nowadays and charging fees as high or higher than those of public and other private ones, that majority of their members cannot afford. How do you see this?
Infact I admire and adore churches that set up schools for education, especially, in the aspect of secondary and university. I admire them because they want to set up a standard above government educational institutions. But I will not go into that venture because it's not my calling. I also admire the men of God who go into politics, pastors like Tunde Bakare, Chris Okotie etc. I admire them but my calling is in the service of Christian Association Nigeria (CAN). The churches' main aim of setting up schools is to raise their standard above what existed before. You cannot compare the standard of church schools with that of the public, either in terms of infrastructure or academics.