Uzokwe's Searchlight

With Pastor Okotie at the helmsmanship of Nigeria, we would have to buckle up and be ready to get into the funky era. He likes to shatter institutionalized beliefs and go the modern way, sometimes too modern.
Monday, March 4, 2002

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


was a 2nd year student at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus in 1978, when Chris Okotie joined the school to study law along with the likes of Jide Obi (the former musician) and Tagbo Ike (now a trial attorney in Enugu). While some of Chris' classmates like Tagbo Ike immediately started showing signs that gave a glimpse into their passion for law, nothing in Chris Okotie's demeanor or disposition revealed any such passion for jurisprudence; his interest seemed to lie elsewhere. The lanky and very dark six footer was very soft spoken, with a disposition that sometimes came across as shyness.

In the student common room right opposite the cafeteria we called "old ref", was an old church organ on the mezzanine floor level. When other students came in there to unwind, have some snacks and socialize, Chris Okotie would quietly go up to the mezzanine floor and start playing the organ and singing away. He had a sonorous if not velvet voice that seemed to effortlessly glide from one musical scale to the other, rising in crescendo and going down in diminuendo at the right time. I admired that talent and I was amazed at his piano playing and singing abilities not knowing that he was also an accomplished guitarist!

Not many in the campus thought too much about all these until some time in 1979 when Chris seemed to disappear from school for quite sometime. Rumor was rife about his disappearance; some said he had withdrawn from school because he could not handle law studies while others surmised that he had gone to London to record music. The latter surmise did not seem very realistic considering the fact that at that time, the only college music group that had successfully transitioned into the national scene was a music group called "Ofege" of St. Gregory Lagos.

Chris shocked the entire campus and the nation when in the summer of 1979, he released a popular album aptly titled "I Need Someone". By the time school restarted in September of 1979, he had become a national star and music lovers (including me) saw him as a trailblazer. Some of my musically-inclined classmates like Emeka Nwandu, Chudi Anisiobi, Arinze (we called him Ari Arc) and Edozie Ifeanacho had started sharpening their music skills in readiness for going national, they even formed a campus band called TIXIE and performed on campus. I had commenced guitar lessons then under the tutelage of Emeka Nwandu and even before I could perfect my guitar playing skills, I made a demo tape and went to Odion Iruoje of EMI records at Oregun. Why not? I thought, afterall Chris had blazed the trail and we could all now follow. Jide Obi had gradually started working on his own musical ambition which later culminated in the release of the album entitled "Tonight" under Tabansi records label.

Anyway, as Chris hit the national scene, he earned himself a high profile in the school environment and the nation at large and would always be seen on campus ground cruising around in a reddish brown Honda he had acquired with an inscription on the license plate that read "KRIS". He later moved into the hostel I was staying in called IJ or Kenneth Dike hostel and Tina who later became his wife, was a regular there.

Chris shocked the dickens out of many when he suddenly left the country with Tina and came to the States; that was after we had all graduated and left Enugu campus. It was said then that he had abandoned music and I was wondering if the guy was crazy to abandon his claim to fame? But one day in either late 1986 or early 1987, on a Sunday morning, I was driving through Surulere Lagos near Akerele street when I saw signs that read: "Expect a Miracle" all over a building that seemed like a public hall. All manners of young men and women were trouping out of the hall. When I asked what was up, I was told that Chris Okotie was holding his church service there. I was surprised because for one thing, I did not know he had returned from the USA and secondly, I was unaware of the fact that he had become an ordained minister of God. It surprised me that someone with his proclivities would want to be a registered "man of God" with its attendant headaches. He however went on to establish a viable ministry with a substantial followership in Oregun, Lagos.

Late last year, Chris announced that he had separated from Tina, his wife of 20 years. When I heard this, I once again wondered how he was going to weather the storm of controversy that usually surrounds the divorce of a minister? I also wondered if this would affect the allegiance of the members of his church to him. Apparently as before, he once again scaled those problems in flying colors because even though a lot of questions were asked, it never seemed like he lost his follower-ship.

Just a couple of days ago, Pastor Chris Okotie, the founder of the Household of God Ministries announced to the Vanguard newspaper and the nation that he was going to run for the presidency of Nigeria come 2003! This has generated a new round of discussions about what he might be up to. Some dismissed it as " a punch drunk dream", they say he is not ready for prime time. Personally, I would say, never put anything past Chris Okotie because he would commit all necessary resources to get at his objectives. In the past, anytime people discounted him, he always had a way of rising to the challenge. Just when we thought he had left the music business and his claim to fame had vanished with the wind, he became a pastor, commanding the allegiance of thousands of UPPITY Nigerians. A guy we all perceived in 1978 as soft-spoken almost bothering on shy, turned into a verbose, dynamic speaker who mesmerized his congregation every Sunday with his sermons laced with highfalutin language.

I am happy to see that a fellow lion (University of Nigeria alumni) has such bold aspirations and I doff my hat for Chris for even having the temerity to nurse that type of ambition. It is certainly his prerogative and I wish him well. I must however caution that the duties of the presidency of Nigeria are very different from the duties of a pastor. When asked by Vanguard papers what gave him the impetus to aspire to the presidency, he said he has done well shepherding people in his ministry and would replicate the same success as the President of Nigeria. I beg to differ here, in a church ministry, the congregation swallows hook line and sinker what the pastor says because it is the right thing to do. The presidency is not the same; people would question your actions, motives and results, and ask for your ouster if there are shortcomings. That is not the same in a ministry where the congregation is even ready to forgive the most egregious sins and stick up for the pastor. This was evident in the case of Pastor Jimmy Swaggart whose ministry stuck with him until he proved that he could not jettison his unsavory proclivities.

Also, Chris' penchant for public display of his wealth would be viewed with contempt in Nigeria's political scene. As a nation where many are still suffering under the heavy burden of poverty and hunger, if he wears those Armani suits twice, eyebrows will go up.

So what kind of President would Pastor Okotie make?

With Pastor Okotie at the helmsmanship of Nigeria, we would have to buckle up and be ready to get into the funky era. He likes to shatter institutionalized beliefs and go the modern way, sometimes too modern. In his church, women attendees enter the church without hats as is uncharacteristic of Nigerian churches. Men wear hats into the church unlike what we were told that it was a sign of respect to God for men to have their hats off in church. Women wear spaghetti tops and very short skirts and you could even sometimes see one of the men leading his praise worship ministry with his hair braided like a lady, yes you heard right, braided. Of course by Western standards, this may not mean a thing, but it is certainly generating discussions in Oregun and Lagos as a whole. I guess therefore that in the same spirit, if he becomes the President, he would declare that all bets are off and the era of laissez faire government would earnestly commence! Like what you are reading so far? Buckle up, there is more….

He likes to dress flamboyantly in designer suits and shoes, riding in flashy cars and the likes. So as the President of Nigeria, when he goes to State visits outside the country, we would have to contend with the fact that a separate jet has to ferry his extensive wardrobe like that of Imelda Marcos of Philippines. Also, I envisage a situation where during White House reception in his honor as our President, he would excuse himself at least three times during the ceremony in the Rose garden to change into fresh clothing. Sound far-fetched? Well, it happened during the Karis award ceremony/church service in Lagos tagged G.R.A.C.E early last year. The ceremony was used to honor Nigerian labor leader Michael Imoudu and five others; before the ceremony was over, Pastor Okotie was reported to have changed his clothing three times! At first he wore a four-button navy blue suit and later changed into a knee-length seven button tuxedo. For the finale, he changed into a five button cream suit. Even by western standards, for a Pastor, that was a little too much considering the fact that some of the poor people who also contribute to the coffers he was dependent on for his ostentatious living, were present in that ceremony. It seemed more like a fashion show for the venerable minister than what it should be.

As soon as he gets into the office of the President, he would release money for the construction of architectural marvels all over Nigeria as he did his church in Oregun Lagos. This will keep architects and engineers happy because work will be in abundance and money will trickle down to everyone. He would establish minimum acceptable levels of aesthetics for buildings designed for construction in Nigeria. I would intensify my building design work and ensure that the aesthetics of my designs, give the Nigerian landscape an "out of the world" look and appeal.

He would be quick to call to order Nigerians who in his opinion do not take the moral high road. He recently did that to his fellow Pastor, Oyakhilome. According to Pastor Okotie, Oyakhilome was fellowshipping with Pastor Temitope Joshua whom Chris feels is not a man of God because according to him, Joshua did not derive his powers from God.

If his political opponents criticize him, he would go to the police and lodge complaints that they are out to get him. This happened when Pastors Oyakhilome and TB Joshua responded to him in kind after he had criticized them. He sent a letter to the police chief that he had information on a plot for his elimination by his foes.

His address to the nation or interviews with the press will be filled with highfalutin language and most Nigerians would need the help of dictionaries to decipher what he is saying. The address would start with something like this " Good evening fellow Nigerians, according to the philosophy of existential presupposition, …cuculus non facit monarchum…we would build domicilliary edifices for all Nigerians…." Many a times, his sermons at the Household of God church sound like that. Even when he talks to the press, sometimes they have to ask him to explain some of the words he uses and he would aptly respond " it is in the dictionary"

He may decide to use his music to win acceptance by addressing the nation through his song. Why not? He has the voice, he has the talent and certainly a lot of UPPITY Nigerians will love it and would come to his aid in a heartbeat!

Pastor Okotie would release funds for the acquisition of luxury and flamboyant cars for the Presidential fleet and order a redecoration of the presidential jet. This will be in line with the fleet of flamboyant cars he currently drives around Oregun Lagos. His followers have no qualms about that, Infact some have been quoted as saying that he displays his wealth "in a godly manner"

If every other thing fails, Pastor Okotie would bring about a miracle; the miracle would change the hearts and minds of all Nigerians to become good citizens, be disciplined without corruption and nepotism, attend to their civic duties, eschew jumping of queues in banks or petrol stations. Inotherwords, he would do through miracles, what Buhari and Idiagbon tried to accomplish forcefully through the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) program.

On a serious note, I have learnt never to underestimate Chris Okotie, he knows how to marshal out the necessary resources to vigorously pursue his goals; what still remains to be seen is what he would do when politics and dirty tricks (as Ross Perot would say) commence during the electioneering campaign? Does he have the intestinal fortitude to handle critics considering that at that time, everything he has ever done would become fair game for criticism: his divorce, his flamboyance, his penchant for public displays of wealth, his grandiloquence and other issues?

Also, Pastor Okotie must understand that 2003 would be an issues dominated campaign, no more free passes for politicians. Anyone aspiring to elected office MUST demonstrate excellent knowledge and mature understanding of the issues and problems facing Nigeria. The person MUST outline viable proposed solutions and tell the nation why he/she feels that those proposed solutions would work. We would no longer allow the idea of " vote me in first and then I would learn what the problems are later" That has been the bane of Nigeria as a nation and we must exorcise the demons that have encouraged us to allow such things to characterize our polity. He must be ready to submit himself to townhall meetings where ordinary Nigerians would ask questions on issues that perturb them and he must offer viable answers that show seriousness. As I stated earlier, it is the prerogative of any Nigerian under our democracy to run, but they must now meet out litmus test if they want to be elected.