Church can be used to connect society to government — Bishop Ossai
Charismatic preacher and Bishop of City of Refuge Missions International, Oscar Ossai, despite being a minister of God, ventured into politics shortly before the nation’s returned to civilian rule in 1999.
He however, left the political scene because of the issues that arose after the election of candidates, which made him to see politics as a dirty game.
Ossai, who had his apostolic tutelage under the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa of Church of God Missions International, returned to gospel ministry and discovered that the church is also not Fred from politics.
He speaks about his experience and other matters in this interview.
In 1999, you ventured into politics and you said you wanted to make a difference, but you soon opted out and never said anything about it again…
(Laughs) That was a really lousy experience which I sometimes look back at and wished I knew better. Well, I was part of the founding members of the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) in Enugu back then. In my political naivety, I contested for a seat in the House of Representatives. Little did I know that election in Nigeria goes beyond being a known figure or being qualified for the seat. You have to be selected by the people who are already there before you can face the people to contest. I felt there wasn’t internal democracy process in the parties.
I believe that I won in 1999. But somehow, perhaps the results were changed from Abuja. I left them briefly because I got angry and got disenchanted. I left because I had told pastors all over the world, as a member of a pastors’ network which originated in America with over 30,000 pastors on its list worldwide, that I would emerge as the winner and would invite them to Nigeria to democratise the country with us.
I had made lots of noise. I had told them that I won the primaries in the party, only to be told that I lost! It was difficult to face them, so I left politics.
So you made a retreat?
I had to. I didn’t understand the abracadabra that was played against me then. I couldn’t flow with the process because I saw that a lot of things were wrong.
And you went back to embrace the church…
Oh yes, I did just that. The church was home to me. I got born again early so I was part of the student Christian movement. I was in leadership position then at the University of Nigeria. And today, having put in almost 45 years in the church, there is no church I have not been part of except the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
I started with Bishop Benson Idahosa in Church of God Mission. I was in UCC at a stage. I was in Scripture Union. I was in Household of God with Kris Okotie who repented right there in my hostel room in the university. At a stage, we were supporting Chris when he started Household of God. I was part of Revival Assembly with Anselm Madubuku. I was part of Glory Land; Word Mission Outreach with my friend Rev Johnson who was with me from the University; Christ Chapel where I had been a prophet in the church. I have been a prayer warrior and head of prayer ministry. I have been a choir member. I have been part of the pastoral team.
You spoke about Rev. Chris Okotie…
Yes. That is one of my seniors in Christianity.
Can you recall how he became born again in your hostel room?
Chris was a friend to Arch Eziekel Nya Etuk, my roommate. Our room, G211 in GH hostel was a room celebrated on campus as being a place for a new phase of born again Christians. I remember Chris saying to me once: ‘Are you saying this Ossai too will be going to heaven?’ We carved an image of being very well dressed and yet we were SUs.
Chris began to come around a few times and eventually gave his life to Christ. This was same time that Jide Obi, who also later became a pop star, repented.
He was a musician at the time he became a born again Christian. Did you believe him initially?
Initially, I didn’t. Because like we all knew him then, he was deep into music. He sang ‘I need someone…’ He used to come to my room. It was, however, when he got born again that my friendship with him got better.
Did you believe that his being born again would last?
As a matter of fact, some of us who were in the fellowship joined Kris Okotie then because we were afraid that he would backslide. We felt we should hang around him for this thing that God has done for him to survive. That was why some of us came to his church.
Did he have to struggle with Christianity back then?
Kris was a special person. In fact we were shocked. He nearly didn’t even graduate. He just started reading the bible in the bush and everywhere. The quantum of time the guy used in improving himself spiritually was awesome. He made a lot of sacrifice. I have never seen a thing like that. His was phenomenal. One can recall that he got born again with Jide Obi, but where is Jide Obi now? Kris Okotie continued and before we knew it, he went ahead and started a church. Some of us in the fellowship then suddenly considered him too serious. His boldness shocked everybody, and that is the truth. I was there. I saw him first giving his life to Christ and I have seen him as a pastor, how he has held on and he loves God with all his heart!
What prompted your recent return to politics?
It was while in the church I realised that when people talk about politics, I saw the ignorance in it all. Church people talk down on politics and I see a lot of ignorance in that because the church itself is totally immersed in politics. There is no gathering of two people where there is no politics, even in families. And even in the church, the politics there is more than the politics in Aso Rock (Presidential Villa). I think what they are talking about and they are against in the church unknown ingly is party politics. That is what the church seems to be against. They don’t know much about that because they have not been there.
Some pastors don’t know anything about politics. My argument has continued to be that politics is about how do we share scarce resources because resources are forever scarce? How do we make sure the greater majority of the people get as much as possible from the resources that are scarce? That is what politics is about.
If the church does not understand and does not like politics, what will you as a bishop be doing in it?
I am seeing politics in a different light. The church should be a bridge between the people and society. The church should have a message for the world, and that message is what I am asking God for. The Nigerian church is yet to attain the fullness of the measure of Christ in the area of government, and the Nigerian government does not see the church as a partner in progress, which is what it should be because the church is a platform for government to reach out to the society, but government does not understand this.
The reality of the situation is that the communication theory that talks about two-step flow is what the government of Nigeria does not know how to apply for their messages to reach the grassroots. The church is a veritable tool that can be used to connect society to government. So governance has to be relevant in the church and the church relevant in the issues of state. It baffles me when Christians wonder why I talk about politics when I am inside the church.
You are definitely an Igbo man in Lagos…
Yes, I have lived here for 35 years, schooled here, went to University of Nigeria, Nsukka for my first degree, then the University of Lagos for post graduate diploma and masters degree.
What difference do you see between today’s Lagos and the Lagos of those days?
A lot of difference! When I arrived in Lagos, it was a bit friendlier. I am not talking about individuals now. Lagos then was a place you could come and immediately fit in. Lagos was a place where any little idea you come up with sells! Lagos was a place where you could just run into a destiny helper, unlike now that even the destiny helpers themselves are struggling. Things are tight everywhere now. The city was more accommodating. We didn’t see much difference then, and as an Igbo man wherever God takes us to, we put all our eggs in that basket. We develop the place. That is how God made us.
How was growing up for you and what was it like?
I was born in Enugu city and the war drove us out of Enugu and we ran round and ended back in my village. I am the fourth child in the family of 11, 4 boys, I’m the second son, and 7 girls from one mother and same father. My father was not a rich man, he was poor and retired from public works department as a painter, an artisan. But he was the first person in our village who left to experience township. So he was a respected man in the sense that a lot of people that came out of the village had him as a base to start life in the city.
My father believed in education and today, my family is a family that is recognised with education in my village. We had the first graduate in the family who was my mother’s younger brother, who became the cynosure, so to say, for everyone in the village. I remembered when we were small, my father used to hang his bicycle on the wall. There was a way he built the wall so that he could hang it and there would be space for us to sleep on the floor. I didn’t grow up in wealth, but I had a family where there was love; where no matter how hard it was outside, you could run because Mama would have hot food for you.
Is Nigeria ready for a Christian president at this time?
I guess that I should know the answer to that question. Yes, Nigeria is ready for a Christian president at this time. Ask CAN, ask PFM. Let me even tell you about the thinking inside the church today. The Nigerian church represented by the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, are really saying that the only hope for Nigeria is for a proper born again Christian to emerge as the President of Nigeria. That is the thinking of the church today in Nigeria. But whether they will get up as a church to pursue the ambition is a different issue entirely.
I am an elder in the church. I am a senior bishop. I am no longer a small child in the church, so i should know. The thinking is that we need a David ordained by God to turn around things in this country because no matter how successful you are from Nigeria you are at best a personal success.
But collectively, we are all failures. I preach the gospel all over nations in the world they ask Bishop Oscar you speak very well, you love God, but how come your country is the way it is with men like you? So once they ask me that question, I feel weak physically. Indirectly, they tell me that I should go and practice what I preach in my country. And that is what Donald Trump too told us: ‘Go and practice your faith in your country first.’
What is your last word for Christians in Nigeria?
I believe that as Christians, we can change this country. I believe that Nigeria can be better than we see it. I was sitting with a former Chief of Air Staff in his house and they took light. I said to him, ‘Oga, do you see what I am saying?’ He said what are you saying, Bishop? I told him you retired as a former Chief of Air Staff; look at how you are sweating in your own sitting room. Your colleague in Washington DC, the guy that you did some courses with, will he be experiencing such a light outage? So that is it. We have to correct these things.
The first day I landed in America about 25-30 years ago, I thought the weather would be coloured pictures like in the book. I flew from Lagos-Brazil-Florida. So as I was alighting from the plane, I was shocked when I realised that it was like our weather in Nigeria. The sky was the same, only that the roads were well planned, health care system functioned, bright lights, water working. In fact, when I saw the light, I jumped up to quickly iron my clothes before they would take it! I had to unlearn something.
I know it is possible here. I believe we can do all that too here as Christians. I am encouraging Christians to come out and let’s join hands to build this nation. It is a national cry. Let’s stop pretending that politics is dirty. Go and clean it up if it is dirty.
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