Private planes are all the rage among Nigeria’s humble men of God, with high-flying pastor Ayo Oritsejafor the latest to claim that his own jet is vital for him to spread his gospel effectively. Not everyone is sure, however, that such ostentation is really appropriate. By SIMON ALLISON.
For Nigerian pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, Christmas came early this year. On 10 November, at his Word of God Bible Church in Warri, Delta State, the good Pentecostal pastor announced the delivery of the present his generous congregation has bequeathed upon him: a 10-seater Bombardier Challenger 601. This is a private jet of the type beloved of business executives for its speed and lavish appointments, and set back a few unnamed benefactors a tidy $4.5 million. The Word of God travels fast these days.
The “jubilant congregation”, according to news reports, was delighted with this news, erupting into “loud ovation and applause” and spent over 15 minutes congratulating one another.
Not everyone was quite so happy. If Jesus kicked the moneylenders out of the temple, some think it logical that he’d kick pastors out of their private planes too.
And Pastor Oritsejafor is not the only Nigerian cleric with his own jet, although as head of the Christian Association of Nigeria he is the most high-profile. Reverend Matthew Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, worries that the trend diminishes the power of the church as a whole, regardless of denomination. “The embarrassing stories of pastors displaying conspicuous wealth as we hear from the purchases of private jets and so on clearly diminish our moral voice,” he said.
Oluwole Odubogun, the Anglican Bishop of Ife Diocese, concurred: “Having a private jet in the midst of want, in the midst of poverty and in the midst of all kinds of deprivation is a show of wealth, which is not precisely in consonance with the gospel. According to the gospel, those who have should share with those who do not have. When you are riding in a jet, you don’t know what is happening to the other people on the street. You are on your own.”
High-flying Pastor Oritsejafor is far from alone, however. He’s got backing from a number of other church leaders who don’t see any contradiction between immense wealth and their teachings, as well as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who was present at the announcement of the gift – an implicit endorsement by the state.
Pastor Oritsejafor himself is very excited about his new toy. “Sometimes, my schedule is so complicated. Now, with this plane, it changes everything about my movements. Now, I can move, I can even go and come back home. It is a bit more convenient for me and I suspect that this is one of the reasons a lot of these other preachers have planes.” (Ah, well, that makes perfect sense then: we’ve all, on occasion, spent $4.5 million to make things that little “bit more convenient”.)
It’s worth elaborating on the scale of Pastor Oritsejafor’s suffering, as he does in a long defensive interview in Nigeria’s Vanguard magazine. Did you know that he once had a three hour stopover in Dubai airport? And a five hour stopover in Jakarta? A man of his eminence should not be expected to ensure these kinds of delays, especially when what he really should be doing is tending to his ever-needy flock, who “feel painful for not seeing me most of the time”.The good pastor concludes: “I’m not ashamed to own a plane, I think it is a necessity and not a luxury for some of us deeply involved in the work of God to own planes.”
These days, it can be difficult to distinguish the work of God from the work of businessmen and corporate leaders. Apostle Isa El-Buba, the general overseer of Evangelical Bible Outreach Ministries International for Plateau State, offered a telling comparison: “If people in the secular world can acquire jets for chief executive officers of big private enterprises, there is nothing wrong in giving gifts to a man of God of Pastor Oritsejafor’s standing. This is a man of God that travels across the whole world. He deserves what he has been given.”
The latest craze for private planes amongst Nigeria’s rich preacher class, sometimes nicknamed “pastorpreneurs”, is another symbol of just how deep the doctrine of prosperity (or gospel of greed) has taken root in Nigeria. This is, at its most basic, the belief that Jesus blesses his believers with worldly riches. The closer to God you are, the wealthier you will be. As one of His spokesmen here on earth, arranging a private plane is really the least He could do.
Pastor Oritsejafor must, therefore, be very close to God. Closer than Pope Benedict XVI, who always flies commercial (Not, incidentally, as close as Aliko Dangote, Nigeria and Africa’s richest man, who owns a fleet of three private jets – and is Muslim). And, with his new plane, Pastor Oritsejafor will be able to spread his doctrine of prosperity even faster. DM
Photo: Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s website.