Suave, soft-spoken, penetrating and charismatic with a trait of urbane personality, Pastor Austin Ukaiwe parades a blend of natural gifts and pastoral duties.
He oozes total confidence – no shouts, no frown, which reveals a mosaic of intuition, empathy when interacting with people as shown in this interview with Pastor Kunle Olusanya and Amos Esele in his office at RCCG Lagos Province 3, recently. Excerpts:
How would you describe the recent sectarian violence in Southern Kaduna?
Well, first and foremost I think an adage in the vernacular says that when you tell a k-legged person that his load is bent and he says look at my leg, he is simply saying that the load is bent because he has a k-leg. In the scripture, Psalm 11: 3 says if the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?. We are looking at a foundational problem in this country. And it is actually a political problem.
I grew up in Kano Street in Ebute-Metta. And as children we did not know the difference between Christianity and Islam. When it was time for Muslim festival, during their fasting period, there were people called Ajiwere, who sing all over the place in Evans square. As children, we used to follow them about. In school, we had friends called Sikiru, Gani and we who answered Christian names did not know the difference. We had grown up like this in this country. So what has gone wrong? People are using religion for political ends. That is the problem.
Religion, Politics and Government are the three pillars of society. Is it not the fault of religious leaders that politicians have been able to dominate religion?
No, it is politicians that govern the country and not religious leaders. The politicians have the resources at their disposal to decide who does and gets what. In southern Kaduna for example, is it not the politician that would impose curfew and ask the police to carry it out? He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
The point at issue is that there is a leadership vacuum in religion that allows politics to dictate trends?
We have problem of leadership at all levels in our society. Don’t we have a leadership problem in politics? Right now we live in a country whose people do not know where their president is. Is that not a lacuna? As religious leader, our scope with the politicians is not the same. In the Redeemed Christian Church of God, for instance, where I am under authority and have to follow the laid down principles and policies of the church, I have 173 parishes under me as a pastor in charge of a province. I cannot go into another province. But that is not so with the politician. In Amuwo-Odofin Local Government here, all the churches, whether Redeemed, Catholic, Anglican etc are under the authority of the Chairman. So he is wielding political power. In the state the governor does so, in a country, the President.
Don’t you think the real problem is because Churches have abandoned salvation gospel to preaching prosperity gospel and so make the members victims of the elements?
That is partially correct and the reason is obvious, because of the social system we live in. In addition, you have competition among churches, which is not supposed to be. We are supposed to be one. There is too much dichotomy. If CAN calls a meeting now, how many churches would go? The devil is at work not to allow the unity of the church because if the church were united then it would be at a disadvantage.
So how do you run Your Province?
As I speak with you, my accountant just left here, we have just started a Church in the Bahamas. The money allotted for the mission is N1.8m and yet we end up spending N3m. Where do I get the rest? I have to appeal to donors because I need money for missionary work. That is the truth of the matter. However, I have to cut my coat according to my size. And by the Grace of God, I have been able to establish churches in foreign countries. That is my vision. This means I don’t go to any country where there is Redeemed Christian Church of God.
That is the vision God has given to me. And by the Grace of God, I am the first to enter Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In Eastern Europe, I went to Bosnia and Montenegro. And all the people involved are white, no black man or woman. The point I am making is that in spite of the fact that we were short of funds, we still went to these countries. And we are not getting any money back. So, everything is not about money.
You are said to emphasize the leadership style of Jesus. Is this how you preach it to your members?
I have taught Jesus’ leadership style for a long time. Let me explain. At a point, the disciples of Jesus Christ began to quarrel among themselves who is going to be the leader. Jesus told them, you got leadership wrong. He then told them anybody who wants to be a leader amongst you must first be a servant. That is where the servant leadership style comes from. The ideal civil servant, for instance, is supposed to be a servant of the people. But a civil servant in our country is a lord. Servant leadership is about the people. You let them know you are leading them by example. And Jesus did that in so many ways; he obeyed authority, showed love and mingled with everyone. These are leadership qualities that endear leaders to the congregation.
When it comes to doctrine, issues of faith in Christianity, you become very passionate. Where do these manners come from?.
It is a sub-conscious thing; it is a gift from God. That is the way God has wired me. For example, last June I was in the US during the presidential campaigns and while some were saying Hilary Clinton would win, something in me said Donald Trump would win. God is listening. He won because of a statement he made that America must come back to God and if he wants to work for God, God will use him to do the work. There is no reason he should win, look at the press, the politicians, even from his own party; they were all against him, yet he won. Why?. God has a plan and purpose for him. He may not be good personally. But did you know that the Bible says God uses the foolish of this world to confound the wise? God even used an animal, a donkey, so why not a human being. His travel ban is been mistaken for a war against Muslims. No, it is against terrorists.
You have good relational skills with people. Where does it come from?
God has blessed me. Jesus related with all kinds of persons even those who did not like him. I don’t believe there is anybody who is useless. In this province, I am strict but the structure has a human face. Let me give you an example. All my pastors that work with me have their responsibilities. Their first responsibility is to be able to administer their members; the second is to be able to lead them with the word of God. I have 173 churches under me. When I go on inspection on certain Sundays, I won’t enter the church; I just study from outside, listen to the diction and take notes. Sometimes ushers see me and I hush them. At the monthly meeting, I point out to the pastors what they should do. If I observe that you are not doing well, I pull you out. I can’t sacrifice the laxity of one person for the salvation of 200 members in the church. But the ones that are pulled out do not languish. No, they are with me here. Currently four are here with me and they have been put in charge of other activities and they are doing well. So they may not be good pastors but they are good managers. I use people along their areas of strength. In the relationship skills you talked about, language also comes in. I am just fortunate. I can speak Yoruba, Igbo and English. So I can preach in any of these languages and people always feel at home.
What is your vision for your province in the next three years?
The General Overseer has already asked us to double. We are also involved in corporate social responsibility for our communities. God has helped us to put up hospital where people can get the best for the least. Pregnant women go there for antenatal and they don’t get any referral from anywhere before they put to birth. And we have not lost any child or mother. We have just got an ambulance, which I bought from my pocket. I don’t use church money. The hospital is for both members of the church and the public. God has also helped us with four schools, three primary and one secondary school, where we are doing both English and Nigerian curriculum so students can meet the local and international standard.