Obasanjo's Church

Today in Abeokuta, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo will donate a new building to Christian worshippers: a church.

The building, which is reported to be in the premises of the Obasanjo Presidential Library, is "in fulfillment of a pact he made with God in the late 1990s when he was in Abacha's prisoner," a spokesman said last week.

I congratulate Obasanjo for remembering God. I write this article in the hope that he and the leaders of the church will reflect on the paradox of a situation where God is being presented with a questionable offering.

Nobody has dominated the affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in our first 50 years as much as Obasanjo has. In that sense, it is not difficult to see why he may sometimes see himself not as the worshipper, but as the worshipped. If you have encountered him, you know he almost expects to be worshipped.

In any event, in the years since his famous return from jail, he has either ruled Nigeria or determined who did. In many respects, he has determined, directly or indirectly, who feasted and who starved; who became a king and who became a pauper.

In short, he has determined the philosophy of this era. Not surprisingly, he has emerged as one of the principal beneficiaries.

Think about it: his party, the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) virtually owns Nigeria, and Obasanjo completely mirrors its unscrupulousness. Following our return to a so-called democracy, Obasanjo served a total of eight years, courtesy of two massively rigged elections. Before the entire world in 2006, he even tried to rig himself to stay on.

Failing to achieve that, he continued the rigging within the party by handpicking a candidate and outside it by ensuring his man won that election. He never saw the irony that the man was his personal candidate and not democracy's. And he has hung around as party baron in order to ensure it is his script that continues to be used.

It was Obasanjo who infused the PDP with the "snatch this and snatch that" spirit, seeking to win every electoral contest, every contract, every oil well. It is he who has propagated the nonsense about the PDP ruling this nation for 60 or 100 years. It is he who nurtured the impunity that best describes our era, and the arrogance and indifference that best defines PDP governments.

And so the PDP made sure it has won elections, but they are victories, top to bottom, that the courts continue to expose as colossal scams. In Obasanjo's eight years, the PDP did not produce one state which excelled in service or development; on the contrary, they have characteristically been looted back to the 20th century.

And Obasanjo has not been beyond corruption scandals. A few of them: Halliburton, the Petroleum Trust Development Fund, the 2003 election campaign funds, Transcorp, the Andy Uba presidential jet bribe, the third term, the nationwide rigging machinery and the Presidential Library, the soil in which he chose to build his church.

These - not a shiny new church purchased with funds that should have been used to give food and water and education and electricity to the ordinary Nigerian - are the things that really define Obasanjo's image, character and legacy. If the key to heaven is what Obasanjo seeks, he would do well to remember the many citizens of Nigeria who depended on him to keep them from hell on earth, which is what Nigeria is.

Hopefully, the authorities of Obasanjo's church will equally be prayerful and reflective. Announcing today's event, Mr. Victor Durodola, who leads the Board of Trustees of the building, declared that it would be open to interdenominational worship. "It has no restrictions, and is open to all Christians irrespective of their affiliation," he said.

That, I suppose, is Obasanjo preaching to himself. The truth is that as leader, Obasanjo discriminated routinely against the ordinary Nigerian. It is symbolic that it is the crooked, not the honest or hardworking, who flourished in his time. It is therefore truly strange when Mr. Durodola offered the following propaganda of the big church last week, "Its vision and mission is to save humanity by promoting the kingdom of God on earth through the belief in, and acceptance of Jesus Christ, the glorious King, as the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind."

Pure theory, of course, and one can only hope that Mr. Durodola and other religious leaders nationwide will pause to ask themselves whether they are using power to define faith, or faith to define power.

In Abeokuta today, such faith leaders should remind themselves of whom we speak: Obasanjo. This is a former Nigerian ruler who not used and abused his position, and promoted and honoured the crooked. I do not mean he did not pronounce big things or even make a contribution here and there, but his philosophy inexorably led to the betrayal of the many in the service of self and the few.

As a result, Obasanjo may teach Sunday School sermons to Abeokuta children, as Mr. Durodola said, but he is not a hero of any of those children, he is not admired by their parents, and sadly, he cannot walk their streets without as a respected former leader.

Obasanjo will be remembered for some of the edifices he established while in office, but he will be regretted even more for the evils he used them to perpetrate, and the prospects and dreams he suppressed.

This is the problem with Obasanjo's church. It is not an honest gesture. It is not a testament to truth because while Obasanjo may be a soothsayer, he is not a truth-sayer. He is a man who never stood by or sought the truth unless it served his purpose, which is why there are many trees dead he should have chopped down, and many glorious trees that have fallen, some of them by his hand.

This is why I think our religious leaders must be careful. A significant part of our crisis in Nigeria is the collusion between church and state, attributable to religious leaders who identify with the rich and the powerful at the expense of their faith.

What they ought to have told Obasanjo is that faith is free, and that he is free to come to their church and pray. On the contrary, they seem to have assured him they would bring Christ to him in a shiny palace built on the foundation of questionable wealth and the political betrayal of the Nigerian people.

The truth is that it is kings and queens who rise and go looking for Christ. On his own Chris gets up and goes looking for the poor, the abandoned, the betrayed, the sick, the cheated, the dispirited, the dispossessed.

Those are the very same people that Obasanjo, having denied and ignored when he had a chance to help them, now hopes will troop through his shiny gates to help him find God.

Someone in Abeokuta should climb a chair today and bravely tell Obasanjo his calculus is wrong. First, he must return the people's wealth to them, with humility and profound apologies, a.k.a prayer.