Bishop Charles Ighele, the General Superintendent of Holy Spirit Mission, Akuwonjo, Lagos with over 80 branches across Nigeria was 66 on April 8, 2021. He granted interview with Journalist wherein he spoke on crucial national issues, and proffered solutions. CYRIACUS NNAJI reports.
How is life at 66?
At 66, more than half of my stay on planet earth is over, the time will come all of us here will not see Lagos again, because we will all do what, die. So now at 66, what can I do to make Planet earth better than I met it, it is a driving force. And this has always been there, so it now go beyond the car we ride, any car you see there is a gift, I didn’t buy any of those cars there. And by the grace of God, I have vowed that from this moment I will not be in a corner. I must play a role which I have started playing step by step in making sure that the quality of Nigerian family is better.
The family is so important to me. So right now, we are on a project of how many families we can get out of poverty every month, whether Christian or Moslem, because if poverty is now the biggest problem, and Nigeria being called the poverty capital of the world. I don’t want to be remembered as only how many jets I have or something, but how many families was I able to raise from where they were to where they supposed to be?
How did it all start? Tell us a little about yourself
I was born in Warri General Hospital on April 8, 1955, so Israel Ighele was my father and Rebecca Ighele, my mother; that is my background. I grew up in Warri, then later Sapele, so my first language was Pigin English, till today; I can knack Pigin English anywhere. Being the first born of my parents, then after me about seven others were girls. So my father was very particular about me, he made me to stay with my aunt, his younger sister, whose husband was a headmaster so that I would be well schooled. I was not doing very well when I was in his home, so when he now took me to stay with my aunt I started doing very well. Then I went to secondary school in 1969, and then I finished from University of Ife 1980, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), did my Youth Service, and went into ministry, which I head now. I joined it and later I became the head. The name is Holy Spirit Mission.
Who then founded the ministry?
The ministry was started by Bishop Michael Mariohae in 1974 in Benin City. What attracted me to him was, one day I just went to his church just to worship, and that day I saw honesty in him, so I got attracted to him, because all my life I have been attracted to honesty. And I used to read about him in those days. He was a commissioner under the military regime for Works and Housing, in the Midwest; he was an honest man, a Christian. You know, people like the Idahosas of this world, they used to hold crusade together, so we were young that very time, he was a friend to these people, in fact because of him, Idahosa attended my wedding, just to see how close they were.
When did you become the head of the church?
Yes I later became a branch pastor of this church. I got married to his daughter, to the founder’s daughter. I like the whole world to know about this. And here is a branch pastor, and the branch that I pastor was doing very well, in terms of population, getting more than the headquarters itself and in terms of visibility. So the branch that I pastor now brought visibility to the whole ministry, and then he allowed me to go on TV, because he was such a man, he never felt threatened at all. Any of his pastors who had the gift that would bless the world could go on TV, so I went on TV. In fact that should be the first married and family TV programme in the whole of West Africa. Myself and my wife, and the thing really caught fire, people tuned in, we became a household name within a very short period. The programme was really so effective such that it attracted governors, it was bringing governors to my house.
In December 1996, he called 19 of us, senior ministers to a meeting that God has told him that his time was up, he was 70 years then, his assignment was over, that God would soon call him home, and that he should hand over to one of us here, and said that the lord said that person is me. So in their midst he brought out oil and poured upon my head, and then January 19, 1997, the next month was the public handing over service, which was widely publicized by the Nigerian press, because such things were really not common, not common at all.
And after that service, he never stepped in the office again, never ever interfered with anything about the ministry. So five years later or so, he died as God told him that his time was up. So that was how on January 19, 1997 I became the General Superintendent of Holy Spirit Mission.
Then the very next year, 1998, December fourth, I was now made a Bishop, all bishops from different parts of the country, leadership of PFN came to Benin and officially consecrated me a bishop in 1998, December.
If you were not a bishop, what else would you have been doing?
If I was not a bishop, well, there are different things, I would have been a journalist, publisher, I was already doing that, editing the largest serving campus newspaper at Ife, known as the King’s Cobra and it was so effective. Secondly, I might have been a lawyer. Then thirdly a soldier and the aim was to plan a coup, but my aunt was angry, don’t try it. Really I wanted to join the army and the aim was to plan a coup. So as a child I had read a lot about education in Nigeria from Newspapers, what was going on during the civil war, reading newspaper made me to know more about Nigeria then, things which should be, things which should not be, and I was angry with a lot of things.
Your view on the current religious crisis in Nigeria
After the 2015 election that brought Buhari to power, a week or two later, Vanguard Newspaper in a full page interview with me, I said that the election was the worst in Nigeria’s history in terms of its divisive tendencies, that it is also reflecting the will of Nigerians, I didn’t question that one at all because the little facts I have with me and to my friends as well it reflected the will of Nigerians, but the divisive tendencies, getting the church involved, getting the mosque involved, everything escalated, and that what Buhari should do was national reconciliation, social re-engineering, that was what I said then. So now in the case of Nigeria, let’s not just take religious conflict in isolation, because there are conflicts here and there, they are so many. Religious conflict is just one of them.
What do we do, do we start by asking every ethnic group to go and start their own country?
You see, even if you say to your tent O Israel, in-between the ethnic groups, okay, let’s look at Yoruba land as a nation, the Igbas, the ijebus, go to the north, the Hausa/Fulani, which I learnt the Banditry is due to their rivalry. So if you say now form a Delta nation, Isoko man will not agree, Ijaw man will not agree, Ishekiri will not agree. Do you get it? So we now have Isoko nation, with its own president, Nigeria will become one ugly thing.
Do you agree to the argument that what is happening was a script written by our leaders?
You see, that is an aspect of it. But there seems to be, there is collaboration by the elites, it is a class war. And that is to share national resources at the expense of the masses, give me the contract and keep quiet, so that is an aspect of it. Then another part of it has to do with there is always the tendency by an ethnic group, whose people are in power to take charge of everything and like a former president said the other day, he said they mounted pressure for him to do so but he did not do so, to put his ethnic people everywhere, he refused to do so. When you do so you are myopic, when you do so you divide the nation the more.
You appear to be critical about this administration, as student of history at what point did we get it wrong as a country?
Now it will be silly on the part of anybody to think that these problems started today, under this administration, the social decay doesn’t take place in just five years, now the fact remains that Nigeria and Nigerians have become more uncivilized, even some who have PhD are not civilized, talking about civilized behavior, so the whole system took a dangerous turn when the military started to treat education the way they treated education.
The quality of the life of a people depends on the quality of their education. And education is not all about passing of examination; education equips you on how to face society in an impartial manner, on how to look at issues, on how as a Christian to relate with a Moslem without any bias and vice versa; education equips you to look at what can I do to help, and not what can I do to get what is already there. So now before the military rule we have the quality of teachers who had this mindset, they love education, so you could see people from Great Britain, India coming all over Nigerian schools to teach.
You see at a stage, when the military now decided to change the educational policy, they now said that after finishing secondary school and you fail your school cert, you can go and do one or two years in Teachers Training College, then you now become a teacher. That thing alone destroyed education in Nigeria, and then all those who failed school cert, all of them now trooped into the teachers training colleges. So with this people who didn’t pass all over the country now get to educate the children, how would they be?
Looking at the scenario you have painted, insecurity, crises everywhere, would you want to conclude that Nigeria is a failed state?
You see, what is a nation? What is nation state? Thomas Hobbes talked about a time when life was brutish, nasty, and short, that is Nigeria; we call it the state of nature. Let us not mince words about it, it is a totally failed state. You see, Rwanda knew it was a failed state, because they knew they rose up to rebuild. How can you say you want to patch up? It is a failed state, complete failure. Insecurity, education, poverty, what is there? With agitation here and there, let us be fair, let us be fair and I don’t want to belong to the elite that would not call a spade a spade. And whoever is going to take over from this very government, whether PDP or APC, this should be the person’s main goal, nation building. I just pray, a bold Nigerian, a benevolent strong man will rise up and build powerful institution that will be able to deal with the problem of inequality.
You have interest in marriage and family happiness, have you reached the point of satisfaction where you would say Nigerian families are happy?
How can I be satisfied? Nigerian families are suffering, poverty, ignorance of marriage and family, parents unable to raise their children well, more than half of our youths they have funny hairstyle, if the family is okay society is okay, so the family are producing children that are a source of problem to society. So that is what we are fighting, we need the family to be strong and responsible, and where we can, we take some off the streets according to our resources. But I tell you, a typical Nigerian father and mother have little or no knowledge about marriage.