Pastor Femi Olunuga is the Pastor in Charge of RCCG, Lagos Province 70 (LP70). Vice Chairman, The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Board of Information Technology with background in Accountancy and Computer Science. A Fellow of ICAN and CITN. He spoke to our correspondent, Olusegun Obisanya on the developments in the Province since its creation in 2018. He favours fuel subsidy removal. Excerpts
The RCCG Lagos Province 70 was created in 2018 and you are the pioneering Provincial Pastor. How has the journey been?
To the glory of God, He has sustained LP70. When we started in 2018, we were hopeful that within five years, we would have given birth to another Province. And in the first year, we had a growth of about 20%, that was in 2019. By 2020, COVID-19 set in, we had to compulsorily shut down physical churches and had to resort to online services. Because people were not having jobs to do, a lot of businesses were shut down, they couldn’t even afford the cost of airtime to connect over the internet. So, our attendance dropped like many other organisations and churches.
And by the grace of God, we are just coming to the level that we were about five years ago. We’ve just crossed into a modest growth of about 10% compared to where we were five years ago. But by the special grace of God, at the last count, we have giving birth to about 50 parishes, which effectively is like 50% growth. With the 50% growth inspite of Covid-19, that shows us that if we did not have Covid-19, truly, we would have given birth to another Province. However, by the special grace of God, we contributed significant number of parishes towards establishment of Lagos Province 93, which was established in 2022. Partially, we were able to meet our goal.
In terms of infrastructural development, 60% of the 50% parishes we planted were built on church-owned land, about 20% were on leased property, only 20% are on rented apartment. In terms of international accomplishment, we supported annual convention in Dubai, we are also supporting annual convention in Turkey and Dubai this year because we belong to Continent 3, under the leadership of our daddy, Pastor Johnson Odesola. Presently, we have a parish in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that we are supporting as our baby over there from here. So, that is where we are.
During the ravaging pandemic, how the church, LP70 which is under Region 1 able to leverage technology to carry out the regular weekly worship services in your Province?
Thank you for that question. The movement restriction during Covid-19 left us with no choice but to deploy technological platforms to enable our members continue to meet through such platforms. The first platform that we deployed was the Zoom platform. We decided to subscribe to the zoom platform that could enable the maximum of 500 people to gather together simultaneously to meetings, services and so on and so forth. We also recognised the huge amount of money people needed to pay for Internet access and the fact that with dwindling income during the Covid-19 restriction, many may not be able to sustain the money needed for internet access, we decided to also use WhatsApp. How did that work?
We were able to send outlines of our services to Whatsapp groups and people could read it. During the service, we were able to broadcast our services through WhatsApp calls. While the message is going on, people who have questions were typing their questions and somebody will read out the question to us, we will answer and the answer will also be typed back. And that answer is on the group platform, and everybody could see the question and answer provided. The third one we did was to subscribe for radio, otherwise known as MIXLR. The MIXLR is a platform that allows you to be part of any programme been broadcast on that platform. The only thing they do not have is the visual image, just as it is with the regular radio station.
The advantage of that is that you do not need to pay huge amount of money for internet access. The bandwidth to receive radio signals, the bandwidth needed to receive radio signals is far less than the amount of bandwidth needed for both audio and video. So, you can see that for those who could afford the high-end signal through Internet access, they provided Zoom for them, for those who were income medium group, they provided MIXLR for them and the radio option. And for those who could only do messaging, they provided WhatsApp for them. By so doing, we maintained all our programmes. What we did at our own end was to get plastic containing the logo of church, placed it in our Study Room in the house and we set a broadcast station with the logo behind. And with that, anybody seeing us all over the world was been ministered to as if we are in the church premises.
The other thing we did was to ask the choristers to practice and record their special songs and such special numbers were played during our services. Those who had to read Bible passage, we asked them to record it and play it. By so doing, we bring in everybody through such method. We had regular service but contributed from different groups, different individuals from different locations. And fortunately for us, we had recorded some of our marathon race sessions. So, occasionally, we also play back segment of such marathon praise session because we’ve had praise session before for about seven hours, we had to fall back on that for such broadcast. Then we had a hangout time with the youths (teenagers) also on the platform. They were able to see us and vice versa from different locations. It was at great cost then but it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise because as we speak now, we have a YouTube channel. All our services are streamed life on YouTube channel. On our Facebook page, which was additional platform created, and they have remained active since Covid-19 period.
Unexpectedly, Covid-19 restriction brought untold hardship on many Nigerians and the globe by extension. What were empowerment programmes the leadership of LP70 put in place to mitigate the crushing effects of the pandemic?
We had several interventions. Initially, we thought the pandemic was a temporary setback that will pass away quickly. So, we confronted it with direct food stuffs distribution to our members, who needed such support. We indicated when, where movement was allowed, we said the church is available they could come, pick up the packages for them. For those who were staying in places movement was not allowed, as a church, we had vehicle car stickers that were given to us, we were able to use delivery vans to distribute rice in portable 5kg bags and other raw food items,
When it became apparent that Covid-19 was going to stay for longer a period, and people were running into challenges that money had to be made needed available to support them, we decided to support them financially. But we felt that may not be sustainable, we decided to have an empowerment programme to change the orientation of those who were already graduate but the nature of the profession they pursued could not survive during the Covid-19 period, we gave them other skills like coding, teaching people our local language and many other skills like that that you can practise from a remote location. We got some of our programmers; we have about three good programmers in the Province that we were aware of. We annexed their capabilities to deploy such skills to train people and they could sit for their certification exams from home. And we encouraged many whose academic careers were more or less kept on hold to move into certification exams for different professions so that by the time the Covid-19 was over, they had acquired new skills, new certifications that prepared them to be more relevant in the society, not just in Nigeria but beyond the shores of this land.
So, we turned around what ordinarily what could have been a disastrous situation into an incubation period for people to acquire new skills, and at the end of the pandemic, they are now working with new qualifications, certifications to generate income for themselves. For instance, we have some of our members travelling out of the country with the exposure they have got from the new skills they acquired and the relevance of their skills in the global market, they sought for opportunities abroad (I won’t say we have lost them but we have released them) to serve as our ambassadors out there. We have people in different parts of the world who have left LP70 on account of experience of Covid-19. In all, I can say that God used that period for us to look inward, seek other alternative means of generating income without going into any office, and quite a number of our members benefitted from that.
The RCCG invests heavily on various CSR in host communities and environs where they operate. On Sundays, it was observed that the church Parishes distributed either cooked or raw food items and other household gifts to worshippers. What informed this development?
Thank you so much. The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Daddy Adeboye, has always been teaching us the whole gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. A lot of pastors, of course, not in RCCG, focus on prosperity messages, some focus on deliverance messages, some focus on healing messages, some focus on child bearing and some focus on teaching the word. Without elaborating, you know the churches that focus on these areas by their names. In the Redeemed Christian Church of God, our daddy, the General Overseer, has consistently told us that we must be total preachers of the Word, we must preach the complete gospel. If you observe during our programme, our General Overseer announces number of babies that are born particularly during Convention or special programme that happens for a number of days.
But coming back to the subject of CSR, Daddy G.O taught that quite a number of people who are not committing sin of lying, stealing, adultery, fornication may likely end up in hell because the book of Matthew chapter 25 talks about three different parables. The first parable talks about the parable of ten virgins. To call them virgins clearly conveys the fact that they were pure, holy and without blemish in terms of character. But unfortunately, because they did not plan that could sustain them for a prolonged season of, you may call it challenges, and while the wise ones planned, the foolish ones did not plan and end up missing heaven. But by the time they came back, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was described and called the Bridegroom, had already entered. And when the foolish knocked at the door, the answer they got was that the door was shut and they could no longer come in.
Now, the next segment of Matthew 25 talks about parable of talent. You are familiar with the parable: one was given five, another was given two and another was given one. The servant that was given five multiplied it, he got one hundred percent return. The one that was given two multiplied it, one hundred return. The one that got one talent felt the master, owner of the business was unfair to him. In fact, he made a statement that his master was difficult who wanted to reap where he did not sew. And Jesus, in that parable said the master responded that I’d you know I’m a wicked man, the least you could have done is take the talent I gave you, put it in a deposit bank where it would have earn some interest but no, you buried it. What was the judgment? First, it would always be taken from those who do not have and given to those who have. The one talent was taken from him and given to the one that had five talents. And as a punishment for unfruitfulness, the man that refused to invest one talent, rather, he buried it even though he didn’t lose it, he returned it back to the owner, he was sent to a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And the place where that happens in the Bible is hell.
After that, the third parable talks about those who care for the needy, and that’s I’m going. In the Redeemed Christian Church of God, by the teaching in the book of Matthew Chapter 25, reading from verse thirty-one down to the end, you will discover that if you do not take care of the needy; when people are hungry you do not give them food, when they thirsty, you don’t give them water, when they are in prison, you don’t visit them to give them encouraging words so that they can develop faith and hope and have that grace to remain standing even if they are condemned to death. If they do as saints, they will be received into heaven. You don’t do that. People are in hospital, you don’t visit them and give them something to support their pain, you don’t support the indigent, to make sure they get proper treatment and are relieved. The Bible says such people, who do not help those who are in need, in all these categories, will go to hell. In fact, the Bible calls them goats that will be separated from the sheep.
Those who do these; who take care of the needy, who take care of the less privileged, and they are living holy lives, they will surely go to heaven. And that’s why in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, we have a phrase; “no CSR, no heaven”. I was privileged that I rose through the ranks: I was a pastor in charge of Area, I was a pastor in charge of Zone, I was Assistant pastor in charge of Province, CSR that is Christian Social Responsibility. I was also Pastor in charge of administration. As a matter of fact, I combined the two portfolios. I was able to carry out those functions. As a pastor in charge of Province, it came as a natural flow with us to embark on CSR activities. And we deliberately make sure we feed those who are poor. We have a group that visits prisons, we have another group that visits hospitals. We don’t just stop at that – we take things to them – apart from the group that goes for pure evangelism. We have those who stay in the city and we have those who go to the rural areas.
For instance, as I speak with you, we parishes in Badagry, in the inner part of Ikorodu, we have parishes, under LP70, in Ogbomosho, in Oyo State. We go everywhere once we know the people are willing wherever there is crowd and we have somebody we know can pastor the parish there, we go there and set up a parish because Jesus did not say we should only plant parishes in the urban centres. The Bible says He went about, Jesus did not have a single parish, He was an itinerant preaching going from place to place. And what we are trying to do is follow the instructions in the Bible.
What then is your message for church leaders that have the wherewithal but are failing in the area of CSR?
Well, by the grace of God, in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, I can tell you that such pastors are fast going into extinction because our Daddy, the General Overseer of this Mission, Pastor E.A. Adeboye has already giving an instruction that does not engage in Christian Social Responsibility may be relieved of their positions. Because if you are a pastor that is not going to heaven, you have no business being a pastor because our first mission statement, if you check our record anywhere, is that we must make heaven. The second is, to make as many people as possible to heaven and the third is, to have a member of RCCG in every family of the world.
Now, if we who want to make heaven are not engaged in CSR, Matthew chapter 25 to the end already makes it clear you can’t make heaven. If we want to take as many as possible people to heaven, those people too must be encouraged to do CSR. That is why it is an anathema in RCCG to hear of a pastor who doesn’t do CSR. But for others, our humble appeal for them is that they should and read Matthew chapter twenty-five, reading from verse thirty-one, and see what our Saviour says. He says when you feed the poor, it is Me you are feeding, when you clothe the naked, it is Me you are clothing. When you visit those who are in hospitals, it is Me you have visited. Those people cannot repay you but that He Himself will repay you. That’s His word, we believe in the Word of God. That’s our advice. I believe that those who have the wherewithal, who have the resources and are not doing it, I believe it’s out of ignorance. It can’t mean that they are pastors and they are wicked; it will only mean that they need to be aware. Hopefully, they will read get this magazine and read this article, the Holy Spirit will touch their heart and they will begin to do the needful.
Since the creation of the Province five years down the line, how many marriages have been conducted sir?
I don’t have the statistics on my fingertips but I can tell you that by the special grace of God, on average, we conduct at least two marriages every month in this Province. And there is hardly a month that we do not have baby dedication in the Province. So, if you can hazard an approximation, that’s like one hundred and twenty marriages; it can’t be less than one hundred since our inception because we started with about 110 parishes, we grew to about 150 before Province 93 was created. Then we exceeded that about 30, and we have planted more parishes since then. As we speak, we can’t be less than 110 or 120 parishes.
From the background of RCCG CSR, we currently have a new government in place, Nigerians are enduring some crushing hardship at the moment. Do you subscribe to the removal of fuel subsidy?
Ordinarily, if one is not informed, about the long term implications of subsidy, one would have kicked against it or even prayed against it. But if you understand the subsidy system, it was a highly corrupt system that deceives the generality of the people and kills them systematically. I would elaborate. For a country predominant rural population because the percentage of Nigerians in urban cities is not up to 25% of the population, majority are in the rural areas. And for us to now claim that less than 25% in urban cities are using fuel that is more than five times what the entire population should use, it is clearly and totally inflated.
Now, the challenge the government had, initially, was to address the question of justice and equity. Assuming everybody were to be living in urban cities, where they use all these vehicles that consume petrol, it would be equitable to say government should continue to subsidise the PMS, that is petrol. But equity demanded that government should have stopped this subsidy long time ago. But the government, because of the powerful forces that were benefitting from it was reluctant to stop it. But in recent years, the nation’s economy suffered a terrible blow. Since the Covid-19 days, the economy of this nation had been on a downward trend. As a matter of fact, we went into recession twice, by some calculation that, some of us do not believe is true, the economic manager claimed that we came out of recession. But the truth is, the majority of the people, their pockets are still in recession. And the debt burden of this nation has gotten to a point where we can no longer continue to borrow to finance subsidy. Even if we wanted to borrow, the lenders are now seen clearly that we may not be able to repay.
So, if the government in power today had refused to withdraw subsidy, number one, the budget we are operating already stipulated that after June 2023, there will be no fund for subsidy. Now, to go and appropriate money that we do not have will mean we are now voluntary going into slavery. In recent years, we hear about the economy of Ghana doing well but over the last one year, they have gone into a terrible state such that people are protesting on the street that government bonds were not been honoured. The interest that were to be paid to bondholders, the government could not pay in Ghana. The maturing bonds, the government of Ghana could not pay, international creditors were shouting to the high heavens that Ghana could not meet their obligations. Must we in Nigeria get to that stage.
As at the last report issued by the Office of Statistics, federal agency in charge of statistics, the record shows that more than 70% to 80% of our income is being used to service debt. And by July, about $500m foreign loan taken will be due for repayment. With dwindling income and already running a budget deficit, we have an obligation maturing in July, there’s no way the government could have sustained it. So, the president did what was right on the inauguration day, making it clear there is no more subsidy, and you can see within two weeks, he has set the machinery in motion to ensure that the necessary cushioning effects to mitigate the burden of subsidy removal is being done.
We must say clearly that we are not in support of any government, political party. But the Bible makes it very clear that we must pray for our leaders so that we can continue to live in peace, and that is what we are doing at the Redeemed Christian Church of God. We would continue to pray for our leaders to give the leadership the courage to take the necessary decisions for the long term benefit of average citizens of this nation.
What is the correlation between the Church and national development?
Once you call a development national, it implies that every entity in that nation has a role to play in such a nation. And we all know that there are three broad faith in every nation, particularly Nigeria. We have those who believe in Christianity, those who believe in Islamic religion and those who believe in traditional religion. If you look at the percentage distribution, you can hazard a guess of ratio 40:40:20 respectively.
Now, 40% of 200 million is 80 million is too significant not to be consciously encouraged to play their role in national development. And that is why the church is encouraging first, citizens to love their neighbour as themselves. That is the second law with which Jesus summarised the Ten Commandments. He summarised the Ten Commandments into two in Matthew chapter 22 verses 37 & 39. He said the first is love God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind so that God who created you will continue to be happy with you. And the second is, love your neighbour as yourself. So, we keep teaching that even when we are visited with injustice, we should not repay evil with evil; rather, we should pray that God will touch those who are doing evil against us that they should repent, otherwise, the judgement of God is waiting for them.
Secondly, we actively encourage people to develop ability to actively contribute to economic development of the Nigeria. How do we do that? Right from the youngest level, we invest in education as a church, we also engage in commercial entities, which we support, not as a church. But we give subventions to support them just as we have university, polytechnic and colleges of technology that we give support to ensure that they can thrive. We have farms that we established to encourage youths to go into farming. Our farming enterprise has trained quite a large number of people, and I’m happy to inform you that quite a number of people are now running their farms in our farm settlement. To the glory of God, we have also encouraged people to start businesses like producing plastic chairs, we have encouraged people to acquire skills in project management and in different field of studies. We have trained more than 2000 youths to acquire diverse skills. And it is still ongoing. These are the ones I am aware of. I can imagine there are many other arms of parishes, provinces that are doing diverse things, to help contribute towards national development.
In Redemption City, for instance, we don’t sell land but there are people who work in Lagos but live in the city. From there, they go to contribute to national development. We provided conducive environment for them to build their houses. So, we are contributing in different ways. We are constantly praying for security in our land. By and large generally, the church and Christianity has been contributing its quotas towards national development. And we are not resting on our oars, we are still encouraging people as God blesses you, make sure you sow into the lives of others. And by so doing, you will be lifting up somebody out of poverty. If people in the society have where they can lay their heads, criminality will reduce. And we are trusting God, this will lead to greater GDP for the nation.