They are specially gifted and their power to make people empty their pockets at crusades has made them the most-sought after pastors
Newswatch (Nigeria), Dec. 15, 2002
By Chris Ajaero
Reported by Olu Ojewale, Psaro Yornamue, Geoffrey Ekenna, Victor Ugborgu, Felix Umoru and Juliet Akura.
For three days, November 22 to 24, this year, thousands of Christians converged at the crusade ground of Victory Holy Ghost Mission, Isolo, Lagos , to receive miracles and deliverance from satanic bondage. Ministering at the crusade titled “Total Victory” was Uma Ukpai, firebrand televangelist and founder of Uma Evangelistic Association, Uyo.
The large turn-out of worshippers at the crusade was a clear indication that Ukpai is one of Nigeria ’s best and most sought-after preachers noted for miracles and fighting demonic forces. In the night of November 24, which was the last day of the crusade, Ukpai preached a sermon on divine favours and asked worshippers who were all armed with white handkerchiefs as he instructed, to raise them so that he would speak divine anointing into them for their miracles. This, he said, was in line with biblical injunctions in the Acts of the Apostles 19:12 where God worked miracles through Paul by placing handkerchiefs on the sick.
After many worshippers had fallen under the anointing from the Holy Ghost power in the handkerchiefs, Ukpai then admonished the congregation to come forward to sow seed faith as a necessary condition for divine blessings from God. Quoting the Scriptures in Deuteronomy 28:12, the evangelist said for those who sow seed-faith, the Lord had promised to prosper them. “The Lord shall open unto thee His good treasure, the heavens to give the rain unto thy land in this season and bless all thy work of their hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow”, he quoted from the Scriptures. Ukpai warned that those who refused to sow seed-faith would not prosper. He put it bluntly: “If you are not a giver today, you shall be a beggar tomorrow.”
With this firm admonition, half the number of worshippers at the crusade ground estimated to be about 20,000 immediately trooped out to sow seed-faith. The minister urged them to challenge God by donating between N1,000 to one million each. One after the other they were given papers to write their pledges which must be redeemed within 24 hours.
Newswatch learnt that 10 percent of proceeds from the pledges received at such crusades which are sometimes in millions of naira are usually paid to Ukpai as tithe. This is said to be in accordance with biblical injunction in Malachi 3:10 which says: “Bring ye all the tithes into the store house, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open to you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing.”
Newswatch learnt that apart from 10 percent of the proceeds from the seed-faith, Ukpai is usually paid N500,000 as honorarium before honouring invitations for such crusades. And wherever he goes for a crusade, the host church or churches as the case may be, usually lodge him in a five-star hotel. During the “Total Victory Crusade,” Ukpai was lodged at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos .
Newswatch investigations indicate that Ukpai is arguably one of Nigeria ’s highest paid evangelists and he is in high demand for crusades both in Nigeria and abroad. It was further learnt that because of the huge amount paid before the evangelist honours invitations for crusades, some churches which cannot conveniently foot the bill alone usually go into coalition with others to enable them adequately host the charismatic miracle-worker. Ukpai is said to have told his fellow pastors that he charges such a high fee because he does not own a church of his own and so relies on moeny gotten from such crusades to maintain his family and retinue of staff in his office at Uyo. He explained that he was also saving the money in preparation for retirement. To attract the large number of worshippers who can raise the requisite funds to augment the high bill, series of advertisements are made a few weeks before the crusade and bill boards bearing the photograph of Ukpai positioned in strategic locations. Handbills inviting people to the crusade are also freely distributed to people.
Newswatch confirmed from the headquarters of Uma Evangelistic Association Incorporated in Uyo, that there is no weekend that the evangelist is not invited as guest speaker for crusades either within Nigeria or outside the country. Sources at his ministry’s headquarters told Newswatch that he has indeed been fully booked for crusades for the whole of 2003 and part of 2004.
The Ohafia-born evangelist has been a roving evangelist for about 30 years. He does not pastor a church in obedience to divine instruction from God. He only moves from one church to the other preaching the gospel while those who benefit from the power of the Holy Ghost through him show appreciation with gifts, financially.
Within this year alone, Ukpai has visited Lagos for crusades on several occasions and even other powerful servants of God invite him to add glamour and the touch of Holy Ghost power to their crusades. For instance, during the Jubilee Crusade 2002 organised by the Redeemed Christian Church of God, May 24-26, Enoch Adeboye, its general overseer invited Ukpai as the guest speaker. Adeboye is equally powerful. From September 13-15, this year, Ukpai was guest speaker of the Lagos Aflame Ministries in its crusade titled: “Ruling in Dominions.” Between December 5 and 8, the firebrand evangelist ministered at another crusade at the Isaac Boro Park , Port Harcourt tagged: “Like a Mighty Wind.” This was quickly followed with another crusade titled “Miracle Convention 2002” held at the Victory Cathedral, Uyo from December 15-18. Ukpai was also there.
Ukpai said he usually holds at least 18 crusades annually outside Africa . He is reputed to have travelled to virtually all parts of Europe spreading the gospel, waging war against demonic forces and making a lot of money in hard currency. He is usually accompanied to such crusades outside Nigeria by his wife to enable her prepare African dishes for him as he detests European dishes.
Ukpai is not alone in this business of making good money through crusades. Ayo Oritsejafor, founder of the Word of Life Bible Church, Warri, also ranks among the highest paid pastors. A protégé of the late Benson Idahosa, Oritsejafor is a flamboyant and forceful preacher who is often invited as special guest speaker for crusades. His fearless style of preaching and miracle-working prowess has earned him several invitations to churches in Nigeria and abroad. Some of the countries he has ministered at crusade venues include Germany , Britain , America and France .
Like Ukpai, Oritsejafor is in high demand and is usually offered honorarium by the host churches. The renowned evangelist, who recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of his ministry and his 30 years of service in the Lord’s vineyard also calls for sowing of seed-faith in a similar fashion with Ukpai and the late Idahosa.
He, however, insists that only those who sow seed-faith receive from God and that is why the pastors encourage it. Oritsejafor said because of the miraculous power men of God like him wield in modern day Pentecostalism, most churches abroad that invite them for crusades have a lot of respect for Nigeria . Because of the high demand for him at crusades, Oritsejafor describes himself as “a very busy man” who is being used by God to do a lot of work for mankind.
He is particularly glad that the power of God in him and his miraculous exploits at crusades abroad have earned him recognition. He said: “There is an Island called Polo Rico in the US . Whenever I go there, they receive me like a president. They have a governor in the Island and he comes to all my services. People respect Nigeria because of some of us who preach the gospel,” he said. Wealthy and flamboyant, Oritsejafor cruises round town in exotic cars with customised plate numbers. His Mercedes S-Class bears “Eagle” on the plate.
Newswatch learnt that the Warri-based pastor whose hair is normally well- oiled and jerry-coiled, believes that men of God should be flamboyant and wealthy because if they look poor, nobody will believe their product. This perhaps explains why he ranks among the ministers of God who make a lot of money from crusades. Newswatch learnt that Oritsejafor and the other pastors ordained by the late Idahosa collect as much as N200,000 for such crusades.
Married to Helen, his pretty wife whom he calls Mama, Oritsejafor said she has been a great source of inspiration in his ministry. “I have a great wife, a woman of God, she loves God. A man of God that does not have a good support is not serious. She loves God and my ministry,” he said. Like her husband, Helen is trendy and helps in running the affairs of the ministry.
George Adegboye, president and founder of Rhema Chapel International Churches with headquarters in Ilorin , Kwara State is another top-flight evangelist in Nigeria . Known for prophetic and peculiar anointing, especially at crusade grounds, he has a dynamic insight into the Word of God. His ability to memorise and quote the Scriptures copiously has endeared him to many Christians, hence he is highly in demand both in Nigeria and abroad.
During such crusades, his hosts normally offer him large sums of money as honorarium and lodge him in five-star hotels. He is, however, not known to specifically request for a particular amount to be paid before honouring invitations for crusades. But the host ministers often respond generously after receiving so much blessings from the gifted man of God whose demonstration of the power of God results in people falling under anointing and receiving miracles.
Humble and down-to-earth, Adegboye was formerly a lecturer at the Kwara State Polytechnic. He resigned his appointment when the gospel work became more demanding of his time.
For Francis Wale Oke, a bishop, the journey to evangelism started in 1975, when he became a born-again Christian, while still a student at Wesley Teachers’ College , Ibadan , Oyo State . After his graduation from the University of Lagos in 1982, he went into full-time ministry and established The Sword of the Spirit Ministries in Ibadan , September 3, 1983 . On February 12, 1989 , Christ Life Church was established to complement the ministry. The church now has no fewer than 110 branches across the country and abroad.
Since he started the ministry, Oke has taken his crusades to major cities in the country, including Sokoto, Bauchi, Minna, Benin, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Aba, Ijebu-Ode, Ilorin, Owo and many remote areas. He is no stranger in London, Amsterdam, Rome, Moscow, Atlanta, New York, Tulsa and many other parts of the world.
He had also participated in many conferences of itinerant evangelists and pentecostal world conferences and hobnobbed with famous evangelists such as Billy Graham, David Duples, a renowned minister popularly called “Mr. Pentecostal”, the late Benson Idahosa, among others. In the course of his evangelism, Oke has also served as guest speaker in some crusades addressed by a number of other ministers of God across the country. He is known to have carried his missionary exploits to 49 countries and those who organise such crusades also make huge financial contributions to the man of God.
Oke lives with his family in a well-furnished modest bungalow in Ibadan and rides a four-wheel jeep. Unlike the wives of some other powerful pastors, Victoria, Oke’s wife is not flamboyant. She is a conservative.
David Oyedepo, bishop of Living Faith Outreach more popular as Winners’ Chapel, is a man who lives like an accomplished person. Whenever he or Faith, his wife is going out in the town, either separately or together, they usually go out with a convoy of vehicles and blaring of siren to beat the traffic. The couple like riding in posh jeep vehicles with one or two vehicles in front and a similar number of cars following the one occupied by either of them.
Although the Winners’ Chapel is one of Africa’s fastest-growing Pentecostal churches, Oyedepo is often invited for crusades by other churches. He has a global vision of evangelism and has taken the gospel outside the shores of Nigeria, which have yielded a lot of financial rewards. “Your financial revolution is tied to what you do with your finances on the gospel,” he often tells his congregation.
As part of his outreach programmes, Oyedepo, who is stupendously rich acquired a multi-million naira aircraft in 1996 to facilitate his evangelism programmes to countries outside Nigeria. This earned him the appellation “Jet-Age pastor”. This powerful man of God believes that he is sent to a generation and not just a denomination to work signs and wonders. Only recently, Oyedepo established the Covenant University in Ota, Ogun State, thereby using his wealth for the promotion of tertiary education in Nigeria.
Dipo Ajayi, a pastor of the church, however, said that the money Winners’ Chapel has made came from voluntary contributions. “Your financial standing as a Christian, born-again is not dictated by the economy of the nation. We are self-sufficient; we operate the heavenly budget,” he said.
Alexander Ezeugo Ekewuba, founder of Overcomers Christian Mission is another powerful man of God in high demand. He is known for his dominion over demonic powers during crusades. From November 15 to 17, Ekewuba, who is based in Owerri, Imo State, was in Lagos, to honour the invitation by the Overcomers Christian Mission, City of Goshen, Oregun, Lagos. The crusade titled “The Fall of Jericho” turned out to be a huge success for the man of God both in terms of financial reward and soul-winning.
Ekewuba has become very popular in Imo State because of his miracles and demolition of demon-infested institutions in and around Owerri. He has confronted and crushed dreaded deities with the power of the Holy Spirit. Among them is the dreaded Ala Ogbaga in Mbaise and the demons that inhabited the palace of Ezeukwu in Owerri-Ebeiri in Orlu. Newswatch could not, however, confirm how much Ekewuba is given at the end of each crusade. But he falls in the group that earn not less than N200,000 per outing.
Oyonnude Kure, general overseer of Evidence of the Gospel Church, Benin, is another evangelist that is on high demand. He has the gift of performing miracles and this, he often does by asking workers to use the handkerchiefs and anointing oils. Usually after such healings and miraculous exploits, the worshippers are in turn called to dip hands into their pockets and make offering for the upkeep of the man of God. With the usual large turnouts at his crusades, several millions of naira is realised at the end, with about 10 percent of it going to him.
Kure has now set aside the first Friday of every month for special anointing and thousands of miracle-seekers frequently attend such crusades. He is believed to wield so much Holy Ghost power that some sick people get healed just by touching his garment.
Bishop Fred Addo, an evangelist based in Kaduna is yet another one of the highest pastors in the North. Flamboyant and spirit-filled, Addo is also said to be given a huge amount of money as honorarium by any church inviting him for a crusade. This is because of his high rating among the miracle-working pastors. Apart from his miraculous prowess, Addo is also a very good singer and his songs often win souls to the kingdom of God. Oftentimes, when under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he throws his agbada to worshippers who surge to receive anointing from it. Addo has taken the gospel to all parts of the Northern Nigeria, including Makurdi, Abuja, and Jos. He has a flourishing assembly in Abuja and runs a TV programme on NTA Abuja. He is popular among the youths.
Samuel Abiara, founder of Agbala Itura Worldwide, a faction of the Christ Apostolic Church CAC, with headquarters in Ibadan believes that “God is God of prosperity and wealth” and so nobody that does the will of God would lack anything. He is not a stranger to crusades and has established branches of his church in Europe and America. He is believed to have embarked on this global vision in evangelism to boost his finances. He, however, claims that his mission is purely for evangelism and to preach the good news of Christ in many more nations where they place technology above God. “I don’t go abroad for financial gain,” he said. However, sources close to the pastor told Newswatch that Abiara and some other Nigerian pastors who often travel to the Western world go there to earn hard currency and in turn bless the congregation with miracles.
Abiara once told Newswatch that he is not a miracle-worker but that God has used him to perform miracles. “The blind see, barren women conceive and bear healthy children, among others that God has used us to perform in the name of Jesus,” he said.
These powerful men of God ranked as highest paid pastors have carved a niche for themselves as miracle-workers and crowd-pullers. Indeed, anywhere they are programmed for gospel revivals and crusades, thousands of miracle-seekers do not miss the opportunity of receiving blessings from them. In return, the worshippers and their hosts ensure they are properly taken care of and appreciated. Although most of the evangelists have a fixed amount of money which they are paid before honouring such crusades, some of them receive whatever their hosts offer them as honorarium. Newswatch further learnt that the evangelists are usually paid according to their clout in modern-day pentecostalism.
The demand by some evangelists to be paid a huge sum of money before honouring an invitation for crusades has sparked off controversy among Pentecostal pastors. Newswatch learnt that Enoch Adeboye, general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who is known for his modesty, is against the idea of pastors preaching for a fee. He had spoken against it at various Christian fora. His well-known position is that the Scriptures state that “freely you have received, freely give.”
The former university don who is known to be one of the most humble among Nigeria’s foremost pastors is said to have rejected several limousine cars presented to him by wealthy members of his fast-growing church until God reportedly rebuked him for trying to hinder the blessings of the people by refusing to accept such exotic gifts. Adeboye said God told him to accept the limousine cars since, according to him, “more are coming.” He, however, does not use such cars which are parked in his house. He prefers using his Lincoln Navigator.
Solomon Dickson, founder and senior pastor of the Christ Believers Assembly, Port Harcourt is also against the situation whereby evangelists want to be paid before honouring invitations for crusades by churches. He told Newswatch that since 1987 when he was ordained a pastor by Stephen Akinola, general overseer of the Redemption Ministries, Port Harcourt , he has participated in more than 30 crusades both in Nigeria and abroad. He explained that he does not request to be paid a specific amount for such outings. He, however, admitted receiving “honorarium” in form of money. “When a minister of God is hosting a crusade what he does is to take care of your transport because you are a human being too. But it is unfortunate that a lot of people are charging fixed fees,” he told Newswatch. He said that Akinola, his father in the Lord is also against evangelists being paid for appearing for crusades.
Dickson confirmed that some pastors even go to the extent of telling the church hosting them the kind of food they should prepare and the kind of exotic cars that would be used in carrying them throughout the duration of the crusade. According to him, the amount charged by such pastors range between N50, 000 and N500, 000.
Like Dickson, Ignatius Eboh, founder of Glorious Evangelical Church of God, Port Harcourt , lamented over the way some pastors have turned the missionary work into “cash and carry” business ventures. He, however, explained that the reason why some visiting evangelists demand that they be paid a fixed amount before honouring invitations for crusades is because they do not want to be embarrassed and frustrated at the end of such programmes. This, he said, makes it imperative for such pastors to negotiate and be paid up-front. Eboh said that the demand for pastors in that cadre who are highly anointed was high and so when the demand is high, it attracts a high fee. He gave an instance of a crusade in 2001 tagged “Port Harcourt Mighty Healing Crusade” where he was chairman, planning committee and invited Lady Blessing Chukwu, founder of God’s Intervention Ministries as chief preacher. “At least, in her case we deposited N30, 000 for her to move,” Eboh told Newswatch.
Apparently justifying the fees paid visiting evangelists to preach at crusades, Eboh said whatever the minister of God charges was meager when compared to the value of a soul in the kingdom of God . “The fact remains that the preacher of the gospel lives by the gospel he preaches. It does not mean that they are selling the gospel. There are a lot of things that are required to be done before a minister of God leaves to preach at a crusade ground,” he said.