The Priest and the President
By Femi Adesina
Let’s go back in time to May 2004, when the lands of Yelwa-Shendam, in Plateau State, had turned crimson. Primitive fury and hatred were unleashed, leading to internecine bloodbath. Hundreds and hundreds of people were killed along religious lines. It eventually led to Governor Joshua Dariye being removed, as a state of emergency was declared, and a retired Army General appointed sole administrator.
While the place was turned into killing fields, the then President Olusegun MATTHEW Obasanjo (emphasis on that middle name) visited, and met with the different stakeholders.
During the dialogue session, the then Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Plateau State asked a question the President found offensive. And the Owu man, a retired Army General, flew off the handle. He let out this fusillade:
“What role have you played to bring about peace as CAN Chairman in Plateau State? CAN, my foot! What kind of CAN Chairman are you? Did your own Christianity teach you about revenge? You are an idiot. A total idiot. And I have no apologies for that.”
Pin-drop silence. Strange things do happen in Nigeria. But it had never been seen like that. For a father of the country to publicly excoriate a religious leader? For a Matthew to call a preacher an idiot, “a total idiot?” It was sacrilege walking on two legs.
And again, for a President, who laid claim to being a born again Christian, to denigrate the association of his own faith? “CAN, my foot!” It was the height of it.
Of course, Obasanjo was President! Big shot. But many things were wrong with his conduct and the cavalier treatment he gave to a priest, a man of God. The Holy Bible makes certain things clear about our spiritual leaders:
‘Obey your leaders and submit to them. For they watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this will be unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17.
Again, we are charged: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labour among you, and have charge over you in the Lord, and give you instruction.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 12. In fact, the next verse directly tells us to “esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”
So, for a Matthew to call a priest an idiot, “a total idiot?” Not acceptable by any stretch of the imagination. It was a bad example for all believers.
Well, the saga ran for a while. The man in question, Rev Yakubu Pam, said security agencies summoned and asked him to apologise to the President for the public spat. Insult on injury! The two men continued with their public lives. Obasanjo finished in office, and went on to take a degree in Theology. I’m sure he now knows better about those the Holy Bible says “speak evil of dignities” (2 Peter 2:10), and the consequences. I believe he has privately repented.
Rev Pam finished his term as CAN Chairman in Plateau State. He went on to become Chairman of CAN in all North Central states from 2008 till 2015, and then, Chairman CAN in the 19 Northern states and Abuja, till July 4, last year, when he was named Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC), the regulatory body for Christian pilgrimage in the country.
A tale of the priest and two Presidents. Publicly flagellated by one, a Matthew, and now, honoured by the other, a Muhammadu. What Rev Pam didn’t get from a Christian, he got from a Fulani man from Daura, a Muslim. Is there any lesson we can learn from this? Think about it.
A couple of weeks back, precisely on January 14, 2021, Rev Pam was at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, leading an NCPC team on a courtesy visit to the President. An idiot, “a total idiot” was at the seat of power, being treated with the dignity he deserved, by a man of a different faith. Holy Moses!
Rev Pam delivered a speech at the event, under the title, In Peace We Blossom. He recounted how he had been campaigning on the need for peace round the country in places like Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states, among others. He has met with church leaders also in South East and South South zones, as well as youth groups. He submitted: “I humbly appreciate Mr President’s vision on peace building and deeply grateful for the confidence reposed on me in this respect.”
Rev Pam is obviously a man of peace. That was why “when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23). How many of us would be called an idiot, “a total idiot” publicly, and would not talk back? How many of our modern day preachers, who arrogate all sorts of powers and authorities to themselves, would not have cursed Obasanjo publicly, asking him to apologise or be killed by God within seven days? (You know, some of these modern preachers speak as if God was their personal property, who they can command and order around).
I tell you, this Rev Pam, from Gyel, Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State is a reconciliator, a peace advocate, and that is why God has lifted him up today. And not through a Matthew, but a Muhammadu, one against whom all lies under the sun have been told: he’s a religious bigot. A herdsman. A nepotist. Jihadist. Everything. May God forgive those who condemn the person they don’t know, and have refused to know.
President Buhari personally congratulated Rev Pam on his appointment as NCPC boss. He encouraged him to continue with his peace building efforts across the country, stressing that no enduring development could be possible without peace.
It was a day one was very glad to witness. A pauper can become a king. An idiot, “a total idiot,” can become a man of honour. It is God that does it. Don’t you think?
Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity.