By Vanessa Obioha
A near mishap at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos would have further soiled the already grubby image of a Kenyan preacher who made a great effort to establish legitimacy in Nigeria.
Many Nigerians surged at him as he stepped out of the arrival hall of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, accompanied by Senator Helen Esuene, her daughter, Mrs. Eme Udom and Rev. Israel N. Israel, the man many know as his anchor in Nigeria.
Israel lives in and runs a church called Glorious Covenant Church in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. It was through this small congregation in the Niger Delta that controversial Kenyan preacher David Owuor who goes by the title ‘prophet’ crept into Nigeria; paying uncelebrated visits in 2011 and 2012. “God bless you,” he spoke softly and motioned in that famed manner of revered religious personalities as he received a bouquet of flowers from a little girl.
These persons rushing forward to have Owuor lay hands on and pray for them had previously listened as he fielded questions from a small party of journalists.
Hitherto, Owuor’s mat of heavy, tangled beard reaching down to his chest masked his identity. Was he an artiste? His features conveyed the image of a sage.
His conversation with the journalists revealed his personality. As he was gently urged by Esuene and Israel to approach the car conveying him to his hotel, a few security men joined the rush for Owuor’s touch.
He looked at a middle-aged man and insisted that he remove the rosary on his neck before he could touch him. It took four years to plan what was supposed to be a heroic return to Nigeria, a country which is in Owuor strategic scheme.
His desire to make a lasting impression could be discerned from his insistence that his coming must be organised by a pool of influential Nigerian churches and personalities. Welcome, Repent Now Nigeria, an inter-denominational platform “to plan for his reception in order that many Nigerians from denominations can be reached.”
The group which also had Mrs. Usen Bassey, Miss Ese Ekiugbo and Iniobong Esuene planned a three-day event. The first two days were fixed for meeting with church heads at the MUSON Centre, Onikan-Lagos and the last day scheduled a ‘healing service’ at the Tafawa Balewa Square in the same vicinity.
Owuor was quartered at the Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island. Senator Esuene was the arrow head, although she modestly referred to it as team work. But she was the interface at many meetings concerning Owuor’s 2016 visit to Nigeria.
Commuter buses carried the message of his visit to Nigeria and a private television network was contracted to record and transmit his activities in the country. Owuor carries the stigma of a fake preacher, even in his home country. And many decent and self-respecting clergy keep their distance from him.
Try as they did, the Repent Now Nigeria group was not able to get a buy-in from the organised body of Christians like the Christian Association of Nigeria and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. Therefore, they were not officially represented at any of Owuor’s meetings.
In a veiled attack on another controversial Nigerian cleric in particular and many Nigerian preachers in general, Owuor said his coming to Nigeria signals an “end to ‘gospel of money’ where you have people come from South Africa and all these countries and you sell water and all kinds of things to them.
I come to rise up against the gospel of money that is in this city. The gospel of buy your morning water, whichever water, gather people from Southern Africa, carry money to greet the men of God.”
A former research scientist at various universities in the US before his spiritual calling, Owuor claimed to have heard from God who has spoken with him about the coming of the Messiah. He would repeat various versions of this message throughout his meetings, moderating it sometimes with a direct charge to church leaders.
“Nigeria is a God-fearing nation, but now if they are really God-fearing, then this is the moment to return to the true gospel of cross and the blood – the holy salvation and the gospel that is not connected to money- that we may prepare the hearts of the people and the nation for the coming of the Messiah and then everything else will follow.
“I really bring the message of holiness of repentance and to prepare for the coming of the King. So the kingdom of the church you see in Nigeria now, the building of universities, the money and private aircraft acquired with big money and all of that is going to come down. That is why I have come. I come with tremendous power and there is no question about that.”
Instead of the demonstration of ‘tremendous power’, all the meetings barely attracted a handful of people. The most obvious was the last assembly at the car park of the TBS which attracted little less than 400 persons.
It was supposed to be a ‘healing service’ and Owuor whose strong taste for the miraculous in Nigeria could be seen by his invitation to inmates of two popular blind institutions in Lagos. Even though he kept saying that the blind will see, at the end of the day, no blind eye was opened.
No lame person abandoned his crutches. Owuor struggled to have a confirmation of his healing prowess in Nigeria, but it was as if God had taken leave of him! The few persons who came forward claiming relief from pain, stuttered with the ‘testimony’, while Owuor kept asking if there was a doctor to confirm the magnitude of reprieve enjoyed by this people.
A near mishap towards the end of the TBS assembly would have marred Owuor’s reputation irredeemably. As wind storm heralding rainfall started the railing which held floodlights on stage collapsed on a little boy. Owuor who was still talking when this happened, started announcing that people should step away from electricity cables. With worry written all over his face as it began to rain, he refused to heed Esuene’s request to enter a car. He continued to talk, as if to himself, “so this is the rain I saw in my dream.”