By Daniel Breakforth
Today makes it exactly 23 years that Nigeria’s former Head of State, General Sani Abacha died. Daniel Breakforth reveals an incident that secured a prayer for Bishop David Oyedepo from Nigeria’s Former Dictator and Strongman, late General Sani Abacha.
On 24 December 1989, Charles Taylor, a Liberian who had escaped from an American Prison fearing extradition to Liberia, crossed over into the Liberian border and led with others together and separately, a rebellion against Sergeant Samuel Doe, the Liberian Head of State. The First Liberian War had commenced and over the next 7 years, about 250,000 people were killed. Early in the crisis, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) established the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) largely made up of Nigerian troops as well as troops from other West African Nations. Samuel Doe, captured at the ECOMOG Headquarters was tortured to death in September 1990 and the war took another dimension with different belligerents fighting for the soul of Liberia. By March 1991 also, the Sierra-Leonean crisis began and over the next 11 years left over 500,000 dead. Worse still, the Rwandan Genocide, a mass slaughter of Tutsi, Twa and moderate Hutu in Rwanda took place between 7th April and 15th July 1994 in which about a million people were murdered.
That same 1989, a 6 year old church which had now become the largest Pentecostal church located in Barnawa, Kaduna in the northern part of Nigeria, Living Faith Church had just moved headquarters to a group of disused brothels at Iyana Ipaja. The Pastor and Leader, David Oyedepo who had on some occasions visited his church members and military friends at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna took some interest in the events in these nations. The 12th June 1993 elections led to the stepping aside of Nigeria’s Military President and eventual resignation of the Interim National Government’s Chief Ernest Shonekan and take over of General Sani Abacha. From September to December 1993, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) was established and by July 1995, her mandate was renewed.
At this point, Oyedepo who had been monitoring the crisis in these nations and reading stories of the sufferings of war victims going on in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda was overtaken with compassion. He decided to do something about it. Bishop Oyedepo believes that African challenges can be solved by Africans alone while wars are a manifestation of satanic oppression. The Mandate he received was to liberate the World from all oppression of the devil, through the priority of preaching of the Word of Faith.
This was however not the first time the Living Faith Church was going to be engaged in acts of generousity. As far back as 9th April 1984 when Ten Naira (N10) was the total offering on Sunday service, a member who had challenges was given the whole amount. The Church had therefore always been involved in matters of welfare but crystallized it into an official organ in 1992 by introducing the Education Bursary as well as the Creativity Promotion Forum in Kaduna, apart from other empowerment schemes. Up till today, a chunk of the Church budget is dedicated towards welfare but that is not the point here. The Church subsequently created the Relief Promotion Agency to embark on humanitarian services to provide food, clothing and shelter for victims of natural disasters and civil unrest.
The Role of Admiral Ebhaleme
The General Sani Abacha led Provisional Military Council (PRC) and Nigerian Military Government through ECOMOG was leading efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Though same could not be done in Rwanda, Nigeria nevertheless decided to send relief to all 3 African countries. The Government through the Nigerian Ministry of Defence led these efforts. Several shiploads were sent to these countries. Commodore Peter Ebhaleme, a Top Brass Officer in the Nigerian Navy and member of the Living Faith Church who happened to be a member of the Church and Director of Operations at the Naval Headquarters was coordinating the Navy role in the ECOMOG efforts. Being close to the leadership of the Living Faith Church and knowing the interest of Bishop Oyedepo, he acted as go between and link between the 2 organizations. Whenever the Government was to make a delivery to any of the countries, he would inform Bishop Oyedepo. Bishop Oyedepo would consequently mobilize the Church. So much supplies were gathered that sometimes there was no space for worship. Within a short time, supplies of relief were made to Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone in no small measure. Notably, anytime the Ministry of Defence was sending a shipload of supplies on behalf of Nigeria, Living Faith Church would send twice the volume of what the Government of Nigeria was sending. Consequently, a partnership was established between the Nigerian Government and the Church as regards welfare to the needy.
Charity Begins at Home: The Advent into KOMA
In January 1998, a documentary done by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) went viral. It was that of more than 55,000 people living and moving about naked on the Koma Hills in Jada Local Government, Adamawa State of North Eastern Nigeria. The news eventually got to Bishop Oyedepo. He was filled with compassion and decided to do something about it as usual. The announcement was made in Church. I was earning N3000 monthly then and did not think I could afford giving money. Bishop Oyedepo had taught us to give only what we have and not what we do not have. 2 Corinthians 9:7…A message you never hear from his false accusers who always bandy the rhetoric of collecting offering from poor members. (sic) I remember giving my best and only pair of suit which had just been gifted to me by my Dad after he got a new job in an oil servicing company. (my parents had both been jobless for some years) I also added the Aiwa Walkman he got me from Dubai and gave it at the end of that January. This story will be shared another day.ChurchGist.
Going forward, the Church members gave generously to the Koma People. The Koma People are mainly subsistence farmers who feed mainly on food crops such as rice, maize and millet which are grown in commercial scale. To this end, the Church raised millions of naira in cash while trailer loads of food and cloths were contributed. However, there was a major problem. There were no roads to Koma hills and because of the terrain, trailers could not go up the Hills to deliver the supplies. In essence, there were no vehicles to convey these supplies. The supplies were thus stuck in Adamawa. Peter Ebhaleme who was now a Rear Admiral and Navy Secretary thought of a solution. Some 2 years earlier, General Abacha had ordered the purchase of TATA Trucks through Umaru Dikko, a former powerful Nigerian Minister of the ‘UK Kidnap Fame’. The Trucks were under the custody of the Nigerian Navy for distribution to the Armed Forces as well as the Nigeria Police once the directive was given. Admiral Ebhaleme did the unthinkable. He loaned 15 of the Trucks to take to Koma to make the delivery before they were allocated as part of the partnership that had been going on with Living Faith Church but he did it by committing a grave error. To avoid the possibility of being denied his request, he refused to inform his boss and the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe. The whole delivery operation took 4 days from Lagos to Koma and back with Admiral Ebhaleme getting up the Koma Hills to witness the movement before flying back to Lagos.
Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, the NTA news crew in the newly created Adamawa State met the team making the delivery to Koma. Inquisitive on seeing a group comprising soldiers and pastors with trucks tagged ‘Ministry of Defence’ and banners with the inscription ‘Living Faith Church’ asked to know the relationship between the Church and the Ministry of Defence. The team not knowing how the vehicles had come about referred NTA to the Ministry of Defence. At that time, the Minister of Defence was the Nigerian Head of State himself, General Sani Abacha. The NTA Team reported this in the News same day at 4pm, Mrs Ebhaleme saw the news and asked her husband if he got permission. His response was that he did a fast one to help the Koma People.ChurchGist.
Admiral Akhigbe Provoked
Same night, as the news was on, the CNS who had previously complained about Ebhaleme’s fanaticism called Rear Admiral Ebhaleme and asked him if he was watching the news. He responded in the affirmative. Who permitted the release of the vehicles to Yola, the CNS asked. “I did” Ebhaleme responded. “On whose authority” Admiral Akhigbe asked again. After a quick pause, Ebhaleme answered “The Holy Spirit”. The CNS boiled over. “Holy what? What Nonsense!? What holy rubbish? How dare you? God punish your father, mother and Holy Spirit.” Akhigbe soon reported the matter to Admiral Aikhomu, the former CNS and Vice President under General Babangida who was a close friend and boss to Ebhaleme especially while Ebhaleme was the Director of the Naval Intelligence. Admiral Aikhomu pleaded on behalf of the Navy Secretary knowing the gravity of the offence, a case of misappropriation and misapplication of government property with penalty as dismissal from service.
Akhigbe however added a caveat that since he did not send Ehaleme, he would not defend him before General Abacha. He consequently gave Admiral Ebhaleme the option of a quiet resignation before the Head of State got to know about it. Ebhaleme requested to go and think about it and went into prayers. He believed that his action was not for self-aggrandisement as he had not taken the vehicles to his village in Edo but to Yola. Finally, he decided to serve the punishment instead of resigning. At that time, General Diya and a few others were already in the Jos Prisons and were around this time sentenced to death by firing squad in April 1998. Admiral Akhigbe consequently raised a team to investigate while Ebhaleme was sent on compulsory leave. The Navy Secretary then used the opportunity to spend more time at the Winners’ Chapel in Raji Oba, Iyana Ipaja, always dancing excitedly and praising God despite the circumstances. His Orderly could not understand this and went to inform Bishop Oyedepo that his boss had just lost his job. Bishop Oyedepo sent for the Admiral after service and the following ensued:
Bishop: What am I hearing?
Admiral: I am on leave.
Bishop: How long is your leave?
Sensing no escape, Admiral Ebhaleme opened up to Bishop Oyedepo.
Bishop: “He abused your parents and the Holy Spirit? Give me your hand: You said the Holy Spirit told you? I join my faith with yours and I decree that if anything adverse comes from this matter, God did not call me… Go and tell your Boss what I have said”.
Few weeks later, Admiral Peter Ebhaleme was asked to return to work pending the report of the investigation. Some 3 months later in May 1998 however, during a top security meeting with the Chiefs of Army, Naval and Air Force Staff, a phone call came to Admiral Ebhaleme. It was Bishop Oyedepo asking him to come as soon as possible. Once Ebhaleme got the opportunity, he went straight to Iyana Ipaja to meet the Bishop. On arrival, Bishop Oyedepo presented a letter to Admiral Ebhaleme. It had arrived earlier from the Presidential Villa, Abuja and what was more, it had been signed by General Abacha himself.
The letter read thus:
It has come to the knowledge of the Federal Government what you and your able Lieutenants have done for the people of Koma Hills…If all religious organisations can do the same thing, Nigeria would be a place worth living for inter-religious relationship. On behalf of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I wish to thank you and your able Lieutenants for a job well done, May Allah bless you.
Signed: Sani Abacha, General,
Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The Admiral read the letter about 3 times and began to jump and dance in excitement. Eventually, he began to weep profusely, shedding tears of joy.
What had happened was that the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) had heard what Winners’ Chapel had done at Koma by providing supplies and digging boreholes. UNICEF decided to take over from the Church and needed the permission of the Federal Government to do so. Consequently, they sent a request to the Head of State. It should be noted that Nigeria had become a pariah nation at that time with all sorts of sanctions placed on the Country by major western nations and that added lots of significance to the UNICEF request made to Abacha.
To cut this long story short, the next day, Admiral Ebhaleme took the letter to work and presented it to the CNS. Admiral Mike Ahigbe first glanced at the letter; not sure of what he was seeing, he put on his glasses and adjusted himself in his chair and read again. He was confused, looked at Ebhaleme and said “Peter, I am tired of you, Leave my office, just go away”. That was the end of the matter while General Abacha died the next month.
Finally, I could have been rated among the poor church members when I GAVE to the Koma Project. Today, I am no longer in that category; infact for the records, I have given out 2 cars including a brand new one and sponsored a few people who are not my children through secondary school and even Covenant University.
Givers Never Lack and Lackers Never Give!
Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16)
That confirmeth the Word of His Servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers… (Isaiah 44:26).NaijaBlog.ng