The Senior Pastor of Trinity House Church, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, tells EMMANUEL OJO about the place of Christian clerics in traditional rulership, among other issues
Christian clerics have in recent times been taking up leadership roles as traditional rulers in Nigeria. Do you think it is right?
I think it’s quite right. I don’t see anything wrong with it at all. I think we need a total mind-shift in Nigeria and I think the challenge that Nigerians are having is that they associate traditional leadership or kingship with idol worship. They seem to think that there is a nexus there, that once you are a traditional ruler, you should be an idol worshipper. It is not necessarily so and even if it was so in the past, we now need a change of thinking with modern practices in that you can be a traditional ruler or a ruler of a local area but don’t need to be an idol worshipper. You can rule according to tradition and tradition does not necessarily mean idol worship.
The world has moved beyond that and I will give you historical examples. The kings of England, the Tudors, and the people who were originally the kings of England, were idol worshippers. When a man called (William) Tyndale tried to print the Bible for the first time, he was executed for practising what the king called heresy but eventually, the most famous Bible today is called the King James Bible, King James I. That Bible came to being when the monarch got converted. King James became a Christian and instructed that the Bible should be translated from Greek to English and gave permission for it to be printed and published under his name and it became King James (Bible).
The reason why you call Britain a Christian country today is because their kings became Christians and the kings became the head of the Anglican Church, supported by the Bishop of Canterbury, who was the head of all the bishops, but the king became the head of the Anglican Church and that’s why their anthem is ‘God save the Queen or the King.’ The same, exactly the same can happen in Nigeria, where you have Christians becoming traditional rulers and then, they ensure the practice of Christianity in their traditional domain.
Monarchs are usually said to be the custodians of culture and tradition and Christianity in the African tradition is regarded as the white man’s religion. As such, a traditional ruler is expected to uphold the culture and tradition in the land. If it is right for a pastor to become a traditional ruler, how can he manage these responsibilities?
There is a difference between tradition, culture, and idol worship. There have not been enough Christians in influential leadership to change the thinking of the people. When a pastor becomes a monarch, he tells his people what idol worship is, what culture and tradition are, and that he who has been chosen to be the monarch won’t worship idols. If you don’t have that influence and power, you can’t change their thinking and in some traditional institutions in Nigeria, we have found some strong Christians becoming Obas (traditional rulers) and doing away with traditional things which are often mythical. I will give you another example. I read in a book the present Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, wrote that a lot of the things people call traditions are mythical, that when he was about to be crowned as Awujale almost 60 years ago or more, as a young man, even the people that were crowning him didn’t remember some of the traditions; they were making mistakes. There were some trees. They also told him that if he passed such trees, he would die, but he said he passed the trees many times and nothing had happened to him. He is still alive and almost 90 years old.
They also said that a man carried him on his back through a river and that he and the man must not see each other again.
Has he and the man seen each other since then?
He didn’t say if he and the man had ever seen each other since that time but he said a lot of these things are mythical, based on ignorance of that time.
When I was young, my grandmother came to visit us. We had a black-and-white television. She was looking at the television and then she turned to me, who was only eight or nine years old, and she asked, “Olajide, (which is my native name), who is feeding those people inside the television?” Assuming she was a queen of our village and then because she didn’t know how those people were being fed, should I, who knows where the television station is, come to the throne and worship the people on TV? Does that make sense? A lot of our people didn’t know these things. They didn’t know God as it were. They believed in Iron. Should I, because I am now a king, start serving iron? Won’t I break it in front of them and prove to them that there is no power in iron?
Many people will not agree with your submission that the African traditional religion is based on ignorance…
A lot of it is based on ignorance. There was a time when the so-called English people said the world was flat and everybody believed that the world was flat but it was later discovered that it’s a globe. At a time, they said the sun rotated around the earth only to discover that it’s the earth that rotates around the sun. People have made mistakes based on the limit of their understanding.
The Europeans were greater idol worshippers than Africans. This religion you are calling the white man’s religion is the religion of the Israelis. They sold it to the white people, the white people took it, understood it, repackaged it, and sold it to the rest of the world. Christianity was not originally an English religion, neither was it Greek. It’s an Israeli religion. Christ is a Jew. He refined the Jewish worship of God, Yahweh, and evangelised through Paul and Peter and all these people to the Europeans. Also, the first place where Paul finally settled and was imprisoned and killed was in Rome. That’s why the Romans took control of that religion and it is today called Roman Catholic and it is from Roman Catholic that all the other Christian denominations came. There was only one church originally and the meaning of Catholic is simply universal, it means the universal church. It was because it seemed to have been headquartered in Rome, where Peter and Paul finally ended their lives that it took the nomenclature, Roman Catholic, and you have the Holy City of Vatican in Rome. That’s the origin.
From Rome, it spread to the rest of Europe, including England and France. When it got to England, it was first of all rejected, then, the king was converted and he took it as his religion; so, the English were originally Catholic and that’s why you have Catholics in Ireland and so forth. It was when the King of England, King Henry the Fifth wanted to marry his brother’s wife and take on the fifth or eighth wife that he broke away from the Roman headquarters church. He broke away and started his branch of Christianity called the Anglican Church. Anglican simply means English from ‘Anglo’ and he made himself the head of that church and appointed bishops and till today, there is no King or Queen of England that gets crowned outside the church. Their coronation takes place inside the church.
Adherents of the African traditional religion believe that people practising Christianity are doing so out of ignorance and that they were brainwashed by the West. What do you make of that?
It’s possible and debatable. When we get to heaven, we will find out. The reason why a Nigerian wears a nice jacket with a pocket square is because they had interaction with the white man. This is not their original dress, so that’s brainwashing also. That’s why I wear a tie in the heat. I have been brainwashed to wear a tie because the British came to tell me that it is acceptable business wear, but there is no such thing; it’s all in the mind and one of the things the colonialists did, like Thomas Macaulay in 1835, was that he told the British parliament that what they needed to do was to make sure that Africa and the people they colonised think in their mind that everything British is superior and everything African is inferior. He said if they could let Africa believe that, they would be able to effectively colonise and control them. So, all these things we are doing are deliberate.
Do you, therefore, think Christians and traditionalists practise what they perceive is correct?
What then gives you the conviction that what you are practising is the correct religion and it is the right path?
It worked for me. I worship a God that I believe in, that I have not seen because He is invisible and not represented by any object whatsoever because that object that is said to represent my God, that I made with my own hands, I can’t worship but when I stand naked in my room and I lift my face and heart to a God that I cannot see but I believe in and He is not represented by any object, including the cross, that gives me comfort and as I have spoken to that God that lives inside me and in my heart, He has responded to me and if it is the British that introduced me to that God and it has worked for me and made sense to me and my mind, I’m happy to worship Him. That’s the personal conviction but I will not make a book out of my own hands and be beseeching that book or the spirit in that book to help me since I know the genesis of the book, nor will I go to a dog, that I can kill and slaughter and tear apart and say that there is a spirit in that dog that can help me. I will also not go to a man who I can fight with and the spirit behind you and say that because you are the President of Nigeria, or governor of Lagos or governor of England, he is my source of salvation. No, I will go to a spirit I cannot see.
Do you think the rituals and traditional rites Christian clerics undergo before, during, and after coronation are also right?
There is no contradiction. It depends on what the rites are. We all go through rites every day. For you to see me today, you went through a procedure. It’s a rite.
Even if it includes the killing of animals and the use of blood?
If the animals are being killed for food, there is nothing wrong with that. If they are being killed to use the blood for cleansing, that’s totally out of it. For me (if I were the one), I would tell my people that that doesn’t work, that the blood of a chicken cannot cleanse me from anything.
What’s your thought then if a pastor goes ahead with such?
If the king claims to be a Christian and he allows that, he is not a Christian. He should be the one telling them that what they are doing is of no effect. He should be the one to determine the procedure. He doesn’t have to go through the tradition of cleansing with blood and all that. He should educate the people that those things don’t make him more or less of a monarch. For example, if one of the rites is that he has to eat the heart of the deceased king (his predecessor), he should tell them that the ritual is of no effect. It is cannibalism and he’s not going to do it.
And if he does it?
Then he failed in his Christianity. It means that he is not really a Christian. If he says he is a pastor, has that knowledge, and compromises on his knowledge, then he is not really a pastor or he has stopped being a pastor. When one says he is a Christian, it means that the person follows a set of beliefs that are unshakeable under any circumstance. So, the person will determine how to run their office. If the people say that unless one does those things (rituals), he cannot aspire to be in office, they can keep their office. So, for me, before becoming an Oba, I would have spoken to my people and negotiated with them. It’s either they want me to be their king under my terms and conditions or they can keep their kingship.
So, do most of those rituals that involve cleansing with blood contradict the Christian faith?
Most of the rituals that involve cleansing with blood contradict the Christian faith, so, any serious Christian who is aspiring to that office must not accept to do those rituals. He must tell his people to either accept him without the rituals or he leaves them.
Does that apply to marrying more than one wife as a king or inheriting the wives of his predecessors?
The person who will judge our Christianity is Christ himself. Nobody can rewrite the laws of Christ because they are now in certain positions. If a king does that (marries many wives), he is not practising Christianity. He has stopped being a practising Christian. There are no two ways about it. If in this country, it is illegal to marry more than one wife as it is in some countries, king or no king, if he marries more than one wife, he will go to jail but in this country, we bend a lot. There is traditional marriage, there is marriage in court, and there is Christian marriage. In traditional marriage, you can marry many wives; it is acceptable.
You were vocal in the buildup to the 2023 presidential election. What is your assessment of the judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal?
When you go to court, there are rules of the court and that’s one of my challenges with jurisprudence and justice. It’s not just what is right but also the approach and the technicality. So, the Judges have given their judgment based on technicality and I think they have largely avoided the substance of the case; it’s convenient for them and the law allows them. So, they have done it and have gotten away with it but it’s okay, there is always another day.
Do you also think the move by Atiku and Obi to appeal the judgement is an exercise in futility?
Every process must be followed and exhausted according to the laws of the land. They may go on appeal and may find a court that is willing to listen to their case and the substance thereon and they may not, but nobody will say that they didn’t exercise their rights according to the laws of this country to the fullest.
At the very worst, they will ‘waste’ some money, ‘waste’ some time but they will have reached a process and a nexus and I will encourage them and anybody else seeking justice to seek such to the end. When they get to the Supreme Court, according to the laws of the land, there is no other court to go to. At that point, they know that they have exhausted all their options and posterity will not ask them why they stopped midway and did not follow through to the end. There has been precedence before that cases that were lost at the lower court were overturned at the Supreme Court. So, let them exhaust the full process, if they can afford it, both in money and in time.