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Joe Iniodu

Christianity is a spiritual matter. It is also an emotional thing. It is why matters that border on it inflame passion and push people out of the confines of sanity despite the rectitude, restrain and decorum that underline and define its existence.

Akwa Ibom State is home to Christians. About 98% of its population patronise over 2000 Churches that are scattered across the geographical space of the State. Sunday is the official day of worship in all the Churches with a flurry of other Church programmes occupying other days of the week. On Sundays, homes are empty, streets deserted and all other activities; social and economic shut down. This is the commonest proof that we are indeed a Christian State with a neglible percentage patronizing other worships.

Infact, in the all out of home to Church on Sundays which lives the homes with no human presence with criminals turning the absence into blessing as they take advantage to ransack homes and cart away valuables while the owners are busy at various worship centers praising God. And so while in Church to obtain blessings, sub-culture characters also access people’s homes for their own “blessings” by way of stealing.

Curiously, despite the widespread religiosity, the people of the State sometimes still toe the path that questions their faithfulness. Let me note that I have always restrained myself from commenting on religious matters because of its emotional import and the fear of saying too much or too little which is admonished by the Scripture. But sometimes it is inevitable when the matter on hand takes the twist and turns that are not expected of any true faithful or patriot. This is the scenario we are confronted with today in the State as it pertains to the planned construction of an International Worship Centre which the Udom administration is championing and which foundation ceremony was laid recently by the revered General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye.

Since the laying of the foundation for the 8,500 Capacity Worship Centre, hell has been let loose with cynics and opposition elements railing at the project with ill-motivated and jaundiced arguments with the intent to halt its full realization. Their argument is that the project is of no economic benefit to the State and that the State has no business meddling with religion as the Nigerian Constitution has clearly prescribed the Nation’s secularity. To give some seeming credibility to their rather skewed submission, they have bandied various sums as cost of the project and insisted that such amount can do other things that are of tangible value with direct benefit to the people. Fine argument but limited in value. When it comes to God’s project with seeming concomitant blessings, cost should be of least consideration. Besides, life is full of options, alternatives, preferences, priorities all within the perimeter of competing needs. That is why we must always weigh other arguments dispassionately and reach conclusions in the context of other submissions. There is no one fixed solution to an issue. There are always alternatives.

The building of a befitting Ecumenical Centre or International Worship Centre is not strange neither is it new to human history. From the biblical days, many leaders are known to have built places of worship for God. What is rather strange is how the idea has been received by people who troop out every Sunday to various Churches to worship the same God, whom they are today vehemently, opposing the raising of an altar for Him and inputting heretical economic consideration despite the governor’s extensive explanation that it intends to partner with religious organizations, companies and private individuals to fund the project. We collectively erode the integrity of the office of governor when we openly distrust the occupant of that office, deprecate him and callously refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Many States have been known to build worship centres to address their religious needs with rumblings not resonating to Akwa Ibom State. But the consideration of an Ecumenical Centre or International Worship Centre as it is rightly called is currently the most dominant discourse and the most criticized within and without. And the project is not being fulminated against by Muslims, Aetheist, Pagans or Buddhist but railed at by Akwa Ibom Christians who daily seek the face of God and supplicate Him for blessings. Yet an opportunity to contribute our quota and attract the blessing is being scoffed at and mindlessly attenuated into politics of hate and prejudice. Where is the Christianity we so lavishly profess.

But what is happening is however not too strange to people who are familiar with our psychological make-up and DNA. We are an atomistic society (apologies to Prof. Ayandele) that are resistant to change. When the idea of Akwa Ibom International Airport was mooted by the then governor, His Excellency, Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah, the argument was, what do we need an airport for when we have Calabar and Port-Harcourt with proximal advantage? Today the difference is clear and we are all enjoying the benefits of having an airport. When the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium was considered, there was groundswell resistance which argued that a stadium has no productive value other than entertainment and that the State had better needs than entertainment. Today the joy of having a stadium has drowned those cynical noises. Opposition to the Ecumenical Centre is therefore an expression of our functioning DNA which is to oppose anything at the beginning and celebrate it when it is seen in its full completeness and glory. It is also the residual of the “etok syndrome that impedes a grandiose mindset which Obong Attah tried to rid in us. It is surprising that the residue is still resistant.

Jigawa, Sokoto, Rivers States are known to have built worship centres that did attract the resistance of their people. And the projects where funded 100% by government. Yet these States can not stand shoulder to shoulder in development strides with Akwa Ibom State. In reaching this assertion, I rely on the mid-term report of the Buhari administration which used 32 pages of its publication to market the development strides of Akwa Ibom State under Governor Emmanuel. The hue and cry by the opposition over the worship centre is not because the Udom administration is under-performing but to pooh pooh the project and rally the people against it. But let the people know that the project has employment generation potential that covers a huge gamut from construction workers to food vendors, transporters, artisans, artist etc. Of course at completion, it would have a lot of activities which would be of benefit to the State and its people.

Finally, only God can commission people to build for Him. David did not despite his relationship with God and his willingness to do so. The story of Nehemiah’s charge by God to build the Jerusalem Walls and the opposition of Samballat and Tobiah to the project as well as Noah’s Commission to build an Ark to save the people which was similarly opposed, illustrate that, what we are witnessing in the case of the spiritually inspired commission of Governor Emmanuel to build and International Worship Centre is a fulfillment of the Scripture which has the history of those not spiritually guided going against the will of God. Our charge to the governor is to keep the focus and do God’s will and not succumb to man’s promptings.

Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst

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