Archbishop Margaret Benson Idahosa is the Chancellor of the Benson Idahosa University, Edo State, and presiding over the Church of God Mission International. She tells ALEXANDER OKERE about her family, governance and other socio-political issues affecting Christians
As the Archbishop of the Church of God Mission International, how would you describe the journey so far since your elevation in more than 10 years a go?
God has been faithful and very helpful. Since He is instrumental to the position I occupy, I have relied on Him all the way. He has not failed me once, and I am sure He will remain there for us in the next decade and beyond. The work has continued to grow beyond the expectations of many.
What are some of the most challenging social or moral issues you have had to deal with?
There is a lot to do in society because of degenerating social and moral values. Church is an integral part of society and society is also part of church. People come from different social backgrounds and beliefs, and we provide the environment for all to have that sense of belonging so they can be imparted positively. There is no particular issue one can say is the most challenging.
What are some of the toughest challenges that come with leading a Christian denomination?
The work we are involved in is people-centred, and there are always challenges to deal with. Everyone in Church comes with their needs. As a leader, one has to constantly ensure they are shown the right way through God’s word on how to deal with such needs. When one is called or chosen to do the kind of work that we are doing, God gives capacity or the enablement to lead. There is no struggle because God gives grace to rise above every challenge.
What are the things you are thankful for when you look back at where you are coming from and the vision your late husband had for CGMI?
I am thankful to God that I was there when the vision began small and still here, now that it has grown and still growing. After 50 years of existence, there is still a lot to do to reach the world. The vision my late husband had for CGMI was to reach the entire world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he travelled to about 145 nations doing so. We are building on the foundations he left behind.
Under your leadership, CGMI has gained expansion. But how challenging has it been maintaining the vision of the church and its sister institutions have faced in the last decade?
Growing vision demands a lot of resources. It also requires a lot of money and people as two major things. God has helped us tremendously in these two areas. In the last decade, we had a lot of expansion in church planting across the nation and outside the shores of this land. The sister institutions have also done well. The university, as I speak, has commenced movement to the permanent campus as a result of huge preparations done in the last decade.
Nigeria has faced numerous challenges that have threatened its unity in one way or another. What are your thoughts about the state of the nation at the moment?
It is true we are yet to have the Nigeria of our dream, but we must keep praying and not give up on her. Those in government should govern well. Those in business should engage in honest deals. This cuts across other spheres as well. Nation building is a collective responsibility.
In view of the disappointment expressed in the area of good governance, do you think religious leaders are doing enough to speak truth to power?
Yes. I think enough is being done in this area, depending on how people look at it. There are truths you speak on the mountain top for everybody to hear. There are also truths that are spoken privately by reason of the privilege of nearness to those in power. You speak the truth to repair or build and not to destroy. Can you imagine what Nigeria would have been if there were no religious leaders talking to people in power? It would have been a disaster.
But some critics have accused clerics for being too accommodating of political leaders who have clearly failed to fulfil the promises made to the masses during election campaigns. Don’t you agree that such critics are right?
If you accommodate these politicians for gains or what you get from them without reminding them to fulfil promises made, then that would be wrong. If you accommodate them so you can privately admonish them to do the needful for the people they are elected to lead, then you would have done a lot of good. I am so sure there are clerics who have done so much good in this direction without having to publish what was done in private.
What is your opinion about the involvement of religious leaders in partisan politics, seeking election into political offices?
Those who are called or are sure they have the divine directive to do so should go ahead. I will pray for them to succeed. Nigeria belongs to us all, and we must all do our parts to help develop her. Not everyone is called to play politics. Whether one is politically active or not, there will always be those supporting in prayers and encouraging others who are involved in partisan politics.
What would you say has changed about the way Christianity is practiced today compared to the way it was when you were younger?
The Jesus I knew and gave my life to when I was younger is still the same Jesus today. A lot of things are changing though, and one that I can readily focus on here is change that technology has brought to the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. People are becoming more enlightened. We are in a digital world and one can do things more quickly now. Technology has affected the attitudes of many today both positively and negatively. While moral values are on the decline, the Church is doing the much it can to teach people the right values.
Nigeria is regarded as a very religious country; yet we also have a high level of corruption, mismanagement and crime. Where are we getting it wrong?
Every Nigerian has a role to play here. The church must continue to be light to the world and be exemplary. Those in government should govern well and meet the needs of the people. The family must play its part to raise godly children. There are countries that started from where we are now, and we must be honest enough to find out how they got beyond this point. Those in government can lead the way.
What are your thoughts about taxing churches and other religious organisations?
Payment of tax is a civic responsibility. If one is doing a business that yields profit, you pay tax on the proceeds from the business. The Church where people come to worship God is non-profit making, and so should not be taxed.
It has become common for Nigerians to be greeted with different prophecies as a new year begins, though many of such prophecies don’t come to pass. What should Nigerians know?
From your observations, if many of such prophecies don’t come to pass, what should be the lessons for those who hear them? It means if the source is corrupt then don’t believe anything that comes from it. As there are good prophecies, so there are also fake ones. Every good has a counterfeit. So, Nigerians should be careful of what they believe.
Many pastors have been in the news for the wrong reasons – for criminal allegations such as rape, defilement, rituals and fraud. How damaging are reports like these to the Christendom?
First, let me say there are people who are pastors by mere titles only, but not pastors by character that is of Christ. No pastor that is called of God will indulge in the vices you have mentioned. Matthew 7:16 says, “You shall know them by their fruits.” Yes, reports like these are not good to hear, and because the days are getting more evil, we are going to have such people around. My advice to pastors who are sincerely doing their work is that, they should remain focused and continue to do the right things. Bad eggs and good eggs are everywhere, same as in the church. Those who are called should continue to do exploit that help society. No matter how damaging the reports are, it will not stop the good work the genuine pastors are doing.
As an author, how do you get inspiration for your books?
God directs me to see areas that need to be addressed, not only by talking about them from the pulpit alone, but also by putting them down in books so that people can have them for keeps as points of reference.
Many working-class Christians seem to find it difficult to read books, even the Bible. How can Christians balance their spirituality and work lives?
It takes interest to learn new things and determination to read books. Reading the Bible helps us to know the heart and the will of God, know what He has provided for us, know how to live life profitably, live a good life, know good from bad and many other things. Books help to add value to us and help to develop and enhance our capacities. Societal demands put lots of pressure on people, Christians inclusive. It takes love for reading and good planning to read. People should make extra effort to read something new each day, and they will always be ahead of others. It is good for them intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Archbishop Benson Idahosa of blessed memory said if you are not informed, you will be deformed.
As the chancellor of Benson Idahosa University, how challenging has it been running a private academic institution in Nigeria?
It has been by the grace of God. Governments don’t support private universities. I pray they would do that someday. It takes a lot to run private academic institutions in Nigeria. However, we welcome corporate bodies and people who want to work with us as partners in the vision to build a world class university. Government institutions still struggle, not to talk of private ones. It takes the effort of all to succeed, For Benson Idahosa University, God has helped us this far and the best is yet to come.
There have been arguments that many Nigerian churches operating universities do not make them affordable to their members. How will you respond to that?
That is not quite correct. When my husband passed on, he left behind for us more than a hundred church people on scholarship, and since I got into this position I have also sponsored quite a number of church people, some I don’t even know that well. There is also a special scholarship scheme put in place for church members to pay part of the tuition. There is also another one for the members to enjoy rebate from tuition as members of our Church. I am sure there are others doing like us as well.
The university has eight faculties but has yet to begin a medical programme since inception in 2002. What is responsible for that?
We are taking things one by one. There are already plans towards that direction. When we are ready for it, you will get to hear of it.
What are the things you miss the most about your late husband?
I miss everything – his love, care, presence and style of leadership.
How would you describe his philosophy?
When God has spoken to him to do anything, he does not seek a second opinion from anyone. He does it as God has directed. He believed if God gives a vision, He will help to actualise it by bringing people to help.
How did he propose to you?
He took me as a sister all along, knowing full well I did not have a brother or a sister from my mother. I saw him as an elder brother and nothing beyond that until he shocked me one day by asking me to be his wife. After he spoke that to me, it changed my mind.
Many wives of pastors seem to be breaking from the norm of looking simple in appearance. Many wear makeup and trending accessories and attire to make them look more attractive. What do you think about that?
There is nothing bad in looking more attractive. We carry the God of heaven and the earth inside of us. But I advise one should not go to the extreme trying to look good. If you have an old house, you paint it to make it more attractive. As public figures, they meet with lots of people, and appearance creates an impression that could be positive or negative.
What are some of your fond childhood memories?
I still remember playing games, like ayo. I also loved field events.
What were your childhood ambitions?
I wanted to be the first professor in my family. Mrs Hilda Adefarasin was my role model. I used to listen to her talk to young ladies on what we had as radio then. I was still pursing it and had done my master’s degree when my husband suddenly left. Although I am yet to realise the ambition of becoming a professor, God has put me in the midst of professors in church and I am a pastor over many of them.
How do you relax?
I relax by reading, travelling, listening to gospel songs and playing with my grandchildren. I love going on cruises.
How would you describe your fashion style?
I dress to look good, earn respect and inspire others.