The General Overseer and presiding pastor of the Assembly of the Faithful Worldwide, Apostle Prophet Israel Olufemi Ibironke clocked 70 last Tuesday, February 5, 2019. In this interview with GBENGA AKINFENWA, he shared on life experiences, the problem with Nigeria and what to expect after 2019 general elections.
What does life at 70 mean to you?
Life at 70 means one should begin to take things easy. It is a step to becoming an elder.
If you had been rushing before, when you are 70, you need to take things easy. If you engaged in hot arguments, you have to mellow. If you used to get annoyed easily, you need to reduce or stop it completely.
Life at 70 means one should be an epitome of peace in and around one’s immediate community, household and with everybody.
With that, one would successfully impact on people, and God will continue to help and lift you up.
How would you compare the Nigeria of your childhood to the present one?
Candidly, with the current situation of things, it’s as if it was not the same Nigeria, where we had everything in abundance.
The country has changed drastically and things are no longer the same. But if you are serving a living God, you will still make it despite the hardship and be what God wants you to be.
Unfortunately, a lot of people ignore God. It’s not the church or mosque they ignore but God, because they feel serving God is meaningless.
So, things continue to go from bad to worse for them, but with God all things are possible.
I usually tell people if they knew what the country was then, you’ll know Nigeria is now upside down. But if you are in Christ and Christ is in you, you will still have the ability to endure and keep going.
In the 1960s and 1970s, things were very good in the country. I remember most of our friends that worked after their school certificate examinations were given Volkswagen cars.
The car cost N2, 000 to N3, 000, but now, if you are a Ph.D holder, you can hardly afford a bicycle, not to talk of buying cars.
The problem we have now is not Nigeria per se, but Nigerians. We have a very beautiful country but bad people, in the sense that we no longer love one another. Our people are now self-centred.
It doesn’t matter who you worship or your belief, if you are self-centred, you won’t think of other people.
Then, Nigerians loved and were considerate of one another. The house my parents lived was built by a Muslim.
During Ramadan, we would eat with them, even if they were going to fast. If they woke up at 5:00am to eat, we would join them. We also used to break the fast together. There was no enmity, only love. However, this is no longer the case, based on what we hear and see.
There is ethnicity crisis, as well as division and tribalism. What do we need that for? America is great because the people don’t care whether you are from southern or eastern America.
Maybe the geo-political division is the main problem. We have lost love and when that happens, everything is lost.
What do you foresee in the forthcoming election?
Globally, there is always noise and agitation whenever election is approaching, but shortly after, the noise will subside. It is part of politicking.
However, we should remember that those who fought for this country’s unity with their blood and sweat didn’t do it the way this crop of politicians is doing it.
Though there was the wetie riot in Ibadan and others then, but it wasn’t a do-or-die situation as it is today.
These things are happening because our people are self-centred. I believe the election will come and go and Nigeria will continue to exist as a country, no matter how much noise people make.
Of course, there will be violence and threats to peace, but Nigeria will remain and somebody will win the election.
It’s like a football match, where somebody has to win. And when the winners emerge, let the losers congratulate them and accept defeat. That was the most honourable thing former President Goodluck Jonathan did to win my heart.
Despite accepting defeat in 2015, Jonathan is still alive. There will be violence because hungry people who want to eat from violence are out there. I will not say people will not die, but Nigeria will remain.
What should be the roles of religious leaders in the electoral process?
Religious leaders should admonish their members to exercise their franchise by voting. You can force a horse to the stream, but you cannot force it to drink water. I don’t belong to any party, and I’m for all the political parties. I pray for all the parties and for the peace of Nigeria.
I urged my people to register and collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). I also enjoined those who do not have to get theirs. You cannot continue to blame those in government if you refuse to vote.
If a government is bad, then use your vote to remove them. This shouldn’t be done through noise or violence.
Using the pulpit to campaign for candidates is deceit, and I don’t allow it here, likewise predictions. Religious leaders doing that are looking for cheap popularity and what to eat, it’s all lies.
Election is not something you say God showed me this or that. In this country, we have seen where a pastor said God told him he would become president the following year. That was 30 years ago, and since then, he hasn’t become even a governor.
How can you just wake up in the morning without passing through the Senate, House of Representatives and you just want to become president?
Tribalism has crept into the church today. What is its effect on the body of Christ?
Any church that allows tribalism to thrive among its people is not a church of God, where everybody is accommodated.
Even if a mad person walks into a church, you try to do your best for him/her. But when you start looking for a church that belongs to a particular tribe, then you are not worshipping God.
Based on the situation of the country, anybody can just wake up and establish a church, though this is good, but things must be properly done.
What are your happiest and saddest moments?
There are a lot of discouragers in the world, just like there are a lot of encouragers.
Whenever you wake up in the morning, you should always pray to meet people that will encourage you on your way forward, and not people that will set you back.
Sometimes, when I am preaching, I just start crying when I look back and recollect how people disappointed me.
A lot of people disappoint God that created them, but we keep praying for them. This is why it is not good to put one’s trust in any man, but only in God.
Some will come as lions in sheep’s clothing. Jesus said ‘I know my sheep and my sheep knows me. My sheep will hear my voice, and they will come unto me.’
So, accept whatever comes your way, as that is the only way you can be happy in life. Whether bitter or sweet, accept whatever happens to you. Let God’s will be done and then you move forward.