The load on mission schools is enormous, have to maintain high standard to remain in business –Archbishop Ndife
ARCHBISHOP EPHRAIM O. NDIFE is the leader and
President, Holy Ghost Ministry, Awka, Anambra State. He was once Chairman of the Anambra State Chapter of the Christian Association of
Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN). In this interview with the OrientDaily team of SIMON NJOKU, Associate Editor; Dr. AZUBUIKE NKALA, Member, Editorial Board; LAWRENCE NWIMO, Reporter and IJEOMA ECHEBIRI, Marketing Officer, the Archbishop beams light on the advent of Pentecostalism in Igbo land after the Nigerian Civil War, mission schools, the constitution amendment debate, the issue of Biafra among others. Read on.
Sir, who is Archbishop Ephraim O. Ndife?
I am Archbishop Ephraim O. Ndife, by God’s Grace, the leader and President, Holy Ghost Ministry, Awka, Anambra State. I was one time Chairman of the Anambra State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN). I am the current Chairman of the Pentecostal Bishops Association, Anambra State.
You have been involved in the Pentecostal Fellowship movement for as long as anybody can recall, could you lead us through the Pentecostal Fellowship history in Igbo land?
Truly speaking, we will just go as far as when the war ended because the Assemblies of God which is Pentecostal has been there even before
the war and the Apostolic Faith also, but I will dwell on the Assemblies of God. By 1970, when the war ended, the Assemblies of God Church had been around, but this time, because of the war, their
work was more in the other parts of Nigeria. We can identify Bishop. Rev Dr. Oyakhilome, the father of this present Chris Oyakhilome who was the leader of the Assemblies of God, Nigeria, when the
war started, and so he stayed on the other side. Then, there was also Papa Moses Ezeigbo who was handed over the mantle for this side of the country. He was heading the Assemblies of God in Igbo land including Port Harcourt, Calabar, and others. So, when the war ended, it was not easy for them to come together. They already had their leaders, one that was coordinating it partially during the war as much as the war could
allow. Then, Assemblies of God had been there for a very long time. In old Umuahia, they had their base. They have their theological school there.
This will tell you how long Assemblies of God has been in the picture. Immediately after the war, for very obvious reasons we relocated to
Onitsha. We had a very strong Assemblies of God in Onitsha, and then, there arose a strong movement in Onitsha called the Riches of Christ
and there I was between 1971 and 1972. There was another outfit then we called the Scripture Union, also in Onitsha.
The Riches of Christ movement was filled by young men and people who just came back from the war. Edozie Mba was leading the charge; Dr Charles Nwachukwu and Evangelist Emeka Eze and others including myself were also in the team. In 1972, they decided to put together a team to make it a church. By then, we were meeting at No. 2 Ugwunabakpa Street in Onitsha. That was where the Riches of Christ was packaged. Then, in 1973, Ugwunabakpa was an upstairs and Edozie Mba and other people there introduced guitar, flutes, drum sets, and other musical instruments into the church. It lured the youths, it attracted many youths every Sunday.
From that place we moved to old Ekenedilichukwu Motor park, on Oguta Road, which was then empty. We appealed to them and they allowed us to cut down the adjoining trees except one big mango tree that provided shed. It was at the junction of Ugwunabakpa, Oguta road and one other road there which made it centralized. Boys and girls were dancing and many other people trooped in to listen to gospel music. They were preaching
modern day Christianity and they brought the born again concept into the whole thing. We had some people who are gifted in being baptized with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongue. Again, most of us then were very intelligent like Edozie Mba, Paul Nwachukwu and the rest. It was there that the Riches of Christ took off.
There was one No. 4 New Cemetery Road which was a very long building and was used for nothing at that point in time. One of us, Elder Onochie went for it and subsequently, it was released to us. We
enlarged the hall and made it Riches of Christ Gospel Mission. Because of the young people involved, I don’t know how many of them
that owned a car including myself. All of them were not married and so we could leave in the morning and return in the night. Gradually, we registered the mission and it became an incorporated body of Christ, Riches of Christ Gospel Mission. From 1973 to 1980, there was gospel emancipation. Those young men were able to take the gospel as far as
A lot of traders joined the move in Onitsha and even brought their money where their mouth is and belonged. Then, everything about church was introduced, the morning and evening services..
We were at one square every evening in Onitsha. We held evangelism every Sunday evening. We always converged at Ogbommanu in Onitsha. That
movement began to grow in leaps and bounds. The Riches of Christ later reached Awka and Enugu and the rest from Onitsha. Through gospel emancipation then, every church part began to play out. We began to have reverends, ordained elders, deacons and deaconesses and we had youth
fellowships, women fellowships and the rest. There was also need to bring in some elements of administration into it. But the biggest thing the Riches of Christ were doing was evangelism. They were moving from pillar to post. In fact, I will look at it as the genesis of Pentecostalism, after the war.
Some Churches emerged from the Riches of Christ Movement. Can you mention some of these churches?
After the young men formed Riches of Christ Mission through dancing and drumming like David, the first person that got married among us was in 1975. We went further and Enugu branch was planted as well as Aba. But by then we didn’t leave them. Church alone, Like in said both the Assemblies of God and the Scripture Union made up the movement. At a given point in time, there were some people who came from the West and
who said God had spoken to them. They were preaching something else we didn’t catch up with. Once there is a new preaching, it will always
get some people in. Some people followed that preaching and it tore down the Riches of Christ Movement. Then, there came out of Riches of
Christ, splinter groups called ‘Jesus the way’. Then, the leaders for one reason or the other as could happen in any other place, began to form splinter groups. Apart from Jesus the Way which broke out, the Yoruba group preached the new message, that it will please God if everybody who is a Pentecostal comes together. The message got through somw people while some others rejected it.
The leadership then split and that’s how the Grace of God came out. It was from that move that people came together and agreed that they remained one but no more with the name, ‘Riches of Christ’ but rather with the name ‘Grace of God’. After sometime, some people said no, that it was the Riches of Christ that God told us to use and not the Grace of God.
Later, Jesus the Way in Enugu claimed that we are putting them in trouble and that they have no interest anymore. That was the way ‘Jesus the Way’ started; then the Aba people took off on their own. At this period, all the leaders had started to marry including my humble self. At a point, I felt that God wanted me to come to Awka. So, I resigned from the then Grace of God and came down to Awka under the new banner of Holy Ghost Ministry which we are still on now.
Was Uma Ukpai part of this movement?
Thank you. Uma Ukpai was of the Assemblies of God background but he believed he had an evangelical ministration. He was in the Assemblies
of God choir and a gifted singer. He had appealed to the Assemblies of God and they obliged him to carry out his evangelical ministrations. Then, he was going evangelistically, preaching and God
was confirming his work. There was nothing else we could do against the truth but the truth. He remained loyal to the Assemblies of God and was not shy to say he was from Assemblies of God.
It got to a point; the government recognized the early Roman Catholic, the Anglicans and brandished every other church as ‘others’. So, that
was when UmaUkpai and Ezekiel fought back, that we are not others but Pentecostals. So, they packaged themselves to what we call today,
Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) or Christian Pentecostal
Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN) and government finally accepted that. Then government began to recognize the Catholic which we called Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the Anglican Christian Council and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. It also recognized the Organization of African Institutional Churches, OAIC, both the Sabbaths and the likes are under the OAIC and then, ECWA was also recognized. Today, the government is looking at Christians in these five blocs but they still maintain these names more in the North. So, from the national, we broke up into the five blocs that made up the Christian Association of Nigeria. That is the only body that the government recognized as Christian body.
Could you explain briefly your journey in the Holy Ghost ministry?
God stirred me. Then, Awka did not have very good Pentecostal churches except the Assemblies of God which l had spoken of before. There was Assemblies of God in Awka when I came down. Like I said, it was God that steered me to Awka to evangelize the place. When I came down with the Holy Ghost Ministry, we had another extraordinary ministry called Njikoka Brethren Ministry. It comprises Abagana down to Awka, Nibo, Umuawulu and others. That movement also went down to Ebenebe and Urum communities but did not stop us from being our Holy Ghost Ministry or the body of Christ, being anything God had planned it to be. Along the line, God steered us to school projects and we began the Holy Ghost Academy. We started with Holy Ghost nursery academy; we later got primary section before our secondary school was approved.
Again, the academy sat her first external secondary exam in 2002 here in Awka and has sustained it till today. Our church also got incorporation because as a church, if you do not have incorporation, you are like a quack. That’s how government looks at it and if peradventure you have any problem, they will say you are running an illegal church. We were privileged to be incorporated. We do all things done in the church including wedding, ordination, etc.
Coming to the Archbishop of a thing, I was the PFN Chairman, Anambra state as far back as during the time of former Governor Mbadinuju. You can now see the ladder. Finally, people I work with (colleagues) had always called me to leadership. They always want me to steer the ship. That’s how they set the preparations in Onitsha to make me a Reverend. I was privileged to attend one conference in Amsterdam in 1983 through a great man of God, Billy Graham. It was there that I met a friend called Papa George Brown.He has come to Awka twice to preach in my church. I often reciprocate by going for their programmes too, the relationship is still on. Two years ago, I communicated them that I’m aging and would not want to be travelling there again, having done that for about 37years and felt like retiring gradually. That is how God keeps steering people. My Bishophood was done in America. Our international associates decided to set me aside as a Bishop under the chairmanship of Bishop Paulinus Silwell. By the time I finished my tenure in CAN and PFN, God steered us again to gather all the Pentecostal Bishops in Anambra state and for reasons best known to them, they laid it on me to chair the body. I did my best in all leadership positions I found myself in and had never been sacked in any of them. CAN is holding us in high esteem. So, that’s how I rose to this Archbishop level. My colleagues in the Pentecostal Bishops Association, decided to enthrone me as an Archbishop because it was a movement of Bishops.
Members of some churches are unable to send their wards to their mission schools because of high tuition fee. Why is the school fee very high in mission schools?
In the government schools, the government sends in teachers and pays them. They also build school blocks for them and send in students because they believe that the school is theirs. But, in the mission school, they make sure that it is roughed out. Mission schools buy land, erect buildings; they have to get the teachers and also have to scout for students. So, you find out that the load on mission schools is enormous and the only way they can stay in business is if they cankeep their standard very high. When students of mission schools get to exams, they come out in flying colours as against what obtains in government schools. Also, parents want their wards to be properly groomed even if the fees are very high. If they are convinced that their children are getting something they wouldn’t mind paying a little higher than just sending them to government school.
Again, in most external competitions, some of these mission schools beat the government counterparts. Most teachers in mission schools do not care, all they know is that they must be paid their salaries but on the reverse, we also make sure they deliver. In doing this, if our students sit for WAEC and any student fails a teacher’s subject woefully, the teacher is on his way out because such teacher has brought shame to the school. School fees in private schools are higher but governmentcschools these days charges school fees directly or indirectly. Again, you can’t get into CKC or DMGS without undergoing thorough screening because they are schools that come tops every year. If for any reason a year comes and students do not make 100%, teachers will be held responsible and would be sent packing.
What’s your take on moral standards in the mission schools? Is it higher in the mission schools than in government schools?
Truly speaking, the mission schools of today and the good old days are not the same because when mission schools were truly what they were, typical example is Catholic, they would not admit you if you are not a catholic by faith. Again, students don’t come from their houses, they must be boarding students. That is what mission school used to be but now some people just have mission school like a tag and the morality is no longer there.
Also, if the principal possesses morals, then he will impact sound morals on the students. So, we cannot vouch for all mission schools for now because there are still some of them that are doing well in terms of standard.
How do you view the ongoing process for constitutional amendment? How will this address the issue of Biafra?
I’m against any type of war because I fought in the Biafra war. I still have a Biafra war scar on my face. So, war is not very good. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe said, let the sleeping dog lie. It means the dog is still sleeping and at a given point in time, it will awake. Anyattempt at the constitution amendment should be supported. Maybe some intelligent people will move it. Look at Germany that was split into two at a given time. They believed they were better together and pulled down the Berlin wall and reunited. As you can see, they have started fighting themselves when we are happy. They are not as smart as we are and it is very difficult for an Igbo man to go to Garki and begin to butcher people as if one is slaughtering animals, unlike the Fulanis. We saw the way they butchered one CAN chairman in the North which was very pathetic. So, let those agitating begin to find out where we are and keep our house in order.
When I was the CAN chairman during Peter Obi’s administration in Anambra State, we were agitating for one more state because other regions had six while the Eastern region has five. We were so keen and at the verge of balancing the equation only for a change of government to collapse the whole thing. So, I think that if there is another crisis now, we will lose because we are not yet free from the pains of abandoned properties in Port Harcourt. Then almost every mansion in Abuja is owned by an Igbo man. But come to this Awka, tell me one good mansion a Hausa man has as his own. So, immediately there is crisis they will just take their money and burn down the rest. Again, some Igbo are not willing to leave their comfort zones and if you dare them, they will dare you because the Bible said where the treasure of a man is that is where his heart lies. These are all we would consider and realize that maybe we are not ready. We may not need to scorch it like that, else we will be at the receiving end. We must be very careful unless we have enough external friends who would assure us that if anything happens, we would come and help. If not, like us in the churches, when it starts their first target will be the churches and schools. War is never good anywhere especially we that do not know the doctrines of war.
What level of assistance does government give to mission schoolsespecially those under Pentecostals?
We also have Pentecostal Mission School Association which I was privileged to head. When the preceding government shared the last support, they gave each mission school one million naira. But that was a tip of the iceberg and a drop in an ocean compared to what our counterparts got. Some schools got over five hundred million naira and more. We were given the money so that we won’t make too much noise. We were given something but now, nothing has been given to the schools
by this present administration.
The PFN Awka South are collecting signatories that will be sent to the constitution amendment committee to show that they have rejected the
amendment of the constitution for a brand new constitution. What is your opinion on the matter?
Well, I know that there are some constitution specialists amongst us who know which is better and go for it. But there is a saying that the best way to begin is to begin. I will not go for an outright shunning of a new constitution. I will rather choose for us to give it a trial. Again, we have the national body, regional body and zonal body. I believe the national body will have the final decision on our stand on the constitution matter. I have been watching these in the news and opinions are going either way. My point is that God should help us.
If you are given an opportunity to come back into the world after this, would you like to be an Igbo Man?
Yes! Because there is what we call Okechukwu kelu; that is, God in his infinite mercy has split it and placed us where we belong. I believe he knows the best and I will go where God placed me. The Igbo man is a very brilliant and very hard working being. If I have the opportunity, I will ask God to return me to Igbo race.
Finally, considering the happenings in the country, what is your advice to the Igbo and our Igbo brothers in the diaspora?
Let us stay united. This unity of a thing is very important. In the Biafra war, the Igbo man built this Ogbunigwe. Because of the unity, we liberated Benin and went as far as Ore and the rest. It was that sabotage that undid us. So, Igbo must learn to be united and be proud of themselves. The Hausa used to view Igbo man as white men in Nigeria. They used to be our gardeners and the rest but the war opened their eyes and they started to feel proud. We are very gifted and blessed intellectually.
Before the war, communities in Igbo land gathered resources to train sons who later became intellectuals like Achebe, Nnamdi Azikiwe of
blessed memory and others. Do you think that spirit is still there?
Well, that question is directed to the wrong person. But I think Igbo still value education and if you doubt, go to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and check the population of Igbo youths there. Igbo still read but at the same time, the Igbo man does not want to be a beggar or be dependent. The biggest industry of an Igbo man is education and they are very keen about it.