By ETIM ETIM
I regularly attend the House on the Rock Church in Abuja where the resident pastor made news last Sunday as the first clergy in Nigeria to preach the gospel with an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
I know Pastor Uche Aigbe well. He is an energetic, zealous and jovial young man who loves Christ dearly and preaches with passion, energy and fervour. But I wasn’t in church last Sunday, and so I didn’t witness what really happened. I have seen the video and I was, to say the least, aghast. This morning, I called another pastor of the church to have a first-hand account of what really happened, but he was at the police station to process Pastor Uche’s bail procedures, and so we did not talk for long. But from the video I saw and the comments I have read, Pastor Uche had mounted the pulpit carrying an unloaded automatic rifle, an AK47. I understand that he wanted to illustrate the need for us, Christians, to defend our faith, contrary to claims by some people that he had set out to incite members to bear arms and defend themselves against the onslaughts of attacks against Christian at worship places. Although there have been many killings at Worship Centers across the country, Pastor Uche had never spoken publicly in a manner that suggest incitement. He often speaks against bad leadership and misgovernance, but he does make denigrating statements against anybody. The week the Owo Catholic Church massacre happened last June; Pastor Uche arranged for the police to provide some security in the church. That gave me some assurances of safety as I was getting too frightened and was ready to stay away from church.
Incidentally, Pastor Uche is the son of a retired senior military officer who had passed away many years ago. So, growing up in the barracks with his siblings, Uche had seen enough weapons. As he often told us, he was brought up in a disciplined and stable home. Right from his secondary school days, Uche had always wanted to be in the ministry, and so he became a member of House on the Rock in its early days in Lagos, went to Bible College and steadily climbed the ladder. He took over the leadership of the Abuja church some four years ago, and since then the church has been growing in leaps and bounds. His aged mother is alive and sometimes visits the church when she’s in Abuja. Pastor Uche is married to a lovely medical doctor wife and they both have young children. The church is a very big auditorium that contains over 5,000 worshippers in two worship sessions. I first attended the church in 2021, I think, which was the midst of the pandemic and was struck by the décor, the beautiful ambience, good music and a large number of young people. I was also impressed that the church leaders, unlike a few others then, did not make joke of the pandemic. It was fashionable in those days for some pastors to tell members that COVID-19 was a sham and that people should not wear mask or seek vaccination. Rather, members of House on the Rock in Abuja were all mandated to wear face masks, and so my family and I were comfortable enough to sit and worship God in a fully airconditioned auditorium in the midst of thousands of people. In fact, the church later arranged for health officials to visit the church and provide vaccination to members. My wife took her second dose after service, one Sunday.
I look forward every Sunday to the beautiful ambience inside the auditorium, the soulful and stirring praise and worship sessions and the moving messages that pastor Uche preaches every Sunday. Many National Assembly members and senior government officials do attend the church also. An American diplomat who worshipped there with his wife gave a beautiful valedictory speech last year when he had to leave Nigeria. The well-known Fela Durotoye had also given a talk. I do not therefore believe that Pastor Uche was inciting anybody to violence. Knowing him as I do, I believe that he was using the gun to illustrate his sermon last Sunday. I understand that he even made a joke of the gun when he said, ‘’I’m coming soon for some of you sleeping in the church’’. Pastor Uche delivers his messages with considerable candour and joviality, all in a mood of conviviality – the reason he is so well loved by the young people (and indeed all members) in the church. He had persistently encouraged members to take interest in politics, register and vote. I should also add that, in my long years as a dutiful Christian, I have seen Pastors come to church dressed in military fatigues, just to illustrate a point or two. The military high command did not raise any dust. Maybe the pictures did not trend on social media. But it would seem that bringing that weapon to the pulpit has turned out to be an error of judgement. The Church has issued a statement, noting that ‘’Pastor Uche has been a leader in the church since 1999 and has always shown exemplary leadership. However, he realizes that even with the best of intentions, carrying a gun to illustrate his message was ill-advised and regrettable’’. I am happy that he’s realized his mistakes and he’s apologized. I urge the police authorities to treat my Pastor with kindness, respect and delicacy. In fact, the Police should drop this matter with counsel and reprimand. To err is human, and to forgive is divine.
Etim is a Journalist, Banker and Author