A 8,500 capacity worship centre is one of the signature projects conceived by Governor Udom Emmanuel in Akwa Ibom State. Should this project be carried out under the lingering phase of varying competing needs in the State? This is the question on the lips of Akwa Ibom people.
A peep into the coming of Christianity shows that the concept of religion has been strictly a personal affair. Already, as enshrined in the 1999 constitution, every Nigerian has the freedom to worship, and such freedom should not in anyway be forced on others. Since religion is personal, it therefore means that it should be practised in private or centres allocated to it as stipulated in section 38(1) of the 1999 constitution. The section states inter lia, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.
Nigeria is a secular state with many religions, and modes of worship. Consequently, government is not expected to enthrone, either by show of support or preferential treatment, one religion against another. In view of this, many have kicked against the use of taxpayers money for the building of a religious centre.
In the past and even now, we have had State Governors from both the northern and southern parts of Nigeria build religious centres for their people. In February 2017, Jigawa State Governor, Badaru Abubakar, approved the sum of N136,762,448.08 for the construction of 90 daily prayer mosques (three each in 30 state constituencies) to various successful bidders already certified by the Due Process and Project Monitoring Bureau of the state. In June, 2017, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, approved N566m for the completion of 189 Juma’at and daily prayer Mosques as well as Islamiyya schools inherited from the previous government.
In January 2016, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers promised that his administration would build Christian Ecumenical Center where all Christians from different states would meet for prayers and congress. Wike announced this during a Holy Ghost Rally Organised by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Region 5 in Port Harcourt. The Governor said “Rivers State is a Christian state where God lives among his children”.
In October 2017, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God commissioned and dedicated to God, a 10,000-Seater -Ecumenical Centre in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State. According to the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Francis Ottah Agbo, the Centre was built by the Government of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson through direct labour.
A cursory assessment of the construction of these religious centres by states shows that the projects are funded 100 percent by government. Will the Akwa Ibom State Government tow this line in its proposed 8,500 capacity international worship centre?
Before the foundation stone for the centre is laid on Sunday, January 21, 2018, by Pastor Enoch Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God ,Akwa Ibomites must seek the truth on this project.
Governor Udom Emmanuel had spoken on funding of the project. He said government contribution is “very negligible.”
“We have found favour in the eyes of the Lord, and it’s instructive to note that Religious bodies, non-profit organizations and even individuals from all over the world heeded our call for support to actualize this dream”, Udom added.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy Mr. Charles Udoh re-emphasized that “The international worship Centre project will be funded through voluntary donations from religious bodies; Non- profit Organizations, individuals, etc. Government’s contribution; which is negligible include payment for design; provision of land and site preparation.” This explanation should clear all doubts.
In cases of other States cited earlier, Governors drew money from state coffers to build their worship centres. However, will Akwa Ibom State government’s “negligible” role not stall this project?
Governor Udom Emmanuel is taking a more forthright and commendable route towards the project. The Governor commits no crime against the constitution for leading the path in the actualisation of this project. Recall that the prospects of completing the long abandoned National Ecumenical Centre, now known as National Christian Centre, Abuja, came to fruition in June 2004, after over N3 billion was realised at a fund-raising ceremony coordinated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The event attracted a number of Christians and Muslims across the Federation, including diplomats.
Just like King Solomon who supervised and motivated the Israelites to build God a temple, Nehemiah ensured the rebuilding of the temple after its destruction, Obasanjo motivated people to donate to the building of the National Christian Centre. In like manner, Governor Emmanuel should be applauded for outsourcing donations for the worship centre. By this, government has not mis-prioritised.
Akwa Ibom people must begin to take the Governor by his words. When he said government’s participation in the project is negligible, it suggests that government may only provide land for the project. If government were to inject taxpayers’ fund into this project, such would have been reflected in the 2018 budget.
Timing for the project is apt. From Biblical days, worship centres like temples and Tabernacles were mostly constructed in peace time. This is clearly stated by King Solomon. “But now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurent. And, behold, I purpose to build a house unto the name of the LORD my God…” 1Kings 5:4,5(KJV). Akwa Ibom State is considered the most peaceful state in the South-South region. Akwa Ibom people have enjoyed this benevolence from God in the past years. This is peace time. The best way to show God appreciation is to build him a worship centre in this peace time.
A worship centre of this nature, will become a place of refuge where intending converts can make atonement. It will be a unifying place for all Akwa Ibomites irrespective of tribe. Akwa Ibom State is made up of people of different cultures, denominations and tradition, but predominantly one religion-Christianity. A Christian worship centre will bridge various dogmatic teachings that characterize denominations in the state. The edifice will be an attraction to christian pilgrims.
God has been faithful in His mercies to Akwa Ibom people. He deserves to be magnified in praises. A memento will be a deserving token in reference to His mercies. Akwa Ibom people should collectively think on the word in Haggai 1:7,8 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified, says the LORD.”
Akwa Ibom people should hold back endless arguments on the project. Muslims have stopped Christians from building worship centres in their North, yet there are mosques that have been built with government funds. It’s illogical for Christians to vote against the construction of the worship centre in a strictly Christian state. Governor Udom Emmanuel has come to Akwa Ibom people like Haggai went to Zerubbabel, he is saying “Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.”