Apostle Johnson Suleman, the Senior Pastor of Omega Fire Ministries, OFM, has expressed sadness over the incessant killings carried out in several parts of Nigeria, West Africa, by suspected herdsmen.
In an exclusive interview with Nigeria’s online integrated media platform, ALEDEH, the Apostle stressed that the “body language” of the Nigerian government is empowering the suspected killer herdsmen.
Apostle Suleman also lent out his voice to address the proposed “Hate Speech Bill” which proposes that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction.
Among other national issues, the OFM Senior Pastor also spoke on religious intolerance, insecurity in Nigeria, “seeds sowing” and finally reacted to Stephanie Otobo’s confession on the alleged sex scandal which became a topic of national discuss late last year.
Read the excerpt from the interview below:.
YOU ARE A BUSY MAN BECAUSE WE REALIZE THAT YOUR SCHEDULE IS SO TIGHT. IT’S BEEN DIFFICULT FOR US TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION. HOW BUSY HAVE YOU BEEN LATELY?
I have always been busy. We have a ministry that has a presence in 56 nations in the world and we have a strong presence in Africa and some parts of Asia; actually five continents so that informs my travelling to see what is happening there and aside that I do also have some private investments around the world that I am also overseeing.
QUITE FRANKLY, OMEGA FIRE MINISTRIES HAS GROWN TREMENDOUSLY, TELL US ABOUT THIS GROWTH
I think I am going to speak personally because whatever I say in my philosophy, might not be an appendage for general growth. I am going to say what I see as my strength. First thing I know is that God has helped us. When God backs a man, results are natural and above all; structure. We have a ministry that is well structured. When people come to an organization that is well structured they naturally fit into place. So we have a good structure and above all God has given us the gift of men; the right people who know the right thing to do. So it has been a teamwork. The strength of Omega Fire Ministries is God giving us a crop of pastors who have the passion to run the segment so I cannot say or ascribe the growth or the results that we see to me, my calling or my anointing. It’s a teamwork and God has been faithful.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU READ IN THE MEDIA THAT APOSTLE SULEMAN IS STUBBORN, CONTROVERSIAL AND MAYBE CRITICAL ABOUT ISSUES?
I think it’s a combination of a lot of issues. I don’t think I am controversial, I think I am non-conventional. People are used to you trying to twist the truth. They see that as diplomacy and if you have something to present you have to be diplomatic about it, but if you understand, we all have our peculiarities. There are so many things that engineer the way I speak. Number one I have an activist background and I was very involved in student unionism. No matter what you delve into, there are certain particles of your involvement in the past that will show up. I am a prophet. Prophets do not twist words and when they speak, they don’t speak because they want to stem out controversies or issues, they bring it the way it is. Sometimes a prophet feels very guilty when he tries to be nice because he will report to God. When God gives you a word you say it as it is. But the country or Africa has not grown to that state mentally to accept the truth. When you say something and they just accept it and say ok this man is actually saying the truth. But in the midst of all these statements, I hear people say he is stubborn, controversial but there are still people who appreciate it because sometimes if we must get things done we have to address it. When we keep going around it we will never get results. So we have to see things the way they are and some of the things I have said that blew out publicly many people were not even aware that these things have the capacity to crumble a system but sometimes when you hit certain things on the head you get the attention of the people. When you get the attention of the people you can start talking about these things so it’s not a deliberate thing. I cannot determine how you perceive me but I can explain who I am. I run from issues that will create problems. When an issue is going to create problems I tell my pastors let’s kill this thing but I can also say there are people who listen to me but I am not controversial I am only non-conventional.
NIGERIANS WOKE UP AND SUDDENLY SOMEONE WHO WAS TRENDING STOPPED TRENDING. I AM TALKING ABOUT STEPHANIE OTOBO. SHE STOPPED TRENDING AFTER THE CONFESSION SHE MADE IN YOUR CHURCH. YOUR TEAM OF PASTORS AND SOME OF THE ELDERS ARE YET TO SPEAK ON THE MATTER. EVERYTHING DIED DOWN AFTER THAT CONFESSION AND SOME ARE WONDERING IF SOMETHING WENT UNDER?
I am going to answer this because I gave you my words that I am going to answer every question though normally I won’t talk about it because there was no story in the first place. All these shenanigans that snowballed into what they called scandal. I don’t have a scandal. I can’t have a scandal. Anybody could come up with any allegation that is the backlash you get when you speak truth to power. As far as I am concerned that’s a monumental lie because nothing like that ever happened. If we are going to talk about it we will be here for the whole day. I woke up like every other person woke up to see the news. Some Nigerians never asked the question, how come they didn’t go to court because I went to court. They didn’t go to court because they had nothing to show. It was just a media trial to dent my reputation and when they discovered that wasn’t working they began to bring up so many to make the people feel if he is not innocent here, he is innocent here, so it was all drama. I really don’t bother myself about what people say because public opinion is not credit alert. There is no one that gets paid by what people say. Let me shock you, 90 percent of things that they say about me I have never read them. I don’t pick up my phone looking for what is not looking for me. The church didn’t even speak. It took a long while to allow the confession. I told them It’s already dead since they haď no case but they said if someone wants peace why don’t you allow her to make peace? I told my wife this is what they are saying what do you think and she said we should allow it. There was no story, nothing like that ever happened, it was just a calculated attempt to malign me, to put me in the spot where if I speak people will say this is an unserious person. He is not who he says he is but I have not started talking so they are going to do much more drama.
EVEN THOUGH THIS IS NOT ABOUT FAMILY I HAVE BEEN WONDERING IF THIS TRULY WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS COOKED UP PERHAPS IT MUST HAVE CAUSED A LOT WITHIN YOUR FAMILY ESPECIALLY YOUR WIFE. HOW DID SHE COPE DURING THAT BROUHAHA TILL THAT CONFESSION HAPPENED RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER?
She brought it to my knowledge one morning and she asked what was going on. Who is this person? She read the story and also the comments and asked me what was going on and I said I don’t know. For the first few days, we didn’t know what was going on until we began to make calls. I think my wife is the champion in this whole drama because I wasn’t following the story. When I knew it was a sham I got busy because I knew it was going to die naturally. Number one, my wife knows me. Number two, I try not to hide anything from her and I try to be transparent as possible and this stems from trust. I have teenage children. I sat them down and I said go through the video and I made sure they went through the video and they saw everything so I asked them if they had any question but they said ‘no we know our father’ and they walked away. So I think we have a family that is well knitted and I think that is just the drive.
LET’S TALK ABOUT NIGERIA. YOU HAVE SPOKEN ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT AND ECONOMY BUT I WILL LIKE TO TALK ABOUT THE HERDSMEN AND FARMERS CLASHES WHICH RECENTLY SNOWBALLED INTO THE NORTHERN PART OF EDO STATE WHERE YOU HAVE YOUR HEADQUARTERS. HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU SAW THOSE PROTESTING WOMEN?
It is a shame. It irks me when people talk about governance and miss insecurity. If you study the Hitler revolution of Germany, you will discover under Hitler there was so much development, infrastructure, companies. The economy boomed but today Hitler is still regarded as the worst ruler Germany ever had. Why? Insecurity; people died. It doesn’t matter how much you recover, you only recover money for a living man. Part of the reason they said they were angry with me is that I was talking about the Fulanis but that wasn’t about the Fulanis. I don’t know if there are Igbo herdsmen. I don’t know if there are Efik herdsmen. It’s not about tribe or people. Now Global terrorism index says this militia group (Fulani herdsmen) is the 4th deadliest in the world. When I saw the women protesting I wept. I screamed on the pulpit that day because some of my members had been kidnapped by the Fulani herdsmen, two of my members have been killed. Recently, the one that would have caused a problem was when the Chairman of Urhobo Progressive Union was kidnapped and some of the militants called me and say they will set the country on fire. I was the intermediary that was talking to these herdsmen so I know what I am talking about. This is first hand information. They (Fulani herdsmen) said I must pay and I said ‘you guys are mad’, pay for what? The UPU Chairman was kept for two full days. The body language of the leadership at the centre doesn’t reflect a state of emergency. They see it as something that will die on its own and this kind of devil has to be tackled headlong.
I THINK THAT’S WHY THE INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF POLICE HAS SAID THAT THEY SHOULD MOP UP ARMS?
The IG of police is my friend but on this, he is very wrong. International law allows anybody to carry light arms for self-defense so long it is licensed. If you are talking about retrieving arms from the people you have to retrieve arms from the herdsmen. People don’t fear the cows, they fear the gun. If the people are crying about the herdsmen, the attack on their produce and the farmers, people don’t fear the cows, the people fear the gun. I am sure growing up you saw herdsmen carrying sticks not guns but now it has changed into carrying guns about so if we do not stem this, I don’t see Nigeria having any agricultural future. Farmers have been chased out of their farms and that is going to increase the state of unemployment which will get back to us because everything is in shambles. It is not enough to make certain statements. Now there is a town in Benue, I can’t remember the name, but the herdsmen have taken over that town in Benue. They are not dead; they are alive so if you want us to believe you’re serious in dealing with this people then use that as an example. Collect the arms don’t kill them, don’t arrest them, just tell them to submit their arms.
SO IT IS ABOUT PRIORITIES?
Yes, it is about priorities but I think there is something someone is not telling us. I heard governors had meetings about colonies and I said what are they talking about? No, we are not talking about the cows now we are talking about the arms. Let’s have a meeting on how to disarm the Fulani herdsmen. These men carry assorted rifles, they are very well equipped. How do we disarm these people? If the government is going to have a meeting then that should be the priority. Disarm these men then we can talk about grazing later. We can talk about colonies later but first of all let’s disarm these men, if that’s our priority then we have less trouble in our hands.
2018 IS THE EVE OF THE 2019 ELECTION; DOES IT REALLY BORTHER YOU THAT WE ARE YET TO SEE A DECLINE IN THE ACTIVITIES OF THE HERDSMEN AND FARMERS’ CLASHES AS WELL AS ARRESTING THE SITUATION?
The election has nothing to do with the herdsmen because the herdsmen are not going to vote either will they be voted for. So as far as I am concerned, I see it (herdsmen activities) increasing. I am trying to be diplomatic like they want me to be diplomatic because someone’s body language is empowering these herdsmen. Someone is not coming out openly and boldly say it. Okay, we have gotten one but this guy spilled it and no one has been arrested, none have been tried, even those that have been tried the case dissolved like that. People don’t get consequences for bad behaviour so the elections will not stop the killings it’s going to continue except somebody speaks against it. If someone speaks at this point of election as far as I am concerned it becomes politically motivated.
FOR 2019, YOU HAD A VERY LONG LIST OF PREDICTIONS AND THIS WILL TAKE US TO OTHER CONTINENTS SPECIFICALLY SOUTH AFRICA WHERE YOU DID SAY SOMETHING ABOUT FORMER PRESIDENT ZUMA, TAKE US THROUGH THAT LIST SPECIFICALLY THE HAPPENINGS IN SOUTH AFRICA.
Yea, we had a prophetic word for South Africa, I saw the former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma being disgraced and humiliated. It came like that and I put it like that and two months after the prophecy he resigned. That was God’s word, actually last month we had seven of the prophesies coming to pass back to back, we have had like 15 of them fulfilled back to back.
SO IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA ALONE?
No, it is not. We had quite a number of them being fulfilled. The Dapchi girls’ abduction was there. I said I see kidnappers entering schools in the prophecy so we had quite a number of them. South Africa, I think now that Ramaphosa is there, I believe there will be some kind of change because, for Nelson Mandela, a man of impeccable integrity to have picked the present South African President as his deputy, that means he has some level of integrity. Then he was a young man when Mandela was President and he (Mandela) wanted him (Ramaphosa) because he trusted him and he wanted to hand over power to him so the man has been anointed for Presidency all along, before he went into business. For a man who has so much wealth, the first thing I heard him say when I watched him was that he was going to fight corruption. Yea we know people who say things and mean them. Sometimes when you see South Africa and you see Nigeria you bleed. One time I was at the airport in South Africa and I asked a Nigerian governor, I said do you people come to this country and he said to me ‘we come but we pass’, in other words, we don’t look at the development here, we don’t look at the things that are going on here. So South Africa is evolving and we hope with this new leadership things will be on top gear.
YOU USED THE WORD FIGHTING CORRUPTION TO DESCRIBE WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IN NIGERIA, COMING BACK HOME LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE TRIED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE TO RATE THIS GOVERNMENT IN ITS FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION. WE ARE YET TO HEAR FROM YOU ON THAT
Nigerian government fighting corruption? No! What is corruption? Corruption is the pervasion of due process. Corruption is not recovering money. 90 percent of the appointments tilt towards the north, that’s corruption. People have been killed but when you speak, they arrest you, that is corruption and the truth is the government at the centre doesn’t know that anytime a man speaks and you go after him, you are raising up a hero. He becomes a hero and a hero can start a movement and a movement can snowball into a political party so you have gotten more opposition in your hands. If people speak against what you do, leave them; ignore them but when you have a leadership where people at the centre are very intolerant, a man says something you come after him. All of a sudden there is so much emphasis on hate speech and the present government rode into power on the premise of hate speech. They would speak against the opposition, they would deride them, and they would say all kinds of things against them. You must know there is a thin line between hate speech and freedom of speech, so when you tell people not to talk you’re putting them in trouble. People get to a point where they say to themselves, after all, I will just be arrested I won’t be killed. When you keep flogging a child or threatening a child, it gets to a point you push the child to the wall, when the child says ‘okay they will flog me’. Have you noticed everybody is talking now? People do videos in their homes. Yes because you’re giving them reasons to speak. Everybody wants to be popular. I was in the east one time. While I was in there, I listened to radio Biafra then. I liked the man. I liked the way he was talking but I didn’t see it as a major force. I just felt he was airing his opinions. I am referring to Nnamdi Kanu. I said wow this guy talks well. I think I like him. The next thing I heard he was arrested and I was like ‘why will you arrest him’? This is going to be a movement. I called for his release. The more you keep him behind bars the more his people will like him even people who don’t like him will like him. Nigerians are sympathetic in nature. When he (Nnamdi Kanu) addressed the press, he said the best thing Goodluck Jonathan did was to ignore him. So you end up raising heroes. This pastor speaks you arrest him and make him popular, that one speaks you arrest him, so people are now riding on your back to popularity. So when people speak, you should ignore. There cannot be true leadership without tolerance.
TOLERANCE IS A VERY GOOD WORD FOR US TO LOOK INTO. FOR MANY THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND YOUR BACKGROUND. WE KNOW IN YOUR FAMILY THERE ARE MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS. IN THE FACE OF RELIGIOUS CRISIS WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO CASH IN ON SUCH TO SELL CHAOS TO THE PEOPLE? ARE YOU TOLERANT OF OTHER FAITHS?
100 percent. I have friends in the Senate. I have friends in the House of Reps. I have friends who are governors and I have friends at the lower level. Some of them are Muslims. I don’t have a problem with that. I think people that are intolerant of other religions are not exposed and to me, I don’t see them as spiritual, they are fanatics because if you fear God you will tolerate people of other faiths. I don’t have a problem with Muslims who are not extremists. There are even Christian fanatics. I believe in dialogue it might be tough but come let’s talk. I believe every Nigerian should be tolerant, religious, political, and social. Tolerance is what should run in the fabrics of the society. I am a very tolerant person, everyone around me relates with people. Sometimes I come into the country when my security details are not around and I pick a cab. The driver is a Muslim and we discuss so I don’t see why anybody who fears God will not be tolerant religiously.
DO YOU HAVE A RECIPE FOR SOLUTION TO THE MYRIAD OF PROBLEMS IN OUR COUNTRY?
I will speak in two capacities, one as a Nigerian and the other as a man of God. As a man of God, we need to fear God. The fear of God will prevent people from stealing. The fear of God will prevent people from fighting people who don’t believe what they believe. The fear of God will prevent people at the centre from taking up political opponents. If I should speak as a Nigerian, I think the way out is restructuring back to true federalism. Some people say the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable but I also think there cannot be Nigeria without Nigerians before you talk about Nigeria as a nation you have to talk about Nigerians. We have to sit down and have a roundtable discussion, let’s know what each geopolitical zone brings to the table and let’s know how to develop these places because some of these people are crying that they have been marginalized, the easterners have been marginalized some other minority groups have been marginalized so I think as a man of God we need to fear God and as a Nigerian I support restructuring.
ONCE A JOURNALIST ALWAYS A JOURNALIST. IS THAT WHY WE ARE TALKING ABOUT CELEBRATION TV? TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNALISM EXPERIENCE BEFORE WE COME TO YOUR CELEBRATION TV. DO YOU MISS BEING A JOURNALIST?
Yes, I do. I miss having to sneak to get news. I miss going to the beats to get information, I can’t do that now, I can’t even walk out of my house now. There is nothing you can do against passion. I have a passion for journalism, I have a passion for reporting. I miss that but I think in a way I still do that because I run a TV channel which reaches about a 100 million people daily. That’s for the people we know.
SO WHAT’S THE STRENGTH OF CELEBRATION TV?
Okay, celebration TV, we are on Viewsat, Viewsat covers Africa, We are on Galaxy. Galaxy covers Canada and some parts of America. We are on ASIA SAT that covers Asia, the Middle East and all of those places. Celebration TV is run by me and we are four years and few months old and the acceptance is massive. We are doing fine.
SO ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT FEEDING THE ONLINE APPETITE BECAUSE FOR SO MANY PEOPLE THEY WOULD LOVE TO HAVE YOU ONLINE?
We do have an online presence but we have not really developed it much. We have over 50,000 subscribers already but I think we can do more than that but our focus has always been television because in our journalism days there were no online operations so it was just TV and radio, that’s what we studied for but presently we are working on how to improve it.
LET’S CLOSE ON THIS. HOW HELPING HAVE MEN AND WOMEN OF GOD BEEN TO PEOPLE IN THE LOWER CADRE ESPECIALLY IN THEIR COMMUNITIES. RECENTLY WE HAVE SEEN A MOVE IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA AGAINST MEN AND WOMEN OF GOD ACCUSING THEM THAT THEY TAKE SO MUCH AND GIVE LITTLE OR NOTHING TO THE PEOPLE.
Social media is a scam. We need to start looking for news, not a comedy because as far as I am concerned what we have in social media are more of comedians; people who say things to appeal to their fan base. A man of God is calling for donations, for example, I am calling for a seed that I want to give 1 million naira to a widow please who is going to give 100, 000 to support the widow, some social media people will pick that part when I am calling seeds and upload and people begin to insult the man. Before you say this man is calling for money, tell us what he is using the money for. Anyone who says pastors don’t help the poor needs help. I can’t speak for everybody (Pastors) but I can speak for myself and a few of them that I know. What informs your answering of the call of God is your passion for the poor, without passion for the poor you can’t answer the call of God. Mention one preacher who is known and I will tell you what they do for the poor but the truth is most of them cannot bring it to the media because there is this mentality that when you do in secret God will reward you. Look at the Redeem Christian Church of God, every Sunday, RCCG feeds inmates in Kirikiri prisons, in Lagos there is a centre to detect cancer that was built by a single parish of the RCCG and they do all of that for free. The social media won’t tell you that. The Southern part of the RCCG spent over a billion naira lending helping hands to the poor let me not go too far, let me talk about myself. If we talk about what we do around the world everybody knows that but let me talk about my local church in Auchi. We have 212 widows in our church and we pay them salary every month. 25% of the singers in our church we pay their fees, their rents, give them pocket money. We have 806 people on scholarship as at the last count. We have supplied aid equipment to hospitals around. I am not talking about sinking boreholes and all of that. We have called young men in our church who are graduates but don’t have jobs, I tell them ‘tell me what you can do’ and a handful of them came, they told me what they could do and we gave them money to go do it. If all of these is not helping the poor then what is helping the poor? I don’t have time for social media sayings; I don’t even look at it. People in Social media already have an opinion. Some social media influencers make rational discussions impossible. They already have an opinion so anything out of their opinions is not correct, so leave them to their opinions. Men of God are helping the poor, don’t get me wrong, there are some pastors that are playing games but you’re not going to condemn a whole bunch because of the sins of a few.