Suave pastor and former top musician Chris Okotie, though 52, does not look his age. He opened his doors and heart to ANNA OKON and NKARENYI UKONU in this interview session
You were quite a sensation in the music industry in those days with your unique voice. Did you go through any voice training to develop it?
No. Music has always been part of my family; my father was into music but the indigenous music of my people, the Urhobo people. I used to listen to Omokomoko, who was probably one of the most prolific of the Urhobo singers in his generation. Then I got into James Brown, who was very famous at the time, and then I went to Edo College and became a part of the school band and then began to develop my talent until I recorded as a student in the University of Nigeria in 1980. The I need someone album was done while I was an undergraduate in the Law Faculty of University of Nigeria.
At the time you started, did you at any point in time go for voice training?
No, I have never. In fact I am still thinking about that.
You were able to capture a chunk of the market in those days; what type of distribution chain did you employ?
I belonged to a record company at that time, it was called Phonodisk. It was the largest record company in Africa at the time, they did not think that I would have that kind of commercial success, but the Federal Government had ordered that they must have some indigenous material because they were only going to release international music and do some of Fela‘s works, but the FG insisted that there must be indigenous participation, repertoire, and I had got to meet Odion Iruoje, who was a very prolific producer at the time and he listened to my work. So when the time came for them to meet the demands of the government, he told the company that there was an undergraduate he had listened to and he thought that I could become that Nigerian that would meet the FG requirement for indigenous talent and that‘s how they invited me.
Outside the stage in those days, who was Chris Okotie?
Because of the fact that I have always had a sense of responsibility towards God, it affected what I did. The consciousness was so strong that I felt that my life belonged to God that it constrained me from doing certain things. At the end of the day I would always go to God and ask Him to forgive and would explain why I did what I did that day. For me, music was just a talent, it was just something I could do, I only took it on a professional level because my father died and we did not have the money and I come from a polygamous home. I needed to look after myself; I needed to go to school but ordinarily I wasn‘t that involved in show business. I always thought that show business was something that drew me out of my shell I always had a very reclusive lifestyle. People used to call me the hermit in those days because I liked to be by myself.
And you were quite timid, even on TV you kept your face down.
I think I was just being very shy, I have always had that disposition you know and I did not really like being on stage; I did not enjoy that. I did not mind the artistic part of singing in the studio but having to perform on stage live, I did not really like it.
Your music, Goodbye Teacher, did it have anything to do with the fact that you had to leave UNN at a time?
No. I actually wrote that song when I was teaching after my ‘A‘ levels because after my ‘A‘ levels I got admission to read English at the Ahmadu Bello University but my father said no because he insisted that I read law; anything outside of that he wasn‘t prepared to listen to. So I had to stay one year at home to do the exams again and during that period I went to teach in a village called Ada ada, Igboetiti, 16 kilometres outside of Nsukka. It was when I was a teacher that I wrote that song.
..and you didn‘t quite finish from the university?
No. I did. I graduated from the University of Nigeria. What happened was that in my third year the university and my faculty had a problem with me. They felt that they didn‘t want the Law Faculty to be degraded by show biz, they felt that the law profession was too noble and serious to have one who was in that kind of field associating with the very lofty concept of being a lawyer. So I had a problem with that and the dean of the faculty actually wrote to the registrar that I should withdraw from the university. But we went through a tussle and at the end, they kept me there for two extra years but I graduated.
Now that you are in ministry, why are you not continuing in music line?
Ministerial work is very busy. In 1990 I did a work with my sister Loraine called Love Medicine and I wrote all the songs and I produced with Mr. Iruoje. It is very difficult to do the kind of record that I would like to do now. It is very time consuming, so I am still waiting until such a time that the ministerial opportunity arises where I can enter into that kind of work.
There are no people you can confidently delegate to?
The kind of standard that I want, I hear the kind of songs they sing in the industry right now but for the kind of thing that I want to do, personal supervision is of a great essence.
Can we still assume that your voice currently is for the congregation?
I do my work, yes I sing in church and I have written songs for worship in church but they are not commercialised.
There was a time it was said you were actually leading the choir, are you still doing that?
Well, for us the whole church is the choir and I lead the worship when it is time for me to minister although we have the praise and worship set up but before I minister, I usually do my own worship and the congregation is involved when I am singing those songs. Then I have a song I recorded here in the church that I play before I minister, it is called Yonder Place. It is something we did in church here and we recorded it right here and we put it out there. It is free for anyone who wants it, it is not commercial but at least it is music that identifies with what I believe.
Looking back, did you have any inkling that you will be such an influential man?
I knew I was going to be a preacher. At the age of three, that was the first time the Lord Jesus spoke to me. It was on a Sunday morning my father was a civil servant then in Uyo. I was playing with some children because it had rained and we were playing by a pool of water when someone started calling me and I could not see the person. Then the person came beside me, instead of holding me by the hand, held me in my heart and put his hand into my heart and took me to a popular church, Qua Iboe Church at that time and we stood at the door and they were singing and he said, ‘Look at your father‘s house‘ and I thought this is not my father‘s house, my father‘s house is down the road then he left me. Since then I have had that consciousness that I was going to be a preacher.
Do you intend to have other branches of your church apart from the headquarters?
Our own concept of church planting is different. When we plant a church it becomes autonomous, I cannot appoint a pastor, he has to be called of God, he has his own vision outside of here. What we do is help support him start the church. The church will not become Household of God church part two.
What is your congregation strength?
We don‘t know; you know there is a philosophy in the scriptures that when you begin to tell people how many you are it becomes pride and so we could say it is a large congregation, God has blessed us.
Then there is the annual Grace Event…
Okay, the charity programme that we have. First we recognise that people don‘t care how much you know until they know how much you care and it is the responsibility of every church to demonstrate the charitable disposition of the Holy Spirit. Our Grace programme is just an expression of the Love of Jesus Christ for man irrespective of his religious persuasion. Many years later we included the Charis Award, which is geared towards rewarding those who have served the nation and have not been recognised.
How do you raise funds to take care of the kind of gifts that you give out during these events?
In church, since we know that the programme is coming up we begin from the beginning of the year to set aside funds for the purpose, we do not raise funds from outside the church, it is always within the church.
Let‘s talk about your parents and family members back home.
No. My father is dead but my mum is still alive. I have had problems in the past where I have talked about my family members and they did not want to be part of the public and media fanfare.
Now, about your vocabulary…
But as I am talking to you I am speaking plainly now…
Are you conscious of the fact that people say you speak hyper-sounding grammar?
I think I have always appreciated the elevated diction from when I was in school. For some reason I was drawn to those kinds of words, words that needed you to not just get a dictionary but to try and think it through and meditate on it and try and find out its meaning. It is just a style and I recognise that when I got into politics it became even more profound because then I wasn‘t just talking Scriptures, I was pontificating on political issues so I had a wider audience who began to think that it is my usual way of speaking but it is not because I can speak Pidgin English, indigenous languages, wafi and some Yoruba and even Igbo because I grew up in the East.
You have declared for the Presidency again.
I have done that. I declared on June 29.
Politics is regarded as a dirty game, if it continues being played out that way, what makes you think you stand a chance?
When I get there, we will sanitise the game.
But you have to get there first; what makes you think you can get there?
First, it is a divine mandate; another understanding that I have always had since I was a kid is that I will be in the leadership of this country. I know that my day is just around the corner and that change is inevitable. Nigerians know that the present crop of politicians cannot help this nation, so it is just a matter of time. People like me give hope to people that all is not lost.
What changes do you feel you can effect?
The most important thing about governance is connecting with the people because democracy after all is about people and leadership is about people and that is what we have not experienced yet. Politics itself is just a science; it is defined as the science of governance. But leadership is an intrinsic quality in a man that conveys the humane capacity within that man in the administration of the affairs of the people. That is why God sent Jesus to us to show us that He is touched by the feelings of our infirmity. I do believe that in 2011 there would be change and God will juggle events in such a way that it will bring me to the position of responsibility so that Nigeria can begin a march to greatness.
At what point will you feel that maybe God is not really in this?
In spiritual matters we talk about faith and faith is now, faith does not say God is going to do, faith says God has already done it and so if God has done it, there is no question of failure. It is just waiting for time to bring forth the manifestation. Moses demanded the release of the Israelites and it took a while before Pharaoh let them go. If you ask people on the streets what do you think of Reverend Chris Okotie, they will tell you that he is qualified but they don‘t know if they will let him go there. When they say that I say who are the they? Power belongs to God, so we will wait for Him.
With President Jonathan coming from the Niger Delta and you coming from the Niger Delta, don‘t you think there is going to be a clash of interest if both of you from the same region are running for the same position? Why can‘t one person step down for the other?
So maybe you should ask him to step down for me. I began the presidential race before him. This is his first time of attempting to be president, this is my third time so if it is in terms of the law of first come then he should be the one with all due respect to step down for me because I am more familiar with the terrain in terms of the intellectual and humane capacity and what is necessary in the 21st century such as the generational shift philosophy, the paradigm shift, these are things he is not familiar with.
He has been in government for a while.
Yes, but at a regional level. He only came in to assist Yar‘Adua and he was not really involved in the government of this nation. He had almost a pariah status and so he does not have the experience if that is what you are talking about.
But that is the ruling party.
He belongs to the PDP, that is right. The PDP is not Nigeria, the PDP is a business conglomerate that has oppressed and suppressed the Nigerian people and I believe that we are seeing the last of PDP because PDP has nothing to offer this country and I am not saying this out of bias, ask any Nigerian on the street, how‘s your life been in the last 11 years of PDP government and they will tell you. They have done us more evil than good.
So when are you starting off your campaign?
We are still waiting for the INEC to bring out a time table because we have to follow the rules and once that is done we will then begin making arrangement to start a nation wide approach.
You are quite a character and a lot of beautiful girls had rooted for you and joined your church from when you repented even among your congregation but you picked Stephanie Henshaw; what are those qualities you saw that made you prefer her above others?
I didn‘t pick her because when you use the word it looks as if there was a competition and there was never a competition between her and anybody, it is important that people recognise that. She was the only woman that I was involved with at that time, I had always wanted to marry her and when she said yes I was overjoyed and I married her.
So you have always asked her to marry you?
Yes. She just wouldn‘t agree.
She had her reasons which she doesn‘t want me to talk about because she is very private but she didn‘t say yes until 2009 because I had always wanted to marry her.
And you have no issues with the fact that she had been married before and had children from the previous marriage?
Absolutely not, it has nothing to do with that. I am not marrying her children, I am marrying her.
The children relate very well with you?
How soon are you thinking of having your own kids with her?
You know there is this issue about remarriage, you would be in a good position to educate us because there is a real problem there where The Bible says unless a man‘s wife dies he cannot remarry….
It doesn‘t say so.
So what does The Bible say?
The Bible allows you to remarry. If it didn‘t I wouldn‘t do that, I am a servant of God, I wouldn‘t do that contrary to my master‘s instruction. It is not something we can discuss in this interview.
So could you tell us about the portion of the scripture that actually permits you to remarry?
There is no portion of scripture that forbids it. It is polemical issue because there are too many unlearned people, that‘s what I am telling you and those who are unlearned in scriptural matters have arrogated different scriptural responsibilities to themselves. They are the ones who have created double standards and certain ambivalence in the heart of believers as to this particular issue.
So there is that portion of The Bible where Christ said that in marrying someone whose husband has divorced you are committing adultery and if you send your wife away unless on grounds of infidelity, it is wrong and if she goes away and marries somebody else she has committed adultery…
The problem with Biblical interpretation is that people quote things out of context. In the word of God adultery is not necessarily always referring to sexual promiscuity, so many times when the Lord calls you an adulterer it is not because you are sleeping with somebody who is not your husband. He is just talking about covenant relationship because how can a man commit adultery with a woman he is married to? The concept of adultery means you are sleeping with someone who is not your wife, so how can you marry a woman and still commit adultery with her? Does it make any logical sense? Because I do not think what He is referring to is physical adultery. That is what I am saying, people do not take time to study the word of God line upon line, precept upon precept. They are very misinformed and rather than sit down and find out from more qualified people how to interpret scriptures they interpret the scriptures themselves and then the Bible says they resort to vain jangling. Let me say this to you very clearly, the word of God has never forbidden remarriage, God hates divorce and divorce is not the only thing He hates. If you read the book of Proverbs, it tells you there are six, seven things He hates and divorce is not even included. So there are many things He doesn‘t like. You know, people who think they can scare others by misinterpreting scriptures are not doing that which the Spirit has commanded them to do. Bottom line is, there is no scripture that forbids remarriage, you will not find it anywhere in the Bible.
It has become an issue in the church…
When I started I discovered that there are so many beliefs that people had that had no scriptural foundation. If you are going to start an issue, there must be enough information in both the Old and New Testament to support it and God has never at any point advocated that men could not remarry for any reason. He wants them to live together and be what they are supposed to be but sometimes people can‘t get along.
So The Bible supports them going their separate ways?
It depends on what the reason is but even if you divorce for the wrong reason, there is the blood of Jesus that cleanses that sin and when that sin is cleansed God does not call it back to remembrance because if He brings it back to remembrance then the blood can‘t cleanse it. If The Bible says that if you confess your sins God is faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness, then you can no longer be unrighteous if you have committed a sin of divorce, it means God has forgiven you and you can start afresh, but if you enter into restitution and go back to that it means that the blood of Jesus cannot cleanse you from that sin, that only restitution can be allowed in scripture and once you do that you have entered into heresy because there is no sin that the blood cannot cleanse. There is no scriptural authority for that. It is just people who have been unable to read the scripture and do not understand that the grace of God has been provided in this age for us so that we can serve God.
How have you been able to maintain such youthful looks?
I belong to the Methuselah clan. It is God who renews my youth like the eagle. I eat what everybody eats except for alcohol and cigarette.