Why leadership change has become do-or-die in church —Alao
Even at over 80, Prophet Solomon Alao, the Supreme Head, Cherubim & Seraphim Unification of Nigeria, remains active and vibrant in the vineyard. In this interview by SEYI SOKOYA, he speaks on the church over the years, as well as on national issues.
The general election in the country has come and gone. As a church leader, what do you think should be the priority of President Muhammadu Buhari?
Firstly, I commend the election process. I am absolutely satisfied with the outcome, especially with God’s intervention. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was determined to do a good job, but the politicians wanted to play dirty. I thank God they didn’t have their way. That is why I am very satisfied. President Muhammadu Buhari now has another opportunity to fix the country. If the power sector is fixed, the economy will be stable. I know the problems of the country are many; it is impossible to fix everything at once. The fight against corruption and the poor state of the power sector should be top priority. He also needs to concentrate on the constitutional restructuring of Nigeria, because this will give us peace and progress as a country.
At more than 80 years old, you are still very active in the vineyard. What is the secret?
Moses started the work of God at 80. In fact, I should be more interested in the future now than the present generation. A priest, who is not fulfilled, is not worth to be called a priest. I have done the little I could do and I still plan to do more. When people talk about my age, I always refer them to the Bible. I am fulfilled and I thank God for all the opportunities that have come my way. I also thank God for the opportunity the Christendom, especially the white garment church, has given me. I want us to know that age is in the mind and if one wants to enjoy a long life, you have to do three things: you must not carry bitterness in your heart; one must cultivate the habit of not always seeing the negative of fellow human being and be Godly; have Christ. I don’t see my age as a barrier in doing the will of God; my mother died at 105.
A lot of stories often surround the way most people receive calling. How did you receive yours? Was it part of your dream as a young person?
Being a priest was not part of my dream. As a kid, I wanted to wear suits and travel around the world as a businessman, which I actually achieved. In my younger days, I was against priesthood, especially white garment churches, but God called me before it was too late. I started going to church to know the secrets of their doctrines to empower my knowledge about them. It was during those moments that God called me. My father, David Alao, who died in 1965, was not a cleric, but he was a good Christian; he was born into the Baptist family. From him, I learnt integrity, honesty, humility, being industrious, thoroughness, courage and commitment. He was contented with what he had and never looked to anyone for survival.
From your response, you must have been making a living in a different sphere of life before the inspiration to become priest came. What precisely were you doing before you received the call?
I worked in the insurance sector. I retired as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Life and Pensions Consultants (Now Nigerian Life & Provident Company), Lagos when it became hard to combine two functions. I started working there in 1979 and I resigned in 1998 to concentrate on the work of God. I also became an associate, Chartered Insurance Institute of London in 1966, and a fellow of the Institute of Directors, London, in 1981. I was on a business trip to Mexico. For about three days, I could not sleep, as God was ministering to me. He told me the time had come. It was not easy to leave my job, because I was worried about myself and family. At the time, two of my children were at the university. I thought they would pick another person to be their leader in the church. From Britain, I came back home because I was sick. Every hospital I went, they could not diagnose what was wrong with me until I came back to Nigeria to take up the leadership position, Head of Lagos Diocese of the Sacred Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Nigeria. I don’t think I am now different from the Alao, who was travelling all over the world. I am still the same person in my thinking and philosophy.
It is no news that the C&S church has some leadership challenges. Why do you think the power tussle in C&S has continued to linger, despite peace efforts? What should be the way out?
If God calls you, you have nothing to fear. Challenges are bound to occur, but God has been able to sustain the church in divine unity. Going to the history of the church, C&S was born in 1916 as a fellowship and it was given a name. It came to Lagos in 1925. We were all working at different ways before the name; Cherubim & Seraphim Unification of Nigeria came to existence. We have the first five: Cherubim & Seraphim Society, formed by the late Captain Abiodun Emmanuel; Eternal Sacred Altar; Ita Balogun; The Sacred Cherubim & Seraphim Church of Nigeria, which is my direct constituent church, before I became the head, and lastly, Cherubim & Seraphim Movement Church, popularly called Ayo Ni O. We started our solo effort after the demise of the founder, Moses Orimolade, when it dawned on our fathers that unity is strength. We first formed a united council, which eventually developed to what we have as Cherubim & Seraphim Unification of Nigeria in 1986, headed by the late Captain Abiodun Emmanuel as the founding member. So, we have been developing as a church to this stage. We have more than 1,000 churches under the unification at the national, state and local levels. Reverend Mother Esther Ajayi is part of the unification. She has her church in London and will start the chapter in Nigeria soon. Our passion now is to see ourselves as one.
We have three types of priests and where you find yourself depends on what you do. We have priests called by God; the ones called by the flesh and the ones called by the stomach. If a priest is called by the flesh or stomach, once there is a vacant office, it becomes a do-or-die affair as politicians do. Most people don’t know that leadership is a burden and a passage to hell or condemnation. Moses would have stepped into Canaan if he was not a leader. He became provoked and the rest was history. If I were in Moses’ shoes, I would have done worse. Leadership cannot be transferred. When one is called to serve, one has no option but to yield to it.
What is the relationship between C&S and the Celestial Church of Christ?
I see the Head of Celestial Church of Christ, worldwide, Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa as my younger brother. I recently visited a branch of the church at Ketu, Lagos, for a thanksgiving service held for the Lagos State governor-elect, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Celestial Church was part of C&S before it became a church on its own in 1947. We call them a sister church; I call myself ‘Cele Cherum.’ We have one standard white garment church, Cherubim and Seraphim Unification of Nigeria, but we work closely with the Celestial Church of Christ. If C&S can come together, I have no doubt that we and other sister white garment churches can come together. We may have to create a name for the merger.
How as it been as the leader of the church, given your old age?
I think God has prepared me for this difficult assignment many years ago. In my private life, I presided over the operations of my company in Australia and Canada from Nigeria. That experience became important to me. God has given me a divine grace and wisdom to lead the church aright.
What is the secret about the white garments?
Everyone now wears white clothes, because it’s unique. But it was not so before. We are a role model for other churches. In the next 10 years, many churches that criticise us will change to C&S. Of course, they may not change their names but they will practise our doctrines. If everyone knows what the church stands for, they will become members. I am not saying this because I am a member. I have been a Muslim and traditionalist, but the moment I knew what the church stood for, I embraced it. I pity people who don’t value the white garment churches. The white is leveller. Any C&S member that wears white always should not be broke. It is a Bible-believing church par excellence.
With the benefit of hindsight, how would you describe the happenings in Christiandom in contemporary times and why?
I don’t intend to step on toes, but generations of today are motivated by the wrong things. In the Nigeria of the past, truth and peace reigned. We were strangers to greed; we didn’t want to get-rich quick like today’s youths, but things of the world dominate today’s youths. I had the opportunity to make illegal money while I was younger, but I didn’t fall for that. We need prayers to redeem Nigeria’s youths and our society at large.
How was your growing up?
I was born on June 9, 1938, in Ejigbo, Osun State. After my primary education, I attended Ibadan City Academy. I later read insurance at the College of Insurance, London, and I completed it in 1962. My wife, Folashade and I are blessed with five children – two boys and three girls. I was her part-time Mathematics teacher at the Ibadan City Academy in those days. When I started dating her, my intention was to rubbish the Cherubim & Seraphim Church because she was born and raised in the church’s doctrines. I was a persecutor; so, I felt I would be able to know more about them through her. But God had His plan and we developed an intimate relationship.
It seems the church is not doing enough to cater for members’ welfare. Why is such a trend?
The church of the world is different from the church of God. Our main duty as a church is the salvation of souls. I think people make the mistake of comparing C&S with other churches. We have some welfare schemes, but we don’t make a noise about it because we were founded to save souls, not the flesh. C&S should not be seen as a ‘bread and butter’ church. We are not unaware of the fact that people are facing various challenges as a result of the situation of the country. In our own little ways, we empower the people. We help members in need too. 10 entrepreneurs were recently given a million naira each to start their businesses at a youth seminar organised by the church. As a leader, if you donate N40m to the church, I will investigate before I accept the money. We believe we are a church founded to influence values and behaviours.