IF you find two of your kids in the river drowning and you take a plunge to save them only to discover that their mother, who cannot swim, also jumped into the river behind you, who will you save first? The kids or their mother?
That was the choice before world renown Nigerian-born televangelist, Reverend Uma Ukpai, president of Uma Ukpai Evangelistic Ministries.
In a recent interview, he reminisced on that episode, the mysteries surrounding his childhood and the turn of events in Anambra State, saying that there are no politicians in the South East.
What’s Life Generally Like?
There were several mysteries surrounding my childhood; some of which I cannot explain till today. I was fasting for seven days when a man saw me and stopped me and said you’re going to be a preacher, you are going to have eight children but two will die in a motor accident, you will go as far as building schools and you will cross all the continents of the world.’ In a child’s mind, the world was just where I lived, that is from my village to the neighbouring village. It meant little to me. It’s only now that I’m preaching all over the world that Ive come to place value on that prophecy. Last year, I had 18 crusades outside Nigeria. In 1986 I was among the few persons invited to pray for President Ronald Reagan of America and it reminded me of the story of Jesus Christ riding an ass and matching through people’s clothes. In terms of fulfillment, I fill greatly fulfilled. In terms of touching lives of others, I feel also fulfilled. We completed a 100_bed hospital about 10 years ago and we have kicked off the first class in the university I am building in Uyo and the other we are building in Abia State is ongoing. We’ve been able to give street lights to my village. We have been able to influence government to tar the road that goes to my village. To me, there’s nothing better than doing what God has called you to do.
Can You Recall Any Incident That Almost Wrecked Your Ministry?
I can’t remember any. Two months before I lost my two children in an accident, God has spoken to me. God had told me on that day, I won’t answer your prayers. I want to test you and know how you love Me.’ As early as 5.00 a.m. that morning, armed robbers came to my office. I used to have the best office east of the Niger in 1985. I had a printing press and my manager was a white American girl. When all my office equipments were removed, God told me to forgive the robbers and on no account should I collect back the stolen items; Leave those things to them as a gift.’ I told my wife the next day. On our way to a crusade in my village, my driver carrying my children and a cousin, drove into a river. I attempted to bring the children out, not knowing that my wife also jumped into the river behind me and water carried her, threw her up six times. It was at the seventh time that somebody called my attention to her. I used one hand to swim and the other to hold her and brought her to shore. I rescued the children later. They had died; because a child stays under water only for two minutes. I put them in a car to pray for them, but an oncoming car from the opposite direction drove into the car and smashed it. The bumper flew out, the bonnet flew out. I stopped and I was pacing up and down, not knowing what to do next. Just then, somebody ran to me, grabbed me and said my 50-sitter bus carrying my band had caught fire. He was not sure how many people died in the accident. I was composed because God had warned me. I didn’t make those children. God gave them to me. All that I had, now have and will ever have is given by God. And His will is supreme. When I proceeded to the crusade venue to preach, people were asking me what will you preach? We have been driving on that same road for years and that driver had been my driver. If God, over the years, protected us and decided to lower the hedge one day, why should I protest? So, I marched on! But I was shocked in 1982 while preparing for Greater Ibadan for Christ Crusade. God said to me, for handling that case well, you will be seen everywhere. He said; I’ll detail 100 angels to be with you wherever you go in the world. You can eat three times a day. I used to fast for one month and since that day till now, God has been performing miracles in my ministry.
How Hurt Were You When Those Series Of Disasters Happened?
I think hurt is as a result of losing somebody you love so much. When somebody dies, only those who love him will cry and the way you cry shows how much you love the person. God has made it that all you have is not your own. And once you believe that in your heart, you can handle any situation. Our problem is greed to hold on to those things we have. Even pastors go about talking about their churches; no pastor has a church. They all belong to God. The day you die, they will tell you it’s not your church. They will put you into your grave and find a successor and from your grave you cannot protest. What people call their own is not their own. That is the problem we have in Nigeria. We accumulate and accumulate not knowing that those things belong to God. The day we know that those things do not belong to us, things will begin to take shape. To own is to owe. We can cry here but it doesn’t stop God from doing what He would do.
How Did You Meet Your Wife?
We are from the same village. The father loved me, the brother was my friend but none of them contributed to our decision to get married. It never crossed my mind. I was in America preaching in Ohio, when I said to a woman who was paralysed, to stand up that God has healed her. The girl who brought her into that place said I must marry her or she would shoot me and herself. I had to go into one month fast. Then God showed me my wife, because we were from the same village. We met and agreed on getting married but I waited for two years for that because she wrote a book titled, Mother, I have found a man. She was 25 years and I didn’t want to marry a baby because 25 is the end of the age of confusion. She said God spoke to her too.
What Is The Secret Of Your Fulfilled Marriage?
Everybody knows his place. She knows I am her husband. She loves me, reverences me and helps me fulfill my calling. I celebrate her because every pretty girl wants to be celebrated. They don’t take nonsense. You must celebrate her. You lose to win in marriage. Even when your wife has wounded or hurt you, please don’t chastise her. Make sure you put money in her hand, even when she has her own money. When she asks for money, give her more than she asked for. When she dresses up for service, stop and celebrate her. Don’t just look at her as if she is a fool. Say to her you are precious. Accept her relations as your own. If she has siblings, invest in them. Love her children. It is always confusing. Men love women and women celebrate children. Uma Ukpai…leadership is the problem with Nigeria To a woman, it is the beginning of her unending laughter. If you want your wife to love you, love her children, take care of them, send them to good schools. My wife told me on the crusade platform, you are a big man of God, but in this house you are not a big man of God, you are just my husband and a father. Don’t walk here acting as if you are under anointing. The demons stop at the crusade ground, we are here for celebration. Every time you walk through that door, don’t act as if you are too powerful because the crowd has gone. You are now home.
How Did She Feel When You Went Ahead To Preach After The Death Of Your Children?
I don’t think she forgave me immediately and I don’t blame her. If you know how much children mean to women, you will understand her problem. She asked me, this Bible you carry, when you go to the crusade ground, tell the people Satan is more powerful than God. I’m ashamed you carry this Bible with me. So, I told her, this will be your punishment: every year, you will have a child. Do you know we had a child the next year. That one came. After that, she attempted doing family planning but I told her it’s a lie. Three months after, she got pregnant (laughs). When she got pregnant at a time nobody expected a woman to get pregnant, my relations came and called me names, saying I was a stupid man. How can you get a woman pregnant at that age? What if she died? I told my sister, you are talking out of ignorance. God who put that child there didn’t look at me as an idiot. He knew I’ll be a good father. That is why He brought one more child. But she had already agreed, weeping the way she did! So, we flew her out to the US. I called 10 of my friends all of them medical doctors and they came. They were watching a programme in one room when she gave birth in another room. No nurse, no doctor! I was holding a crusade in London when the doctors called me that we have just wasted their time, God did not need us. We shouldn’t have listened to you. She has given birth. We didn’t help in any way’. So whenever I look back, I always say her reaction during the accident was natural. Remember, God has revealed to me that the day would come and I said to God if You are going to test my faith, don’t involve my wife. Take anybody but not her because I have a travel -ministry and when I travel, she is the pillar of the house. If she dies, many other things will be taken away. She was almost at the point of the death when I got to her inside the river. God gave me such a supernatural power to carry a woman of her size with one hand and drop her before going for the children. It was not a natural power. God was at work. You see, romance is simply giving a woman quality time, making sure she has what she needs, making sure you have an element of surprise for her. In that regards, I’m an expert. I call her several times in one day, exchange love letters. I make sure I have an element of surprise. It could be groundnut wrapped in tissue paper. Something that will surprise her. Women don’t really want money, they want appreciation, they want recognition. If a man has no money, he must have a bag of humour. Every good man must be able to make his wife laugh, at least, five times a day. A woman who laughs five times a day has no pressure; she will look younger and upright. There are so much crises in the nation and there are many people who believe that Nigeria… Crisis is a mark of decay. It is also a mark of growth and good health. Even in marriages, when there is crisis, it means somebody is asking questions and somebody must provide the answers. Nigeria is going through the best time of her life. We are asking questions and once we can answer those questions, we shall learn from our mistakes and move forward.
Nigeria is a great nation, the militants are simply passing a vote of no confidence on our leaders. The leaders need to reconsider what to do and take a new bearing to provide answers to the questions being asked. It doesn’t mean we are going to the end of this country, Nigeria. It’s a lie.
Let me also add, life without crisis is what we call failed nation. Anybody who has no problem has been rejected by God because we grow by the problem we solve.
A great man solves great problems, a small man solves small problems. The crisis Nigeria is facing today will lead to a brighter, greater future. But I’ve heard you say before that Nigerians are not moving forward?
There is a time to sit, there is a time to move. Nigeria will one day stand up and move forward. Even as a young lover in love with a girl, he dreams beautiful dreams. But after the wedding, you will know that love is blind but marriage is an eye opener. We are dreaming of great Nigeria, but there are things we have to put in place. Anybody who dreamt of a good marriage and got married and found that the wife will not obey his command and got disappointed, the man is sick. He is an unreformed husband because marriage is a union of two opposites, a man who says stand up and a woman who says why should we stand up? It’s very wrong when people think that their dream will not have any challenge. That person is living in a dream world.
It’s foolhardy to expect a state that will have no problem; where thieves and assassins will never be part of Nigeria. America was disorganised when they started. Even as I’m talking, America has more criminals than we have. Anybody who says there is a nation where there are no criminals is not a good liar. Nobody loves evil, everybody condemns evil.
What Led To These Acts Of Evil?
If our security has not broken down and our policemen were trained …the way we treat our policemen is not fair. If the policemen are there to stand in the gap for us, we should take good care of them. We should give them a sense of value. If I were a policeman…if I see trouble coming, I’ll dodge because if I die, what will be given to my family? N10,000! That’s no money. The way we treat our policemen breaks my heart. This is the man who will protect you from armed robbers and he has no good weapon. He has no good remuneration.I know governors who say they don’t have enough money to take care of policemen. It is a lie humbly told. We are a gigantic paradox. We are so hopelessly rich yet we are stupidly poor because of mismanagement.
We are the sixth oil producing country in the world. We ought to be among the shakers and the movers of the world but we are not because we have too many people who only think about themselves. This country can give employment to all our graduates. This country can organise our transport system very well. It can build and maintain our highways. Even when we hadn’t the kind of money we have now, our roads were beautifully maintained; but somebody had stopped thinking. That is the problem we have. There are many problems confronting the nation today and a lot of people have said that the Church has failed. The reason for it is the problem of responsibility.
Nigerians are greatest inventors of excuses and yet they have no excuse for being full of excuses and a house of excuse is a house of failure. We have refused to be responsible to our calling, to what we have been assigned to do. We are not doing well because our leaders are not doing well. It is the head that waxes the tail. The tail does not wax head.
The moment you have organised leadership, selfless leadership, unbiased leadership, creative leadership, leaders who can think; the country will move forward. I was caught up in the Lagos demonic traffic yesterday for good five hours. That traffic has been there for maybe 40 years. It simply means our leaders do not think. If our leaders could think, they would have found a way out of this demonic traffic bottleneck in Lagos that affects the economy. You can no longer boast of being a man of integrity in terms of time. A man who is not sure of carrying out his plans, cannot plan and plan well. We need leaders who can think. When I say Nigerians don’t think, people get angry and mad at me. We only re_arrange our prejudices .That is why we are not moving forward.
We need a man who can see the future and prepare us for the future. A man we call a visionary leader, one who sees what others cannot see, a man who looks at what others look at, but would see what they not see. That’s what made David a hero. Israel saw Goliath, the king of Israel saw Goliath, the army of Israel saw Goliath, but they didn’t see his forehead. It was seen only by David. And he also saw stones. And it was what he saw which others didn’t see that brought down Goliath. Nigeria has Goliaths, we are looking for men who can see the unprotected forehead of this Goliath. Every Goliath has an unprotected forehead.
You can pretend to be a leader but only the fruit you bear will show whether you are a leader or not. Like I said, the tail cannot wax the head, only the head can wax the tail.
What Is The Goliath You Have Identified In Nigeria?
They are so many. The first one is irresponsibility. The second is this tendency to give excuses. Third is refusal to be accountable. Fourth is having the conscience and the feeling of a leper. I have said it before that most of our political leaders are just political lepers. They don’t feel any pain. If you don’t feel any pain, they can’t think of solving that pains. The fifth thing is not having a model we can copy a mentor who can say do it this way or that way. The sixth is refusal to be selfless, because a leader is like a candle who burns itself to give light to others. As far as he’s trying to protect himself, he can’t give light. We are looking for men who are selfless.
Another thing is failure to have the baptism into the sacredness of human being. Every human being is important. Your messenger must be honoured and respected because that messenger has the potential of producing the greatest artiste that Nigeria has ever known. The moment we begin to respect, appreciate and love each other and see the good in each other, we are already building a virile nation. Then there is poverty mentality! Poverty mentality simply says if only you can give me what I want, I can do anything for you. A man who is not sure of himself has no sense of value and respect. A man who no matter what he has wants more is not sure of himself. A man who says, I can sell my mother to you if the price is good is a man with what we call poverty mentality.
A poor man is not a man without money, it’s a man who has no value. Let me put it in a Christian perspective, a poor man is a man who has no God.
We have too many people with poverty mentality trying to rule us. All a man with poverty mentality wants to do is to line his pockets, he doesn’t care about others. He just says if I eat, others can as well go home. Accountability! You asked me to do this; this is what I have done. If we are accountable, what is happening in our banking industry should not be happening. If I can expand that, it is ability to give and take excuses. We have a way of blaming everything away, using tribalism as excuse. In Nigeria, we see everything from tribal point of view. A man kills, we say because he is a Muslim! A man steals; we say because he is a Christian. They want to eliminate us. We are not willing to face facts. Do you know that Nigeria is the only country where people have knowledge but they don’t apply it. They look but they don’t see. When they see, they don’t understand and when they understand, they don’t appreciate .When they appreciate, they don’t celebrate and when they celebrate , they don’t smile.
There Is This Problem Of Our Constitution?
One of the past presidents, I won’t tell you who, had a programme for the poor. I was called to pray against violence in that meeting. The government that God will honour is the government that honours the poor. Can you imagine America going to North Korea because of some two young powerless journalists who had no money. The whole nation came to a halt. If that happens here, nobody will hear about it. So, I said to the president, I’ll not pray that kind of prayer. He was good enough to asked me to tell him what I think they should do. Our problem in Nigeria is not that we don’t tell our leaders what to do, but they have so many sycophants around them who hijack whatever you say and tell them not to worry, they can handle the situation. As long as we have these sycophants who sing the praises of our leaders, not to help the leaders but to enrich their pockets, we shall continue to have this same problem.
Everyone of us is only as strong as members of your inner circle. You cannot rise above them. Nothing is wrong with the 1999 constitution. What is wrong is the operators of the constitution. Some of the operators have not even read the constitution. So, how do you expect to operate it? They don’t know it by heart. We, the followers are a dumb audience. We only grumble in the toilet. We can’t grumble aloud because no Nigerian wants to die unless assassins force him to die.
In 1978, we were supposed to march against the soldier boys. One of the bishops asked us, did anybody write his will before coming to this meeting, because one of the bullets can kill you? Do you know none of us proceeded beyond that. I was in Bangladesh when civilians came to the streets and say to the government to come down and I asked one of them, what if they shoot you? These are soldiers. He said, Uma, I’m not afraid of death. But here, we are so used to luxurious life that nobody wants to die. The Bible says unless you’re ready to die, you will not live. That is our problem. Do you support men of God participating actively in politics? Don’t go into politics unless God has called you.
Don’t just wake up and say , I will be a politician, because it’s a game that some of us don’t know where the goal posts are and they keep shifting the goal post. There are people who moved into politics without being called. When God calls you, He enables you, He equips you. When you wake up and jump into the football field of politics, you cannot cope. Some of them are there because of the glamour and glitz of politics.
What’s Your Opinion On Rebranding Nigeria?
Nigerians have a great sense of humour. If you want to rebrand Nigeria, where do you start? We are so neck_deep in doing the wrong thing, in corruption. It is almost difficult being a Nigerian. At this point where we are, where do we start this rebranding? If we are going to rebrand Nigeria, I want to hear of one man who stole government money, return that money to us! Then I’ll know we have started. I want to hear of somebody who gave false testimony that led somebody to jail, rise up and say I told lies, that person is innocent.
To me, that is the beginning of re_branding. I want to hear a woman say my husband is not the father of the child I am carrying. You cannot conquer what you cannot confront. Let the leaders begin and we will follow. I want to hear of one leader who will say, I gave out part of my ministry’s money to a bank expecting to be paid, I am sorry. I want to hear the police command say, we must hold somebody because he is guilty but because he insulted us. That is the beginning of rebranding. Number one, poverty is at work. There is no powerful force greater than poverty. If a nation wants to keep her people under good control, you must not rob them of knowledge and rob them of self worth. In Nigeria one per cent lives well while 99 per cent merely exist.
There is a number of churches, we don’t have enough. In the Old Testament, ten people were allowed to have their own synagogue. We need to have a church in every house. Once a church is in every house and the father of the house is the pastor, that family will change. When a man has nothing to offer his family, he will pick a gun. The worst thing is to watch your children cry for food. Success is not a question of how many millions I have but how many millionaires I have helped. A leader is someone who can give hope to others.
The gubernatorial elections in Anambra State scheduled for next year is around the corner…
(Laugh! Laugh!! Laugh!!!) We don’t have one politician from the East. What we have are rabble rousers. They don’t know the mechanics and dynamics of politics. Everybody in the East has a crown already on his head but you cannot be a king without a king maker. Who are the king makers in the East? They don’t exist. Every man to himself. We don’t have politicians there because a politician should know there has to be a king maker for him to produce a king. There is no community where you have no king maker and you have a king. You can’t find it in any place in the world.
So, if there’s plan to have another election in Anambra, God help us. Until the average Easterner respects and honours his elders, there cannot be a king without a king maker. We don’t have leaders in the East. Ibo people have no leaders. That is why Ojukwu is known as Eze Gburugburu. Anybody that can lead the Igbos must have something which others do not have and must have a measure of nuisance value and must be able to show the rest that he’s higher than they are.