Apart from dazzling natural scenery, the town of Otuokpoti doesn’t have much. But judging by the standards of other Ijaw villages, the town is quite advanced.
A peaceful, tranquil town it is, of mazy tarred roads running devilishly, of more unpainted brick houses and less mud houses, of dilapidated secondary school buildings and primary school buildings undergoing reconstruction for the first time in about half a century. South of the town, by a bald football field is the st. Pauls Anglican church
My mother was a staunch pentecostalist, and growing up in the suburbs of southern Nigeria we attended many of those churches, most notably, Benson Idahosa’s Church of God mission. Growing up in Port harcourt and Yenagoa I was groomed to believe in the pentecostalist ideals. On teenagers/childrens day I was often elected to be the teen/child preacher, I went on envagelism campaigns and soul winning missions, I quoted the Bible frequently and correctly. Much later, I would be exposed to greater truths and stunning rituals. I was made to believe that pastors could, and were performing mesmerizing miracles. I was made to believe that heaven, a home of infinite enjoyment was real and was meant for ‘only God’s children’, and that it was upwards, deep above the silver skies. And that hell, ghoulish and crimson red, was deep beneath the earths core, and that satan and his gang of mutineers waited there with a three-mouth fork to harass and pork unrepentant sinners. As a youth in those hot, enthusiastic and adrenalized sundays I also shouted loud into the heavens in genuine prayers, I fanatically believed every message from the pulpit, I spoke in tongues, swept churches, paid tithes/offerings/seed faiths/church building etc and etc. I didn’t have the capacity for independent thoughts, I didn’t have the will to challenge established knowledge and suppositions. My mother loved that energy which came from the ‘fire of the Holy-ghost’ burning inside of me, and even after her death soon afterwards, I was still burning with the pentecostal zeal.
Later in life something happened. The will to ask questions came. I grew rebellious and turned away from the pentecostal faith, not necessarily from God. Family members and friends, castigating and cursing, mistook my sudden indifference towards Nigeria’s brand of Christianity as my first frantic steps towards atheism.
No. I always said. There is still a God above the earth who supercedes all things. There is still heaven, an eternal home of gay lights and shimmering castles and startling beauty, and maybe there is also the ghastly hell.
I was no pagan, with effort, and sadly poor ones, I explained my stands and reasons for my deviation. It was never about the compulsory duties, the extravagant miracles and the many restrictions to social life, it was about the rot that had eaten deep into the Nigerian pentecostal.
St. Pauls Anglican church Otuokpoti, Yenagoa is different. Not the difference of a white chicken and a black one, but in life there are varying degrees to everything
Rev. Anthony Ogidi of the Otuokpoti deaconary had told me in one of our rare meetings that ‘The Anglican church is no heaven as well, like the many Pentecostals, it has its own lesions’. As head of St. Pauls diocese, one of south south’s oldest churches, built in 1930 by the British, he has come to understand and accept the fact that the Church of Nigeria can never be as far-reaching as the big, extravagant pentecostal churches. ‘You see, Nigeria is a country filled with positive people who want positive messages. They are a people who don’t want to believe that their destiny is in their hands, but in God’s hands…’. And as he said, such a people were bound to be eternally deceived by the young, high flying pastors with endless fleets of cars, and pot-bellied politicians traversing the world with private jets.
‘The Anglican church, like the Jehovah’s witnesses will not tell you how to be rich but will teach you how to live right. The Anglican church will not exorcise demons off you but will teach you how to purge your mortal enemy. That is why you don’t find the croweds here. But we are no purists, after all we are partly funded by every government in power’
On one of our encounters he had asked me, expectedly, to tell him why I took so much interest in the Otuokpoti church, and I gave him my prearranged reply. I told him that the pentecostal churches were growing very fast at the expense of the Anglican and Catholic communions. And if the Anglican church continued in its current pace of decline, starved off the big religious investors and the many fanatics, it may one day be relegated, away from the surface of Nigerian Christianity. And besides, I told him, my mission at the Otuokpoti church was merely an aesthetic function. As a historical romantic there was much to savour at the deaconary. With its marveling tranquility and storied objects of worship, it was a museum itself, one of the few standing edifices of British colonialism. Rev. Anthony Ogidi was fairly dissapointed at my reply, and afterwards we spoke no more