How I Became The First Igboman To Hold The Office Of Methodist Prelate, By Uche
What was your growing up like? What ambition did you nurse as a boy?
While growing up as a young boy in the home of a Methodist evangelist, Paulson Kanu Uche and his wife, Ebere Kanu Uche, I didn’t know what I would become.
But as early as that, I admired the European missionaries that always visited us. Back then, European men were the main ministers in Nigeria. I remember Rev. Johnson, Rev. Joddy Kings and Rev. Magal. These ministers always visited us, whenever there was Holy Communion, confirmation or such important church activities until Nigerians took charge. Then we had people such as Ogan at Okigwe before he became the district chairman, Rev. J.O. David at Ndoki and others.
What particularly awed me was their gentle appearance and dressing. We lived in the church premises, where I had the opportunity of meeting a lot of ministers and would mimic them. I would wear a choir robe and use a white paper to form a collar around my neck. I was about eight years old then, and continued until I became 12 having completed my primary education in 1966 at Isuochi, where my father was then domiciled.
Then, there was the dilemma of what I would do after my primary education. My father, with the little money he was paid, thought it was necessary for me to learn a trade. He asked me to choose between being an electrician and a cabinetmaker. My mother, on the other hand, discouraged me from learning any trade. It was while we were on this that my mother confided in me one afternoon about the vow she made to God before she conceived me. She said she had two still births — one in 1949 and the other in 1951. And as was common with rural locals, they started ridiculing her over her ‘childlessness’. So, as someone who believed in God and having embraced Christianity at a very early age, she often went to Okigwe Township Church, where in desperation, she would roll on the altar like the Biblical Hannah. She said she pledged to God that should He grant her a son, she would ensure the boy served Him forever. So, that story stuck in my young mind from that day.
Do you remember the date of this incident?
My mother told me this at Nkwo-Agu, Isuochi in January 1966. That was when we returned from the Christmas holiday at Ihube Okigwe. And so, she advised my father not to send me to learn any trade; but rather allow me write Common Entrance examinations in 1966, which I did and I chose the Federal Government College, Afikpo. I also wrote another Entrance Examination for Methodist Boys’ Secondary School, Ihube. Eventually, I got the two admissions to start in January 1967. But the civil war broke out and I couldn’t proceed. My parents were considering Government College, Afikpo because it had scholarship attached to it then. If you had a distinction in your First School Leaving Certificate, the government would give you either full or partial scholarship, but the outbreak of the war stopped me. So, it was after the war that I went to a secondary school close to my home at Ihube. By then, Government had taken over schools in the East Central states and the school was changed from the “Boys’ Secondary School, Ihube’’ to ‘’Boys’ High School, Ihube’’. So that was where I had my secondary school education and came out in flying colours in 1974. After high school, I became a ministerial cadet, who is a young school certificate holder that opted to serve the church. I started with a superintendent of the Ihube circuit, the headquarters of Okigwe, but was later posted to Enugu after one year to work under Rev. James Ukaekwe from Item.
On September 6, 1976, I gained admission into the Trinity Theological College, Umuahia, where I studied for a diploma in theology and religious studies. I graduated and was commissioned on July 29, 1979. My first posting was to Aba, to start up the English section of the church because they had only the Igbo section. I was sent to be the minister for the English section. In December 1980, I got married and transferred to Umu-Okpara Umuahia, where I spent four years.
On March 30, 1990, I was moved to Kano, because there was need for an Igbo minister to manage a church that was made up of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. Because previous ministers posted there were tribalistic, the church needed someone that was detribalised, and I was there for nine years. I managed the Yoruba, Idoma, Igede, Igbo, Ghanaians, Togolese and Gambians. At a point, we even had an English couple in the congregation. Indeed, I would say that that place brought me into limelight. It was from there I went to Jos to study for my degree certificate, and because of my Trinity College diploma certificates, coupled with my degree programme, I had an advantage over most of my mates. So, I quickly did the Bachelor and Master’s degrees in quick succession.
While in Enugu as the Archbishop, I was one of those selected for the conferment of Doctor of Theology. I completed the Methodist College and started building the Archbishop’s residence, while my wife completed the Women’s Development Centre. We were going at astronomic speed, when the election came and we moved to Lagos on my becoming the Prelate of Methodist Church, Nigeria, making me the first Igbo man ever in that office in Nigeria.
The Church has existed in Nigeria for more than 170 years. What circumstances brought you to the position?
As we live daily, we may think that people do not notice the way we carry on or the way God uses us as individuals. But people do watch and take notice. For sure, I was shocked and thrilled to emerge as the Prelate, among the 10 candidates nominated for the post.
What qualifies one to be nominated for the position and how does the process evolve?
You must possess a sound mind, must either be a Bishop or an Archbishop in the Methodist Church of Nigeria and you must have a sound degree from a government-recognised university for you to be nominated for the position of Prelate. If you do not have a degree, you will not be considered— because this is an office that is clearly international in structure. You are not just a Nigerian Prelate, but also indeed, a global citizen. For me, however, I must confess that it was not by merit but rather, by God’s grace because while all the 10 candidates were qualified, some were even more qualified than I. The then outgoing Prelate in his own characteristics of doing things, instructed that the next Prelate of Nigeria should be a product of prayer and because of that, he never had an ordained candidate for the position. So, there was this open secret ballot in the process.
Is there a collegiate that oversees an election like this?
We have what we call an Electoral College and we were about 150 members. There is a transparent bucket into which you can drop a ballot bearing the name of your preferred candidate. In our case, the first ballot eliminated six candidates because they didn’t get more than one vote each, while some got none at all. Then the second ballot was to determine the highest scorer. For you to become the Prelate, you must score two-third majority of the total votes cast. It was such a thorough process that lasted for about five hours. So, during the final voting, I emerged by God’s grace, the Prelate of Methodist Church, Nigeria.
For me, it was like a dream that lasted for several weeks. But what I like about the Methodist Church is that you are not consecrated twice. You are consecrated a bishop once, and a Prelate is a bishop but now, the number one bishop. While the Archbishop is a Bishop in charge of a number of dioceses, the Prelate is a bishop in charge of a whole country. In the case of Nigeria, there are more than 500 churches. Another thing I like in the system is the sincerity, love, brotherhood, empathy and cooperation I have received from my brother Bishops and Archbishops. This is quite uplifting and commendable because there is no conflict arising from the election; and this is because we are an organised Church. In some cases, there would have been acrimony, animosity, hatred, malice and infighting; but we are all working in love.
What’s the duration of the office of a Prelate?
As a prelate, you are expected to serve for 10 years. You will first serve for five years and if your service is adjudged satisfactory, you will be allowed to serve for another term of five years. For instance, Prelate Mbang served for 22 years before the Constitution was amended. This is because he was the first prelate. Makinde served for seven years instead of 10 because he was 70 years. The rule is that you must retire at 70. So, it is the Church that determines your continuation. This is why any occupant of this office needs serious prayers to be in good health, to be a man after God’s heart and to render quality service to God and humanity. In spite of all these, however, one’s tenure is ultimately in God’s hands.
Before emerging the Prelate, did you have a manifesto you hoped to implement?
Honestly, I won’t be able to point to any and this is because I didn’t see myself as a nominee, talk less of emerging the winner. Remember what I told you about my predecessor, Makinde. God completely inhabited him, when he said, “I don’t have a candidate for the position. Every qualified person should be given a levelled ground; so that the eventual winner would be God’s choice, instead of mine.” I was actually surprised to see my name among the 10 candidates, which means I didn’t have an agenda before my election. However, before my investiture as Prelate, my wife and I went into a 21-day of serious fasting and prayer because we saw the task as onerous. On the 11th night, I heard a voice around 3am, accompanied by an innate feeling that something was going to happen. I sat up in bed, called my wife and asked her, “did you hear somebody call my name?’’ I told her that a voice had been calling my name, ‘’Samuel Chukwuemeka.” She said she did not hear anything and suggested it could have been a dream. But what surprised me was that by 4:30am, when I returned to bed after urinating, I heard the voice call my name again as soon as I closed my eyes. So, I sat up again to hear the voice say to me, “pick a pen, write down these things you are going to do for me” and I picked a pen and started writing the following: “Grow the Church spiritually; grow the Church financially and grow the Church in infrastructure.”
The voice went on to say: “I have chosen you as a covenant Prelate. If you violate my spiritual standard, I will disgrace you out of office or you may die untimely. Do not bear malice or grudge against anybody. And even if they threaten you, don’t retaliate; leave the battle for Me. You saw the way I elected you, it was not man-made. I did it Myself. You are my project.” After that experience, I woke my wife and we prayed. Since that day, I have been very careful with the way I conduct myself because it is, indeed, a very serious matter.
Again before the election, while we were in our hotel room at Ikeja, my wife shared with me a dream she had the previous night, in which she saw a baby coming down from the sky at a high speed and dropped in her arms. Later that day, even without discussing it further, it came to my spirit that maybe God was giving the Methodist Church to us to nurse as a baby; but I didn’t tell her of this brainwave of mine. You know that when you are nursing a baby, you are patient, caring, loving and tolerant with deep affection. It was after the election that it all became clear to me that the Lord had given us the Church to nurse as a baby; and for the baby to grow, the care must be holistic. So, we have no other business in the Church other than evangelism. And I have told her, for me, I would do my best. For her, the focus should be on the girl child, as well as the youths. The Methodist Church is not a man’s church; it’s a church of God so you must do your best to obey Him at all times. You nurse a church through God’s word, which must never be compromised. Whatever biblical standard is set for you on a particular assignment must be upheld. And then, of course, there is a Constitution guiding our Church. You must follow the rules rigidly, as provided in the Constitution. We must enthrone the rule of law and encourage our members to be obedient to the laws of the land and that of God. When we do this, the Church would grow, as we do His work.
How did you meet your wife?
My wife was a pupil in my Sunday-school class. But back then I didn’t have the slightest inkling that I was going to marry her. I simply saw her as a very devoted, brilliant and humble girl. She was then in primary school. As time passed by and we continued to function in the same church, I began admiring her virtues beyond just being my pupil. So, I eventually approached her for marriage in 1978, when she was in class two in secondary school. And after graduating from the Trinity College, Umuahia and starting my ministry in 1979, we wedded in 1980.
The norm in the Church is that as a minister-in-training, you are required to submit the name of your would-be wife to the authorities (after sufficiently praying). So, although I felt convinced about her as a person, I still had to ask for God’s approval through ardent prayer because really, it is not just enough for one to pick a marriage partner by one’s emotional conviction without recourse to God’s supreme will. So, having been convinced she was God’s will for me, I proposed to her in 1978 and thereafter submitted her name after obtaining her consent. Her name was in the school file, as my fiancée, while I was in training.
What qualities attracted you to her?
Oh, she was pious! She loved the things of God. She was very prayerful and bold; and the beauty of it all is that she is still all those even much more now than then. She is zealous for the things of God, audacious and can express herself in any circumstance and place without being rude. She was not wayward. In fact, I married my wife as a virgin. So, she was everything I wanted in a wife.
Is it compulsory for a Methodist minister to marry a Methodist woman?
No. There is no such rule in the system. It was my personal decision to marry from my church and my village, where I felt I would have the chance of closely seeing and knowing the personality of my wife to be. Besides this, I love so much a particular delicacy that my people prepare, it is a cassava-based dessert called Ncha, in my dialect. Because I love to eat it, I also needed to marry a woman who could prepare it well. Interestingly, back then I didn’t fancy the idea of travelling a long distance to see my parents-in-law. This may be due to the fact that I didn’t have a personal car then. God granted my desire so that the distance between my home and that of my wife’s parents’ is not more than one and a half kilometres – quite easy to walk to and fro.
You have a large family. Was this by accident or design?
I wanted to be exactly like my father, who had seven children— two girls and five boys. Sometimes we pray and think that God is not listening. But the truth is that He does answer our prayers and most of the time, exactly the way we ask Him. I also have two girls and five boys.
Have you ever been tasked resource-wise, on account of the size of your family?
I am fortunate that God has always provided for me at any point in time. In fact, there is a way God works with me. For example, if I need N500, 000, God would provide it and then switch off. Each time, He would provide the exact amount I need and thereafter switch off. There was a time I needed N2million, and the Lord provided exactly that. When I was building my home, I didn’t know that the budget would reach N27 million, but we just started by faith and that was when I was in Owerri. The Lord was just providing for me through my members, commissioners and some well-to-do people in the society like Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani. Two governors of Imo State – Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim also made monetary contributions, as the Lord touched them.
Are they Methodists?
Not exactly, because I know that Chief Achike Udenwa is a Catholic, while Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Ikedi Ohakim are Anglicans. Only Chimaraoke Nnamani is a Methodist. Like the biblical Raven to Elijah, I observed that God used them in my time of need. So, whenever they gave me monetary gifts, I did not simply squander them. I deployed them for a purpose. My policy is that whatever salary I get, I use it for feeding. And whatever else I receive as a gift, I use for a specific purpose, after I have paid my tithe.
Are you happy with the society, where your children are being raised?
One thing I must tell you is that I personally love Nigeria with passion. For example, if you come to my house, my children like in other families, love foreign football teams such as Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal. But I am an ardent fan of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, and it remains my best team. I do not fancy the foreign teams. But you see, no place is perfect. When God created man in Genesis Chapter six, He regretted His action afterwards because man is full of evil. So, I love anything Nigerian. While there are bad people in our country exhibiting evil tendencies, there are also good people exerting godly influences. As God-dependent parents, my wife and I must bring up our children in the manner that meets God’s approval; so that regardless of the circumstance and in whatever place, their actions would consistently depict they are God’s representatives. Your question is on the state of our society, and I dare say that the family is the first and most crucial society of any country. So, it is very wrong for a parent to overlook the proper engineering of the most important society and expect the general society to become Heaven on Earth! Whatever you sow in your children is what you eventually reap.
Remember that every parent is a farmer and the child(ren), the farmland. For instance, if you happen to be a guest in my home and my children get to wash your clothes and find money in any of the pockets, they would bring it to you. If somebody comes to our home and forgets valuable property, they would keep it for the person until s/he returns for it. So, you see, I am happy for the children that God gave me and the way they have turned out. It is not by my power or might that they have positive influence. My wife and I depend on God for guidance on how to deal with them at every material circumstance, because we believe that if the general society is to be good, it is up to us to install it through our own immediate family. We believe that if every family should produce children of good character and possessing positive influence, Nigeria would be the better for it. Many families lack discipline, honesty, integrity and decorum; people are now very careless and lazy. I believe that if Nigeria must become a model society, it must start from the individual homes. Your family should be the very society you want to see!
If Nigeria was reduced to one family and it needs your advice, what would that be?
Nigerians should love God and love one another despite the ethnic variance. We must be patriotic, no matter the cost. We must look at ourselves as God’s creatures. You wouldn’t know how happy I get, when I travel overseas and find someone who looks like a Nigerian. When I ask whether he is a Nigerian and the person says yes, I am okay and wouldn’t ask whether he is Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. That is the way each of us should feel and act about our country. We should love Nigeria above personal interests.
What is your view on corporal punishment, at home or school?
Well, if you mean flogging, I am not against it; but you use the cane that matches the child’s age. I do not punish a child with the aim of destroying him/her. In fact, I either whip on your hand or on your buttocks. I see discipline as key to training children.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I think it is the day I went to a hospital and the owner being a Methodist, was so excited that I came and decided to make things easy for me by introducing me to his nurses and instructing that I be treated well. The process was very fast until I came to where I was to do the ECG. The duty technician had gone for the day, but a cardiologist left his seat to do the job since no one else was there to do it. Then a particular girl suddenly flared up saying she had been waiting since morning but nobody had come to attend to them. She demanded to know why my case was different. I kept quiet but before I knew what was happening, the girl started raining abuses on me. I calmly told her that she was like my daughter and for that, I could not drag issues with her. But she kept raining abuses on me. Actually, I pitied her because of the way people around started talking to her. I quietly left the place. To me, that was a serious embarrassment.
Is there any trait about your person you would love to change, if you had the power?
I am too compassionate, too liberal; and some people abuse it. I very much hate to see people sad or weep, especially if I am in a position to effect a change. If I see you and notice that you are in need I would make sure that I take it as my personal problem. But people easily abuse it. If you show compassion to 100 persons, 70 or 80 per cent of that number would abuse the opportunity. Sometimes one may wonder whether I went to school so as to stoop low, when relating with people. Humility is important but I advise that it should have a limit.
For instance, the immediate past president of this county is a humble man, but you saw how people roundly insulted him on account of it. I do not think Nigeria was charitable to Goodluck Jonathan. You do not just insult somebody because of his gentility. We must accord due respect to everyone in authority because you may be there tomorrow. I believe that anybody that God has raised in authority deserves the respect of people under him. His office and person must never be belittled, regardless of his human traits. The Bible commands us to honour those in authority.
Have you ever faced serious temptation(s), and how did you overcome?
Temptations abound in this world, and one’s attitude to each of them determines one’s personality and ultimately, people’s perception of the individual. There was somebody I was counselling, who was not a member of my church. When I was in Kano, I was the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and in that capacity, people came to me from all over the city. So, this particular woman came to me for counselling over delayed conception. According to her, she had been married for eight years, but didn’t have a child. So, after encouraging her, I offered to pray for her. As I started praying, she stopped me and said though prayer was good, but am I not a man? I replied that I’m a man alright, but I have a wife and wouldn’t want to defile myself with another woman. So, I prayed for her, but thereafter she formed the habit of coming to my office and each time she did, she would tell me that she needed ‘that thing’. And I would reply that she couldn’t get it because somebody already has it. I told my wife about the incident and as the Lord would have it, she eventually had her baby miraculously, without the husband knowing about my ordeal. My wife and I were invited to the child’s dedication, which we attended. That was one temptation the Lord helped me to overcome.
The second was when I was in custody of people’s monies. I was then the Treasurer of CAN and there were times that millions of Naira would be raised and given to me for safekeeping. Some individuals would suggest that I took out of the funds to help myself, but I would always disagree. See, any money put in your custody by an external source is never yours and so must never be touched, no matter the pressure on you. So, it is on record that when I was transiting from Treasurer to Chairman under the leadership of Rev. Victor Musa of ECWA, we were able to buy a house and furnish it. That was the only house owned by CAN apart from the one in Abuja. Just imagine that I had succumbed to the urge of periodically taking from the money to help myself, we would never have bought a house as big as that. The house is there at Sarkin-Yakin in Kano State. Each time I remember it, I always thank God for granting me the strength of character.
Any regret over something in your past that pricks your conscience?
It borders on a particular procrastination. In 1993, I had travelled home and my immediate younger sister was then pregnant and I was to give her money. I had only N20, 000 on me and wondered how I was going to manage such a meagre sum back to my base in Kano. The journey was far and entailed much expense. So, I said to her, ‘’Nne, I would have loved to give you some money but let me go for now. I would surely give you another time’’. And she replied, “No problem’’. But not long after my departure, there was a problem. She had a crisis of labour and had no money to go hospital. In desperation, she resorted to quack for solution. In the course of pushing out the baby, she suffered serious bleeding and died. Whenever I remember the incident, I shed tears over that procrastination of mine. That experience has taught me to never procrastinate; and that whatever I have to do at a particular time should be done without delay. I still suffer the pang of that guilt in my private moments. We loved each other deeply, and I feel that if I had given her a little out of that money, it would have done something for her and she might still be alive. My sister’s death haunts me till date and has refused to fade with the passage of time.
What do you adjudge the worst and best days of your life?
The worst day of my life was the day my father died. He died on February 18, 1990. I was a young minister and my salary was quite meagre. My father was diabetic. Ordinarily, that shouldn’t have killed him, but he died because there was no money to adequately care for him. So, we were only buying him one little thing called “diabelis” and before taking it, he should eat enough food, but the truth is that he was not feeding well. So, I know that my father wouldn’t have died when he did, if I was better placed. My mother died on December 11, 2012 but I did not regret it so much because I was by then in a position to take good care of her. Whenever she fell ill, I took her to the best hospitals; so I satisfied my conscience that I did my best. In the case of my father, there was no attempt due to acute shortage of money; and this is why I feel guilty. But I know that the man went to Heaven.
My happiest days were when I wedded my wife and the day my first child was born. I was overwhelmed with the miracle of becoming a father. Those were very joyous days for me. But I do not know whether one can have two best days in life (laughs).
If you were not a minister, what vocation would you have opted for?
Back in secondary school, I was good at the sciences. So, I would easily have become a medical doctor or pharmacist. On the other hand, I would have become an architect. But how God steered me into ministry is what I still cannot explain. I was leading in pure mathematics, which is now called further mathematics. But it eventually pleased God that I serve Him as a reverend.
What would you consider your best ever decision?
The best decision I ever made is answering God’s call to serve Him.
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