Nigeria must move away from ‘patronage economic system’ –Tunde Ayeni
A Senior Pastor of Graceville Christian Centre, Abuja, Nigeria, Tunde Ayeni, holds a Master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy from the University of Jos. He is also a life coach, a consummate businessman, entrepreneur, a prolific writer and a consultant. In this interview with The Nigerian Xpress, he talks about evolving into pastoring, celebrating his birthday with the launch of several books, guiding and helping Nigerian youths to create a country that works for every Nigerian amongst other issues.
How would you describe your life’s journey so far?
I would describe my life’s journey so far as a journey of grace and the mercy of God.
Incidentally, many people don’t know that my middle name is Mojolaoluwa, which means, “I enjoy the grace or favour of God”. Honestly, from primary to secondary school, it has been one act of divine intervention or another. I didn’t have to struggle for too many things. God has always been there for me at every step of the way. That’s why I describe my life’s journey as that of the grace of God.
Tell us about your growing up years; did it influence who you are today?
Not really. I didn’t come from a religious background. My dad was not a church-going person and my mum was a Muslim. That didn’t really influence me. However, along the line, a few of my siblings got saved, became born-again and that eventually got across to me. My real big influence started from my A level days and as I interacted with other people when I entered the university. But growing up, apart from the moral values I got from home like contentment and I did a lot of business with my mum; my dad was just a content civil servant. Maybe everything helped in a way. I was paying my school fees in secondary school because I had several businesses going. That’s the secular life but as for pastoring, that didn’t come from any background.
Talking about pastoring, how did you get into pastoring? Is it something you always wanted to do?
I wouldn’t use the words, “how did you get into it.” I would say I evolved. It was an evolution. I evolved into it. To be candid, I’ve always known that I wanted to be a pastor. Maybe not initially, but as soon as I got into the University of Jos, I began to be serious with God. I was attending Oasis of Love Church, pastored by Reverend Philip Mokunga of blessed memory. Every time I went to Church, something in me began to form. I just knew. So, when they would be asked everybody, “What do you want to be?” my friends would say I want to do this or that but I just told them I wanted to be a pastor. They thought I was crazy but I just knew that was what I wanted to be. I’ve always been involved with church work and all that. Eventually, we are where we are today. It’s an evolution. I evolved into it.
As a pastor and a life coach, how would you say you are using these gifts to help others?
Apart from the regular things that we do, God has given us the opportunities and platforms to speak to people, to speak to young people. Whether we like it or not, a man’s life will be influenced by a number of things. First of all by what he hears every day, by the kind of crowd he associates with, the kind of books he reads and those kinds of things. What I do is one of the critical elements in that chain, which is influencing people through talking and moral persuasion. As many that are open to us, God has helped us to get across to them.
A decade after Graceville started, what do you wish you had known/done differently?
I wouldn’t really say I would have done anything differently, believe me. But I wish I had been a bit more introspective in dealing with certain things because sometimes you can be very zealous but zeal without knowledge would always lead you to problems. I was very zealous and passionate but sometimes you need to streamline your passion or hedge your passion with wisdom and self-control; passion with a bit of maturity would have gone a long way in the turnout of certain events.
What are some key lessons you have learnt so far if you would highlight a few?
Number one, don’t allow your fear to hold you back. Starting Graceville, I was filled with fear. Just imagined if I had succumbed to that fear; we wouldn’t be where we are today, celebrating 10 years in July. In as much as you know it is God leading you, obey. Things may not line up but obey. Another thing is learning to take giant steps of faith. Just dare it and you will see God helping you. Some lessons are quite personal, which I don’t want to share publicly but in all, dealing with people will make you grow up very fast, especially if you want to go far. Some you need to confront; others you need to tutor (talk to them); some you need to tolerate; others you need to encourage; some you need a combination of all these. Basically, I’ve learnt a lot dealing with people.
You are celebrating your birthday with the release of some books you authored; why did you decide to do this now?
The Bible says we should number our days so that we can apply our hearts to wisdom. For me, maybe, I will call this a coincidence, but it’s not really a coincidence. I planned it this way to commemorate my birthday simply to be a blessing to people. It’s not to make a statement that I am a workaholic or something but to make sure that the day doesn’t just come and go like that. After eating and drinking, what legacy are you leaving behind for the coming generation to learn from? When you get to a certain age, you ought to be thinking of your legacy. That’s what releasing the books is all about—leaving a legacy behind for the coming generation and being a blessing.
It’s well known that you are passionate about Nigeria, looking at the situation of the country today, would you say religious leaders would have to play a more engaging and participatory role?
When you say “religious leaders” it’s very general and broad; but if you are talking about Christian leaders, I can speak on that. Not everybody is anointed. Please, permit my word. Not everybody is anointed to combine religious and governmental or what I call a public commentator role together at the same time because talking to people on the pulpit is different from talking to the public. If you don’t have that grace from God, you are likely to make blunders. However, for everybody that God has graced and given that position to engage the government and the public in a constructive and positive manner, please, explore it. They should not allow fear to cow them. They should stand up and speak their mind. The Bible is all about fairness. I believe that every religion is about fairness and justice. I don’t think there is any religion that promotes evil, corruption or anything negative. We should use our voices and platforms in the land for the benefit of the people.
Talking about Nigeria, what changes would you like to see if you could personally effect it?
For me, first and foremost, I would like to create a Nigeria where everybody, honestly, has a sense of belonging and ownership, where everybody has a sense of having something at stake, a sense of patriotism and nationalism. I would love to see a country where fairness and justice prevail and then a nation where poverty (if not eradicated) is reduced to its barest minimum. We have to move away from what I call a “patronage economic system” whereby everybody leverages on contracts. A country cannot work like that. We must become creative; we must create an economy that works for everybody; a credit system so that people will have money and purchasing power is increased. If purchasing power increases, productivity will increase; if productivity increases, employment will increase; if employment increases, crime will reduce. If crime reduces, the atmosphere is cleared for foreign investors and all these work together for a better economy and nation for all.
As a youth lover, how are you seeking to actively empower youths around you beyond the usual rhetoric?
I have a number of projects I am working on right now. One of them is what I call the Joseph Institute. I have just ordered for about 20 laptops from the UK and have divided different people to different segments; graduates who are looking for jobs. How do you make yourself more marketable? A lot of Nigerian youths don’t know how to use laptops, Microsoft word, Excel, and all that. We train you on how to surf the web productively, instead of wasting your time looking for films and other unproductive things to watch online. Where are the jobs? Which websites do you visit? How do you prepare a winning CV? How do you package and sell yourself to employers? For those who intend to go into business, we organise entrepreneurial classes for them. For the deserving among them, we give them take-off grants repayable over a period of time; so that they too can go on to empower others. We also have a programme called ‘Unwrap’ where we look for talents across the length and breadth of Nigeria and create a platform for them to showcase what they have. Some of them we have adopted to promote their arts or albums. We have also set up what we call ‘Grace Preparatory School’ for those who are preparing for SSCE and JAMB. We tutor them on Mathematics, English Language, Biology, Chemistry and Physics in preparations for these examinations. We try to remove the fear and mysteries, surrounding these subjects so that they can go ahead to conquer these subjects and we have had fantastic results over the years and best of all, these classes are held free of charge.
Beyond being a pastor and a life coach, you are also a businessman and an entrepreneur; how are you combining all of these so effectively?
It’s all about priority. The first priority is pastoring, nothing comes close to that. For the rest, coaching and the likes, for those who are close to us across the length and breadth of the nation, even outside Nigeria, we reach out to them and engage them as regards what they need to do. But for entrepreneurship, it is as the opportunity comes. I have a lot of support from my staff in doing all these and I thank God for them.
Pastoring has become something like an all-comers affair, is it something that concerns you?
I wouldn’t say “concern,” but I would just say when the ocean waves rise; many things are washed to the shores. Some are edible; some are not. Some are rubbish; others are jewels. So, at the end of the day, everybody will decide what he or she will pick. Let everybody say they are pastors; it’s left for the people out there to determine where they want to go and who they want to be their pastor. At the end of the day, your pastor is your choice.
Lastly, what should we expect from you in the next couple of years?
I am not a person who sets too many goals. You may find yourself running contrary to what God wants you to do. For me, I will still continue to pastor, write and do my business. But we are looking at expansion, basically. We are opening a Bible school for training pastors, opening branches and setting up independent churches in the nearest future.