Chris Okotie, a musician, lawyer and pastor, is not new to controversies. He even created a stir last Sunday with the shocking announcement to his bewildered congregation in Lagos that he had parted ways with his second wife, Stephanie, for irreconcilable reasons. OLAOLU OLADIPO writes on the man and his controversial marriages.
In a dramatic fashion, the flamboyant pastor of the Household of God Church International Ministries, Pastor Chris Okotie gave a shocker to his congregation shortly after what could be termed a day of earth-moving ministration.
In his characteristic manner, he had delivered a lengthy sermon, which was intermittently punctured by songs, music and dancing. Just like any other Sunday, HOUSEHOLDERS, as members of his congregation are called, were enthralled by the lyrics of the musician-turned pastor.
They danced and sang to the Lord, quite oblivious of what would later overwhelm their joy. As it were, all went well throughout the two and a half-hour service. Neither the body language nor the speech of the pastor betrayed his emotion and no one could read his lip or mind.
But after the singing and dancing session that held his ‘flocks’ spell bound, he waited in the rostrum to make the announcement himself and the hall went dead instantly. Worshipers who numbered in their hundreds were shocked when their pastor dropped what could be termed a ‘bombshell’.
“Stephanie and I are no longer married. We have separated. You can see she’s not in church today. It’s due to irreconcilable differences and you should please respect our wishes at this time because there is no going back,” he told his bewildered congregation.
The announcement has drawn flaks from Nigerians, especially from fellow Christians and clergymen who have continued to lambast the funky preacher; he has some supporters though in people such as fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Babake of the Latter Rain Assembly.
Bakare, who described Okotie as a true brother for whom he was happy when asked whether his brother has acted well according to the scriptures, stated unequivocally, “This is a brand new book; anything in the past does not exist anymore.”
For Okotie, divorce is coming for the second time and his estranged wife, Stephanie now has the misfortune of having been married three times with three children from two of previous marriages. Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the latest break-up effectively puts an end to the expectation of the 55-year-old preacher to get a set of twins one day.
The Warri-born politician and preacher, who has been angling to rule Nigeria, had hoped that he would be a father of a set of twins one day but such desire seem farfetched in view of the current circumstances, as he might remain single for some time before finding another woman to marry.
His love for Stephanie had been very profound. Before the two tied the nuptial knots, Okotie had repeatedly told those who cared to listen that he had found a perfect wife.
During their lavish marriage ceremony on 7 August, 2008, Okotie had described Stephanie as the most beautiful woman on earth.
His friend and fellow clergyman, Pastor Tunde Bakare, was on hand to officiate at the ensuing thanksgiving and benediction service that took place on Sunday, 10 August, in his church.
Shortly before he consummated the union, he had told his church members earlier that year that Stephanie had been under his watch for five years and did not mind the number of children she had from her previous marriages.
The eloquent pastor had been married to Tyna his long standing friend and companion, but the marriage packed up after 17 years without any child. Okotie is said to have loved his first wife so much that there was hardly a sermon he preached without a mention of her. “Long after they separated, he still spoke about her with deep emotions as if they were still married,” one of his members said.
Although the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), South West Zone, Archbishop Magnus Atilade in his reaction described it (the break up) as regrettable and saddening, he called for caution, saying it would be wrong to blame anybody without knowing the details.
“He needs our understanding and prayers. We should all sympathise with him because it could not have been an easy decision.
However, the President of International Church Growth Ministries, Dr Francis Bola Akin-John, said Okotie acted badly with the decision, saying he had set bad precedence for his worshippers regarding what a good church leader should not be.
“The problem with divorcees is once they leave the first, they are always vulnerable. He is a classic example of preachers who do not practise what they preach. He is given over to lust. He is one of those giving Christianity a bad name. You don’t quit a marriage because of challenges.”
The Senior Pastor of the Glory Christian Centre, Lagos, Dr Iruofagha James gave a scriptural insight into the debate when he said, “Divorce is only permissible when a case of adultery has been established. Even at that, reconciliation is best.”
The General Overseer of Agape Generation International Church, Maryland, Rev. Toyin Kehinde, said any Christian divorcee who wants to make heaven must seek reconciliation or remain unmarried for life, a view shared by the Senior Pastor of the Vineyard Assembly, Ibadan, Pastor Buki Gbenro.
Citing Mathew 5: 32, he said: “Once you divorce and you want to remain a Christian, you must never remarry. To remarry is to become an adulterer or adulteress. People are just walking away these days from their homes, including men of God.
“This is really disheartening,” said Ladele Bisi, a Christian who wondered why the pastor had to announce the breakup on the altar.
“I am not trying to judge him because the Bible says I shouldn’t. But I would just say that he doesn’t seem to have the fruits of the Spirit, which is long suffering.”
But Michael Adedapo added a new twist to the divorce saga when he argued that the breakup raises question about Okotie’s ambition to become Nigeria’s president. “If he cannot manage a mere woman, how can he preside over a country?” he queried.
“He said he married her for her beauty. So what do you expect? This is not an encouraging way to lead in church. How would he counsel people with marital problems?” Adedapo added.
A terse statement from the church signed one Ladi Ayodeji who claimed to be its spokesman did little or nothing to throw light on the reason behind the move saying the action was mutually reached and that it remained the best option in the prevailing circumstances
Okotie may be in the news for the wrong reason once again but it is likely that it may never be the end of his controversies. Like in his school days when he studied law at UNN but ended up as a pastor and singer, Nigerians may never see the end of his many sides.