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Private Jets for Jesus

Nigeria's Pentecostal preachers say expanding ministries justify their personal planes.
Private Jets for Jesus
Private Jets for Jesus

Allegations of extravagant living among Nigeria's Pentecostal preachers have deepened following the gift of a private jet to the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

The multi-million dollar jet—a 10-seater with a range of 3,900 nautical miles—was presented to Ayo Oritsejafor by members of his congregation, Word of Life Bible Church in the oil-rich Delta state city of Warri. The gift celebrated the pastor's birthday and his 40th anniversary in ministry.

Oritsejafor, who also serves as president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, joins a growing list of preachers with private jets in the West African nation, which is Africa's largest oil producer.

David Oyedepo, the founder of Living Faith Ministries (popularly known as Winners' Chapel) in Lagos, Nigeria's major port and most-populous city, owns three Gulfstreams (plus a Learjet) worth almost US$100 million. (By contrast, Oritsejafor's Bombardier Challenger jet is worth less than US$5 million.) Enoch Adeboye, general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, also owns a private jet. So does the flamboyant founder of Christ Embassy Church, Chris Oyakhilome.

Apart from preachers, only top business tycoons and a few governors and politicians own private jets in a nation where more than 70 percent live on less than US$1 per day.

Nigeria's wealthy have spent US$6.5 billion on private jets in the last five years, making it Africa's biggest market for private planes. The number of privately-owned aircraft rose by 650 percent between 2007 and 2012, up from 20 to 150 planes at an average cost of US$50 million.

But most Christians in Africa's most-populous nation remain poor, fueling anger that pastors have been feeding fat on their parishioners.

Gideon Para-Mallam, regional secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, said such preachers are setting bad examples.

"This represents another minus to Christianity in a country riddled with much corruption," he said. "We are simply displaying the rottenness of what has become of Nigeria. It is so sad."

Jeremiah Gado, president of the 3 million-strong Evangelical Church Winning All, agrees. "Having a private jet is a distraction and an indication of the lack of unity in the body," he said.

But Oritsejafor defends the gift, maintaining that his private jet is a necessity and not a luxury. "Sometimes, my schedule is so complicated," he said at a press conference. "Now, I can move. I can even go and come back home. It is a bit more convenient for me, and I suspect that this is one of the reasons a lot of these other preachers have planes."

Oritsefajor has his defenders. To Wale Oke, national vice president, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) South West, a jet is just a tool for faster evangelization. "How can an Ayo Oritsejafor, who has to minister around the globe, pastor a very large congregation in Warri and attend to critical national matters in Abuja cope if he has to keep waiting at the airports, in a system where nothing is predictable?" he asked.

He maintained Pentecostal preachers will buy more jets to cope with expanding ministries. "They ain't seen anything yet! More of us will yet buy and maintain our jets because, by the mercy of God, we have been given the wisdom to do so."

Update (April 16): The Nigeria Premium Times reports that one of the country's most respected church leaders, Enoch Adeboye, "the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, has justified his purchase of a private jet saying it is necessary for his work."

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