Not many people know that the Founder of the Household of Gods Church in Lagos, Pastor Chris Okotie is 60. Yes he is. Rev. Christopher Oghenebrorie Okotie was born 16 June 1958. He is the Pastor of the Household of God Church International Ministries, a pentecostal congregation in Lagos since February 1987.
Okotie was born to Francis Idje and Cecilia Okotie, in Ethiope-West, Delta State (then Bendel State). As a growing child, he always loved to sing. While in secondary school at Edo College, Benin City, he belonged to the school’s Music Club and usually entertained groups of people. He never considered commercialising his talent until his first year at university, when his father died. His hobbies include jogging, martial arts and music.
He attended secondary school at Edo College, Benin City. In 1984, he graduated with a degree in law from the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. Okotie abandoned his schooling for a while to pursue a pop music career before his returning abruptly. Okotie married twice and announced he has separated from his second wife on June 24, 2012.
He returned to school to complete his education and graduated with a law degree. Whilst undergoing law school he interrupted his schooling again to begin his religious ministries. Okotie attended the Grace Fellowship Bible School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and, soon after, established the Household of God Ministry.
In 1990, Okotie established the annual Karis Awards, hosted by his church, to recognize and financially reward Nigerian citizens
The GRACE Program/ Karis Award is an annual charity event hosted at the church where he pastors; The HouseHold of God International Ministries, Lagos. The guiding philosophy being that greatness does not consist in being great but in the ability to make others great. The Karis Award gives recognition to, while financially rewarding Nigerians who had offered distinguished service to the nation, but are not recognized nor rewarded for their contributions to the nation building. Some recipients are, Prof. Chike Obi, the mathematician (1996), D.I.G. Chris Omeben, a retired policeman (1997), Mr. Taiwo Akinwunmi who designed the national flag (1998), Hogan Bassey, former Commonwealth and World boxing champion (1999), Chief Michael Imodou, the Labour leader (2000), Chief Margaret Ekpo (2001), nationalist and woman activist, Mallam Aminu Kano, nationalist (2004)and Isaac Adaka Boro, human rights activist (2005).
The GRACE Program also makes regular cash and material contributions to charity organizations such as the SOS Children Village, the Sunshine Foundation, Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially Sighted and Little Saints Orphanage, Spinal Cord Injuries Association of Nigeria, and The Childcare Trust.
Okotie first ran for the President under the banner of the Justice Party (JP), led by Ralph Obiorah after he was schemed out of the National Democratic Party (NDP) primaries elections; he lost to Olusegun Obasanjo in the May 2003 elections. He ran again in 2007 on the platform of a party he founded, Fresh Democratic Party, FRESH and lost to Umaru Yar’Adua in the May 2007 elections. Then in 2011, he ran and lost to the President Goodluck Jonathan.
He started life in the 80s as a Musician. That was over 3 decades ago, with just a guitar, a lovely voice and a dance step that resembled that of late Michael Jackson. His kind of music was called Nigerian pop music. He was a Law student turned musician. He came up with the song then titled, I Need Someone, which became an instant hit.
Just as Okotie began to be popular, Okotie shocked everyone by establishing his own church in February 1987. Many didn’t take him serious at first. They saw him as a funky preacher, with his jerry-curl hair. But his being a musician helped his church grow as he not only teaches the word of God, he entertains his congregation, as he would sing, rev the congregation into tremendous excitement and even dance for them. For many years he had a way of leaving his church members turbo charged with ecstacy.
But interestingly today, 31 years after he set up the church, and became born again only few people know how Pastor Chris started. He told Quality, a defunct monthly magazine, published by Newswatch Communications and then edited by late May Eken Ezekiel, about his life. Pastor Chris spoke to Onome Osifo Whiskey then. He is now a Director at TELL Magazine. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Let’s start with a brief history of yourself.
I was born in 1958, 16th of June, in Abraka and that’s in Bendel State. I don’t even know what it looks like right now. It’s been a long time. And my mother’s name is Cecilia and my father’s Francis.
What was your relationship with your father?
I remember that my father was very upset because he wanted me to read Law, but I was instead teaching at Igbo-Etiti, Anambra State. I decided to take that job then because I didn’t make it to the university. So I decided that the best thing for me to do was to work. The job was interesting because I had my salary and had time to think. I know I wrote some songs there – some of the songs I later did in 1980. It was good. I did a lot of writing during that period. I wanted to do a lot of things and I found that I could be really creative. In any case, I left there and I eventually got admission to Nsukka to read Law. I got in, in 79.
Was your old man then happy with you?
The relationship that I ‘had with my father was still not very good because he was still disappointed because he felt that I was not as brilliant as he thought. You know one of my elder brothers had aggregate 18 in his school cert exam and I was disappointed and said: “So you couldn’t make something much better than 18. Well, for me, it has to be between 6 and 10.” But when the result came, I made 32 (laughs.) In any case, that was how my father got disillussioned with me. And so, when I got into the university, he didn’t like this music thing at all. And I remember seeing in Enugu some television programmes that I had in Benin that were transmitted network. Often he would call my sister and say: “See what this boy has turned his life into? He wants to become a musician.” He didn’t like it.
Talking about big music, how did you go into it?
In my first year in the University (1979), I thought I was going to start big time recording but the attempts that I made were not all that successful because I didn’t have the money. I tried, together with some friends. We went to some of the recording studios in Enugu and did some funny stuff. But anyway, it gave me some money. The first record that I did was In The Beginning, but a lot of people don’t know about it because it was not really sold in the market because the quality was very terrible. At that time, music in the country was terrible. You know, I did the record myself and I had the master tape and I went to a dealer and said: “Look, if you are interested in marketing this, I could sell it to you and you do whatever you want with it.” So eventually I sold it for N5,000 and then bought a Beetle car (laughs). In any case, that was how the music thing started and my father didn’t really know about it until he died later that year. He saw me driving that car but he thought it probably belonged to a friend.
So after he died, how did you pick up?
When my father died, it became necessary for me to do something. I had to pay my school fees and probably help some of my brothers and sisters who were well over 20. So I started another venture, another recording attempt. And I had met Iruoje who later was my producer.
When I did my first album, I came to Lagos looking for a dealer and when Iruoje listened to the album, he said: “Look, I can use your talent, I can make you into a big star, but the quality of this recording is very poor. Now, if you want me to have anything to do with this, you come back and I will record you all over but if you are looking for money, well …” And I said: “Well, I can’t wait for Iruoje’s promises.” So I went back and sold the tape. I remembered that this man had made many people outstanding in music and Iruoje was the biggest producer in Nigeria then. He had handled Ofege, Sonny Okosun, Fela and all these people were successful and I said if I could get a shot at him again he might be interested. This was a year after. So I came to Lagos, borrowed some money from friends and it was hot.
We came here and didn’t have a place to stay. Worse still, I couldn’t meet with Iruoje. My luck came later. It was on the third occasion when we came to Lagos and I began to look desperate and I told the secretary: “If you don’t let me see Iruoje, I will never ever come to Lagos again.” So as I was saying this, Iruoje just walked out of his office and said: “I’ve seen you before” and I said: “Yes, I am that man that came with the master tape and bla, bla,” and he said: “Oh, yes, come in.” And he took me to his office. I brought a copy of the record the man had made, the one I sold and he played it and said: “I told you, I recognised that you have talent. Listen now, do you have new materials, new songs that we could use?” I said yes. So he brought me a box guitar and asked if I could play him this song. I played and he said: “Okay.” Then he said Phonodisc was a new company and that they were not ready to put artists on the market yet. “As soon as things are ready, I will come and meet you in school and I will arrange to record you.”
What happened next?
For three months, this guy didn’t show up and I was desperate. Just about the time I was going to say that he didn’t mean his words, Iruoje showed up on campus and I was so happy ‘cause things were really tight for me. He had organised to have me recorded and said that I was going to use BLO and you know BLO was one of the biggest happenings in Lagos. I couldn’t believe it. We had a party that night. But something, some fear – though I was sure that I could handle it. Here was an opportunity for me to go into big time music. I told him l was coming to Lagos all right but I nearly did not go.
What were you scared of?
I can’t really say. Until that time, I was quite an easy-going person and I rarely mixed well with girls or drinks.
When you want to begin a musical life, some authorities say there is always this kind of stage fright.
Now, you feel you are going to address the whole nation, the whole world, and you tend to withdraw into yourself. Was that your case?
That was not really my thought. The thing was that I felt I shouldn’t do it. I thought that I was going to delve into something that would change me – my way of thinking, the way I relate to people. I wasn’t sure that I was ready and that I wasn’t sure I didn’t like my simple life on campus.
But deep inside you, didn’t you want to come out a great musician and be known as such?
There is something about musicians that I know. Music is an expression and musicians identify a lot with what they do. Their music is like them and they are almost one with the music that they play. It’s like a writer: he pours down his heart into whatever he writes and you can easily tell who a person is from what he writes.
Then it means you were scared of self-expression through music
Yes. But the difference was that what I was doing was not a part of me. That’s what musicians are and I never considered myself as one. During the time I was in show business, people would ask me: “Are you a musician?” And I would say No. The way I used to do this thing was that, I felt like I could create music, I thought that I could create a melody. But I felt I was being used.
Can you tell us how you became a born-again Christian?
There was this day I was invited to perform in Kaduna. It was my first such performance. It turned out a big media event. It was there on TV and on Radio and also in the papers. Just a day before the show took off, I was down with a funny illness which the doctors said they could not diagnose. Though they got me to perform just one hour out of my scheduled show, the situation was critical because the doctors said there was next to nothing they could do to help me.
So what happened?
I then knew that the only person who could save me was God. I prayed and asked Him to save me, promising that I would turn all my life to Him if I could be well again.
After an hour or so, I was well again and we eventually returned to Lagos. I went into more boozing again and forgot my own side of the deal with God. I was down once more with fever. Again, I got well soon. I think that was the first encounter I had with God in which He wanted to show me that He was kind and merciful.
Which was the second encounter?
Em, about one month after, we returned to school.
There was this guy – Ezekiel is his name – there was this guy who always goes to church and, in fact, he was the one who first made a serious attempt to speak to me about Jesus. I was never interested until I heard that Anselm, my friend (Anselm was the Director of Socials on campus), had been born again and become a Christian. I couldn’t believe it because the Anselm I knew was the Anselm with whom I used to play for Radio Nigeria, Enugu. I said these born-agains have done something to Anselm. So I told Tina: “Why don’t we go and see what this guy looks like?” Just out of curiosity we went to hear what he had to say but he didn’t show up.
So your interest in Anselm died then?
No, I went back alone the next day. When Anselm preached, it was just fun. I simply distracted the attention of everyone present by making fun of the whole thing. And everybody would laugh. I wasn’t particularly listening to what he was saying. He just kept on talking. It was Jide Obi and I that went that night. We didn’t leave there until 2a.m. It was in the female hostel. When he finished, he didn’t even say anything to me. So I got into my car to go to my hostel. As soon as I walked into my room, the Lord began to speak to me.
What did God tell you?
As soon as I walked in, the Lord spoke to me and I sat down on the bed. It was like one saying: “Sit down, I want to talk to you.” So I sat down. I said what do you want me to do? So He said to me that He just wanted to remind me of the things that He has done for me. He began to show me pictures, how He brought me from Kaduna, how I made a promise that I would be for Him if He could raise me from that bed and how I didn’t keep my part of the bargain.
So I said: “Lord, you know that I have done my best. I tried, you know I have done as much as I can, you know.”
Then the Lord told me He’s the one who made me what I am. From the word go, I really didn’t feel that I had anything to do with Him. He said it was He who caused me to come to the point where I was because He had a plan for my life. And that there is something He wants me to do. My heart was so hardened.
That’s why I know that even if God comes to a sinner in a red suit with God written across His chest, that man will turn his back and say: “I have no time,” because sin hardens a man’s heart so much that he has no fear for God.
I am telling you that in that state, I was so hardened and it was like I was saying: “Listen, there was nothing I could do.” God performed an operation on me that night.
After He said all these things to me and I did not yield, God put His hands into my heart. It was like He removed my heart and placed another one there. It’s been the most painful experience that I had ever been through. Look, I lay in that way for 12 hours broken-hearted. So around 2p.m. that day, I got up from my bed and I opened the door.
Then I gave my life to Jesus.
I told you. I told Him He should forgive me. After he did that, I suddenly realised how terrible I had been.