By Eric Elezuo
He is a prolific lawyer turned fiery pastor. His name is Pastor Tunde Bakare, the minister in charge of Citadel Global Community Church, formerly known as Latter Rain Assembly. In this interview with Chief Dele Momodu, conducted online, he brings to the fore his entire career profile, family and sundry engagements including his intentions for 2023. Excerpts:
Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born and raised in a very rich Islamic tradition. My grandfather, who was the grandson of Sodeke, was the Chief Imam of the first mosque in Sodeke. My parents, on their own were chieftains of the Islamic religion. My mother was privileged to travel to Mecca and Medina.
I attended Koranic school at a tender age. I graduated from Koranic school on April 16, 1967 with the Wolimat, and proceeded to All Saints Primary School, Kemta, a Christian school. My father had died when I was about three years old. I had to move to Sokoto to live with an uncle of mine, who happened to be the Seriki Yoruba in Sokoto, in 1959. Later in 1960, I returned to Abeokuta to continue my primary education. I started primary school in 1961 and left in 1966.
After my primary education, I moved to Lagos to become a carpenter’s apprentice. I learnt carpentry a bit, and had to run away the day I witnessed one of the apprentices being beaten with a saw. I returned to Abeokuta, and engaged in different sorts of menial jobs to save enough money for secondary education. When I finally got to Lisabi Grammar School in 1969, my classmates in primary school were already in form four, but God saw me through.
Between 1975 and 1977 I worked with First Bank, and was able to saved some money to go to university. It was only God that saw me through that period until I was called to the Bar in 1981.
Impressive! Can we have a trajectory of your law practice sir?
My law practice was a very exciting experience. The first time I set my eyes on Chief Gani Fawehimi was in 1975. I was working with First Bank then and I was also attending extramural classes for my A’levels programme. I saw Chief Gani Fawehinmi at the National Library where he made a presentation on how Nigeria can have free education, and his guest that day was Chief Obafemi Awolowo; that was my first time I set my eyes on him, and I was fascinated by his personality, his determination to use law as an instrument for social change. That was how I started my journey with Chief Gani Fawehinmi even before I entered the university. When I got to University I was doing duel job at weekends with him on Law reporting as a student
You also worked at the chambers of Chief Rotimi Williams…
Yes, I left Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s chamber for Chief Rotimi William’s chamber, and from there, I went to Burke & Co. Solicitors. I established my own law firm, Tunde Bakare & Co. (El-Shaddai Chambers) in October 1984.
Now, the chambers of Chief Gani Fawehinmi was extremely radical while that of Chief Rotimi Williams was conservative. How did you reconcile the two?
Believe me, it was a pleasure to know both icons of law, and practice with them. I must sincerely say that Chief Gani Fawehinmi brought some liberations to the Nigeria Legal System. He was extremely radical and determined to use Law as instrument for Social change. On the other side, Chief Rotimi Williams was conservative, prim and proper. Something happened when I was with Chief Rotimi Williams. I followed him to court and Chief Fawehinmi announced me. Chief Williams just graciously announced himself and the second person, and left me out. The two of them were lawyers who go to the court for law unlike today where we have two types of lawyers; those who know the law and those who know the judge.
Someone wants to know why with your underprivileged background, you are able to ‘blow’ so much grammar like an ajebutter?
I have the standard of education of those days to thank, and also Mrs. Ekpe Alabi and Mr. Adekunle who taught me English language in Lisabi Grammar School. I debated for my secondary school, part of those we debated against in those days were the likes of Otunba Gbenga Daniel. We met for the first time while representing our different schools at African Church Grammar School. On my 50th birthday, he said, “in those days, the fear of Bakare in debate is the beginning of wisdom”. He was strong himself. The teachers actually laid the foundation, and made us read books. Natural talents and discipline also helped.
You are also proficient in Yoruba language. Your Yoruba is of a different level. Could you explain a bit about how you were able to know so much of Yoruba language?
Well, I happen to be one of those called Omo Agba, and that was what we are they trained with. We were taught sometimes in signs, sometimes in Yoruba proverb. They trained us with those proverbs, and also I stayed with old people. I am the last of 22 children. I also have A1 in Yoruba Language too.
How does it make you feel these days when our children don’t want to speak Yoruba?
I feel very sad because they are losing terribly.
Were you married before starting your ministry or afterwards?
I was married before I started my ministry. I got married on November 24, 1984 and I started the ministry in 1988.
How did your wife take it when you wanted to leave a profitable career in Law to go into full time ministry?
Truth be told, she was concerned. I remembered when I told her the visions I saw, which I subsequently shared with Pastor Enoch Adeboye. Pastor Adeboye’s counsel was that I should combine the ministry with work, but I told him what God said expressly to me.
My wife simply asked how we were going to fund the education of our children because we saw how much pastors were earning; it’s next to nothing. However, I didn’t get any penny as salary from Redeemed Christian Church of God; it’s on record and Pastor Adeboye can testify. I moved on to Latter Rain Assembly with that same values, and I thank God he didn’t put me to shame.
My mother was much more concerned, I could remember she came to our place and asked if we were cursed, but when she came to Latter Rain Assembly for our 10th year anniversary, she testified, praising God that I refused to derail.
Fantastic! You really moved from extreme to extreme. First from Chief Gani Fawehinmi to Chief Rotimi Williams, and now you from Deeper Life to RCCG.
Well, I started from the Baptist Church where I got born again on September 24, 1974. I was their youth pastor in 1980. In 1977 when I got to college, I was attending Foursquare because of Charismatic Pentecostalism which is a little bit different from the Baptist, they believed fully in Jesus Christ but they were not speaking in tongues. I was filled with the Holy Spirit on January 17, 1978 and It was at Foursquare that a friend invited me to Monday Bible study in 1978 and when the Deeper Life Bible Church started, I became fully integrated. I left Deeper Life in 1983 and when I went back to Baptist church because of the issues that arose then. It was God moving me from place to place so I could understand different strings of ministry, and that’s what we put together and practice today. I thank God for those men who showed us the way of Holiness, the fear of God, and taught us faith and love.
You seem to have a photographic memory of dates. Is it because of your background of learning the Koran or how did you pick up such photographic brain?
We should give glory to God for that, but I wished you had met my mum; she passed on at the age of 108. She never mixes things up. Learning the Koran and putting the whole of the Koran in your head will definitely increase your gigabyte, and on top of that, I have the mind of Christ and his wisdom personified, so I think it’s God’s gift.
Can you can still recite the Quran?
Pastor Bakare recited different parts of the Koran.
Now, I want us to move from Pastor to Politician. How do you manage the two because your church is so interactive and you talk about good governance?
Well, my political career didn’t start yesterday. In 1964, a lot of crisis had begun in the Western Region, at the time United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) was formed. I was fired up the day Yeye H.I.D Awolowo had come with Dr. Michael Okpara came to our hometown to campaign, so I became part of the then Action Group at a tender age. By the time I got to the university, I had already become a politician so I ran for the President of the Students Union. Many people thought I started yesterday, Good governance is very critical because I can give a million scholarships to student and they will call me a great man but I can influence education and it will help all the students of school age. Unfortunately, we confuse these issues, how do you separate Christianity with good governance, they are inseparable.
As an encyclopedia of Nigeria’s political history, could you just give us short analysis of your view of various governments till date?
Whatever anyone will like to say about the Nigerian political history, I’m still of the transcended opinion that the military drew us back and I call them the wasted years of our nation. Anyone who grew up around 1960 that held the flag of Nigeria and sang the old National anthem and saw what was happening, yes, there were crisis but where there not crisis after that? They took us back, and many of them are yet to restitute, to really repent of what they did to this nation. They truncated our democracy and drew us back for years and we are yet to come out of the hoax.
How can anyone in his right mind compare the laudable accomplishments of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his 40s. If not for his free education, I won’t be here, but here we are today. We cannot compare the golden era of regionalism where each region had self-government and constitutions. Each region was developing at its pace.
We should be competing with countries like Singapore, but here we are today because the military did what military people do; when military people enter the territory of the conquered, they just loot. There is nothing to compare than the Independence to the military structure, military era and the post-military era since 1999.
If I’m going to discuss Nigeria political history, I will divide them into those three, were there other things that the military did that were good, yes! they undertook infrastructural development, and we thank them for Third-mainland Bridge but we needed more than that. They destroyed our educational system and our social life was completely collapsed. We need to rebuild Nigeria and there must be restructuring; we need to go back to those fundamentals that made this nation great.
I thank God that I served through the 2014 National Conference; hopefully one of these days, we will be able to build in this country the kind of leadership it deserves, and the pathway it should follow.
You seem not to be a great friend of your fellow Egba man, former President Olusegun Obasanjo
Well, I have nothing personal against him. In fact, many people out there will not know that we were both from Owu kingdom. Besides, he was a classmate of my uncle at Baptist Boys High School. We met at my brother’s funeral few days ago at the Baptist Church. Not only that, he was a Baptist, and at Yaba Baptist church, the Christian brothers will go to the Dodan Barracks to play music. I have nothing personal against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo but to whom much is given, much is expected, I thought no Nigerian has been as favoured by God as him in terms of governance and opportunity to serve this nation. He seems to reap where he didn’t sow; he didn’t participate in the coup of 1966, but he benefitted from it; he didn’t participate in the Murtala Mohammed coup but he became the second in command, and later he became the Head of State and then they threw him into prison. From prison, they called him again to come and head this nation, I thought if anyone was to do any surgical operation on this nation, he has it all. He is now crying for the same thing now; restructuring. Honestly, I respect his opinion. So if I do anything, it is on principle and he is also a principled man.
Do you believe that Obasanjo performed well?
To be very honest with you, since 1999, I am yet to see any leader who had assembled a formidable team like he did to oversee the affairs of this country; you can’t take that away from him.
A leader will set goals, might achieve some and not achieve some but governance should be a continuum and no administration since 1999 assembled the best like he did that took Nigeria out of debt and set in economic recovery, I doff my hat for him on that.
Sir, what are your ideas of an ideal government?
Well, pretty simple. We start from the basis, what is the purpose of government? Welfare and security of citizens. Any Government that violates the rule of law does not even know why government exist. Where there is no rule of law there will be rule of man. I can’t be part of any government that will violate the rule of law.
As the convener of the Save Nigeria Group, did you ever expect that any government will be worse than the Jonathan-led PDP government?
Well, opinions differ. I’ve received all kinds of insults that I led all kind of revolts, I never led a revolt. I led a campaign against the oppression of the Nigerian people. I did that with all integrity. It’s not about comparing apples to mangoes; they are different things.
A lot has happened on issues of security and herdsmen recently, how does this make you feel of our government? Do you think they are doing enough?
I’ve spoken publicly several times, and our problem is that it didn’t start with this administration; it escalated in this administration. One would have assumed that the President being a former General, would have made Boko Haram history, and he demonstrated his willingness to do that when he moved his command force straight into the battlefield. I want to ask sincerely that can the government alone do it? Where are these people getting their arms and ammunitions from? Where is the support for? People know where they are, whoever is supporting this people, God will expose them.
You are one of the closest persons to the president, could you tell us how you have tried to help him?
President Muhammadu Buhari has many wonderful people around him who are in government in terms of serving this nation well. You can’t rubbish the vice-president; he was an attorney-general in Lagos for 8 years, he is an erudite Professor of Law; he is a child of God and a pastor, and there are many ministers working day and night so he doesn’t need my counsel, he has enough hands. Almighty God knows he had always opened his doors to me; there had been no occasion that I needed to see the president that the door was closed against me; but let me tell you this too and I’ve taken some of my friends to him too, he is one man that will receive whatever you’ve brought with good heart and tell you something will be done about it. But he is not the one to execute it. I know he wants to leave a legacy, but a tree doesn’t make a forest.
Will you run for the office of President of Nigeria in 2023?
The steps of the righteous are ordered by the Lord, and I’ve never ever said to anyone that I’m running for the presidency; I said my contributions to governance has not ended, things are going to happen in this nation. I know all I know and I wish those who wants to run all the very best. Things will happen before that time that everyone will know that this is the way to go. If God has destined me to be the President of this country, no one can change that. What we need to know about Nigeria is that people who pursue it very hard sometimes don’t get it.