Nigeria’s richest pastor floats new airlineBy EMMANUEL MAYAH in Lagos | Saturday, March 24 2012 at 11:27
Nigeria’s richest pastor and self-styled bishop, David Oyedepo, has made a glistening addition to his business empire by floating an airline called Dominion Air.
Oyedepo, who a few years ago ignited debate on flamboyant Christianity by acquiring his fourth private jet, is the owner of Dominion Publishing House, Covenant University and an elite secondary school called Faith Academy.
Listed by Forbes as Nigeria’s wealthiest pastor with a net worth of $150 million, David Oyedepo is a preacher and founder of Living Faith Church Worldwide, more popularly known as Winners’ Chapel. Besides his four private jets, Forbes also mentioned the preacher’s luxury homes in London and the United States.
Sources within the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the agency charged with business registration in Nigeria, confirmed the registration of Dominion Air with David Oyedepo as its chairman. Another source within a Lagos-based insurance firm known to handle most of Oyedepo’s businesses said the airline project had been in the works for six years and was only made a reality this year.
The broker who balked at putting figures to the number of aircraft so far purchased authoritatively said none of them is on lease.
If Oyedepo’s entry into the airline business is creating exciting buzz in Nigeria’s stock exchange, the same cannot be said with the Christian community, especially the Pentecostal congregations, where the so-called men of God have been criticised for alienating their poor followers with their flamboyant lifestyle.
According to Lawrence Ofili, a member of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), the social movement that staged days of protest over this year’s controversial fuel price hike, Nigerian pastors are increasingly acting like politicians who put themselves first before the people.
“Pastor Oyedepo by his choice of businesses has severally demonstrated a disconnect between himself and hundreds of thousands of poor Christians who he claims to have come to deliver. About 90 per cent of public schools in this country were built by early Christian missionaries; today Oyedepo has Covenant University but it is for children of millionaires," says Mr Ofili.
"Even with the high school called Faith Academy, I am aware that most children in his congregation dream to be educated there but their parents who probably pay tithes and offerings cannot afford the school fees. His Faith Tabernacle accommodates 50,000 worshippers every Sunday; how many of them are going to fly Dominion Air? Honestly this project is not for the poor. He should have settled for mechanised farming to engage unemployed men and women.”
As news of Dominion Air streamed into the Christian community in Nigeria, observers are worried that Oyedepo’s latest venture would revive old rivalries and competition among the country’s wealthy pastors and televangelists who appear to be on an endless supremacy battle.
After Oyedepo announced the acquisition of a fourth private jet, 70-year-old Pastor Enoch Adeboye, leader of the Redeemed Christian Church Of God (RCCG) could smile only after he had acquired a new Gulfstream aircraft worth $28 million.
Chris Oyakhilome, another preacher listed by Forbes as Nigeria’s second richest pastor, has a net worth of about $50 million. Founder of the Christ Embassy Church, Oyakhilome who has diverse business interests from satellite TV to a record label, hotels and real estate was in 2011 involved in a $35 million money laundering case with the Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).
Highly connected in police and political circles, the debonair preacher managed to wriggle his way out by reportedly saying the huge foreign exchange stash was a birthday gift from his followers.
In 1987 while he was in the United States, Oyedepo said he got a call from God to "get back home and make my people rich". The Make-My-People-Rich mantra has remained the major thrust for the prosperity message for which the preacher is known for.
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