by Lekan Olanrewaju
As the debate rages over the propriety of a pastor owning a commercial airline, it underscores a more defining reality—across the country, churches and their leaders have become smart entrepreneurs: investing, driving industries, building empires.
Beyond the argument of right and wrong, is the fact that the new generation of Christians have an undeniable business savvy that perhaps the rest of the country can learn from as our economy seeks to diversify.
So below, in no particular, our pick of 7 prominent Nigerian pastors running multi-million naira empires.
(Editor’s Note: It is important to note that many of the investments are owned by the churches and only run by the pastors, who act as visionaries and managers.)
He takes dominion
We begin with Bishop David Oyedepo of Living World Outreach Ministry, aka Winners Chapel. Oyedepo, with an estimated net worth of $150 million is Nigeria’s wealthiest preacher. The Faith Tabernacle, where he hosts four services every Sunday, is Africa’s largest worship centre with a seating capacity of 50,000. Forget the airline, the bishop is the real deal when it comes to smart investment—he already runs for one, Dominion Publishing House, a publishing company responsible for the production of all his books.It was a trail-blazing trend other pastors now follow. He also has pioneered investments in education, with the founding of Covenant University, Faith Academy . He also founded Covenant University, and Faith Academy high school is said to be flagship for a chain of about 12 Secondary schools and 60 Primary and nursery schools in Nigeria.
Apart from the Landmark university, which was approved by the federal government in 2011, plans are in the offing for 5 more universities to be constructed in Abuja, Calabar, Congo, Kenya and Ghana as the man himself announced in 2007, with land already acquired to this effect.
And of course, there are the four aircrafts at his beck and call including a Global Express aircraft and a Challenger 604, both if which are listed in the Forbes 500. The fleet is said to be domiciled at its aircraft hangar at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport – he is also now reported to have launched an aviation business, Dominion Airlines.
An empire, by fire
Dr Daniel Olukoya, a former university lecturer, is General Overseer of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries and heads The Battle Cry Christian Ministries. The company was established in June 1999 and is responsible for publishing of all books and literature written by the man of God.
I’s services include worldwide marketing to major book distributors, home delivery, as well as sales on the internet.
In addition to that, the sprawling Prayer City on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, is n0t just a house for “fire-prayers”, it is a veritable city in its own right—with rooms for rent, shopping complexes, buildings for sale and a thriving market. In addition, the church is set to begin academic sessions for its Mountain-Top University.
Man on a mission
The man who popularised the saying “My God is not a poor God”, Archbishop Benson Andrew Idahosa is widely regarded as the father of modern-day African pentecostal church. He may have passed on in 1998, but the entrepreneurial spirit and message of prosperity he espoused remains strong.
His legacy can perhaps be seen through the successful work of his protegé, David Oyedepo, but the empire he left behind is now managed by his wife, Bishop Margaret Idahosa. Apart from the church, Idahosa manages the All Nations for Christ Bible Institute, is president of Idahosa World Outreach and president of Faith Medical Centre. She also runs the Benson Idahosa University, flagship of the Word of Faith group of schools.
You are greater than the greatest!
Move beyond the gentle cadence of his voice as he speaks the words regularly—underneath the calm interior is a mind at work, regularly building, expanding and extending.
Named one of the 50 most influential people in the world by Newsweek, Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God is Nigeria’s church with the largest number of branches and congregation, across the world. New York Times says the church is, “one of its most vigorously expansionary religious movements, a homegrown Pentecostal denomination that is crusading to become a global faith”.
The Redemption Camp, a sprawling complex, is a city within a city; with everything you need inside, and the model for several camps. There is also the Redeemers International School as well as the Redeemers University.
It is however important to note that Pastor Adeboye is not the founder of the ministry.
His winning ways
Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo’s story is a popular one. He converted to Christianity from Islam at the age of 22 after the death of his father and enrolled in a Bible school. In 1992, the Foursquare Gospel Church where he was an Assistant Pastor sent him to London, and he proceeded to set up his own church. That church grew to be the Kingsway International Christian Center, reportedly the largest Pentecostal church in the United Kingdom.
According to a Forbes blog last year, “Ashimolowo heads and owns varied business enterprises including his media company, Matthew Ashimolowo Media, which produces Christian literature and documentaries.
“The publisher of the ‘Power and Postive Bible’, his ‘Winning Ways’ programme is aired daily on Premier Radio, London, Spirit FM in Amsterdam, and on television in Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe. He is estimated to be worth within the range of $6 million and $10 million.”
The Savvy Prophet
Revered by many, condemned by others, and known by most for his healing ways, Prophet TB Joshua heads the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN). He founded the church in 1987, and it has grown to accommodate over 15,000 worshippers on Sundays.
The church currently has branches in Ghana, the UK, South Africa, and Greece. The pastor, who is estimated to be worth between 10 and 15 million dollars, owns Emmanuel TV, a Christian television network shown across the continent – from Ethiopia to South Africa. The Prophet also owns a football club, My People FC.
Give Pastor Chris a big hand!
The man with the largest social media following of any man of God in Africa, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome was in 2011 estimated to have a net worth somewhere between $30 million and $50 million is a continental superstar.
Pastor Chris’s business ventures across the continent include newspapers, magazines, a local television station, a record label, satellite TV, hotels and extensive real estate.
His Loveworld TV Network is the first Christian network to broadcast from Africa to the rest of the world on a 24 hour basis. The preacher also owns Loveworld Publications, which publishes Rhapsody of Realities, a monthly devotional he authors together with his wife, which sells over 2 million copies every month at $1 each.
He is reputed as the man behind frontline publishing outfit Global Plus, owns one of Lagos’s most fully equipped TV recording studios, and was an investor in defunct TV station, Minaj Broadcast International.
And one more for the road!
Because of its age and structure, people forget sometimes that the Catholic Church, the world’s largest Christian church, is also a wide investor in various industries—usually as part of its mission outreach, but no less run as a commercial venture.
It is also substantially different from the other pentecostal fellowships, but it is worth a look. For one, the Vatican City has long faced allegations of financial impropriety with a $789 million tax bill being slapped against the Sovereign state earlier this year, as Rome moved to head off the European Commission censure over property tax breaks enjoyed by the state.
But that is seen as an aberration. The head of the Catholic Church oversees the running of all of its enterprises which include hospitals, schools, among others, and this is reflected in several countries—either run by the church or by affiliated institutions.
In Nigeria for instance there is the Roman Catholic Secondary school Loyola Jesuit College reputed country-wide for its sterling standards and affordable cost, and there’s the Opus Dei-built Pan-African University, amongst others.
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