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Writer’s Block: How Nigerian Pastors Make Their Billions by Adegoke Oyeniyi

Like CEOs of multinationals, pastors of worldwide outreaches (some with even deeper footprints than corporations) have a right to fat salaries which is determined by a board of trustees and deducted from tithes and offerings. The faith they practice permits it. A labourer is worthy of his wages. But this is only an insignificant percentage of their revenues.
by Yada MagazineNovember 14, 2014

Kindly disregard richestlifestyle.com and its Richest African President and Top Ten Richest Pastors in the World 2014 lists that have been making rounds online. The reports are unsubstantiated and at best laughable. The rich lifestyle online magazine listed Goodluck Jonathan as Africa’s 6th richest President with an estimated wealth of $100m and Bishop David Oyedepo as the world’s richest pastor on a $150m claim.

Richest Pastors

My question is where are the numbers they added up to arrive at the incredulous financial statements? A media organization should not just wake up and come up with random figures to make bogus claims. Any Nkem Dike and Haruna can say Genevieve is worth N2Bn but credible wealth reporting requires investigating and publishing not just revenue channels of the subjects but also their revenue figures. The latter is where richestlifestyle.com grossly falters; the absence of convincing financial breakdown. Wealth reporting is a lot of arithmetic. Numbers don’t lie.

During my exciting time with Ventures Africa as a staff writer, we crunched the first credible African rich list cataloging 55 High Net Worth (HNW) Africans with a billion dollars or more. The report also broke the news of Famfa Oil founder Folorunsho Alakija as the richest woman alive with a combined fortune of over $3.6 billion from 60 percent majority stake in 200,000 bpd OML 127, one of Nigeria’s highest producing oil wells. An astounding revelation Forbes disagreed with but we stuck to our claims providing irrefutable proof.

The Africa rich list was a groundbreaking project that took long working hours, several sleepless nights, transversing the continent, talking to stockbrokers and stalking billionaires. Alhaji Aliko Dangote is a surprisingly down-to-earth business leader. He has a reputation for co-operating with wealth reporters, disclosing his shares portfolio for crunching. Baba Olusegun Obasanjo on the other hand holds the age-old Yoruba wisdom of aversion to showing-off and non-disclosure of possessions. And I respect that.

So what really is President Goodluck Jonathan’s financial worth? Candidly, I do not know. Our President has publicly refused to declare his asset and thankfully, no can of worms have been opened linking him to shell companies, so it’s almost impossible to determine. On the other hand, the worth of Winners Chapel General Overseer Bishop David Oyedepo, fondly called papa, is one I’d like to shed light on.

First, all attempts at crunching Nigeria’s pastors’ financial standing have always been a presentation of their churches total assets as their personal worth. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s similar to estimating Steve Jobs personal fortune at $600 billion just because his company Apple is worth about that. For example, Rich Lifestyle’s rationale for listing Matthew Ashimolowo as the eight richest pastor in the world is that the church he founded “Kingsway International Christian Center is the largest Pentecostal church in the United Kingdom. It has assets worth more than $40 million and earns profit of more than $10 million.” Assuming these unsubstantiated figures could be accepted as gospel truth, they still do not translate to the pastor’s personal earnings and worth.

Like CEOs of multinationals, pastors of worldwide outreaches (some with even deeper footprints than corporations) have a right to fat salaries which is determined by a board of trustees and deducted from tithes and offerings. The faith they practice permits it. A labourer is worthy of his wages. But this is only an insignificant percentage of their revenues.

I know that in the latter part of the last decade Bishop Oyedepo received N2 million as honorarium for speaking engagements, etc. The current value I do not know. Given that our widely sought after pastors (guest) minister on the average, weekly, multiply that seven figure pay by 52 (weeks) and you have N104 million in clean, legit and hard earned annual revenue. That’s how to crunch wealth valuations. I dare say our pastors earn more than A-list Nigerian entertainers.

Another revenue channel is life coaching or business mentoring. Leaders across the society recognize the track record of some leading Nigerian pastors of growing their church from the first convert into a multimillion membership as a testimony to their leadership and managerial skills. And they’d pay handsomely to acquire such skills and knowledge. One of Bishop Oyedepo’s protege, Pastor Poju Oyemade, the Senior Pastor of Covenant Christian Center, once said in a 2011 message that he taught C-suite execs at Nigeria’s two leading banks within the span of a week and was paid N5 million each. When Forbes valued Pastor Paul Adefarasin at $1 million fews years back, he responded: “I’m a billionaire. The teacher of billionaires is a billionaire.” Granted, it’s extremely difficult verifying these claims. Pastors by their very nature would not make details of their annual pay public and their clients would also not disclose figures out of respect for the clergy men.

Best selling authors like David Oyedepo, Enoch Adeboye Gbile Akanni, Chris Oyakhilome have rights to significant portions of sales proceeds from their intellectual content. The exact percentage is not known but I can paint a picture. These First Class and Second Class upper graduates have dozens of spiritual titles to their belt, purchased world over and translated into several languages. As at the time of this writing pastor Adeboye’s $5 Open Heavens devotional app had been downloaded over 100,000 times on the Google Play Store alone. Oyakhilome’s N150 daily devotional Rhapsody of Realities has a multimillion print run in 402 languages distributed across 242 countries. The total print output of media houses in this country is no match for this. But then again, several years back I heard Mountain of Fire and Miracles GO Dr. Daniel Olukoya say that he gave his N16 million profit from the N10 Battle Cry publication to the church. So it’s possible some of these pastors are not pocketing their publishing revenues as Apostle Paul, at one time, decided not to receive salaries from the Corinthian church.

You must know, that in religious circles, General Overseers, Senior Pastors, Prophets et al are celebrities. They have star power. Just as Nigerian entertainers get a lot of freebies and appearance fees, our men of God receive even much more. This is another very cumbersome revenue source to organize. Pastor Adeboye reportedly once disclosed at an Holy Ghost service that he had been gifted over a hundred vehicles (that year) which were taking up so much space so he gave them all away that night.

Basically, my point wealth reporting is hard to crunch. Please take Richest Lifestyle with a pinch of salt. And yes, they have yanked our president from their list after Goodluck Jonathan refuted their claims.

Writer’s Block Pieces are opinions of the writer. They are views held by the writer and do not always represent the views of Yada Magazine

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Adegoke Oyeniyi is a business writer and editor-in-chief of Enterprise54.com, a news and magazine website that covers entrepreneurship in Africa. You can follow him @wellsbaba

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