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‘As a leader you have not really succeeded until your successor has succeeded’

Cyril Azobu is partner (Head, Advisory) at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the senior pastor of Christ For All Mission (CFAM); Oke-Afa, Isolo, Lagos, founded by Bishop Roland O. Ike, who passed on September 2019. Rev. Azobu spoke about the life and times of the late bishop, the quietness, uncertainty, seamless leadership succession and the huge transformation that followed his death since 2019. Excerpts by SEYI JOHN SALAU:

How will you describe the life and times of the late founding bishop of Christ for All Mission (CFAM), Bishop Rowland O. Ike?

Sometimes people use the word ‘General’ loosely. It takes someone who has seen and experienced the scars of battles to appreciate that word. Late Bishop Roland O. Ike was indeed a general in the Lord’s army till he passed on to glory. He lived a humble life.

He was an embodiment of simplicity and humility. He was a lover of God, the work and the people. He was a man who had a dream of the future like Moses who knew there was a Promised Land; though he saw it, he never passed to the land. He was a courageous man; full of faith, vision and expectations of whatever he wanted.

CFAM has experienced a huge transformation and growth within three years of the bishop’s passage. Please, share with us how the church achieved this feat?

One difficult thing is laying a foundation. It takes a lot of energy, stress, labour and careful planning and execution. It is easy to raise the blocks for a structure but laying its foundation is very critical. Whatever you see today at CFAM is the foundation that our late founding bishop, Bishop Roland O. Ike laid.

He was the foundation layer. Any glory you see at CFAM today has a story, and that story was created by our late bishop. He created the platform for whatever you see just evolving at CFAM today. However, I believe life is in phases and that God relates to people according to generations.

How long have you followed the late bishop before you became his successor?

CFAM was founded in 1981. I gave my life to Christ in 1986. The bishop led me to Christ. I will be 36 years old in the Lord and in this ministry March 23, 2022. At the time he died I was 33 years following him. I see CFAM as a home.

He created that home for all of us. He saw my potentials and brought me up. I’m standing on the foundation that he laid, raising the blocks. The blocks are easy to see but what went under are unseen. The foundation works and what is carrying the structure are unseen. You can’t talk about the story of Israel without the story of Abraham.

How did the church members respond to his sudden transition?

The bishop’s sudden transition was a rude shock to the church members. Of course accident is accident. It is unplanned. Sometimes when things happened you don’t know why they happened. You can then just take it that God had a hand in it, or God was not unaware of what happened. At the time he died he was beginning to look young. He had just remarried few years after the death of his wife.

There was so much life back in him. He was ready to fly and go further in the ministry. He had survived death many times from terrible sicknesses. At different times he had cancer and other terrible ailments.

And those times maybe one could say one was prepared for his eventual death. But at the time he passed on he was so full of life that his death at that period was unimaginable and unprepared for. So, it was a shock when it happened. The church was almost thrown into some quietness on what was going to happen next because there was no preparation for his exit.

How did the church leadership and the bishop’s associates handle the situation in ensuring the flock did not scatter at the strike of the shepherd?

God was in the whole equation because he held His people. The only person that held the people together was God because there was a huge level of uncertainty. That uncertainty was put under control by the aura of some grace that held the people together.

Even before he passed on the church was facing some challenges. Some of the members had already left. So, the church was not even at its peak at the time the bishop transited. When God sends people to you, he sends them for a reason. I believe the people who were available at that time were people sent from God. God helped us manage the situation because all the pastors in the ministry are sincere spiritual sons of the bishop.

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Did he put in place any leadership succession plan for the church before he died?

He was already thinking about handing over. There was a transition in progress. He had always voiced who his successor would be. It was just a matter of time. He had already taken the backseat; orchestrating the transition process before he died. He had already put his house in order before he passed on. He was able to put some level of hierarchy and structure in place. I was his deputy, and he made this clear to the church and his friends.

He used every opportunity to pronounce and establish my status as his deputy in the hierarchy of the church leadership. So, he prepared the church to prevent a chaotic leadership succession on his transition. I was at Ajaokuta when I received the news of the incident through his first son. Immediately, I left for Abuja and connected the first flight back to Lagos. When I arrived in the church I addressed the people to calm the situation.

In that situation leadership became very critical because someone had to rise up to show the people the next steps and direction. I had no choice than to take up that responsibility. He died in September 2019 and was buried in January 2020. Some of his bishop friends and associates had to midwife the leadership succession though he had already initiated that process with some of his associates from the U.S, and here before he died.

It was obvious his choice had been announced. So, the leadership succession wasn’t difficult; more so with one of his children; his first son, joined to assist me in the church leadership, to at least ensure some continuity from his family and relatives.

How did you feel when the mantle formally fall on you as his successor?

Honestly, I wasn’t ready and prepared for it because it was too sudden. I’m still working in the secular and would need time to prepare to up that responsibility.

What are some of his major legacies that are worth emulating?

Some of his legacies that are worth emulating include true Christianity, mature leadership and followership. An average CFAM member might not be here long enough before he is committed to actually be a pastor anywhere. He raised strong and mature Christians. His virtues include personal integrity, truthfulness, honesty, courage and simplicity. Those who were close to him understood his simplicity though sometimes people might see him as a very strict person.

He was a principled and uncompromising man. These virtues created the platform upon which we could easily ride. My being with him closely for 33 years was sufficient enough for me to know his person; his desires, ambitions, wishes and pains, and to build on.

He demonstrated all these virtues while alive as we worked together. He built all that people see in CFAM today after his demise. Succession is always difficult to manage. If a leader does not invest in his succession he will leave the scene a failure. As a leader you have not really succeeded until your successor has succeeded.

Aside his legacies, were there challenges you inherited from him?

I will like to see this in a different dimension. First, you must be a child of God who loves God. Second, you must carry your own grace. It is good to ride upon the grace of another person.

It is also important you have a personal relationship with God. Though I’m a little over 50 years old, I’m much more older than what you see because the wisdom of those who spoke to my life; who fathered me adds to mine.

This creates the strength that you see in me today. First, the grace of God upon the life of our late bishop is there. Second, my own personal relationship with God is there. Even if the foundation and structure are strong you need to lay the pillars. If the pillars are not very strong the building won’t hold. So, you need to lay strong pillars to link and support the foundation. Maturity comes next; not just maturity in faith but also emotional maturity that comes with wisdom.

You need wisdom to navigate issues, situations and circumstances. People have great and diverse expectations from the leadership. You must be able to manage those numerous expectations; and not all expectations are in congruous.

Some people have their personal interests. There are lots of challenges. There are lots of let’s wait and see. There are those who want to be at the sidelines. There are those who want to work. There are those who are overzealous. There are those who are just lukewarm. So, you need wisdom to manage this complexity. Another thing is your exposure. One of the things that have helped me in the ministry is my exposure in secular matters.

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