Interviews

“I started life as a Pastor on an N8 monthly salary”: Dr Samuel Uche, Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria 

 Dr Samuel Chukwuemeka Uche, Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, made news recently when he was kidnapped at Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State, on a stretch of the Enugu – Port Harcourt Expressway. He, alongside the Bishop of Methodist Church, Owerri, and his chaplain, narrowly escaped death during the scary incident.

In an interview with The Sun, which took place before the hair-raising incident, the Prelate who will soon retire after putting in 48 years of service in the Lord’s vineyard, spoke on his call into the pastoral ministry and the things he would be doing after retirement. He called on the Nigerian government to curb the insurgency going on in the country and on leaders to be transparent in all their dealings. Most of all, he advised church leaders to mould the youth to have good character, and to look for other ways the youth could be helped.

You will be retiring soon. What should Nigerians expect from you after retirement?

I think I will like to be an elder statesman like others are. I will be engaged in advocacy and counselling. I will like to be the mouthpiece of the downtrodden and fellow vulnerable Nigerians who don’t have anyone to stand in for them. I will try to assist them, one way or the other. But then, there is a saying that “Once a Bishop, always a Bishop.” This means that even though I will retire from active service, I will still like to remain relevant in the scheme of things within the Methodist Church Nigeria and the ecumenical circle. I think I will have more time to render service to my fatherland, Nigeria, to the South-East where I come from, and to Imo, my home state.

How do you feel as the Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria?

It has not been easy. There are many challenges you face as a Prelate.  We have 80 dioceses, plus one Council and four Bishops. So, on the whole, I manage 84 Bishops. It has not been easy because the dioceses cut across the nation. The youths, or the young people, would bring their problems. The government would make demands on you. Other agencies of the church like the Christian Association of Nigeria, Students Christian Movement, Scripture Union, World Council of Churches, World Methodist Body, and Bible Society of Nigeria would all make demands on you.  So, all of them make demands and you must meet up. So it has not been easy. It is not easy to be the head of the church. You must have sound health. And your intellect must be sharp. It requires faithfulness and moral integrity. In fact, physically, morally and spiritually, you must be okay.

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Why is all that necessary?

You know, it is very delicate to serve God.  A human being may not know your secret, so you can afford to play the game. But God that we serve knows every secret of our hearts. So, you have to be careful. I am always conscious of the fact that I am serving He who sees me and knows me up to my inner being. I am always afraid of God. I try by His grace not to offend Him. And, I pray to God that anything I am or anything I will be by His grace, it is not by human efforts or qualifications.  My experience is that when you allow God to order your steps, He will always lead you on the path of righteousness. Even when you have obstacles, God will see you through. You can never be a failure if you are serving God in spirit and in truth.

How did that affect your decision to become a pastor or priest?

I was very good at both science and art subjects when I was in secondary school. So, my father thought of training me to become an engineer or a medical doctor, a pharmacist, or an architect. But my mother said no. In those days, she would bring me to the kitchen where she was cooking and say: “Don’t listen to your father. I made a pledge to God that you were going to be a pastor. Do you want me to die?” I would say: “No, Mama, you are not going to die because of a pledge you made to God on my behalf. I will help you to fulfil it.” She would say, “let it be in your mind that I used you to pledge to God that you would be a pastor, you would serve God.” I said, ‘Yes, Ma.’ I don’t know whether it is bribing or something. But the moment I said that she would be happy and give me pieces of fish to eat. So, through her constant drumming of that into my brain, I became conscious that one day I would be a clergyman or pastor. So, in those days, if anybody asked me what I would like to be, I would say, “Pastor.” And, they would say, “Ah, Pastors don’t have money o.” They would follow up that by giving me instances of pastors around our village or vicinity who were the best while in school but who were riding bicycles or trekking. They said if I entered the pastoral ministry, I would be as poor as them. I said, ‘Don’t worry. God knows what I would be.’  Eventually, I went into the ministry, and it wasn’t rosy.

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That was at what stage, sir?

I finished secondary school in June/July 1974. We got our WASSCE in October. I joined the church on December 8, 1974. I joined as a ministerial cadet or what you call a church agent. It was a special cadre in the church. Whereas other agents had Primary 6, they started when we were not yet born. Those of us who came in as agents after secondary school education were earning more than they in terms of salary. I started this church work with N8. That was before General Yakubu Gowon introduced Universal Primary Education in January 1975. There were the Udoji Awards whereby secondary school products were made by auxiliary teachers both in the primary and secondary schools because there was a dearth of teachers. Those who were very brilliant taught as auxiliary teachers in the secondary schools. Those who were not so brilliant were taught in primary schools. The salary of people with a Pass or Statement of Result or SR, as it was called then, was N88. But those who did well and had Grade 1, 2, and 3 were earning N94.80k. But I was still on N8. Though I did very well in WAEC exams, I was not moved by that money because I knew what I was pursuing. My aim was to just serve God. It was after a meeting in 1975 that the church said if we continue to pay these secondary school students so poorly, we would end up losing them to the government. So, the church met at Emmanuel College of Theology, near the University of Ibadan. There it was decided that we should be given N30 per month. Can you see the gap? My colleagues who didn’t do well in school were being paid N88. Those who did well were paid N94.80k. But those of us in the church who started life with N8 per month had our salary increased to N30. So, I didn’t join the pastoral workforce or the church because of money. I did because I felt in my mind that God wanted me.

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