Despite the fact that many Nigerians may not have heard of him, Tony Rapu, medical practitioner and Pastor, is without any doubt, one of the most remarkable men in our country. And as he clocks 60, it is important to examine the impact he has had on the career of so many people in positions of authority in both the public and private sectors and they include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Chinedu and Oby Ezekwesili, Bola Adesola, Remi Morgan, Onari Duke, Ituah Ighodalo, Babatunde Fowler, Ben Akabueze, Agu Irukwu, Ghandi Olaoye, Sola David-Borha, Imoh-Abasi Jacob and several others.
The story started in 1991 when Pastor Tony was sent out along with 50 workers by the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, to start one of the two Model Parishes (English speaking without Yoruba translation) in Lagos. Tunde Bakare, lawyer and respected Senior Pastor at Latter Rain Assembly, was actually the first person that received the mandate to seek out the upwardly mobile professionals and bring them to Christ from Pastor Adeboye. But shortly after, Bakare left RCCG and that assignment fell on Tony Rapu.
Pastor Tony started the parish at Roxy Cinema in Apapa before moving to Jimoh Odutola Street in Eric Moore, Surulere. It was there that I joined other young professionals trying to find meaning to their lives. It was also at Surulere that the Parish expanded even though it retained the name Apapa within the RCCG structure.
A charismatic bible teacher and mentor, Pastor Tony had a peculiar way of training his workers. First, each batch was regarded as a Class and had a name: Pioneers, Reformers, Elisha, Front-liners etc. Before each group would take off, an announcement was usually made in church for applications and after the selection process, the trainings were always very rigorous with such Pastors as Ayo Adeloye (now in RCCG, Zambia) and Dr. Okey Onuzo most often invited for some of the sessions.
As the Church grew, over 300 members of congregation applied to be accepted in the “Government Workers Class” and next, the “Territorial Workers Class”. Only 30 were eventually selected for each those classes, most of them from business and the professions. The “Government Workers” Class is considered the most prophetic set that Pastor Tony trained because of the number of them that went into public service at different levels. Pastor Tony taught members of this class that they were called by God to establish “governmental order” in a broken down society. He demanded of them a commitment to a lifestyle of “repairing the breach” and “rebuilding the ruins of a society entrapped in morality and value crisis”. And this was more than 20 years ago!
In a recent recollection of that era, Prof. Osinbajo recounted the impact of Pastor Tony on his life and ministry. “As a professor of the law of evidence, everything must be demonstrated by scientific proof and logic. But Pastor Tony led me to understand the evidence of things that are not seen. In 1993, I came to the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Apapa Parish. I was in a workers group. Guess what he named that workers group? Government! It was prophetic. Oby Ezekwesili was in the same group with me. She of course became Minister in two different departments”, said Osinbajo in reference to Ezekwesili’s time as Minister of Solid Minerals and later, Education under President Olusegun Obasanjo.
However, the greater tribute was paid by the man who, by all account, is Pastor Tony’s spiritual father. At a recent event to mark the 25th anniversary of the Apapa Family, Pastor Adeboye spoke about the exceptional talent and spiritual zeal of Pastor Tony. “If you give me 1000 Pastor Tonys, I will capture the whole world for Christ”, he said of the man who, 26 years ago, ran with his (Adeboye’s) vision and became one of the catalysts for the phenomenal growth of the RCCG. But Pastor Tony’s impact is more to the larger society through the thousands of men and women whose faith he helped to inspire and nurture.
The message of Pastor Tony was always that Christians who cannot make a difference within their societies have no testimonies and for that reason, most of his preaching centred around integrity in the workplace, leading by example, restoring order, breaking down systems and rebuilding walls. Applying Biblical principles, Pastor Tony taught his congregation about purpose and how authority could be used to do good. Those were the ethos that made Apapa Parish different in those days.
With the conclusion of the training of the Government Workers set in 1994, Pastor Tony established the Social Reformation Department which went on to pioneer the numerous social intervention programmes of the Apapa Parish at the time. Out of that vision came Hope Hospital, a full-fledged medical centre run by professionals in the church; Hebron House, a drug rehabilitation clinic that help many junkies out of their addictions; Camp Gilgal in Ikorodu, the first ever rehabilitation programme for “Area Boys” in Lagos in the 90’s; Redeemers International Secondary School that birthed the church education mission; an orphanage by name Green Pastures, etc. It was about the same time that the Parish established what is now Haggai Mortgage Bank which boasts of N5 billion shareholders fund and has become a big RCCG financial institution (being managed by my egbon, Richard Olubameru), helping in the expansion of what is now the Redemption City.
With the theme, “Preparing a People” which was more or less the motto of Apapa Parish, Pastor Tony challenged members to be different and to aspire for excellence in whichever area we found ourselves. The admonition for the Christian to be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world” was not a sermon to be heard but a way to live, he insisted. And as he trained the workers, Pastor Tony also trained the whole church.
What made Pastor Tony endearing to members of his congregation was the fact that there was no hypocrisy in his ministry. He practiced what he preached. And so did his lovely wife, Nkoyo, herself an upwardly mobile lawyer at that time. Because he was young, then in his thirties, Pastor Tony was also approachable to many of the early members who were within the same age group with him. To them, he was either PT or Pastor Tony (not Pastor Rapu) and with that tradition, which he established, RCCG Pastors from what is now known as Apapa Family (comprising more than a thousand parishes spread across the world) till today are addressed by their first names.
In laying a solid foundation, there were various training programmes that members of the church had to go through but the emphasis was always about making a difference in whatever little corners we found ourselves. He was always challenging members to find worthy causes and pursue them. The words he kept emphasizing were Brokenness, Values, Service, Sacrifice, Character, Excellence, Influence, Nation-building, Authority and Leadership. Those were the kernels of Pastor Tony’s teachings in the last days of Apapa Parish, as it then was.
However, by 1995, it was becoming evident that there was some form of tension within RCCG and at the centre of it were members of the Apapa Parish led by Pastor Tony. We were deemed to be flamboyant and “still in the world” aside the fact that we were also considered “different” from the RCCG mainstream at the time. Yet this was a parish led by a Pastor who tolerated no form of carnality or compromise; a church where prayers and fasting were articles of faith; a parish where undiluted word was preached and where discipline was the watchword. But many of the members were also relatively young and were doing well in their chosen professions. So, from what I could see as a reporter, the main problem was envy.
It is, however, to the eternal credit of Pastor Adeboye, and a testimony to his Prophetic Ministry, that he was able to manage what was tending towards a crisis for the church with so much dexterity. And he protected Apapa Parish from what could have been an implosion. It was his idea in the first place to start the model parishes but there were evidently people within the old order who saw Apapa Parish as a disruptive force. They apparently could not see what Pastor Adeboye saw and were ready to throw the congregation to the wolves.
In the midst of that turmoil, Pastor Tony went on a long mission work to London to start Jesus House UK, one of the first groups of foreign missions of the RCCG outside Africa. With the late Eskor Mfon, (another firebrand Pastor and disciplinarian who brooked no nonsense) in charge, there was no change in direction in Apapa Parish. But on the day Pastor Tony returned in September 1996 to preach his unforgettable sermon, “The night is far spent”, the church was not only filled to the brim, it was also evident there was going to be a serious shaking. It was a loaded sermon that hinted of the change to come; as he admonished that “the red sea has already closed behind us”. He made it clear that there was no way back in our Christian journey, no matter what the future held.
What that message did was to reinforce the fact that the calling of members transcended any pastor; as he challenged Apapa Parish members to contend for their faith. Not long after, he left RCCG in a quiet manner that left room for so much speculation about what was going on since he would not talk. And it took him more than a year to start “This Present House” where he is now the Senior Pastor.
Apparently because he had prepared the minds of members that he was only an instrument in the hands of God and that his job at RCCG was done, the congregation remained, following a seamless transition to the leadership of the late Pastor Eskor. I am almost certain Pastor Tony discouraged people from leaving RCCG with him. In any case, he had already prepared a congregation grounded enough to understand that the race to which Christians are called is not about any pastor.
Although I have not seen Pastor Tony in almost a decade, he is a man many of us can never forget because he, like his favorite Bible character, King David, has impacted our lives and his generation. As he therefore clocks 60, I wish Pastor Tony many more years of productive service in the Lord’s Vineyard and to the building of a New Nigeria.