By Mfonobong Nsehe
God is good, especially if you’re a Nigerian pastor with some business savvy. These days, millions of souls, desperate for financial breakthroughs, miracles and healing, all rush to the church for redemption. And while the bible expressly states that salvation is free, at times it comes with a cost: offerings, tithes, gifts to spiritual leaders, and a directive to buy literature and other products created by men of God.
Pastors are no longer solely interested in getting people to Heaven; they’ve devised intelligent ways to make good money while reaching out to souls.
Take Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, for example. He is the founder and lead pastor of the Christ Embassy, a thriving congregation with branches in Nigeria, South Africa, London, Canada and the United States. His publishing company, Loveworld Publications, publishes ‘Rhapsody of Realities,’ a monthly devotional he co-authors with his wife. It sells over 2 million copies every month at $1 apiece. He also owns television stations, newspapers, magazines, a hotel, a fast-food chain, and more.
Many other Nigerian pastors are similarly building multi-million dollar empires from their churches. Today, pastors fly around in private jets, drive fancy cars like Daimlers, Porsches and BMWs, don Rolexes and Patek Phillipes, and own breathtaking mansions all over the world.
After the blog post I wrote in May about Nigerian pastors owning private jets, I was bombarded with emails from readers requesting to know the richest pastors in Nigeria. So I set out to investigate the assets of some of Nigeria’s most prominent pastors, and I came up with conservative estimates of their fortunes. I contacted representatives for all of the pastors and all except Matthew Ashimolowo’s representative confirmed ownership of the assets I list. Representatives for Pastor Ashimolowo did not respond to my emails.
Bishop David Oyedepo
Affiliation: Living Faith World Outreach Ministry, aka Winners Chapel
Estimated net worth: $150 million
David Oyedepo is Nigeria’s wealthiest preacher. Ever since he founded the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry in 1981, it has grown to become one of Africa’s largest congregations. The Faith Tabernacle, where he hosts three services every Sunday, is Africa’s largest worship center, with a seating capacity of 50,000. Oyedepo owns four private jets and homes in London and the United States. He also owns Dominion Publishing House, a thriving publishing company that publishes all his books (which are often centered on prosperity). He founded and owns Covenant University, one of Nigeria’s leading tertiary institutions, and Faith Academy, an elite high school.
Church: Believers’ Loveworld Ministries, a.k.a Christ Embassy
Estimated net worth: $30 million – $50 million
Last year, the charismatic preacher was at the center of a $35 million money laundering case in which he was accused of siphoning funds from his church to foreign banks. Pastor Chris pleaded no wrongdoing and the case was eventually dismissed. His church, Christ Embassy, boasts more than 40,000 members, several of whom are successful business executives and politicians. Oyakhilome’s diversified interests 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.
Church: Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN)
Estimated net worth: $10 million – $15 million
Nigeria’s most controversial clergyman is also one of its richest and most philanthropic. T.B Joshua heads the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN), a congregation he founded in 1987, which accommodates over 15,000 worshippers on Sundays. The Pastor has remained controversial for several years for his inexplicable powers to heal all sorts of incurable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, cancer and paralysis. For miracle-craving worshippers, it’s the perfect seduction. The church currently has branches in Ghana, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Greece. In the past three years, he has given over $20 million to causes in education, healthcare and rehabilitation programs for former Niger Delta militants. He owns Emmanuel TV, a Christian television network, and is close friends with Ghanaian President Atta Mills.
Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC)
Estimated net worth: $6 million – $10 million
In 1992, Foursquare Gospel Church, a Nigerian church, sent Ashimolowo to open a satellite branch in London. But Pastor Matthew had other ideas and decided to set up his own church instead. Today, his Kingsway International Christian Center is reportedly the largest Pentecostal church in the United Kingdom. In 2009, the church posted profits of close to $10 million and assets worth $40 million. Ashimolowo earns an annual salary of $200,000, but his real wealth comes from varied business interests including his media company, Matthew Ashimolowo media, which churns out Christian literature and documentaries. Ashimolowo’s representatives did not respond to a request confirming his net worth and ownership of all these assets.
Church: Household of God Church
Net worth: $3 million -$10 million
Pastor Okotie made his first success as a popular pop musician in the 80s. He found the light, embraced the bible and set up the Household of God Church, one of Nigeria’s most flamboyant congregations. His 5,000 member church consists predominantly of Nollywood celebrities, musicians, and society people. He contested and lost Nigerian presidential elections for the third time this year under the Fresh Party, a political party he founded and funds. An automobile lover, he owns a Mercedes S600, Hummer and Porsche among several others.
Mfonobong Nsehe writes for Forbes.com
Follow me on Twitter @EmperorDIV