CW: You’re the founder and chief editor of Celestial News Online (CNO). Now, when we talk about media outlets that have significantly increased CCC’s exposure online, CNO has paved the way.
How did it begin? What led to the establishment of CNO?
MA: My passion for writing started at a very tender age. [Though], I was a late starter. I think I started reading at 12 years old – I couldn’t even spell my name. And, the first book I ever read in my life was the Bible in Celestial Church of Christ. My dad enrolled me in evening lessons; they got me teachers but I could not read and I could not understand UNTILI started going for evening worship. I was in one of the services and I just opened the bible and started [reading and] saying “I-sai-ah,”“Mo-se-s.” I started reading out things [to my astonishment] and I showed the person beside me and asked “please, what is this? Is this Moses?”and the person said “ehn, that’s Moses now”and I was like no it can’t be. And I saw “Je-ri-mi-ah”. I said “sorry, is this Jeremiah?”and he said,“yes, that’s Jeremiah”. I then knew how to read from there. It was amazing.
God wanted to prepare me for a journey, so he made that happen miraculously in Celestial Church of Christ. So, that ability to read and write in Cele – and not in the school I was in then – I think there’s a reason behind that.
Before now, I’ve been a journalist. I started with Fame Magazine as an advert’s person – like an errand boy. I was sent to the newsroom, graphics room and sub-editors’ room. I was always looking at what they were doing [in those various areas] and it developed my interest in journalism. I also went to journalism school and I started writing. Then gradually, I transitioned from mainstream to online journalism.
I happen to be the first online editor in Nigeria. In 2002, I started with a guy, Henry Black, who was based in Amsterdam. When he approached me, he said he had been reading my column and he wanted me to write blogs. Back then, we weren’t exposed to things like that in Nigeria. I didn’t even have a phone at the time, but the man bought me a small camera and a mini laptop. In fact, my publisher [at Fame Magazine] didn’t even have a laptop. So, when the man gave me these items, I started moving around and I became a roving journalist – taking pictures and writing stories, so I became a hot cake. I was posting news online through that man.
He said we should become partners; there’s no money now, but when money comes, we’ll enjoy ourselves. I said okay no problem. The fact that he even gave me a camera and a laptop was enough for me! I didn’t even want any other thing.
Linda Ikeji came five years after I started. She took over the industry and became a household name.
Me, I was very controversial [at the time]. I was writing nasty things about people; I wouldn’t write something good. If I went to an event, I wouldn’t look at how good the event was. I would look at those who got drunk, acted funny, or how the bride’s clothes got torn – you know, things like that are what I was looking out for. And this [approach to journalism] happened because that’s how I was trained. I was trained by “crack reporters”– these are people that would go to all lengths to get a report. And you know, you follow the example of those who teach you. That is what led to me being a bit controversial as a reporter. People would always call me and say all sorts, but I didn’t really care.
I and the guy [Henry Black] had issues so we separated and I [eventually] started my own thing. The issues started when I was having problems with some artists. They lied against me and said I was asking for money to write a story, but because I didn’t get the money that’s why I went and wrote [something bad] – there’s nothing truthful about that and they [the accusers] could not tender any evidence. But I got arrested and spent almost two weeks in custody. It was at this point, somebody started appearing to me [while in a trance] to talk to me, teaching me things – the bible and all that. So, when I woke up [came out of the trance], I started prophesying to people in the cell. I would tell someone “tomorrow you are leaving here, somebody’s coming to pick you”and it would happen.
To cut a long story short, I stopped working with Henry Black because when I was incarcerated, he was supposed to have my back, but he wasn’t there at all. He created the platform, we were partners but he didn’t want his name being mentioned, so I left.
I went to Ghana for a friend’s event, she wanted to premiere her movie so she wanted me to be the reporter for Nigeria to cover her event. I met a lady where I was staying, and she asked me what I did for a living and I said I was a journalist. At this time, I was writing for Global Excellence magazine, so I told her that’s where I worked. She asked if I was the owner and I said no. She then asked how old I was and then I told her. After this, she said “at your age, you don’t have your own thing that you do? It’s a pity… Is it when you become 40 that you’ll start doing your own thing?” I was wondering, what’s the problem with this lady? I never knew it was an angel that was speaking through her.
I started thinking, this isn’t ordinary. Something must have spoken through this girl. Then, I called my godmother who had a website for her business. I asked for the number of the person who did her website. I called him and he told me it would cost N220,000 for a news site. All I had in my account was maybe N70,000. He eventually settled for N180,000, so I transferred everything I had in my account for him to get started immediately.
That is how I started Mike Angelo News and business was booming because I started my own thing. But then [after some time] things started going differently. I would write a story myself and get 300 readers, then maybe someone like Linda Ikeji would pick the story and would get like 3,000 comments – whereas I would not get more than three comments. I was now asking what’s happening.
Then, I met a marketing publisher – Akin Adeoya – at one event. I told him I was thinking of starting a magazine for my church. Let me also tell you that, I happen to be the first person to start an all colour, all gloss magazine in Celestial Church of Christ.
CW: Was this even before Celestial Ovation then?
MA: Of course – Celestial Ovation started three years later. ‘The Celestial Magazine’ – it’s on my Facebook page, you’ll see it there. It was an all coloured, all gloss, 58-page magazine. Even ask [the founder of] Celestial Ovation himself.
I even started that before I started Mike Angelo News. But I got frustrated because I was spending close to N500,000 to publish and I was getting nothing in return. I decided not to continue and started www.mikeangelonews.com, which is still functioning today.
But coming back to my conversation with Akin [and how CNO really began], at that time I was frustrated with what was happening. I would write my story and get three comments, but the same story from Linda would get 3,000. I explained that I need to do an online magazine for my church. He said this would be very good for me and it would mean that I would be operating from the ‘Blue Ocean’. He then explained the illustration of the Red Ocean and the Blue Ocean.
He said the business I’m in is the ‘Red Ocean’ and it’s filled with sharks [very popular and highly competitive journalists] like Linda Ikeji and co. There’s always blood in that ocean so it’s difficult for the upcoming journalists to make it. But he explained that if I want to move into an online magazine for our church, I would be the dolphin ruling in the ‘Blue Ocean’. I thought this would be very good.
I thought of a name. In the days of Rev. A. A. Bada they did ‘Celestial News’. It was a newsletter where they put his movements and information from the Members of Pastor-In-Council (MPIC). So, I added ‘Online’ at the end of the ‘Celestial News’ so they won’t get me on copyright issues.
That is how I started www.celestialnewsonline.com.
CW: How do you think CCC is currently portrayed in the media, and how do you think CNO contributes towards this overall image?
MA: The way we are perceived in the media – or in society on whole – is nothing to write home about. It’s not something new. During the days of Papa Oshoffa, they called him all sorts of names – they said he was doing voodoo, magic and all sorts. Jesus Christ, Himself went through the same thing, so it is expected. If you are doing something people do not understand they will think you are doing something ungodly.
People call us [Celestials] all sorts of things, but they will still be the ones to call us in the middle of the night to say they want us to do spiritual work for them. They don’t want to be associated with the church because of [incorrect] labeling.
Now, CNO’s contribution; if the church is being lampooned for doing good and CNO is trying to tell everyone with what we put out there that we’re not herbalists and people being affected negatively are saying rubbish about us, we’re happy about it because we’re fulfilling our purpose as part of the overall goal – CCC being the last boat of salvation to cleanse the world.
CW: How do CNO’s objectives fit into the mission of CCC?
MA: The mission of the church is that it’s the last boat of salvation. There are similarities from the days of Noah when he built the ark.
Knowledge which I’ve been exposed to showed that people went into Noah’s ark to desecrate it – they would urinate and drop faeces inside the ark. Then God inflicted them with boils and all manner of diseases. Then, one of them went to the ark again to pass his faeces. But this time he fell into the ark and he became whole – totally clean and as fresh as a newborn baby.
The Bible we read is originally made from various scrolls, but many things were removed from it. The knowledge will expose us to a lot of things – go online and read. Many things should be in the Bible that they removed. Because of my passion for the knowledge I’ve read some of the other books.
So, [back to Noah’s ark], people now asked the man how and where he found healing. He said it was inside the ark and everybody went back to the same ark they messed up and they were rubbing themselves in it and also became whole – that is how the ark became clean again. I see the same thing happening in CCC. Those who are standing against the mission of the church, making people call us all sorts of names will still lick the dust. But the vision is for an appointed time.
CW: You seem to have come a long way from your early days. But how would you describe your style of journalism now?
MA: Journalism is a profession of writing. When you’re in the business and you put the ethics of the profession first, I think you’re a good journalist. We [CNO] may not score 100% accuracy in our reports but out of the nine principles of journalism, we try to apply the four major principles in what we do – accuracy, fairness, being thorough and integrity.
We once published something about a man in his evangelist garment who wore the rope for his Ogboni [a secret society/occultic group] attire on top of his garment. He displayed this picture of himself on his own Facebook page which has more than 5,000 followers – and you’re saying we should not report that? On his Facebook there will be [members of] Redeem, Catholic, Pentecostal on his friend’s list and they will see what he is wearing. What is the man portraying? That Celestial is a church of Ogboni. As a journalist, I had to write about it to condemn such act and explain that Celestial is not a church of Ogboni and that this man is not one of us. A lot of people called me to lampoon me – people, that were eating under him. They called me names to say I was being biased and not being fair in my report. I think they’re the ones that need attention.
CW: On that note sir, you have a lot of supporters, but you also have some critics who make their feelings about you known publicly – sometimes, on your very own blog site (CNO). Some individuals think you’re quite a controversial figure. Why do you think that is?
MA: It’s their personal opinion. When there’s no light, everybody will be in the dark but when the light comes all eyes will be opened to see. That light will give you knowledge.
The essence of CNO is to be a light to the church. Some have portrayed CCC in such a way that you should not speak because of the elders – No! Everybody is anointed, I do not see them as being extraordinary.
Let me tell you one thing. A few months after I started CNO, I just finished reading my bible and I placed my head on my bible and I slept off. God showed me a vision; I saw the image of David when he was killing Goliath. The angel told me “that is you.”In that my dream, the angel opened a book before me and I saw ‘ISAIAH 555.’ Triple 5, there was no colon to separate to show if its Isaiah 5:55 or Isaiah 55:5. Before God that I serve in CCC, when I woke up from the dream, I wanted to go to that book to read, Isaiah 55:5 was opened before me.
I have had a series of court cases, but I have never attended one courtroom. God has settled it all. The people fighting me should know they’re not fighting me, it’s God they’re fighting.
Another vision I saw; Papa Oshoffa was singing at Imeko. He had a brown hat on. Everybody was kneeling down and bowing their head, but I wasn’t bowing, I was looking at him and he was coming towards me. He was in his leader sutana and loin. I was thinking “ah this man is coming to me; I hope he’s not coming to rebuke me!”He just took off his hat and placed it on my head.
What I’m doing with CNO is a calling from God. It’s the light that will open the eyes of everybody. I never got support from anywhere. A lot of people I called for support said no, that I’m too controversial. I do this, I do that – and I laugh.
If people say I’m controversial, I think what they’re saying about me is subjective and not objective.
There was a story I wanted to put up, and somebody was telling me to cover the image of the church. Why would you do that when Jesus Christ Himself went inside the tabernacle to beat people out? If there were new media back then, this thing would be trending online! I’m posting about the abnormalities of a shepherd and you’re telling me I’m spoiling the name of the church? They should stop doing what is causing people to see and post – let us start from there.
CW: It is said that in the days of Baba Bada there was a sort of press council that managed the church’s public image and it oversaw all the publications.
Do you feel regulatory measures should return to the church for better management of information, or do you feel it’s more progressive for the church if everything remains decentralized – so that anybody who desires can start a media platform [without checks and balances]?
MA: Our church is the only church that I’ve seen… Some churches have just one branch, but if you see what their media department looks like, you will marvel. It’s only Celestial Church of Christ that I have seen in my entire life that has a very shaky, incompetent and unrecognizable media department. Even the [CCC Worldwide] website is nothing to write home about. And that is the platform that is supposed to be where information about the church is disseminated from.
When you have people that are not competent to handle your media department, what do you expect? I am not talking about myself – I am not even competent; I’m not interested in anything. But let’s do the right thing the right way. You cannot continue to do something the same way and expect different results.
The world is moving, we should move with the trend.
I do not have a university degree; I only went to Journalism School and Bible College. Let them come out and let’s talk on new media- a term for digital media- [ideas for the progress of the church].
CW: Finally, sir, where do you see CNO in the next 5-10 years? What are your plans for CCC in relation to the media for the future generation?
You’ve just spoken about how the church’s current media set up is shaky. So, what are your plans to tackle this?
MA: First of all, we need to change the mentality of our people.
The last time we went to Imeko, I went to Pastor EMF Oshoffa’s house. I said [to those with me] “This is a beautiful mansion for Baba o! Is it [also] for Pastor’s to come, or is it strictly for Baba EMF Oshoffa?”
They said “No o! It’s Pastor EMF Oshoffa’s house. He built it with his money.”
I said “Good! What is this building for?”
They said, “It is the administration department of the church.”
I said “Oh, for crying out loud! Why would you put an administrative block of the church in a personal house? Why?!”
Is that not insanity? Is he going to remain Pastor for life?! Okay, if I become the Pastor of the church tomorrow, what will I be going to his house to do for crying out loud? Because I would like to have access to the administrative section of my church. Why would I go into his house before seeing the admin people – please, tell me!
So, we need to change our mentality first – that somebody thinks I’m in charge – No! it is a community thing. You need to discuss and talk about it; you cannot build an administrative quarter of a church in a personal house because he’s the pastor in charge. Let them start from that first. If they can remove that admin section first, then we can now start thinking of how to make things happen.
I’m not going to talk about the vision I have for CNO in 5-10 years. Right now, I’m helpless. I don’t have money, I don’t have support, I’m controversial.
I’ve got people calling from America, London, Mexico. Some people called me saying there’s no church somewhere in Italy. There are about 25 people in total that gathered themselves but there’s nobody to lead them. So, they said I should come and lead them. I said I don’t even have an international passport. Do I have to take a train to Italy? You see, these are things I push to the authorities to look into – for them to see and know what they should do. That particular area in Italy, they said there’s no church where they are. Maybe near Monaco or something. So, what they do is gather together and watch services online on a screen and go.
If it was a church that knows what church planting is all about, as soon as I publish a story about this online, they would have sent someone to that place. But our church is not to plant but to take from what others are planting, even if you’re the one using your own money. Just give them their share. They don’t care about the welfare of the shepherds, they don’t care about the seed of the shepherd – just to collect their share, and that’s what the church knows how to do best. We can never move forward with that. Let’s change from all that, let’s even leave media. When you do the right thing and put the right things in the right places, things will fall into place.
Let them start from the top, the admin quarters to be separated. These other things should be done right. There should be welfare monitoring and also policing in the church to carry out investigations.
They should really embrace this new media and look at what we report and ask questions so changes can be made. But they see what we do as creating enmity – No! It is to open their eyes, are they blind?!
Look, I’m not an angel I’m an ordinary person. If I have been wrong you can always call me. Of course, we can make mistakes but where we are making mistakes, they should always call us [to make corrections].
Anywhere I go, I am always controversial, but I always fight for what is right…
CW: Thank you, sir, for the time you’ve spent talking to us. God bless you.
MA: You’re welcome. Please keep up the good work.