Dr Harold Olusegun Demuren is the Deputy Baba Aladura of the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church (ESOCS). An Aeronautical Engineer and seasoned administrator, Demuren obtained a Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Aircraft Gas Turbine and Jet Propulsion Engines in 1975 from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Demuren, who devoted his entire career to aviation safety, rose to become the Director, Safety Services at the defunct Federal Civil Aviation Authority in 1992. He was appointed the Director-General and the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority from December 2005 to March 2013. He is one of the longest-serving DGs the aviation agency has ever had. Following a process driven by the NCAA under his leadership, Nigeria attained the coveted US Federal Aviation Administration Category 1 Certification in 2010. Though he was in 2011 declared the African Aviation Personality of the Year by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Demuren had earlier made history as the first African to be elected President, International Civil Aviation Organisation’s General Assembly in Montreal, Canada in 2010. His skilful and determined leadership of the Assembly was said to have resulted in the historic resolution on Climate Change for the Global Civil Aviation Industry. The thoroughbred aviation safety professional, in this interview with EMMANUEL ABODUNRIN, talks about his life, career, and service to God and particularly his undying love for the Cherubim and Seraphim Church.
What does your role as the Deputy Baba Aladura of the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim (ESOCS) entail?
Basically, it’s a spiritual assignment in which we assist the Baba Aladura in the administration, management, and running of the church. Of course, we deputise for the Baba Aladura when he is not around and also carry out several specific and special assignments in the day-to-day running of the church across our branches, districts, provinces, and the Central Management Council of the Holy Order spread all over the world. I am in charge of the overseas provinces in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, and Germany, and Hong Kong, among others.
Was the position as Deputy Baba Aladura by appointment or by an election?
It is by appointment in line with the constitution of the Holy Order. The immediate past Baba Aladura, the late Elder (Dr.) Lazarus Anuba Onyeleonu (Moses Orimolade VIII), elevated and appointed four of us as Deputies. Baba Aladura of ESOCS has an Advisory Board and according to the constitution of the Holy Order, the Baba Aladura can appoint his deputies and some other positions as stipulated in the constitution. And one of the highest positions is that of the Deputy Baba Aladura.
Before then, what was your relationship with the current Baba Aladura and Prelate of the ESOCS worldwide, His Most Eminence (Dr) David D.L. Bob-Manuel?
When he was the Senior Apostle General and Secretary to the Holy Order, I was the Assistant Secretary, Administration. So, we have worked together for many years. Dr Bob-Manuel was the most senior to all the Deputies Baba Aladura. While we were being elevated, he was the Senior Apostle General of the Holy Order while the rest of us were Supervisory Apostles General; we were next in rank to him. The late Baba Aladura Lazarus Onyelonu then appointed a new Secretary of the Holy Order and elevated some of us, Elder Bob-Manuel, Elder Nathan Ojiako, Elder Julius Farinloye and myself, Demuren. He appointed four of us as deputies and appointed Elder S.O Adewunmi as Senior Apostle General and Elder (Dr) Napo Emuchay as Secretary, and then, later on, Elder Emuchay was then promoted as Senior Apostle General and Elder Adewunmi was also appointed as Deputy Baba Aladura. So, after the demise of Baba Aladura Onyeleonu, of course, Elder Bob-Manuel was the most senior person and he was unanimously appointed as the Baba Aladura and we remain as deputies.
How did you become a member of the church or were you born into the Aladura sect?
I was born into the Cherubim and Seraphim in 1945; my grandmother and my mother were members of the church at that time in Ijebu Ode. The name of the church was Gbogunja House of Prayer and that was where I was born. I am from Ijebu Ode ,Ogun State while my wife is from Benin City, Edo State.
What has been your experience as a member of the C&S Church in terms of perception by friends and associates who are not members of the church?
My general impression is that most of people don’t understand the C&S but those who are close to me understand. The real name of the church is Aladura. They are prayer warriors founded by Moses Orimolade Tunolase and the church has spread all over Nigeria and overseas. A lot of people in Nigeria today, either Muslims or Christians, will not come to the C&S Church during the day but at night when nobody sees them, they come to our prayer house and sometimes their friends bring them for prayers, for protection, for healing, for deliverance and directions. I call them Nicodemus; they don’t come during the day, they come at night when nobody sees them.
The C&S is endowed with the spiritual power of vision, dreaming, prophesying, and hearing the voice of the Lord. Such power exists in C&S all over the world. However, there are a lot of bad eggs, just like in any other society, who have given the church a bad name. But thanks to God, the church has continued to grow from strength to strength.
Do you think it is fair for this same set of people to come in the open and speak ill of the C&S Church?
It is spiritual ignorance to speak ill of the C&S; they don’t understand because if they do, they wouldn’t be saying negative things about the church of God. The C&S is arguably the first Pentecostal church in Nigeria. It was founded in 1925 by St. Moses Orimolade Tunolase. In a few years’ time, we are going to celebrate our Centenary. We popularised dancing, clapping of hands, beating of drums, and vigil in the church. The most important thing is that we serve God in spirit and in truth as stated in John 4:23 and above all, we worship God in the name of Jesus Christ and that’s what we do.
What was childhood like for you both at home and in the church since you were born into the Aladura church?
My father was a strong Anglican but I know that he also used to go and pray in the C&S Church, just like Nicodemus. I lived with my grandmother when I was young and she was a strong C&S member. So, whenever I was with my grandmother, we would attend the C&S church and whenever I was with my father, we would go to the Anglican Church in Lagos. My primary school was an Anglican missionary school in Ijebu Ode after which I attended Ijebu Ode Grammar School, which is also an Anglican school. So I experienced both the Anglican Church and the C&S Church growing up.
Was there any time your dad got angry with you for worshipping at the C&S Church?
My maternal grandfather was a strong member of the Christ Church, Porogun at Ijebu Ode. He would quarrel with my grandmother for taking us but he was never angry with us because we were his grandsons. He loved us so much. So he quarrelled with our grandmother for taking his grandchildren to an Aladura church. But any day our grandfather was going to the Anglican Church, we would follow him too. So we were following both sides; we grew up like that, we didn’t find any difference. In fact, I tried to join the choir at the Porogun church but they were very strict. However, I had an opportunity to robe once when Rev. Festus Segun, who was a strict disciplinarian, was the Vicar of the church. Many years later, Rev Festus Segun Rose to become the Lord Bishop of Lagos after Bishop Seth Irunsewe Kale. I enjoyed so much both the experience from the Anglican Church and the C&S Church, so I learnt a lot from both churches.
Any regret for sticking to the C&S Church?
There is no regret. I have worshipped in the C&S Church all my life except when I was studying in Russia and in the US. I was a member of the choir and I beat the drums; I was also a member of the Salvation Army (ushers). I love the church so much. When I left Nigeria in 1965, I went to Russia at a time when there was a ban on religion and no functional church. Atheism was strong. We would listen to the BBC radio programmes for church services or go to the American and British embassies to worship and I did that which the Russians did not like. My faith in God was very strong but the C&S has a lot of influence on me. While I was in Russia, all the anniversaries of the C&S Church, whether Cherubim Anniversary, Seraphim Anniversary or St. Michael Anniversary, I would take part and do my prayers all alone and I would sing our songs. As God finally would help me, when I met my wife in Russia, we were both students while we became friends then I decided to run after her. We then decided to finally get engaged and get married.
How did you meet your wife in Russia?
When some new Nigerian students arrived in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, I was invited by my good friend, the President of the Nigerian students Union in Kiev then (the late Alhaji Babatunde Kasim), to welcome the new students and take them for dinner. I didn’t want to go initially but he persuaded me and I joined him. Strangely enough, while we were waiting in their (the new students’) hostel, I heard someone singing a C&S song. I was surprised and was also excited and I asked myself: In Russia where there is no religion? Who is singing a C&S song? She was not aware that there was someone around who knew the song she was singing. Even though she sang in English, I only knew the Yoruba version of the song.
What was the song, sir?
It was ‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…Psalm 124’, which translates as ‘Iba se pe Oluwa ko ti wa nitiwa …’ in Yoruba. Then I was surprised. She did not know me and it was her first day in Russia. But I made sure she was in the same taxi with me while we were going to the restaurant and also made sure we sat on the same table at the restaurant. So, we got engaged in Russia but we got married in the US.
So your wife also had a C&S background?
So, do you still speak the Russian language?
Yes, we do. In fact, when my wife and I want to have a private conversation in public, we switch to the Russian language. We do that a lot. We sometimes speak Russian in the house.
You have been married since 1973. What has been the secret behind your 46-year-marriage?
It’s the grace of God. We love each other and we are best of friends. Friendship and companionship are very important.
Your wife also rose to the top of her career in the course of your 46-year-marriage. Tell us about her.
I give thanks to God for my wife. She worked for many years at the Central Bank of Nigeria and rose to become the first female director of the apex bank. She was the Director of Trade and Exchange Department and then moved to become the Director of Human Resources from where she finally retired. She served as a non-executive director of GTBank and then rose to become the Chairman. She presently serves on the boards of Trust Fund and LAPO Microfinance.
Would you say you had pressure to dump the white garment church while abroad?
Never, I was rather going stronger and stronger. When we were in America, we regularly worshipped at the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). It’s like a Pentecostal Church and very similar to the C&S Church. We enjoyed ourselves there too. Again our faith grew; faith in God is everything. There is only one God and we believe in Jesus Christ and that’s how we have raised our children to have faith in God. All my children are still members of the C&S Church including all their wives and our grandchildren.
So, what is your advice for young couples?
There must be love, forgiveness and understanding. Both of you need to be good friends and not just husband and wife. Support yourselves, even in business. And the children are brought up in the fear of the Lord. Everything is love and you must have God in your presence; always make sure you are in the presence of God. Pray together that God should see you through. A family that prays together stays together.
It is the practice of the C&S Church to categorise members according to their ranks and some people, particularly some youth leaders and a new breed of church leaders, think it is unnecessary and that it’s a distraction. As one of the leaders of the church, what’s your opinion?
As for the ranking in the C&S Church, you have to understand that it’s biblical. Bible says in Ephesians 4:11 that “and he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers…” according to their faith and those are the basic ranks that we have. As a church, we are very biblical and these are the things we follow. However, rank does not guarantee heaven; it’s your work and your faith in God and commitment and passion for Christ. You have to love, fear and obey God’s commandments. Our Lord Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and also to love our neighbours. As a true Christian, you must follow the life of Christ. Your character should also portray that you are a Christian. As an Aladura, you can’t be seen messing around and joining secret societies as well as engaging in other vices. Those are evil works of darkness and the anti-Christ. You are either in the light or in the darkness; you can’t be in both. Anywhere there is darkness when the light gets there, the darkness will varnish. We are meant to be the light of the world, and if you are going to be the light of the world, you must be Christ-like and show good examples to others.
Do you believe in seeing of vision/ prophesy the way the C&S Church does?
I believe very strongly in it. In Act 2: 1-4, the Bible says, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come , they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
They were filled with the Holy Spirit and they started speaking in tongues.
Unfortunately, there are too many fake Prophets these days who are giving fake prophecies to make money. These bad eggs have messed up the C&S Church. Throughout the Old Testament, the people and their kings always sought God’s direction before doing anything. Jesus gave everything for free. The Bible didn’t say you should charge people. The Founder of the C&S, St. Moses Orimolade Tunolase, made it very clear that you can’t charge money. However, we must continue to fast and pray for the spirit of God to direct.
As one of the leaders of the church, what are you doing to empower the youth and to ensure that they continue to stay and develop the church?
Leaving the church by the youth is a major concern. One of the past Baba Aladuras, the late Elder G.I.M Otubu, had set up the Mount Zion Youth Society to give the youth at the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim a sense of belonging and a voice. Specifically, our Evangelical Unit is being driven by the youth and they are doing very well. We thank God for that. The church is also working on several empowerment programmes aimed at creating jobs for the youth. Youths are the leaders of tomorrow and we must continue to encourage them to remain steadfast and be prepared for future leadership. The current Baba Aladura has in fact given them administrative positions in the church both male and female.
What about the women in the church?
Just as in the time of the Bible, the women play a major role in our church. We have a strong umbrella body for the women in the church, which is the Women Association headed by the three titled mothers: Mother Captain, Mother Cherub, and Mother Seraph. These are the three most senior ranks for the women created by the founder of the C&S Church himself almost 100 years ago. The women fold is the largest section of the congregation and we appreciate our women so much. In the New Testament, the women were faithful to the Lord Jesus; they stayed with Jesus till the end up to the time of his trial and crucifixion even when the disciples, who were men, ran away. They were also the first to see Jesus even though He didn’t make them apostles. They have continued to be a strong pillar of support for the church of God. The slogan of the women in ESOCs is: Eternal Women, arise and shine.
You became the DG of NCAA in 2005 and you are considered as one of the best DGs the agency has ever had. Why did you opt for Aeronautical Engineering at a time when Medicine, Law and Civil Engineering were more popular?
During our time in the late ’50s and early 60’s, Law was one of the most prestigious professions. My father wanted me to be a lawyer by the way but while I was in school, I was not good in Latin. Latin was one of the requirements to study law and I was not good in Latin. I was getting poor marks in Latin but I was doing extremely well in Physics, Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. I was very good in the Sciences –Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Those were my best subjects. During that time, there was a Russian Cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin, who was the first man to go to Space. So, I became interested in Space Science and I went to read about it and that was what got me into Aeronautical Engineering. So, when the opportunity came, I applied for a foreign government’s scholarship to study Aeronautical Engineering abroad. Nigeria was good then; if you had three papers in your A’Levels, you were good for scholarship. I applied and I did very well in the exam. Meanwhile, the priorities of the Nigerian government then were Medicine, Civil Engineering, as well as Electrical and Mechanical Engineering for the United States scholarship but I wanted to study Aeronautical Engineering. I was asked to change my course but I refused. So I could not get the American scholarship (ASPAU) then. Then the Russian scholarship came on and with my three A’Levels papers, I got the Russian scholarship.
How long did you stay in the US and what were you doing?
I got admission into MIT, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics to do my doctorate degree from 1972 to 1976.
When you came back to Nigeria, where did you work first?
We were recruited from the United States by the Federal Civil service Commission into the Federal Ministry of Civil Aviation as a Senior Mechanical Engineer and later converted to Airworthiness Surveyor (now Aircraft Safety Inspector) at the Air Registration Branch (ARB) under the Directorate of Civil Aviation. I rose from this rank to become the Director of Safety Services in the defunct Federal Civil Aviation Authority in 1992.
Before you became the DG of NCAA, you were running an airline. Can you tell us about it?
Before then, I came back into the Ministry of Aviation as an Aeronautic Engineer. We dealt with airworthiness, flight operation, licensing, and flight safety. We were there in the ministry until when there was a big request in the country that Nigeria needed to have an aviation policy. I was a strong member of that committee. Late Air Commodore Falope was the chairman. During the military regime, Air Vice Marshal Anthony Okpere (retd.) was the Hon. Minister for Aviation. At the end of that excise, an autonomous Federal Civil Aviation Authority was created out of the Ministry of Aviation. I became their deputy director and I later became the director of safety for Nigeria and that was where we achieved a lot. But on August 31, 1995, we were suddenly retired.
After then, I immediately joined the Flight Safety Foundation and continued advocating for aviation safety.
Along with my colleagues, we started Afrijet Airlines, a cargo airline and we forgot about working for the government. The business was doing well and suddenly the government came back and invited me to come and head the NCAA. So I resigned from Afrijet Airlines and joined the NCAA.
What would you say were your greatest contributions to the aviation sector as the DG of NCAA?
As DG of NCAA, we give thanks to God. It was when things were tough that we got there. This was because we were flying too many old airplanes in Nigeria at that time. Some aircraft in the fleet were as old as 35 years. Government policy now forbids bringing over 22 years old aircraft to carry passengers in Nigeria. But when we came in, it was a different ball game. There was not so much money then, and the interest rates on loans were very high. International lenders had a very bad perception of the country and Nigeria was seen as a high-risk state. Our first assignment at the NCAA then was how to reverse such a situation. As a third world country, it was believed that we were not creditworthy and that we might default. To remedy this problem, ICAO had set up the Cape Town Convention and Aircraft Protocol to help third world countries so that they could lease brand new aircraft as mobile equipment.
Of course, there are conditionalities that must be met before the international financial institutions will lease aircraft to you. They must ascertain that the legal framework is in place to protect their assets. The replacement of ageing aircraft in Nigeria was made possible through the implementation of the Cape Town Convention. For the first time, therefore, newer and in fact, brand new aircraft were registered in Nigeria and used to carry passengers in the domestic scene. We got the support of the National Assembly and the Presidency at that time and we were able to sign and domesticate the Cape Town Convention in our statute books having met all the conditionalities required by the international finance & leasing institutions. At that tough time, old age aircraft were grounded and the AOCs (Air Operator Certificates) of many airlines revoked.
In 2010, the NCAA attained the coveted US Federal Aviation Administration Category One Certification. The FAA Category One Certification placed Nigeria aviation in the Premier League of global civil aviation with many inherent benefits for all stakeholders, especially operators and consumers of air transport services. The CAT 1 Certification translated into lower insurance premiums for airlines and other service providers, favourable lending/leasing terms for airlines, an upsurge of the volume of traffic into Nigeria following heightened confidence in airspace safety and certified systems, opportunities for local airlines to codeshare with established world-class airlines, and enhances the inflow of foreign direct investment and infrastructural development. The certification enabled the use of Nigerian registered aircraft and crew to operate flights to and from the continental USA and the repositioning of Nigeria as West Africa hub, promoting trade and cultural exchange.
Nigeria also made history in 2010 when, as the DG of NCAA, I became the first African to be elected President of the 37th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal, Canada, where a historic resolution on Climate Change for the Global Civil Aviation Industry was made. In 2014, I won the FSF-Boeing Aviation Safety Lifetime Achievement Award and the African Aviation Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding services to African Aviation Development. The Flight Safety Foundation awarded me the “Laura Taber Barbour Air Safety Award” in 2010.
Having done all of that, what do you make of the way you eventually left the NCAA?
There was an accident and loss of lives. Our prayers and our thoughts are still with those who lost their loved ones in that most unfortunate accident. When such things happen, it’s as if you don’t know what you are doing again. Our goal of zero accident which was maintained for almost seven years was suddenly dashed.
Look at what we have in aviation today happening to Boeing 737 Max. Ethiopian Airlines; a brand new airplane . Lion Air was also a brand new airplane . Compared to all other means of transportation, aviation is the safest means of transportation but unfortunately, accidents still do occur. So, we must continue to improve on technology, training, cooperation and collaboration among nations.
So, can we say that you have retired now?
My work on aviation safety advocacy continues with the Flight Safety Foundation, the biggest independent, international, and impartial non-profit that exists to champion the cause of aviation safety in the world, where I continue to serve on the board. So, that’s going on very strong and I’m serving in the Frontier Services Group. And I still consult generally in aviation.
But you also have a private company
Yes, the Evergreen Apple Nigerian Limited, an aircraft maintenance facility and an FBO in Lagos. My son presently runs it and I chair the Board.
Church activities take most of your time now?
Yes, 50/50, but it almost 65/35 now. The church takes most of my time.
There are many grounded aircraft lying fallow at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport taking the space that should be used for other things. What is the way forward that?
Dead aircraft should be removed from the apron to create space for serviceable ones and reduce congestion.
What is your advice for the current NCAA?
Keep the flag flying. Pay more attention to training particularly the safety inspectors, increase surveillance and ensure safety regulation without political interference.
What’s your view about the defunct Nigeria Airways?
Honestly, it’s unfortunate that we lost it. It used to be the bedrock of aviation in Nigeria. Government interference, inept management, outright lack of corporate governance destroyed the airline. For instance, Nigeria Airways once had 10 managing directors in 10 years. In essence, all of us must share the blame.
What could have been done differently?
What we could have done differently is very clear; we lack corporate governance. Many Nigerian companies also lack corporate governance and there is nothing we can do unless we have corporate governance entrenched in the system and it must be with zero political interference. For instance, the Ethiopian Airlines is to Ethiopia, what the NNPC is to Nigeria. They generate a significant amount of foreign exchange for their country. At one time, virtually half of the tickets sold by Ethiopian Airlines were sold here in Nigeria. Ethiopian Airlines has made Africa proud. As a Nigerian, I am jealous as I feel a Nigerian airline should be in that position. In essence, we can prosper in aviation if we do it right.
The current administration is championing a new national carrier named Nigeria Air but it has yet to fly. Do you think the government can successfully run a national carrier considering our experience with the Nigerian Airways?
Ethiopian Airlines is 100 per cent owned by the Government of Ethiopia. There are so many other national airlines that are doing well. So, it’s not a sin for the government to own an airline though it’s no longer popular. Political interference and lack of corporate governance must stop if Nigeria wants to run a national carrier successfully.
If you look at our domestic aviation sector, we have players who lack capacity. Should we be looking at a merger or acquisition in the nearest future?
The ability to work together is key in terms of cooperation and collaboration but the problem is the lack of corporate governance. Once we have corporate governance, even if our thinking level and objectives are different, we can still work together effectively. The major problem facing Nigerian airlines is the unfriendly operating environment, double-digit interest rates on loans to acquire aircraft, unstable foreign exchange to support operations, and naira-based revenue against the dollar-based operating expenses. Crew training and maintenance, as well as spare parts, are all dollars denominated. High insurance rate, high cost of fuel, and high taxes are also some of the challenges affecting the sector. Domestic aviation must survive because it has become the engine of economic growth.
Do you think the government is doing enough to mitigate these issues?
It’s a free market, so it’s very difficult. Airlines’ operations in Nigeria are old fashioned; that is why you see a lot of entries and exits.
If you look back at your life, would you say you are fulfilled?
God has been extra faithful and extra gracious to me in everything. God has been good. When I look back, I always give thanks to God. He’s extremely good to me and I can’t ask for more. With my partner, children, my family, we just give thanks to God. There were times of difficulties but God always sees us through. It’s good to serve God and also help those you can help to achieve their goals in life and assist them to go forward. One of the things that have strengthened my faith in God is that I have been privileged to visit Israel for many years. This year will be my 36th visit to Israel non-stop. I go every year, sometimes twice.
Was there a message that you should go to Jerusalem every year?
Not at all; I just have the opportunity to. I was one day on an assignment and I met a woman on the flight, who asked me if I had visited Israel before and I said no. She then said I should try and go that I would love it. That was how I started and it has changed my life completely. It is great to work in the footstep of Jesus Christ. Right from Bethany (Lazarus’ Tomb), to Mount Olives, down to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Kidron Valley, the Wailing Wall, up to the Solomon’s Temple/Dome of The Rock, up to Mount Zion, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Hebron, ancient Shiloh, and Mount of Transfiguration, etc. I can compare the Old Testament and the New Testament and understand more about the three main religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It’s very important to me and it has developed my faith very strongly that the Lord Jesus came to this world to save sinners. In fact, I have gone to Jerusalem with my mother, my wife, my children and grandchildren. It’s has been a wonderful experience. God is truly great. 5,000 years ago and the same God is still the same today.
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