During the Easter, Sterling Bank Plc threw caution to the wind when its management approved a provocative, contemptuous and an insensitive Easter celebration advert.
The bank, in its thoughtlessness and insensitivity published an advert about the resurrection of Christ and compared it to the rise of Agege bread, artificially enhanced with yeast.
“Like Agege Bread, He rose! Happy Easter,” was the content of the profane advert with the photo of puffed, golden-brown, halved Agege bread, a brand consumed in Lagos.
The advert piece calls to mind the 2002 comment in ThisDay newspaper of November 16 which touched off riots in Nigeria from November 20-23, resulting in many deaths and Nigeria losing the hosting right of that year’s Miss World Beauty Pageant.
Twenty years down the line, the chief executive officer of Sterling Bank, Mr. Abubakar Suleiman, does the unthinkable by approving the publication of a blasphemous advert at Easter.
That publication calls into question the psyche of some persons running corporate organisations in Nigeria. What is the drive for sponsoring crisis?
Recall that in February this year, the federal government announced that it uncovered 96 financiers of Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorist groups.
According to the government, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) in its 2020-2021, revealed about 123 companies and 33 Bureau de change were linked to terrorism financing.
In a country where religion is a very sensitive matter, what could have been at the back of the mind of a bank CEO when they approved the publication of such an incendiary material?
Many said the advert was insulting and capable of promoting hostility and hatred for the Christian faith.
CAN fumes, wants bank CEO sacked
The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) reacted to the advert describing it as ungodly, wicked, and insensitive.
CAN in a statement signed by its general secretary, Mr. Joseph Daramola said: “The advertisement was provocative but we will refuse to be provoked simply not only because it is not in our characters but it came from an uninformed mind of neither of the two leading religions in the country.
“We learnt that the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has reportedly intervened in the matter with a view to imposing some sanctions against Sterling Bank. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is waiting for the decision of the organisation.
“However, in the interim, we call for the immediate removal of the chief executive of Sterling Bank; Mr. Abubakar Suleiman with his Management whose actions have clearly shown their hostility and hatred for the Christian faith.”
The apex Christian association further stated that in case the management of the bank is not aware, the resurrection of Jesus witnesses the immense power of God Himself.
“To believe in the resurrection is to believe in God. If God exists, and if He created the universe and has power over it, then He has the power to raise the dead.
“If He does not have such power, He is not worthy of our faith and worship. Only He who created life can resurrect it after death, only He can reverse the mystery that is death itself, and only He can remove the sting and gain the victory over the grave (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). In resurrecting Jesus from the grave, God reminds us of His absolute sovereignty over life and death.
“In the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, God put our punishment on Christ so that we could be justified before Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). The resurrection of Jesus confirms that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice for sin on the cross and gives us access to a right relationship with Him.
“The Empty tomb shows the supremacy of Jesus. Go to the grave of any other religious founder and his carcasses are still there being worshipped, but where Jesus was buried, it is boldly written; “He is no longer here, He has Risen”! That is what we are celebrating at Easter and for Sterling Bank to compare it with a loaf of bread is blasphemous and insensitive to the religion embraced by billions of people globally,” it added.
To calm already frayed nerves, CAN appealed to “all Christians not to take the law into their hands in seeking redress, but to let the relevant authorities handle the matter.”
APCON to deal with erring bank
The Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has vowed to sanction the bank over a controversial advert.
The council said it was reviewing relevant laws with a view to dispensing the stipulated punishment to Sterling Bank over the offensive Easter Celebration advert.
In a statement signed by APCON registrar, Mr. Olalekan Fadolapo, the council said it would take necessary actions to ensure that Sterling Bank is sanctioned.
“The Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has observed with displeasure the insensitive and provocative Easter celebration advertisement by Sterling Bank Plc which compared the resurrection of Christ with Agege Bread.
“The distasteful advertisement was neither submitted nor approved for exposure by the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP), the statutory Panel charged with the responsibility of ensuring that advertisements conform with the prevailing laws of the federation as well as the code of ethics of Advertising in Nigeria,” Fadolapo said.
The statement added that APCON would ensure “that no religious belief or faith is ridiculed by any blasphemous advertisement exposed in any guise.”
Due to backlash that came in the wake of the advert, the bank pulled it down from its social media pages and uploaded another copy of an opened tomb significant of Christ’s departure from the grave.
Referencing John 8:7, the bank added a caption: “…let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
“For our recent errors, we sincerely apologise. Forgive us in the spirit of Easter.
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. We humbly celebrate His resurrection, the defeat of death and the hope of salvation,” the bank added.
In its reaction to the apology, CAN said it did not come from the heart.
“The purported apology did not come from a penitent heart. How can someone in his right mind describe the risen Christ as a loaf of bread? That is insulting, ridiculous and a mockery of Jesus Christ,” it said.
Other observers also considered the “…the one who has never sinned…” apology more controversial, suggesting that it smacks of justification rather than remorse. They noted that rather than dousing the tension, the ‘reluctant’ apology further aggravated the ostensibly bruised sensibilities of Christians who felt targeted with the advert.
A Twitter user identified as @Oyoyonwa1 said, “Seriously? Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone? And this is supposed to be some kind of apology? Who approves these things?”
@Moolaoye said, “Whoever told you that forgiveness is by arrogance and not by repentance. This is not a message to seek forgiveness but a message to justify! Don’t send a message that you know nothing about. #blaspehemous.”
A pastor with the Assemblies of God Church in Amuwo Odofin, Lagos also reacted saying the bank was simply justifying its sin.
“A simple apology is ‘we are sorry’ and end there was needed. But when the bank went on to say ‘he that has not sinned should cast the first stone’ is like a crime suspect saying ‘I am guilty with a reason. I think the personality of the head of the bank is responsible for the arrogant apology,” he added.
Christians told to boycott Sterling Bank
The campaign for Christians to boycott Sterling Bank has begun. Although CAN did not expressly call on Christians to boycott the bank, the association hinted that when it said: “We advised Christians to be wary of the banks and other financial institutions they are patronising,”
In an interview with NewsGazette, a senior pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Surulere said the offensive advert was being discussed at the church’s leadership level adding that a decision would be taken after due consultation and analysis of the situation.
“Boycotting the bank as an option cannot be ruled out. As Christians, we are incensed by the advert. It seems people take Christians as weaklings because we don’t have that wicked mind to slaughter people like ram. That doesn’t mean we are weak; we are simply imbibing God’s injunction: ‘thou shall not kill.’ But we should not be taken for granted; we should not be insulted, our sensibilities should be respected,” said the pastor who craved anonymity.
Another pastor with The Apostolic Church Nigeria (TACN), Lagos and Western/Northern Areas (LAWNA) territory said the matter would be discussed at the level of the executive council before making a final pronouncement.
“The national executive council of TACN is aware of the matter. I am a member. LAWNA is also aware of the bank’s affront. There was a time Christians boycotted a defunct newspaper in this country because of the attitude of the owner. We can re-enact that. We are talking to our congregations; we are going to take a decision after harmonising the opinions of other fields. We are going to be serious this time so that nobody or organisation will attempt to joke with the divine persona of Christ or any symbol of Christianity,” he said.
The pastor who did not want his name in print added that there are some global personalities who cannot move about freely because their death warrants had been issued.
“What was their offence? They said something which was considered insulting to a certain faith. If the central figure of another religion was so demeaned in the manner Sterling Bank ridiculed the resurrection of Christ, I can tell you that the government would have drafted security agents to every branch of the bank to contain the backlash,” he added.