Understanding The Controversy Between Otumfuo and Bishop Dag

The founder and leader of the Lighthouse Group of Churches, Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, has apologised “unreservedly” to the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II for a disparaging audio-recorded speech that was revealed last week.

In a press release dated June 19 and signed by Heward-Mills, the evangelist owned up to uttering the comments as heard on the recording first publicised by Net 2 TV on their flagship nightly show, The Seat, on June 16.

Although his apology maintains that his thoughts have been taken out of context, it was rather easy to determine that Heward-Mills spoke to an audience about what kings are expected to deliver for their subjects.

The recording, as released by Net 2 TV, is about seven minutes long. The preacher, who is also a medical doctor, did not appear to isolate Otumfuo Osei Tutu II for the brunt of his criticisms, as he explained that he was not looking “to criticise somebody [in particular]”. However, he frequently repeated the words “Asantehene” and “Otumfuo” throughout his rant.

He also specifically found problems with what he claimed was an indulgence on the part of the Asnatehene to oversee “celebrations, celebrations” as well as matters of sex and debauchery.

A few seconds of the rant was also not logically distinct, but the preacher could be heard at the point chanting “when the coronation”, “the burial”, “40 days”, “one year”, “ten years”, “this, that”. Below are excerpts of what Heward-Mills is heard intelligibly saying:

If the Otumfuo or whoever is there is the real king of the people, when he goes, we say this is what he did for the Asante people…not that he ate more food, traveled to Europe, or had more wives and children.
In a supposed response to those who nicknamed the Asantehene “King Solomon”, the preacher said:
Do you know what King Solomon built?…Be very careful when your giving such a nickname to somebody…we are often the most useless types of kings that ever existed.

Response to the audio recording

As expected, the anger with which the recording was received was shown mainly on social media platforms, with only a handful of news media platforms making it an issue for their headlines.

The anger directed at Heward-Mills was partially expressed in connection to the age-old friction between Christian organisational leaders and traditional leaders in Ghana. According to many, the Lighthouse founder’s comments mimicked the suspected disrespect pastors have for chiefs and traditional authority.

For Heward-Mills in particular, critics raked in an ongoing issue involving his churches, where they have been accused of refusing to fairly remunerate pastors or even make social security payments on their behalf. The exposé, which came out a little over a month ago, also claimed that Heward-Mills lived lavishly off the church and junior pastors.

Interestingly, Manhyia Palace, the seat of the Asantehene, did not release a statement in response to Heward-Mills. However, a group that calls itself the Asante Professionals Club issued a statement on Monday, June 21, in defence of the Asante monarch.

The club described Heward-Mill’s comments as “complete ignoramus utterances” that required correcting. In this spirit, the club’s statement listed a few infrastructural projects and socioeconomic interventions it claims emanated from the Manhyia Palace since the present Asantehen was enthroned in 1999.

Among these accomplishments includes the Kumasi Mall, the Otumfuo Education Fund, mediation in the Dagbon chieftaincy crisis in 2002, and the establishment of the Asanteman Broadcasting Corporation.

The Apology and attendant issues

Heward-Mills’ apology has been advertised by himself and members of his churches as a statement of good-faith remorse. This is even as the preacher sought to marry the controversy with another one by stating that the audio was “circulated by persons who have previously declared that they will maliciously cause our churches in Kumasi to be closed down”.

However, this claim has not done enough to stop the scrutiny and scepticism with which the apology has been met since Saturday, June 19.

First, doubts have been thrown over the period that the preacher claims he said those words we hear in the recording. Although Heward-Mills mentions that he gave the speech “nearly 20 years ago”, a few of the remarks he made in the rant have not helped his case with a section of the general public.

The preacher mentioned a grand “funeral” as part of the activities he found a problem with. This grand “funeral” has been interpreted as the Asantehene’s biological mother, the only funeral many describe as significant in the monarch’s 22-year reign.

Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II died in 2016, and if her funeral is what Heward-Mills referred to, then that was in 2017.

Another point that has been drawn in scrutinising Heward-Mills’ apology has been his mentioning of celebrations, purportedly in honour of the Asantehene. The preacher mentioned “ten years” as one of those purposes of celebration.

The Asantehene’s 10th anniversary was in 2009, and thus if that is the celebration the world-renowned evangelist was referring to, it would throw his “nearly 20-year” claim into doubt.

Lastly, on the problem of the timeline, some have hinted that Heward-Mills’ recorded reference to another evangelist, Kenneth Hagin, after his death, also gives cause for concern. The American Hagin, who is held up as a model evangelist by many Christian preachers in Africa, died in 2003.

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