By Sam EYOBOKA
Â THE much advertised Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN conference aimed at choosing a new leadership for the umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria may have come and gone but the reverberations will linger for a while yet. The two-day affair at the Ecumenical Centre in Abuja amply demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that Christians are not precluded from the societal rot that has enveloped the nationâ€™s polity in the last couple of years.
Â While some people blame the decay on the long years of military rule, others who see CAN as a group of eminent custodian of morality and a band of societal re-engineers cannot conduct a peaceful succession elections.Â Â Â Â Â Â
Â After two days of jamboree in the sunny atmosphere of Abuja, facts reaching us indicate that, the National Executive Council, NEC, was unable to resolve the nagging electoral crisis and has therefore referred the issue to the President-in-Council, PIC.
Â The President_in_Council comprises the national officers of the Association and the head/leader of each of the five church-groups, namely, the Christian Council of Nigeria, CCN, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, the Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria/Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, CPFN/PFN, the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, OIAC, and the TEKAN/Evangelical Fellowship of West Africa, TEKAN/ECWA. In terms of authority, the President_in_Council is next to the National Executive Council, NEC, which is made up of 105 members spread among the five groups and other interests; while the General Assembly is the highest decision making organ of CAN.
Â The electoral imbroglio came to a head when the Senior Apostle S. O. Usu_led 15_member Electoral College set up to nominate two candidates out of the three eligible, failed to reach a compromise on whether to allow the PFN president, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor to contest the elections following a disagreement in his bloc, CPFN/PFN.
Â According to our source, the Electoral College headed by Snr. Apostle Usu of OIAC insisted that the PFN candidate must be disqualified. Reminded that there was no provision in the revised CAN constitution that precludes anybody from running for any CAN office on account of a dispute in his bloc, the Collegeâ€™s chairman was not moved.
Â Heated Debate
Â Those who believe that the PFN candidate can run despite the crisis, buttressed their argument with a precedence that was set a few years earlier when the erstwhile PFN president, Bishop Mike Okonkwo was allowed in 2007 to contest the same elections despite the same crisis in the same bloc. Still the hawks refused to bulge.
Â It was at that point that somebody suggested that the matter should be tabled before NEC which was already waiting for the recommendation of the College. Again, at NEC there was another heated debate, but at the end there was a resolution that the electoral college be given few minutes to conduct the elections among the three candidates.
Â Feelers reaching our reporter, showed that the electoral college still refused to conduct the elections, insisting that since there is a dispute among the two groups that make up the CPFN/PFN, Pastor Oritsejafor must be barred from participating.
Â A source close to the deliberations gave graphic details of what transpired among the august gathering, saying that the debate was so heated and to calm frayed nerves the issue was referred to NEC and after careful examination of the issues, the Onaiyekan_led 105_member NEC gave the Electoral College 10 minutes to conduct the elections among the three candidates and make its recommendations known to NEC which had to adjoin its seating.
Â The NEC meeting which followed that dispute dragged till late in the night on Monday without any appreciable progress and at the end it resolved that the issue be referred to the
Â President_in_Council to decide. Some members are already considering legal action to determine the wisdom behind the NEC action, saying that the PIC has no constitutional right to deliberate on electoral matters. Articles 14: v_vi deal with disputes arising from elections and it says â€œin the event of a deadlock on points ii, iv and v, in which case the candidate re_presented is rejected, a combined committee of the Electoral College and registered trustees of CAN will examine the issue and make a final choice for the current term.â€
Â At an earlier meeting in March when elections would have been held and recommendations made to the National Executive Council, NEC, similar charges were made by desperate quarters who were said to be uncomfortable with the popularity of the PFN candidate and at the end, the body had to adjourn till April 19.
Â Asked if there was anything in the CAN constitution that precludes a candidate from contesting if there was any dispute in his bloc, our source said there was none, adding that if there was any such provision, Bishop Okonkwo would have been disqualified three years ago.
Â â€œYou recall that Bishop Okonkwo was a vice president and later contested the presidency but lost,â€ the source added, stressing that if there was any constitutional provision banning any candidate as they are now claiming they should not have allowed the former PFN helmsman to contest at all.
Â â€œEven the CPFN people who did not vote for him then, did not oppose his candidacy. So, why are people suddenly, now saying because there is a perceived dispute in any bloc, a candidate cannot emerge from that bloc. After all, one of the objectives for the establishment of CAN is to foster Christian unity,â€ our source pointed out, pointing out that the current CAN General Secretary was elected despite opposition from TEKANâ€”a unit of the TEKAN/ECWA that he represented.
Â According to CAN constitution, the three candidates___ incumbent president, Most Rev. John Onaiyekan, his deputy, Most Rev. Daniel Okoh and the PFN president, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor are expected to go through the electoral college and the candidate with the highest votes will be recommended to the National Executive Council of CAN which met to deliberate on the recommendation.
Â The NEC, according to the constitution, will in turn make its recommendation to the National Assembly of the Association which has the final authority to ratify who becomes the next national president of CAN.Â Â Â Â Â Â
Â CAN was set up in 1976 to serve as a platform for unity among the different churches, to promote understanding, peace and unity among the various peoples and strata of society in the country and to act as a liaison committee through consultation and make common statement and actions for the common good. It was also expected to act as a watch dog of the spiritual and moral welfare of the nation.Â Â Â
Â Onaiyekan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Abuja defeated outgoing Anglican Primate Peter Jasper Akinola by 72 votes as against Akinolaâ€™s 33 to become the fourth CAN president on June 19, 2007 while the president of the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, Archbishop Daniel Okoh is the associationâ€™s vice president.
Â The Issues
Â Unknown to many people, there exist a cabal in the CAN structure that is bent on maintaining the status quo for reasons that shall be obvious shortly. This cabal made up essentially of a lopsided executive council, had perfected plans to scuttle the current clamour, especially from the North who are no longer comfortable with the current leadership, for a paradigm shift in the current CAN structure.
Â One, they believe that it is lopsided as it is dominated by people from Kogi State. The president, Onaiyekan, Secretary General, Engineer Samuel Salifu, the legal adviser, Barrister John Achimugu, treasurer, Pastor P. F. Usman and the director of Interfaith, Bishop Idowu Fearson are all from Kogi State. This group also allege that, as a result of this development, over 60 per cent of the staff of the secretariat hail from the same state.
Â There are also allegations of certain shady deals in the Association. For instance, to ensure that the current executive retains power, a current minister was said to have given a brand new Peugeot 605 to one of the high flying operatives of the Association. In addition, a Christian recently accused one of the top members of the executive of attempting to seduce his wife but the Association did nothing to assuage the feelings of that aggrieved fellow.
Â Similarly, fingers are being pointed as to why the WHO refused to disburse the second part of Roll Back Malaria project. Informed sources say, certain individuals may have mismanaged the initial N16 million released to the Association. Besides this litany of grudges against a very tiny segment of the Christian body, our source also accused the leadership of CAN of deliberately not willing to fill vacant posts in the Secretariat. For instance, an assistant general secretary of the Association died over a year ago, but no attempt had been made to date to replace him.
Â Some of the grievances include the fact that the current executive council is unwilling to conduct a free and fair elections into the executive for obvious reasons. It is being accused of appointing a chairman of the Electoral College from OIAC even when some people argued that it was unethical to do so, because one of the contestants is from that constituency. The ideal thing to do, they argued, was to pick some neutral person from TEKAN/ECWA or CCN.
Â The said dispute in CPFN/PFN is actually a local issue over how to distribute national offices among the two constituent groups and the CAN General Secretary, Engineer Samuel Salifu had attended to it in a letter dated February 9, 2010, where he directed both parties to resolve their leadership problem and furnish the Secretariat accordingly. It was sequel to a protest by CPFN arguing the wisdom of PFN occupying the position of CAN Vice President and still represent the group at the President_In_Council.
Â The CPFNâ€™s position on the elections was conveyed in a letter signed by the National Chairman. Pastor Elijah Olusheye, Vice chairman, Pastor Gabriel Olutola and Secretary, Pastor Gideon Okegwemeh where it said there was no consensus candidate from the group. The said letter did not oppose the candidacy of PFNâ€™s Pastor Oritsejafor.
Â But far the most crucial aspect of the â€˜sinsâ€™ of the current leadership of CAN is its seeming inability to adequately address the intractable religious crises in the North and ensure religious harmony in that part of the country. Fifty years after independence, Christians in the northern part of Nigerias still feel alienated from the rest of the society and they worship their God in fear, not knowing what would happen the next moment.
Â Way Forward
Â The impression being created at the moment is that the umbrella body of Christianity in Nigeria, whose motto is â€œThat they all may be oneâ€ and which is supposed to the Light of the world and the Salt of the Earth, is gradually losing its salinity because of a deliberate attempt by a group to disenfranchise a segment. The House that was built by Cardinal Dominic Ekandem, Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie and later His Eminence Sunday Mbang is now being seen as a wing of the ruling PDP as politicians and other external forces now determine who should lead the body. The Bible says; â€œWoe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!â€
Â The way forward is to immediately appoint a neutral chairman from either CCN or TEKAN/ECWA for the Electoral College which must organise fresh elections from among the three candidates within the next few weeks before the National Assembly of the Association in June. It is left for the electorate to choose who their leader should be. Democracy is a game of numbers and the current manouverings cannot be said to democratic ideals. A resort to the President_In_Council to resolve the matter is unconstitutional. Politics, they say, is not a do or die affair and anybody who feels he cannot function with the choice of the majority of the electorate, is at liberty to resign. CAN must be able to provide leadership for the nation, by conducting a free and fair election on or before June this year. Or else, it has no moral right or locus standi to comment on the activities of desparate politicians in the secular world.