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Like PDP, Like CAN? …as succession war tears Christian body apart

By Sam Eyoboka

THOSE familiar with contemporary Nigerian history will recall how erstwhile vice president Abubukar Atiku was manipulated out of the octopal Peoples Democratic Party, PDP ahead of the 2007 presidential elections. Neither will they forget in a hurry the intrigues and manipulations that made characters like Rotimi Amaechi to employ a tortuous legal voyage before they were able to restore their stolen mandate to rule over the people of Rivers State.

Obviously, the self-acclaimed biggest political party under the Sun did not see anything wrong with such strange occurrences that have portrayed the nation in bad light in the comity of nations. In other climes where there is accountability in public governance, somebody would review the cost implication of all the manipulative devices to our democratic process and therefore fashion a cheaper way forward out of our electoral process. The will of the majority always almost supercedes the inordinate desires of certain individuals, no matter how powerful they may be.

Sad to note that, only in Nigeria electoral processes, no matter at what level, are regarded as do-or-die affair. And therefore, politicians who brood no opposition, will go to any length to ensure that their will is done at all times, no matter the cost.

For the first time in the checkered history of the umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, the succession election will be determined by the President-in-Council. The President-in-Council, according Article 9:iii of the 2004 CAN Constitution, is an amorphous creation which is saddled with the responsibili-ty of endorsing public state-ments of policy before publi-cation by the seating president.

Bishop Onaiyekan

Feelers available to our reporter indicate that the current CAN leadership has summoned a meeting of church leaders who must be accompanied by two members representing the President-in-Council for Tuesday in Abuja, apparently to intimate them of the inability of the National Executive Council, NEC, to conduct presidential elections at the end of the first term of the current executive. Implication of the Tuesday gathering is a possible unilateral endorsement of the present executive council to continue in office for another term, until current efforts to amend the constitution are concluded.

In other words, the President-in-Council may be hoodwinked into endorsing the Onaiyekan-led executive to continue in office because the NEC had failed in its responsibility to conduct elections. By that, the current administration would have gotten a mandate through the back door without testing its popularity among the delegates. This, according to informed sources, is the calculation of those who had scuttled the scheduled CAN elections.

The tenure of the current executive expires in June and a 15-member Electoral College was set up to conduct fresh elections to, either return the incumbent president, Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan or elect a new one. The other candidates who have indicated interest in the office include the current CAN vice president, Archbishop Daniel Okoh of the OAIC and the national president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. On three occasions, the Electoral College failed to conduct the elections because, according to its chairman, Apostle S. O. Usu, there was no consensus among the CPFN/PFN bloc which Pastor Oritsejafor represents.

CAN, which was established in 1976 to serve as a basis of response to the unity of the Church, promote understanding, peace and unity among the various people and strata of society in Nigeria, by means of which its member-churches can consult together and make common statements, has never been so fractionized. Contrary to the objectives of the Association, the concord and the camaraderie that usually characterized the commonwealth has totally broken down.

Member-churches, instead of consulting together to make common statements and take common actions, are further being turn apart to massage the political ambitions of certain individuals, who are themselves yielding to the manipulations of certain powerful external influences including the ruling PDP.

Agents of the ruling political party have been alleged to have bought Peugeot cars for key operatives of the Association with a view to mobilizing forces to return the incumbent executive council because there are certain elements the party cannot stand their guts.

Article 14a of the CAN constitution provides that the president and the vice president shall be elected by the National Assembly from nominations submitted by the NEC and shall hold office for an initial term of three years and shall be eligible for a final term of another three years, thereafter the office shall rotate to another Church group accordingly. Sub-sections i-vii of the same Article deal with nomination and election of the president and his vice, stating that the twosome must be nominated by an Electoral College of 15 spiritual leaders drawn from the five federating blocs—CSN, CCN, CPFN/PFN, OAIC and TEKAN/ECWA with each producing three members.

Not more than five candidates shall be presented to the Electoral College, one from each constituent group and out of the number, two candidates who obtained the highest votes shall be deemed nominated. The two candidates shall be presented to the NEC where another election will take place to determine who becomes president while the runner-up automatically becomes the vice president. NEC is then expected to present its nominations to the National Assembly for ratification. According the CAN constitution, the runner-up will be ratified as vice president.

The current electoral imbroglio came to a head when the Senior Apostle 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 because of lack of consensus in his bloc, CPFN/PFN.

Sources close to the April 19 meeting at the Ecumenical Centre venue, told our reporter that the debate was very contentious. To calm frayed nerves, the issue was referred to NEC which was scheduled to meet same day and after careful deliberations, the Onaiyekan-led 105-member NEC referred the matter back to the Electoral College to conduct elections among the three candidates within a stipulated time and make its recommendations known to NEC.

The Usu-lead Electoral College was adamant and he could not be moved by the decision of NEC unless ‘strict adherence’ to the tenets of the CAN constitution. Reminded that there was no constitutional provision that precludes anybody from running for any CAN office on account of a dispute in his bloc, he was unmoved. Majority of the delegates who believe that Pastor Oritsejafor can run, buttressed their argument with a precedence that the erstwhile PFN president, Bishop Mike Okonkwo contested in 2007 despite the ‘perceived’ crisis in the same bloc. Still the hawks refused to bulge.

It was at that point that somebody suggested that the matter should be tabled before NEC which was already waiting for the College’s recommendation. Again, at NEC there was another heated and rowdy debate that dragged till late in the night without any appreciable progress and at the end it resolved that the issue be referred to the President-in-Council to decide.

That is what precipitated a petition by one Danladi Yerima to the CAN leadership. Writing from Kaduna, Yerima chronicled some of the flaws in the argument against Oritsejafor’s candicdacy and his recommendations to the august body are very instructive and worthy of consideration for the resolution of the impasse. According to him, “from the constitutional provision, it is clear that a candidate for CAN president shall be a member of one of the five Church groups in CAN that is eligible to participate in the election. The constitution is, however, silent on the processes by which such a candidate will emerge from the group. Therefore, to suggest a consensus candidate from a group as a qualification for election is not within the contemplation of the constitution.

“Assuming in a group, an internal election was held, and a candidate emerged through the election, would that amount to a consensus? No! It wouldn’t, especially if the difference in votes between the group’s winner and the loser is but one vote. All over the world, it has always been very difficult to have a consensus opinion on a candidate(s) during elections even in countries with advanced democracies. The Church should be seen as more transparent with fairness in its activities and programmes especially when dealing with its members,” the petitioner explained.

*Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor

Continuing, Yerima averred that in a group issue like the CPFN/PFN where their relationship has been that of a ‘‘marriage of convenience’’, it will be unfair to interpret the Constitution in this respect in favour of a consensus candidate. Since inception, the group has never, in any way, worked nor taken major decisions together and the national body is aware of this and is even appreciating the status quo hence the collection of N125,000 annual dues separately from either side annually. During the 2007 election, PFN’s Bishop Okonkwo who was the then CAN vice president was not disqualified from contesting for the office of the president amidst opposition from the CPFN unit of the CPFN/PFN group.

This is because the CAN Constitution does not have a provision for the disqualification of candidates on the basis of intra group’s crisis or manoeuvres.

It is the group’s Constitutional right to present a candidate. This right cannot be scuttled because of the group’s internal crisis. The Constitution says a candidate shall come from one of the groups (eligible) of CAN. It does not say that such a group shall be crisis-free. It is worthy to note that the two component units of the CPFN/PFN group are stakeholders of equal rights within the group, Yerima further argued.

“Why then should the right to oppose the candidature of a candidate over ride the right of the candidate’s aspiration? Which of these rights will be most infringed and affected? Is it the right of the unit which is not interested in aspiring but has the right to vote for any candidate of its choice during the election that will be most infringed if the candidate is allowed to contest? Or the right of the other unit and the candidate who is aspiring that will be most infringed if he is denied the opportunity to participate in the election?” he queried.

Yerima believes that people of decent minds will readily agree that it is the candidate who is aspiring that has a better right higher and above the opposition who has nothing to lose because, however, one looks at it, their (CPFN) right to express their opinion is in their votes which they have clearly stated in their letter of March 31, 2010 to the CAN General Secretary that they are in support of the incumbent but did not frown at the candidature of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.

“Now, if we impute disqualification to the candidature of Pastor Oritsejafor of PFN because of the above support for the incumbent, then it will be right to say that the incumbent is not qualified to contest for election into the office of the president because he would have been presented by a one and half group (i.e. CSN and ½ of CPFN/PFN) which is not recognized by the constitution,” Yerima argued.

Continuing, Yerima also averred that Article 14d(v) is the only provision in the whole CAN Constitution where a candidate may be opposed and not at the Electoral College level as being witnessed in the present circumstance. “The opposition must come from the majority of members of the National Assembly and on reasons and not arbitrary. Where such developments occur, the National Assembly shall refer the matter back to the Electoral College for reconsideration of the suitability or other wise of the candidate but shall not be compelled to substitute the candidate. Therefore, the power to nominate candidates rests squarely on the Electoral College.

“The President-in-Council as proposed by the NEC to look into the present crisis may not have the constitutional power to do so since its duty as spelt out in Article 9(3) of the CAN Constitution is to: (a). There shall be a President-in-Council which shall comprise, the National Officers of the Association and The head/leader of each Church-Group. (b). The president shall consult members of the President-in-Council or a majority of them before making public statements of policy or taking urgent decision on behalf of CAN in an emergency situation or in urgent emergency the president can act on behalf of the Association and report back immediately to the President-in-Council.”

The issue at stake, Yerima further argues, cannot rightly fit into the content and meaning of the above provision. Therefore, the Electoral College should be asked to reconvene and nominate two candidates from the candidates aspiring and present same to the NEC within a reasonable time. According to the petition addressed to the National President, Yerima hoped that “wiser counsel will prevail on you and your executive committee as you peruse over this document with a view to solving the problem at stake”. He warned on the dangers inherent in politics of exclusion, saying it can lead to the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers; and in extreme cases, may culminate in the collapse of CAN at a time when the Christian Community needed, more than ever before, to speak with one voice.

Also speaking, a founding father and former CAN president, His Eminence Sunday Mbang advised the current CAN leadership to fast and pray for the soul of what they had built over the years. According to him, every Church group is free to present a candidate of its choice to contest the office of the president, saying “You know I am retired, so I wouldn’t know if the current people have changed the constitution. Except they have changed the constitution, otherwise anybody who is representing any of the constituent groups is eligible to contest for the office of president.”

He therefore advised the current CAN leadership to ensure that the dreams of CAN’s founding fathers are not sacrificed on the altar of some selfish considerations, stressing the need for fasting and prayers for God’s guidance in reaching a compromise.

Another founding father of the Association and current Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, His Eminence Sunday Ola Makinde lamented the development leading to a botched election, saying “if we, Christians, cannot cleanse our own house, how can we have the moral latitude to accuse secular politicians of wrong doing in the Nigerian polity?” Makinde, who confirmed receiving an invitation to the May 18 President-in-Council meeting, pleaded with our reporter to be patient until they had finished that deliberations in Abuja before making an elaborate statement concerning the botched CAN elections. “We are the light of the world and we are the salt of the earth. If we loose our salinity then are we no longer useful,” he reminded the reporter, suggesting that the meeting would not be stampeded to any unconstitutional act.

In the same vein, the immediate past CAN vice president, Bishop Mike Okonkwo, who unsuccessfully contested the office of the president in 2007 from that same church group, CPFN/PFN called for caution, saying that church leaders will attend the May 18 meeting with a view to tackling the impasse with-out dragging the name of the Association to disrepute.

“I am yet to find out if it is a constitutional issue. If the constitution says anything regarding a consensus in any bloc before a candidate can be qualified, then, we have a bad case, but if not I do not see any reason why anyone should oppose our candidate. All they need to do is to take a close look at the CAN constitut-ion and thereafter resolve the issue which really is not an issue,” the erstwhile PFN president.


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