By Sam Eyoboka
THE conviviality and camaraderie that had existed in the 34-year old umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is being threatened by alleged underground manouevre by the outgoing National President, Most Rev. John Onaiyekan to hold on to power despite his defeat at the Electoral College by his more acceptable rival and National President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
Sunday Vanguard checks during the week revealed that the Christian body is now sharply divided along two opposing lines over alleged plots by the current president, to retain his post even after reportedly losing the shadow elections two weeks ago to the PFN helmsman, Pastor Oritsejafor.
The fiery Pentecostal preacher was reported to have defeated his two rivals including the outgoing National President when he scored an overwhelming eight votes out of the 15 available to Onaiyekanâ€™s four votes.
Inside sources told our reporter that when the chairman of the reconstituted Electoral College, Bishop Duke Akimishoko and his secretary, Rev. (Dr.) Caleb Ahima announced the result of the shadow elections there were no doubts in the minds of the people present especially the northern delegates who had loudly advocated a change in the CAN leadership. The votes had adequately reflected the wishes of the people. The third candidate and current CAN vice president, Most Rev. Daniel Okoh was said to have scored three votes of the 15-member college.
The Electoral College com-prises of three representati-ves each from the five Church groupsâ€”Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), Christian Pentecostal Fellow-ship of Nigeria (CPFN)/Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), and TEKAN/ECWAâ€”that make up the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
According to the revised CAN Constitution which was signed into law on June 17, 2004 by the then National President, Most Rev. Peter Jasper Akinola, the race for the CAN Presidency is limited to members who are Spiritual Heads or Leaders not below the rank of a Bishop or its equivalent with not less than 15 years record with his church denomina-tion.
A candidate must also represent one of the established five church groups. However, like the 2007 election which was characterised by political maneuvering, the current contest has also assumed a new dimension as the incumbent is said to be making frantic efforts including the employment of powerful Islamic friends to try and upturn his rivalâ€™s advantage.
After a deliberate attempt to disqualify Oritsejafor failed, the duo of the National President and his General-Secretary, Engineer Samuel Salifu, who was alleged to have vowed not to work with the PFN president, have been doing a yeomanâ€™s job trying to manipulate the process. The latter was recently alleged to be going round perceived disloyal CAN state chapters, in an attempt to hoodwink them to vote for, what he called, continuity or be dissolved before the NEC meeting scheduled for tomorrow. The Sokoto State chapter had to shout out loud, protesting attempts by the CAN scribe to employ the services of SSS operatives and Policemen to knock the state executive council to submission. He wanted frantically to conduct another election even in the absence of the North West zonal chairman, Catholic bishop, Most Rev. Kevin Aje who doubles as the state chairman and his secretary, Evangelist Haruna Karatu.
The Sokoto State council in a swift reaction, dispatched a letter of protest to the CAN president, Onaiyekan, the Police Inspector-General, Director of SSS and the state Commissioner of Police, alleging harassment by people loyal to the CAN Secretary-General, Engr. Salifu. The petition signed by Most Rev. Aje and Evang. Karatu, want the CAN helmsman to call Salifu, who they described as an employee of CAN, to order.
Informed sources have also advanced reasons for the undue attention this yearâ€™s CAN elect-ion has generated to include the fact that next year is an election year and quite naturally politicians must strive to determine who becomes president of such an influential organisation. There were reports of certain governmental elements who presented brand new Peugeot cars to oil the campaign machinery of some candidates. There were, however, no confirmation of cash donations, but a particular minister who is Catholic, is said to have shown more than passing interest in this yearâ€™s CAN election.
The 105-member National Executive Committee, NEC, will meet tomorrow to elect a candidate out of the two, Oritsejafor and the current National President, Onaiye-kan who polled eight and four votes respectively at the Electoral College, to occupy the seat of CAN president for the next three years. Constitutionally, the CAN National Executive Commi-ttee comprises of 10 represen-tatives each from CSN, CCN, CPFN/PFN, OAIC, TEKAN/ECWA and 10 National Officers of Association. Another 37 members repre-senting each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory; six others representing the six geo-political zones and the chairmen of the Women and Youth wings of the Asso-ciation.
The two candidates with the highest number of votes at the Electoral College level shall be presented to the NEC of CAN and the one with the majority of votes of the NEC shall be deemed nominated as president while the runner-up, as the vice president. On Tuesday, NEC is expected to present this nominated leader to the National Assembly of CAN as a sole candidate for ratification as president by the majority of votes by the representatives qualified to vote. While the runner-up will also be ratified accordingly as vice president.
This yearâ€™s election was plagued with so much intrigues and bickering with a section of the CAN leader-ship bent on disqualifying the candidacy of the PFN candidate for some unconsti-tutional reasons which were later resolved by the intervention of an expanded version of the President-In-Council which ruled that the election should be conducted among the three candidates.
Moves to subvert peopleâ€™s will
Speaking to our reporter during the week, most of the respondents alleged sub-terranean moves by the National President to over-turn the tide to his advantage at the NEC meeting tomorrow. Sources close to the just concluded CCN convention in Kaduna, said a Kaduna-based bishop easily became the arrowhead of an Islamic lobby of delegates for tomorrowâ€™s meet. The in-fluential Islamic personage is said to be uncomfortable with the radical opinions of the PFN helmsman and would rather campaign for the return of the incumbent CAN president who, he said, was friendly with their sentiments.
Northern Christians unhappy with Onaiyekan
There are, however, serious indications that Northern Christians are not comfortable with Onaiyekanâ€™s handling of the perennial religious crises in the North and they are therefore poised to vote for any other candidate who can, at least, articulate their multi-dimensional religious problems and find an amicable solution to them. Northern Christian Leaders are unhappy with him because he always failed to act each time there was crisis in the North, while always echoing the Muslim position by describing the crises as ethnic and political. Apart from the incessant killings, the northern Christians complain of marginalization in state appointments, denial of C of O to build churches and many more. Many states in the North, they argue, have continued to deny Christian groups approval to establish schools.
According to majority of Northern Christians who spoke to our reporter during the week, the current CAN presidentâ€™s romance with the Caliphate had blinded his eyes to the real issues involved in the incessant killings of innocent citizens in the North and has therefore refused to see them as religious crises. â€œHe (Onaiyekan) is the only Nigerian who has refused to accept that the perennial wanton destruction of churches, mosques, women, children and property in Jos and other parts of the North as religious,â€ lamented one reverend who added that his family has been displaced since the last violent crisis in the Plateau State capital, Jos.
Continuing, the man who pleaded anonymity, averred that Onaiyekan and his friends blackmailed his Anglican counterpart, Most Rev. Peter Akinola of anti-CAN activities while seeking the office in 2007, but he had done worse by not representing the interest of Northern Christians who had been, at different times and in different parts of the North, mauled down, widowed, orphaned and rendered homeless in the last three years.
The North Eastern PFN chairman, Rev. Steve Agbana told our reporter that he would rather vote for Pastor Oritsejafor as CAN president because in the last three years he remained the only prominent Christian leader who had identified with their plight after the series of religious violence in Maiduguri. â€œOnly last Easter, he led a delegation of PFN leaders to Maiduguri to commiserate with victims of Boko Haram attack,â€ he said, adding that the PFN helmsman during that visit as in previous ones, donated clothing items, food and cash to alleviate the suffering of the victims. According to him, Oritsejafor also rehabilitated the widow of the pastor that was martyred by the Boko Haram sect leader.
There were also similar sentiments from Christians in Jos and Bauchi, many of whom are acknowledged the noble contributions of the PFN president since the crisis erupted in parts of the North and therefore determined to ensure a shift from the old block, especially the domination of a Kogi mafia in CAN.
According to this school, if CAN must move to the next level and meet the yearnings of the founding fathers, then, it is time Christians across the nation must do something about the domination of Kogi indigenes in the CAN executive council. At least five of the key offices including the president, Secretary-general, legal adviser, treasurer and the director of interfaith, are held by Kogi indigenes leaving only the vice president, Most Rev. Daniel Okoh (Rivers), the director of National Issues, Rev. Okoye (Anambra) and the director of Strategy, Monsignor Nwankwo (Anambra) and director of Women/Youth, Monsignor Adigwe (Imo).
Another report that filtered in late yesterday, was that CPFN which initially pitched its tent with the outgoing CAN president has rejoined its kith and kin and is now working for the emergence of the PFN candidate as CAN president.
CAN was established as a result of an incidence in February 1976. According to reports the then Federal Government had invited Christian leaders to a meeting in February 1976. The meeting was presided by Brigadier (later Major-General) Shehu Yarâ€™Adua, the then Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. At this meeting an incident took place which showed to the Christian leaders in graphic terms the scandal of their disunity. Musa A.B. Gaiya narrated the incident in the following words: â€œAt this meeting, Yarâ€™Adua had asked Muslims to both open and close the meeting with prayers. One of the Christian leaders stood up (and) asked, â€˜Canâ€™t you asked a Christian to say a prayer?â€™ Yarâ€™adua replied, as reported by Jolly Tanko Yusuf, â€˜There are so many denominations represented here, how can I ask any Christian to say a prayer?â€™â€
That was the aspersion that motivated the Christian leaders prick their conscience and made them to hate their disunity which later culminated in to what later became the Christian Association of Nigeria. It was during this meeting that it was decided that there has to be one central body for all Christians in Nigeria to safeguard their interests in dealing with the government…At the end of the meeting of these Christian leaders, Cardinal Dominic Ekandem was elected as president of the CAN while Mr. C.O. Williams, the secretary of the CCN, was elected secretary of the CAN.