By Sam Eyoboka

* ‘My 3-point agenda to move Christianity forward’
* Says nobody has right to bar Jonathan

The president of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor,on July 6, became the first Pentecostal minister to emerge as the president of the umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN. In his first interview in his church office in Warri, the cleric speaks on his programme for Nigerian Christians and expresses his views on next year’s elections.

We have heard you say that you had no plan to contest the just concluded CAN election. What then happened?

That is true. I had no intention of contesting the CAN election. Left alone, I don’t think I would have considered running for CAN presidency because as it were, I already had enough in my hands. In fact, I have too much to do. My hands are full, but the situation went beyond me because the Christians in the north sent delegations three times to appeal to me to contest but I told them I would consider their request. On the last occasion, they now told me: “If you refuse to do this, when we die, God will hold you responsible”. That was what really got me to review my position.

 The matter the way I was looking at it, I found out from that profound statement that the situation was more serious than I thought; and definitely there is an aspect of destiny, history and much more tied up in this thing. I began to think of what Mordecai said to Esther when she kept giving excuses; he said, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there be enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  That is why I feel very strongly that this is just the hand of God.

After all the undercurrents that attended the CAN election, how was the response of the other parties involved?
First of all, I will give all the glory to God because Archbishop John Onaiyekan demonstrated a high level of maturity, because immediately after the results of the election were announced, he came to congratulate me. We hugged each other.

He even said a few things there. Then immediately after the General Assembly, the same thing; he was warm and he spoke well. I think that was a highly exemplary and mature behaviour. So, I think he did the right thing and I commend him highly for that. As you know, I am just beginning to meet those at the CAN Secretariat. I really cannot make so much comment on that for now. But I think everything looks okay. The former vice president is still my vice president; so there is no much problem from that quarters. He looks cooperating and hopefully, we can work together. The immediate people I am meeting and I am going to meet, I don’t think I am going to have problem with them. I am believing God, that it will be well as I move out to the extended family of CAN because the voting pattern showed that people from all the five blocs  voted for me. Which means there is a level of acceptability among the people. We are mending fences and I believe we are trying to get our acts together.

If northern Christians blackmailed you into the race for CAN presidency, how did they feel after the result of the election was announced?

I am told that in many cities of the north, there was extraordinary rejoicing. For instance, I was told that in Kaduna and Jos, the level of jubilation was something else. In fact, I have been receiving calls from the two cities and others requesting for my visit; they just want to have a feel of my presence and be happy because, to some of them, it is not real. And, obviously, they have very high hopes and expectations. God definitely will help me to meet their expectations because anybody who knows me will tell you that I hate to see people helpless and not being able to assist them.

What are the immediate plans of your administration? I hear you have set a 3-point agenda for yourself….
Yes! There are many other things but I restricted myself to three, believing that all other things will fall within that 3-point agenda. First of all is the task of uniting the Body of Christ in the country; stop, or at least bring to the barest minimum, the madness that has been going on in the north; and, of course, we will play our part in trying to make elected persons accountable to the people who elected them.

 I believe that all other things will revolve around those three. If I make it more than three, it will be difficult for some people to remember, because I want them to remember. The reason I want them to remember is because I want them to challenge me at any time when I am derailing and also for them to suggest ideas that I am not even thinking of and how best to go about the task ahead of us. You know that I am human and, as far as I am concerned, I believe that whatever success I achieve is a collective one. It is not just me. It is a collective one and it is for the good of everybody.

Definitely, those three points are the main points but they can be extended to include very many other things. If the Church in Nigeria is united, there is nothing we cannot achieve. If we can to stop the madness in the north, Nigeria will have peace because the major area of focus now, apart from the Niger Delta, which is much better now, is the problem of religious crisis in parts of the country.

 And then in every page of Nigerian newspapers you read today, you are always confronted with stories of corruption in high places. Nigeria is trapped, I am sorry to use such language but it is the reality of the situation that we have found ourselves. But my joy is that every problem has a solution. Every problem has an expiring date for the Lord to have His way. I am very convinced that God will bring about a change.

Let’s take them one after the other. How do you intend to unite the Church in Nigeria?
In my own opinion, the major thing is the mistrust among ourselves. One of the problems of the Church is the mutual suspicion. Churches have almost become like tribes; when you find that this bloc is suspicious of that bloc… A lot of people do not want to let down their guards because they are not sure of what the other group has up their sleeves…they are afraid; who is Pastor Ayo? Can we trust him? So the mutual distrust is there in addition to doctrinal suspicion.

A lot of these things that have created that suspicion, we are going to break through to have peace. I think one of the major things that helps to break such barriers is for me as a president to make every bloc of CAN to feel that they are part-owners of the association. I think God has blessed me in certain ways. I think I have a way with people, but when people don’t know me, they become suspicious but the moment they get to know me, they drop their suspicion. I have seen that happen time and time again. So, I will have to go to these people and not to wait for them to come to me and make them feel as very important stakeholders in the Association. It is a very tough task but God will give the grace.

How do you intend to tackle the religious crises in the north?
From the little interactions I have had with some of the northern Christians, the problem goes beyond the occasional violent disruptions. They complain that their governments deny them C of O to build churches, schools and even government appointments… Again, the thing still boils down to religion. The reason they won’t give C of O is because of religion.

The reason they won’t give land to churches, from what I have received so far, is religion. There is a document I have seen that suggests that in many states of the north, there are enactments that group churches with brothels. You cannot build brothels and churches in certain areas. You cannot be given land and if they give you land—to buy, not free of charge—it will be with the understanding that you cannot build a church or a brothel; and a lot of our leaders are glossing over such thing. I think it is not right! You cannot build a Nigeria on the sacrifice of only one group. The sacrifices must come from both sides of the divide. If Christians are falling over themselves building mosques for Muslims, what stops our Muslim counterparts from reciprocating? There are reports of several mosques built by Christians across the country, but how many churches have been built by Muslims in any part of the country? I have not heard of any yet. There are governors in the south that have built mosques for Muslim communities in their states, but how many Muslim governors have built churches for Christians in their states? Our people come out and they are proud to commission mosques that were built by them for Muslims but I think they should challenge their Muslim counterparts in the north with visible evidence of what they are doing in the south and ask them, “what about you?” There should be reciprocation from the other side, but that is not happening. You refuse to give Christians C of O, but we give you C of O; you refuse to sell land to our people to build churches, but we dash you land to build mosques. I believe that part of the solution is for us to look each other on the face and say the truth to one another. People are proposing a bill on indegeneship as part of the solution to the Jos crisis, but what we are asking is, “why Jos alone?”  The people who are saying that Plateau State does not recognise them are doing ten times worse in Kano, Katsina, Sokoto.

The Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III, is my friend. He is a man who knows and preaches the values of peace. So, I intend to really advocate for us to sit down and talk to each other more based on truth. I think we must find ways of going to the grassroots and educating the rural clerics on both sides on the fundamentals of harmonious co-existence in a multi-religious society. Most rural communities are occupied by illiterates and the wicked elements among us take advantage of their illiteracy to use them to perpetrate evil because they know that their religion is the most important thing to them. These people should be educated make them to understand that it is wrong to take people’s lives. It is un-Godly! Pastors and Imams in the rural areas of this country wield a lot of powers because they are regarded as demi-gods and therefore they must be taught on the need for every Nigerian to practice his/her religion without let. We will have to go to the villages and speak in rural churches and mosques to this category of Nigerian leaders on the need for peaceful co-existent. I suspect if that is done there will be peace in the country. There are other things but I will limit myself to these for now.

What do you think Nigeria can learn from the CAN election? Secondly, there has been a lot of hoopla about President Jonathan’s ambition. Should the president run next year?

First of all, I wish we recorded the CAN election for the public to see how civilised people conduct elections. I didn’t know there was no arrangement for the video coverage of the election. Personally, I wish there was an arrangement because that was a very high level of maturity as displayed by the immediate past CAN president. What Nigeria should learn? It shows evidently that it is possible to have a free, fair and credible election in this country. It is possible. I saw it. We are all Nigerians. The way it was conducted….Some people were already predicting that there would be violence. But surprisingly it was smooth and peaceful. I think it was important for Nigerians especially politicians to eschew violence.

It is not a do-or-die affair. If politicians can imbibe this simple doctrine, it would go a long to reduce tension in our polity. Publicly, we tried to demonstrate that and I think the nation’s politicians must also see electioneering as a game where one person will win and the other will lose but the country should not be pulled down as a result of the outcome of an election. I think President Jonathan has an opportunity to write his name in gold even right now. 

 And he can do by simply implementing one thing that can draw the attention of Nigerians to him. I can assure that it is Nigerians that will compel him to run. He will have no choice than to run, if he can take up one project now. I have said it time and time again that it does not take a whole lot to please Nigerians. It is not about whether or not he wants to run. The Nigerian Constitution gives backing to any individual to become whatever he wants to become. Nobody is barred by the constitution, except for criminal offences, or on account of age or education. Nobody is barred from running for that office. Nobody has the right to bar President Jonathan! So, I think he should do some credible things now and the Nigerian people will be the ones who will beckon on him to run next year.  

Will there be reforms in CAN exco?
It just happened that a constitutional review is going on now and there are some issues that I may not be able to mention. The process was almost concluded before the election. But there are certain individuals who are supposed to retire with the outgoing president who must be replaced. Apart from that, we will have to await the review of the CAN constitution

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.