•Explains why some pastors are after him
•‘Jonathan and the story of his plane’
By Sam Eyoboka
WHEN Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor defeated Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan to emerge the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, not many acknowledged that the campaign that brought him to the office was spearheaded by Christians in the North.
In fact, he had made up his mind to make his mark as Pentecostal Fellowship in Nigeria, PFN, President and return to his ministry when northern Christians mounted pressure on him to run for CAN presidency. But since becoming CAN President, it has been one attack or the other, sometimes even from his constituency. To find out why he has been so vilified, our correspondent approached CAN’s Director of National Issues, Elder Sunday Oibe.
According to him, contrary to what people think, Oritsejafor has not collected a dime from President Goodluck Jonathan to run CAN Secretariat. He also noted that the paradym shift taking place in CAN is Oritsejafor’s handiwork.
I am told you are one those who lured the CAN President to run for the office. Is that true?
It’s true. As the President of PFN, he often attended CAN meetings after which he retired quietly to his church doing whatever he knows how to do best. During such CAN meetings, his activities, disposition and response to issues affecting Christians particularly the persecuted church in the North were being observed by those of us from the North. It was on the strength of that, that we decided to reach out to him to ask him to contest for the CAN presidency to become a voice for us because, before then, there was no voice for the Church.
The then leadership was not speaking for the Church. They opted for the “civilized” kind of position, neither here nor there. But what the Church in the North needed was a person they could cry to, to lean on his shoulders; a person who will speak for them because we have been so harassed, intimidated that even when we say something, the media will not carry it. That was how we pleaded with him. Initially, he didn’t show any interest and we visited him on three occasions before he finally gave it a thought.
Will you say it was a wise decision northern CAN took?
Today, the people who saw that vision have been justified. Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor has also been vindicated because never in the history of CAN did we have a President who knows what happens at the secretariat. This man came in and said he could not be operating from the blues. ‘I need an office, I need to be on ground.’ Now, there’s nothing that happens in any department of the association that he doesn’t know because he’s on ground. Once he made up his mind to run, he became so passionate. Contrary to what most people think, CAN is not such a big organisation that has all the money in the world. This man has continuously put in his money to revive and to pay salaries of the staff. That, to him, is a driving force because the voice of the Church needs to be heard.
How rich is CAN?
Today, if all the blocs of CAN pay their annual dues, it amounts to about N2.5 million. Will N2.5 million pay the salaries of workers, run the secretariat in terms of maintenance and take care of other issues? That amount is not even up to one month’s expenditure; but God gave this man as a gift to the Church in Nigeria. He is not the richest pastor in Nigeria, but he has a heart, a commitment and a service to lay anything for the Kingdom’s work. That makes a difference. So it is not how much you have that makes you a great person, but your ability to listen to God and put every of your resources at His disposal to use for the expansion of His Kingdom.
Like somebody will say, the eyes that look are common, but the eyes that see are very rare. There are so many people who look at Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor with negative eyes but he has not disappointed heaven, he has not disappointed the Christian community. When he assumed office, he discovered that there were several windows of wastages. The first thing he did was to call all national officers to a meeting where he told them that during his tenure, no national officer will be sponsored to attend meetings. He stressed that since every national officer represents a particular bloc, if your bloc cannot foot your bill, then you look for a means of footing the bill.
He insisted that dipping hands into CAN purse will not happen in his tenure. From his first day in office, he has paid all his bills; no national officer has been sponsored to any event. That has never happened before, that is a paradigm shift from the practice and the norm that was there, that is an innovation to checkmate leakages and whatever. Nobody is telling that story. In the history of the association, this is the first time we are witnessing that.
Besides dues from the blocs, from what other sources does CAN generate funds?
When Pastor Oritsejafor came on board, he decided to come up with what he called a Jubilee Center. Before his advent as CAN President, all the leaders would come to the NEC meeting; after the meeting, everybody goes until another meeting. But when he came, he said he will not operate that way, he will have an office where he will be on ground, and that was how he created an office, funded the office, spent a huge amount of money to give it a befitting outlook.
According to him, if people want to see the CAN President, where will they meet him? In the open compound? Today, we are better for it, because he knows what is happening in all departments, and every group has direct access to him. And the thing that is so tremendous about this man is the fact that whether you are a cleaner, a management staff or a junior staff, and you call him anytime, he picks his call by himself. That, to me, is another thing that he has brought into leadership, what we know of leaders is that they have P.A.’s who hold on to their phones to say ‘Oga is in a meeting’.
He came up with an idea that can generate funds for the association. He came up with an idea of a Jubilee Center, a 50-bedroom structure with a big hall for conferences. That project is about 90 per cent completed. Anybody who will take over from him, will be able to handle the office without going to beg people. That is huge, that is the innovation he brought into the association.
How much is the project and which contractor is handling it?
That project has opened my eyes to see that if we go into contracts, we waste so much money; if we decide to do what they call direct labour, put together a consortium of engineers and architects and building contractors, they will say they need 100 blocks and they will bring the cost of the 100 blocks, and we will raise money, they will go and buy it and like that the project continues. Using that process, he blocked all forms of wastages.
Even government needs to emulate that because, through that, you get quality and a good bargain for the money you spent. He says if God helps him to finish it, there’s what they call modern car park where people can come and park their cars, pay some token and you can generate a lot of money. So if those things are put in place, he can leave the office as a happy person that his predecessor will not go through the pains he is going through. In CAN, there is no source of funding defined. Many people later knew all of that because even himself never knew that there was going to be huge demand on him. And another thing that many people don’t know, this man never struggled for that office. Some of us had to plead with him to beg his wife because, since he came in, he had little or no time for his family; no time for his ministry. It was like he could not continue this way; so we had to plead that ‘you have started a process and you have not finished it, you need to finish it; that was how the man reluctantly came in.
If people need to celebrate any man, it is this man because he has lifted the profile of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Before, people talk down on CAN, today you don’t just talk down on CAN without CAN responding. That is a very huge achievement. One of the greatest achievements that he has done which has never ever happened before in the history of CAN, there has never been any President of CAN who interfaced with all the different blocs of CAN, and there is no bloc that can say the CAN President has not come either physically to worship with them or participated in one of their projects. Do you know that some of the Christian leaders that were killed, like some pastors in Maiduguri, he gave them accommodation, gave their children scholarship.
This is a man who understands the Jesus’ style of leadership; Jesus was not there for the big men alone, He was there for the down trodden. Pastor Ayo builds. Every bloc will tell you that we’ve never had a CAN President who was able to reach other denominations outside his own. We have never had a CAN President who when the churches in the North are being burnt, Christians are being killed, who took personal pain to identify with these people, this he has done at a personal risk.
Another remarkable thing that this man has done which people don’t know, he believes that he doesn’t know it all; it’s only a fool who claims to know it all. He believes that every material has been deposited in the Church by God, so he decided to tap into the professionals, journalists, lawyers, engineers, doctors, all kinds of people who are within the Church, who are ready to put their talents at the disposal of Jesus Christ to use. What he doesn’t know, he asks them. Even retired generals, he relates with them.
The Jubilee Centre Project, how much is it costing?
The people who first came said the building will cost about N800 million to do. Pastor Ayo rejected the cost. They now brought it down to N600 million. Even at that, when they started the project, some Christian professionals said no contract, we do direct labour. When they convinced him, he decided to terminate the issue of the contract which the NEC approved. And so far so good, I’ll not be able to give you the accurate figure, but it’s far below what could have been spent if we went into contract. Even when the president of the country visited CAN and they took him round the place, when he saw it, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing; huge, superb, fantastic. I think in a matter of two or three months, the project will be completed; he wants to dedicate it before the end of this year by the grace of God.
Where did he get the funds from?
Some individuals saw his passion and his commitment. So, they are bringing some little things here and there. I don’t want to mention names, a particular young man, they call him John, he has been so wonderful; he identifies with this project and he is also helping to reach some Christians who God blessed with some little money and they are bringing money to see that they complete this thing.
Where is the location?
It is within the premises of the National Christian Center, Abuja; it’s a central area.
He still has about two years to go. Is he getting the kind of support he’s supposed to get from the Christian body in Nigeria?
Well, this is the most misunderstood President of CAN, the most troubled President of CAN, the most misrepresented President of CAN; but because he’s a human being, sometimes they find it difficult to understand his good intentions and what he is doing for the good of everybody and people call him all manner of names. But he resolved from day one that he’s going to remain focused since he accepted those responsibilities and he remains focused undoubtedly, and gradually people are begin to understand him.
Let me give you one example. There was one Christian organisation, they invited him and they never knew he was going to come. He went and, by the time they listened to him and saw the kind of things he does, somebody said, ‘ we are misrepresenting you, we didn’t know you were this lovely, God fearing, simple, easy going’.Even when we met with Muslim professionals and clerics, one of the Muslims said they saw him as a person who hated Islam. People for their selfish and evil intentions say all kinds of evil things against this man. When they decided to present us with the gift of the aircraft, it became news and some of your colleagues said rubbish things about him and they were asking whether Jonathan bought the plane for him.
Jonathan did not buy the plane?
I was there, it was like a surprise gift because he had an experience when he went to Malaysia, he had difficulties connecting flight to come for a program that started in his church and it was like a setback.
Pastor Ayo is misrepresented intentionally because Nigerians believe in fortune, so the aim is to run him down, particularly because of the way he emerged as the President of CAN, nobody gave him an opportunity. A man who just came into CAN not quite long and now for him to take a shot at the presidency of CAN and he got it whereas nobody gave the Pentecostal the opportunity. You know what that means. I don’t want to call it envy. I call it human bitterness.
But, again, he refused to allow that one to dissuade him, he remains focused on what he believes and he’s pursuing because he said he came in because of the suffering Church and he will speak for her at the risk of his life and that he is doing perfectly without looking left or right. This will not be a good word to use, but do you know the man has abandoned his family, abandoned his ministry for the sake of the larger Church in Nigeria? Some of the big churches that have money and whatever, are they coming to give him support?
They are not doing it, and nobody is talking about that; but these same people run to him when there’s a problem. The media, I’m not trying to accuse you people, but you have not been very professional because there is an orchestrated plan somewhere that anything that has to do with this man, they kill it, they don’t put it for people to know; but anything that is negative, that’s what will fly. The empowerment program that he does every year, nobody reports it, nobody talks about it. What he’s doing for widows and the persecuted churches in the North, I know of communities that he gives what is called revolving loan. And there are wealthy pastors in this country who are not doing anything about that.
Do you know that Pastor Ayo’s yearly empowerment program, even Muslims benefit from it. One thing that stands him out is that he’s not ready to compromise or sacrifice truth on the altar of dialogue, on the altar of trying to be a nice Nigerian, on the altar of trying to be politically correct.. We need to celebrate people like that.