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Oritsejafor’s looming exit sparks CAN succession battle

By Sam Eyoboka

40 years after the birth of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, via  the adoption of the name by a 10-man sub-committee headed by Anglican Bishop of Lagos, Rev. Festus Oluwole Segun (1975-1985), the election of a new leadership is becoming  contentious with accusation that the Presidency is rooting for a northern candidate to replace the  outgoing CAN President, Pastor Ayo  Oritsejafor, who is believed to have rattled some powerful interests in the North with his hard stance on the Islamist  terrorist group, Boko Haram, which led to its being dubbed the worst terrorist group in the world.

Oritsejafor
Oritsejafor

CAN was established on August 27, 1976 at the Catholic Secretariat, Lagos, where Rev. Festus Segun, Bishop Alaba Job of Catholic Diocese of Ibadan, Conference Secretary of Methodist Church, Bishop J.B. Pomoron, Archdeacon E.O. Alayande (Anglican), Rev. E.A.A. Adegbola (Methodist), Mr. C.O. Williams (then General Secretary of Christian Council of Nigeria, CCN,  Rev. J.A. Adegbite, Chief C.M. Smith, Msgr. A.E. Obine and Col. Andrew Sawa not  to prepare a united response to the then Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brigadier General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was seeking the Church’s support for a proposed National Pledge on September 22, 1976.

There was after a  meeting at the official seat of the Federal Government, Dodan Barracks, Lagos but the 33 Christian leaders from different denominations could not give an impromptu response to the the number two citizen’s address, and, apparently wanting to speak with one voice, they delayed their response and assured the Chief of Staff that a prepared position would be brought to the government at a later date.

Apart from the response to the government proposal, the meeting was also to define, among other things, the nature and function of the association, as well as to clarify its membership, working together to promote the glory of God by encouraging the growth and unity of the churches, and by helping them to salvation and all its fruits.

CAN is made up of five distinct denominational groups: The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, the Christian Council of Nigeria, CCN, the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, OAIC, Tarayyar Ekklisiyar Kristi a Nigeria (Hausa for the Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria) and Evangelical Church Winning All, TEKAN/ECWA, and the Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria/Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, CPFN/PFN. There has not been any deliberate effort to rotate the body’s presidency among the federating groups as, until recently, the presidency had rotated among two groups—-the Catholic Church and the Christian Council of Nigeria.

On July 5, 2010, the then National President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, polled 66 votes to defeat his Catholic counterpart and then President of CAN, Most Rev. John Onaiyekan, who secured 38 votes of the 105-member National Executive Committee, to become the first Pentecostal president of the umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria. However, Onaiyekan declined to serve as  Oritsejafor’s, Vice President as CAN’s  Constitution demanded and, instead, CAN National Assembly endorsed Most Rev. Daniel Okoh, who came third in the earlier shadow elections, as Vice President.

Before than,  CAN presidency had produced three Presidents from the Catholic Church and one each from the Anglican Communion  and  Methodist Church Nigeria.

Six years after, the umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria is shopping for a  candidate to continue the accomplishments of the outgoing president, which  include a befitting CAN  secretariat and a 50-bedroom Jubilee Centre—a source of revenue for the apex body. Oritsejafor  chose not to operate same way as his predecessors. He created and funded a suitable office where he operated from and came up with the idea of a Jubilee Centre to generate funds for CAN.

Oritsejafor’s emergence and the monumental accomplishments, despite huge and vociferous opposition, as CAN President from the CPFN/PFN bloc, hitherto  referred to as Pente-rascals, eloquently gave credence to the fact that CAN presidency is not the exclusive preserve of the Catholic Church or member-churches of the CCN bloc. It is open to any of the five federating blocs as stated by the Constitution.

Oritsejafor’s tenure ends in July 2016 after serving his mandatory two terms and, ahead of fresh elections to pick his successor, there have been insinuations that the APC-led Federal Government, for whatever reasons, would be more comfortable with a northerner to occupy the CAN presidency. Unconfirmed reports claim that the Presidency is sponsoring the President of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and co-founder of Cultural Evangelistic Ministries for Africa, CEMA, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Gado, who turned 63 on March 5, for the CAN top office. Though the Presidency had denied the reports,  the speculation has  refused to  go,  especially when Gado chose a  press conference to flag off his campaign for the office in what some perceive as a purely spiritual exercise.

The other two aspirants, who have filed their papers with the Electoral College, have declined to speak on their candidacy. The intervening development has elicited the speculation  in certain quarters as to why the Presidency should be interested in CAN election with many sensing danger especially after President Muhammadu Buhari  recently unilaterally dragged Nigeria into the Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Muslim countries against terrorism.

A school of thought argued, last week, that though the APC government at the centre had denied the speculation that it plans to islamise the nation, there are indications, including the proposed controversial Universal 9-year Basic Education Programme which seeks to subject all Nigerian children to study an omnibus subject called Religion and National Values in place of Christian Religious Studies, Islamic Studies, Civic Education, Social Studies and Security Education and others, of  bad omen, noting that government may just want to sponsor a liberal Christian it can control for easy passage of  its  proposals.

To this school of thought, having a ‘Buhari-man’ in charge of CAN is tantamount to handing over the soul of the apex Christian body, to the President whose body language, they say, is in  favour  of  Islamising Nigeria. This school seeks to know what is firing Buhari’s interest in trying to control CAN and what having a southern or northern CAN President, respectively, means  to the President.

CAN General Secretary, Rev. Musa Asake, who is a member of ECWA Church,  Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, TREM, and one time Vice President of CAN, Dr. Mike Okonkwo;  the Regional Secretary, Evangelical Students in English and Portuguese Speaking Africa, Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam; and Prelate and Supreme Head, Motailatu Church Cherubim & Seraphim Worldwide, Baba Aladura, Dr. Israel Akinadewo of the OAIC, wondered why the Presidency should develop interest in CAN presidency.

Asked whether he is bothered about rumours of the involvement of the Presidency in this year’s CAN election, Baba Aladura, said: “I’m not too bothered because people have not bothered to look at the Constitution of CAN. The Constitution of CAN is so simple. Number one, the government cannot have representatives among those who are going to vote during the election.

But they can sponsor?

“I don’t want to believe because the Federal Government is not a bloc in CAN. Whosoever uses money for CAN election is going to lose flatly. The word of God can never be monetised. What is the basis of government having interest? Christians are the ones making so much noise about ourselves. There have been changes in the leadership of the Muslims, the Sultan, there has never been any noise about it, but some of our Christians will be abusing their own leaders. I see this as ignorance. Remember the disciple that cut the ear of someone that came to arrest Jesus Christ, He restored it. What I’m saying in a way is that some people are outside CAN and are criticising CAN because they don’t actually know what the CAN  Constitution says.

“People that are not in CAN will not understand and will take it as the truth, but we just laugh it off. We don’t have to defend ourselves. But by the time God reveals Himself to this nation, you will realise that these people have been working underneath to produce the best of the best Christian leader we can have in this nation. Every Christian in this nation will be proud, even the other religion will be proud of the candidate we will produce at the end of the day because it is purely through prayers.

“Whosoever spends money, maybe the person has made so much money that he wants to spend because you don’t even know the identity of those who are going to vote. It is not published on the pages of newspapers. They go to their inner circle and do what they have to do and clear their conscience. So I want to see who wants to influence anybody with money. It’s not possible. There are certain things that are  impossible as the  far as election of national CAN is concerned.

“I can tell you that even the current President of CAN cannot influence the election. He may have his own choice but he cannot influence because the names that the blocs are submiting, the President of CAN cannot influence them because he doesn’t even know the candidates. His own bloc is not presenting a candidate. The other blocs cannot influence one another because they are all interested it;  so everybody will be careful not to lose through any means.”

Erstwhile Vice President of CAN and a leading Pentecostal minister, Bishop Okonkwo, said: “No! It’s not possible. Even if government can penetrate other blocs of CAN, I know it cannot penetrate the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. Even if they are attempting to, it will not work. I know that the last presidential election brought a lot of division among Christians, but I can assure you that there is a lot reconciliation currently ongoing. Human beings can disagree but we can only disagree to agree because that is the essense of God’s grace to us as His creation.”

The CAN Secretary General, Rev. Asake, believed  the allegation cannot be true, saying: “I don’t know anything about that. I read something in the newspapers and I can tell you that I know nothing like that. I don’t see any reason  government or President Buhari should have interest in CAN election. Here in CAN, we don’t have any such information. Some people are saying it’s the Secretary to the Federal Government, others are saying it’s the President himself.”

Regional Secretary, Evangelical Students in English and Portuguese Speaking Africa, Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam,  wondered, “why should President Buhari possibly want to sponsor a candidate to head CAN?’He tried to give an insight into why people think Buhari may he sponsoring Gado’s CAN presidential  It is absolutely untrue that President Muhammadu Buhari, wants to control the soul of CAN,” even as he attempted to give an insight into why people believe Mr. President is sponsoring Rev. Gado’s CAN presidential bid:

“The  current SGF, David Babashiru Lawal, is an ECWA member. When he was appointed the SGF, he paid a courtesy call on the ECWA  President, Rev. Gado, his father in the Lord. During the meeting, Rev. Gado hinted the SGF of his intention to vie for the CAN presidency. Now, tell me, If, for instance, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, were to seek to become the National President of CAN and decides to take our Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, his member into confidence, does that qualify Pastor Adeboye to be labeled as President Buhari’s candidate?”

Despite those reassuring words, the rumour mill has been awash with talks of a “government candidate”, “northern candidate”, “Islamic  candidate,” which has given rise to the intractable problem militating against a peaceful election to produce the next president of the apex body of Christianity in the country and CAN has, therefore, scheduled an extraordinary meeting of its National Executive Council for Tuesday, May 10, to resolve the crisis.

The ECWA unit of the TEKAN/ECWA bloc has been embroiled in  crisis  on the candidacy of Gado.. Gado emerged the bloc’s candidate in a primary election held on March 29, while the President of Taraya Ekklesiyoyin Kristi a Nigeria (Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria, TEKAN) and leader of the embattled TEKAN/ECWA  bloc, Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau, was still in  kidnappers’ den.

Dziggau  was kidnapped along with his deputy, Rev. Illiya Anto, and a retired reverend in the church, Yakubu Dzarma, at the church crusade ground along the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway on March 21 while inspecting the proposed permanent site for the HEKAN Theological Seminary. Dziggau and  Dzarma regained their freedom on March 30 night, but  Anto’s  decomposing body was found in the bush.

Giving his perspective to the internal crisis currently dogging ECWA unit which, in turn, is threatening the CAN election, the TEKAN/ECWA bloc leader  lamented that certain people are playing politics in the Church and are refusing to speak the truth.

Narrating his 10-day ordeal in the hands of yet-to-be-identified kidnappers in a subdued voice, the 63-year old cleric hoped that the NEC would be able to resolve the impasse and exonerate him from blame by people who’re peddling the rumour that he was opposed to the candidature of one of the candidates for the CAN presidency.

“We hope the resolution will come,”  Dziggau  said  in a chat with our reporter, noting that if the ECWA unit of the bloc had respected the TEKAN/ECWA bloc, it could have taken its time to write a letter presenting Gado as a representive of the bloc for CAN presidency.

The bloc leader contended that nobody had thought of the travails he and the two other clerics suffered during their kidnapping which ended with the death of  Anto.

According to the cleric who is still treating swollen legs after “trekking for 24 hours” in the bush, “instead, they were busy doing primary election; writing names and sending to Abuja, going to the media that they won the election.”

Dziggau explained that the TEKAN/ECWA slot had actually been ceded to the ECWA unit and they were duly asked to sort out the details because the incumbent CAN Secretary General was nominated by ECWA and CAN Constitution frowns at two executive officers from one bloc.

“We gave them the chance to go and write out which one because already, the General  Secretary is from ECWA and you too want to go for election. TEKAN has kept quiet saying if this is what you need, you can go but what do  we do about the man that is there? They said it doesn’t mean anything, he doesn’t have problem,”he narrated.

“I said okay; go back and write a letter to me. That was our resolution. We insisted that the ECWA  General Secretary should sign the letter in accordance with normal administrative practice. They went and brought a letter that was signed by the Vice President. Though that did not follow the due procedure of administration, I accepted to forward the letter.

“But shortly afterwards, another letter came from ECWA General Secretary, declaring the first letter  null and void because he, as the chief administrator of ECWA, was not consulted. If you were in my shoes, what will you do? Two letters from the same church and the two are contradicting one another.

“What I then did was to put the two letters together with a covering letter, saying I was about to submit the name of Dr. Jeremiah Gado when another letter came challenging the first one. Therefore I didn’t know how to resolve it and I am forwarding both to CAN to decide. That was what I did.

“After some minutes, they went back and did their ECWA general church council and sent another letter to me, signed by the Assistant General Secretary and my question was; where was the General Secretary hiding? He doesn’t want to come out; why?

“Journalists and people  will sympathize with us—TEKAN and myself—because if they had complied with all we told them to just write a letter signed by the General Secretary, this May 10 meeting would not have been necessary. They said no, that the Assistant General Secretary signed another one.

“The General Secretary’s name was written but the signature was that of the Assistant General Secretary. I said to them,’ you are ridiculing me. I am not a kid. If you are playing un-Christian attitude, please count me out’.

“People are sympathizing with them, especially with Dr. Gado; nobody has cared about the pains we went through. Everybody is commenting that we should allow Dr. Gado to contest for unity, peace and tranquillity, but nobody talks about the fact that I was in that travail. My Vice President died on the way. Nobody talks about that”


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