By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja
Cracks in the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) were visible last week in the ranks of the religious organisation.
It had to do with CAN’s position on overt partisanship and the same-faith presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
But the leadership of the apex Christian body rose to the occasion with a sense of urgency to mend the cracks and de-escalate the situation which threatened to tear the house apart.
It commenced an investigation into the real motive behind a leaked ‘revised list’ of the Tinubu/Shettima 2023 Presidential Campaign Council, which featured the names of at least eight senior officers and members of CAN.
Among them are the Assistant General Secretary of CAN, Apostle Biodun Sanyaolu, who was recruited as Deputy Coordinator, Stakeholder Relations; Lagos State CAN Chairman, Bishop Stephen Adegbite (member); National Director, Legal and Public Affairs Directorate of CAN, Barr. Comfort Chigbue (member); and Mr Testimony Onifade, former Personal Assistant to immediate past CAN President, Rev Samson Ayokunle (member).
Others are Dr Victor Ivoke, Personal Assistant to Archbishop Daniel Okoh, current President of CAN (member); CAN’s former Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Kwamkur Samuel (member) and Prof. Para-Mallam (member).
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Okoh distanced himself from the purported APC Presidential Campaign Council list; describing the appearance of the names of his officials and aide as a worrisome development because it countered the well-known stance of CAN on partisanship.
He said, “I want to categorically exonerate my humble self from this development and any of such that may occur in the future.
“I want to use this medium to assure all Christians in Nigeria and the general public that since I received the news, I have commenced full investigation into how the officials got involved in overt partisanship.
“At the end of the probe, CAN will take fair, but decisive and appropriate action with a view to defending the ideals of the umbrella Christian body I lead by the grace of the Almighty God.
“On a final note, I urge the general public to be calm while we collectively work to entrench a culture of inclusion and respect for our religious diversities in our political leadership.”
Following the outrage that greeted the purported APC campaign council list, many of the CAN members whose name had featured in it denounced their inclusion.
While Ivoke, who is in far away Rome observing the Holy Pilgrimage, had written a letter titled, ‘Re: Inclusion in APC Presidential Campaign Council List’ and ready for dispatch on his behalf to Governor Simon Lalong (Director-General of the APC campaign council), wherein he (Ivoke) stated that he was not a member of the party and therefore ought not to have been listed, Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam, explained that neither he nor his wife, Prof. Funmi Para-Mallam, was aware of their nomination as members of the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu campaign team as their consent was not sought.
But Sunday Vanguard investigation revealed that the purported list that had the names of the eight CAN members was fake and concocted, and its leak to the press was a hatchet job to ridicule the leadership and image of CAN.
A copy of the 33-page authentic list of the Tinubu/Shettima 2023 Presidential Campaign Council signed by the APC National Secretary, Senator Iyiola Omisore, and obtained by Sunday Vanguard, had only the name of Sanyaolu, Assistant General Secretary of CAN.
Sanyaolu, however, owned up to his inclusion in the campaign council while publicly accepting the offer to work for the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s emergence as Nigeria’s next President despite the public stance of the Christian body against partisanship and the same-faith ticket.
He, however, explained that his decision was personal and had nothing to do with CAN.
According to him, he had been a card-carrying member of the APC since 2020, and had also contested for the Ogun Central senatorial ticket in the party’s primaries in May this year.
Sanyaolu urged the public to place a distinction between his personal life and position in CAN; stressing that he had been active in partisan politics in the past three decades and had served as a Commissioner in Ogun State government between 2003 and 2007.
He said, “It is pertinent for me to state that as a member of CAN and an Apostle of the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim & Seraphim (ESOCS) Church, I have been in partisan politics for over three (3) decades.
“I have been involved in politics from the grassroots to state and national level. In the course of my political sojourn I have had cause to be a member of several political parties and lately, the All Progressives Congress (APC). My participation in partisan politics is largely known to the Church, members of the congregation and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
“On the return of democracy, I served in the cabinet of Otunba Gbenga Daniel, Governor of Ogun State as Commissioner between 2003 and 2007. I was later appointed as the Chairman of the Ogun State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board based on my publicly known religious postures and involvements.”
While stating that he has had a successful career as a chartered accountant and a successful commercial farmer in Ogun State since 1980s, he dismissed the allegation that he accepted to be part of the APC campaign council for pecuniary gains.
He also offered to resign his position in CAN rather than be a reason for the public ridicule of Christ Jesus and the umbrella Christian organisation.
However, with the benefit of hindsight, this is not the first time mischief makers had attempted to create an impression of CAN being a divided house of hypocrites, selfish leaders and men who are concerned after their bellies only.
The first attempt to create the false impression of inherent disharmony in CAN was when suspected hirelings who masqueraded as ‘Bishops’ were recruited to grace the unveiling of Senator Kashima Shettima as the APC vice presidential candidate in July.
Another embarrassing scenario happened, last Sunday, when the Lagos State CAN Chairman and outgoing Director of National Issues and Social Welfare, Bishop Stephen Adegbite, was quoted to have said “God will punish us, if we fail to vote for Tinubu in 2023.”
Though Adegbite came out publicly to deny it and claimed he was misquoted by some section of the media, the impression that a political party is making inroads into CAN to divide its ranks and break its will to fight for inclusivity and respect for religious diversity in the highest level of political leadership in the country in 2023 has been highlighted.
According to a source in the national leadership of CAN, officials and members of the body are at liberty to play party politics, but it is not a leeway for political freeloaders and hangers-on to seek to penetrate CAN, interfere in its resolutions and pollute its ideals. On his part, the General Secretary of CAN, Joseph Daramola, said CAN, as an entity, will remain non-partisan, but passionately committed to the safety and wellbeing of Nigerians.
“Whereas, CAN is not a partisan organization and does not involve itself with the process of partisan politics, it has a responsibility to defend the religious freedom of Nigerian citizens, whether Christians or not,” he said.