Bumpy Road to a New CAN Leadership

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After much power tussle and hullabaloo about the emergence of a new Christian Association of Nigeria president, the body finally elected Rev. Supo Ayokunle as president last week. Paul Obi writes on the intrigues that went on behind the scenes

After much power tussle and hullabaloo about the emergence of a new Christian Association of Nigeria president, the body finally elected Rev. Supo Ayokunle as president last week. Paul Obi writes on the intrigues that went on behind the scenes
A constructive appraisal of the Christian Association of Nigeria will place the body as the voice and defender of all Christians in Nigeria. An organisation entrusted with the task of championing the cause of Christians and Christianity generally. But beyond the basic objectives, leaders of CAN have also subtly delved into politics, but with some sense of caution.

There has been the temptation to go over board and even engage in an overdose of politics. That has been the bane of CAN, as a Christian association. CAN has been enmeshed in one controversy or another over the alleged politicisation of its activities.

Zoning
To end the perennial controversies, many envisaged that with the new elections for the post of CAN president and other elective posts, the association will do well to spare itself some scandals. Relatively, it ushered in another dimension to the game of politics and intrigues within the Christian body. It first started with the constitution of the Electoral College (committee) and zoning of positions to different blocks.

CAN is made up of five blocks – the Catholic Church, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, the Tarayya Ekklesiyoyin Kristi A Nigeria (TEKAN) and Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) block, and the Christian Council of Nigeria. While three of the blocks have produced CAN presidents from the days of Anthony Cardinal Okogie to Dr Sunday Mbang, Rev Peter Akinola, John Cardinal Onaiyekan and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the CCN and TEKAN/ECWA blocks were yet to produce president of the association. It was in that light that the chance was given to the two blocks to have a shot at the CAN presidency.

TEKAN/ECWA Block
Having been given the nod to produce a consensus candidate who will run for CAN president, the TEKAN/ECWA block was expected to ensure decorum and unity among their ranks. Instead, crisis started brewing once the nomination process commenced. First, was the case of an alleged premeditated kidnapping of Dr Emmanuel Dziggau, who had expressed interest to run for CAN presidency. Many alleged that Dziggau’s kidnap might have been orchestrated to pave the way for another candidate to emerge the consensus nominee. Besides, CAN gave the blocks two timelines to forward the consensus nominee, but the groups were unable to stick to the plan. When they finally presented Dr Jeremiah Gado, the Electoral College had already gone ahead with the process.

But speaking to journalists then, ECWA representative at CAN, Pastor Wakili Kadima, said, “We have called you to let you know that the process is flawed with irregularity, the exclusion of a candidate who was duly nominated, so much impunity, so much violation of very clear constitutional provisions.

“And we not only reject what has happened but will certainly use every legal/constitutional means within CAN and if possibly outside of CAN to challenge the illegality and urge that the right thing be done to save CAN from embarrassment and the perpetuation of impunity and illegality that is threatening to tear CAN into pieces.”

He maintained that ECWA decided to kick against the exclusion “because the process came out with a minority report of members of the electoral college that didn’t agree with what went on and have even suggested that the present national officials of CAN should hand over to a caretaker team, for a body that is impartial to conduct election for the new leadership of CAN to emerge.”

Conversely, the national director of Christ Redeemers Union, Dr. Ebenezer Olusola Abednego, on his part debunked the allegation, stating, “It is lies from the pit of hell.” Abednego stated that the people making such allegation were being sponsored by those with vested interests, who also want to plant a puppet as CAN president, stressing, “when that happens Christians are doomed.”

He said, “That is another lie from the pit of hell; nobody should take them serious because we know their antecedents and sponsors. The leadership of CAN does not interfere in the election of its president because such actions are ungodly. But Nigerians, especially Christians, must know that those who are interested in planting their stooge as CAN president have not rested. They are the people behind these spurious allegations. But our determination to resist them is a battle of no retreat, no surrender. We say no to imposition of CAN president who will be loyal to the establishment.”

Alleged Government Interference
Even before the elections, there were allegations that the federal government was trying to infiltrate the ranks of CAN, to plant a pro-establishment candidate who will be a puppet to the government. According to reports, a senior cabinet member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government from the North had earlier pledged to support and work for the emergence of Gado as CAN president. It was even alleged that resources were mobilised to deliver Gado as the Christian body’s leader.

The alleged interference by government in CAN election was said to have triggered opposition against Gado’s candidature for the coveted office. President of Patriotic Christian Youth of Nigeria (PCYN), an arm of CAN, Evangelist Simon Nasso, who briefed the press, explained that there were plans to thwart CAN’s effort and install a stooge. Nasso said, “You will recall that since the commencement of the election process, we had raised alarm to the fact that a particular candidate is been sponsored by the government through the influence of a top cabinet member of the federal government.”

Nasso observed, “Though there were denials initially but the candidate as you would have witnessed, acknowledged the fact that the government official being a member of ECWA church has every reason to use his office and influence to project and sponsor the particular candidate.” He said “anybody deceiving the public that beside the vested government interest, there is any law in CAN that gives rights to Gado’s candidature is wrong. It is so strange to note the level of political manipulations and attempt to forcefully impose a candidate before and during the selection process at the TEKAN/ECWA bloc level.”

It was this perceived sponsorship of Gado by government that emboldened the Electoral College to go ahead with Prof. Joseph Otubu of African Churches and Rev Supo Ayokunle of CCN as the two candidates, without the participation of Gado.

The Election, the Winner
Prior to the elections, a report had said, “The Electoral College met on Thursday May 26, 2016 and each member of the college was given the opportunity to speak on the way forward. After careful deliberations, nine members agreed that the Electoral College should conclude, vote and send her report to the national secretariat while six members differed. The number came down to two candidates, till the actual day for elections.”

Announcing the results, outgoing CAN president, Oritsejafor said, “After the election, Reverend Dr. Supo Samson Ayokunle from CCN scored eight votes while Elder Prof. Joseph Otubu scored two votes. Members of the Electoral College agreed to have autonomy and this should be taken care of in the new constitution.”
Though, Ayokunle emerged the winner, the election was not devoid of some controversies. It was reported that the Catholic Church, the biggest block in CAN, abstained from voting in the election.

But Nasso of PCYN cleared the air, stating, “On the news that the Catholic bloc pulled out of CAN and did not participate in the elections because a particular candidate was denied participation. It is true that the Catholic Secretariat bloc through the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria wrote a letter to the CAN president demanding for a meeting to be held and some issues regarding the elections are resolved before election. The leadership of CAN, understanding the need for peaceful resolution of issues and appreciating the importance of the Catholic bloc’s participation, agreed that the CAN NEC will sit and resolve the grievances of the Catholic bloc before the commencement of the election. Unfortunately, the representative came with a standing order that they were free to participate in the meeting but must abstain from voting if election will be conducted.”

There were also reports of a court order stopping the CAN elections. THISDAY investigation revealed that in a suit filed on June 9 by Gado and Pastor Kadima against CAN, Oritsejafor and Dziggau with file number: FCT/HC/CV/18622 and motion number: M/72852016, the duo sort an interim injunction to stop the elections. The court in hearing the motion ex parte for an order of injunction refused to grant the order but rather demanded the appearance of all the parties involved. Abreast with the fact that there was no court injunction, the Electoral College and NEC decided to hold the elections a day earlier than the scheduled date of June 15.

There were also reports that security operatives were trailing Oritsejafor and other senior CAN officials to arrest them over some allegations. But with the change of date for the polls, and taking cognisance of the fact that the court order stopping the elections was only a mere rumour, CAN NEC decided to go on with the elections, which later produced Ayokunle as the winner.

Troubled Exit
At the centre of the intrigues among CAN’s blocks is the outgoing president, Pastor Oritsejafor, who many tend to dislike due his tough stance on the protection and defence of Christians across the country. Since his emergence in 2010, Oritsejaor has attracted more controversy than any other former CAN president. During his tenure, observers believed that Oritsejafor was not accessible. His closeness to former President Goodluck Jonathan also did not help matters.

However, the preacher thoroughly gave account of his stewardship as a defender of Christians in the country. He will be remembered for standing tall and speaking truth to authority, especially, with regard TO the persecution and killing of northern Christians in the Boko Haram insurgency. For a day, he was not afraid of confronting the powers that be, including the current administration on the alienation of Christians. But his alleged involvement in the 2015 general elections might have dented his achievements. As he bows out in the coming weeks, Oritsejafor will be exiting in a not very friendly atmosphere.

Enter Ayokunle
As Ayokunle steps in, CAN is in dire need of transformation. Ayokunle will be stepping in at a time Christians in the country from North and South are facing stiff persecution from all corners. From Boko Haram, to Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s religious bill, herdsmen maiming and killing of locals in the North and South, to the Osun State hijab saga and aggrieved CAN members, the new president certainly has his hands full.

To succeed, Ayokunle would have to learn from his predecessors’ weak points and chart a new course for the better. He would have to avoid the alleged complacency in the face of intimidation and brutalisation of Christians that ended John Cardinal Onaiyekan’s tenure. And also pick some pieces of advice on how not to meddle too much in politics, a style that earned Oritsejafor more condemnation than applause.

Ayokunle would also need to look at the porous intervention and charity programmes of CAN. For instance, many Christians who have been destitute and refugees have not been properly attended to by CAN or the Church. They have been left at the mercy of a disoriented government intervention project. Many believe this is the time to set up a fund for such purposes.
The day is still young for Ayokunle. But much lies on his style and approach.