Application of Order of Precedence Outside of Officio-Diplomatic Setting: The Case of Femi Taiwo and Bolanle Ambode


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Femi Taiwo is a Venerable and the Presiding Chaplain of the Chapel of Christ the Light, Alausa, Lagos. Bolanle Ambode is the First Lady in Lagos State. On Friday, 26th May, 2017, it was reported that earlier, on Sunday, the 14th of May, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode attended the anointing service conducted by Venerable Femi Taiwo. The anointing service was held to put an end to the 7-day fasting, following the loss of two members of the Chapel. The attendance of the First Lady can be seen and understood from two perspectives.
First, Mrs Bolanle Ambode, in her capacity as First Lady of Lagos State, was there in official capacity because the Chapel is under the Lagos State Ministry of Home Affairs and the Office of the First Lady is the Supervisory Authority of the church. Second, the attendance also has a private character. It was simply a special anointing service for all members, one of whom the First Lady is.
Whichever was the case, all attending members filed out to be anointed without due regard to order of precedence or, in this particular case, to Mrs. Ambode. Reports have it that Mrs. Ambode ‘waited endlessly with her entourage. She was said to have later moved to be anointed and moments later, stormed out of the church, as some of the women leaders ran after her.’ As further reported, Mrs. Ambode was ‘visibly angry. She shunned entreaties from the women, which included the wife of the presiding chaplain’ (vide “Anointing Service Drama: Ambode: Sacks Chaplain 24 Hours after Sunday Service,” The Punch, Friday, May 26, 2017, pp. 4 and 5).

On Monday, 15th May, the Presiding Chaplain, Reverend Femi Taiwo, was relieved of his duties in a letter signed by the Chairman of the Governing Council, Mr. Olugbenga Solomon, on the order of the Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. He was also given a manu militari order to quit his official quarters within 24 hours following receipt of the quit notice, implying that, by Wednesday, 17th May, his stay in the official quarters would be illegal. Perhaps more noteworthy was the report that Venerable Taiwo was sacked because the First Lady ‘didn’t get the anointing oil first and she felt disrespected.’ The sacking of the chaplain has not only raised important and serious questions, it has also generated interesting national debate and the issue of order of precedence outside the framework of official and diplomatic settings.

For instance, when should there be application of the order of precedence outside the normal or routine of official and diplomatic events? In every Christian House of God, there is always order of proceedings and precedence. In the Catholic Church, the filing of priests is done on the basis of rank and seniority. Order of Precedence is much underscored in the Celestial Church of Christ, especially during the taking of Holy Communion. Seniority in the church takes precedence regardless of societal status. But this does not prevent the recognition of invited well-placed guests to the church from taking part in the Holy Communion service on non-ranking basis.
In the context of the Chapel of Christ the Light, has the church been operating the rule or Order of Precedence, especially during anointing services in the past? What type of anger would have prompted the decision of the Governing Council of the Chapel to sack the Chaplain less than 24 hours after the expression of anger by the First Lady? After the sacking, what is the place of the anointing received by the First Lady if, after the anointment, her anger was not controlled as the first and mother of all mothers in the State of Excellence? What would have increased the level of her anger to its crescendo to warrant giving only 24 hours to the chaplain to park out of his official quarters without long notice?

Without doubt, the notice is manu militari. It first occurred in 1961 when the Government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, in protest against the French atomic tests in the Reggane area of the Sahara Desert, declared the French ambassador and his staff in Nigeria personae non grata. The French ambassador, Mr. Raymond Offroy, was given only 24 hours within which to leave Nigeria. He and his 9-member staff had to leave by road for Dahomey after the notice.

The fundamental difference between the 1961 experience and the one in the Chapel of Christ the Light is that Nigeria warned France after its second atomic test in April 1960 that Nigeria would not hesitate to sanction France in the event of a third bomb after Nigeria’s accession to national sovereignty or would have become independent. The first bomb was detonated in February 1960. There was no warning or long notice in the case of the Chaplain of the Chapel of Christ the Light.

A second point of difference is that the Government of Nigeria, which ordered the French diplomats to leave Nigeria, was neither the owner of the diplomatic residences occupied by the unwanted people nor is it their employer. For Venerable Femi Taiwo, the Government of Lagos is both his landlord and employer. Thirdly, and most importantly, it was more of a conflict of foreign policy interest in which Nigeria was defending black dignity and Africa and France was trying to sustain its big power status in international relations. The interest being pursued by both the First Lady and the chaplain is ambiguous.

However, the way the 1961 quit order notice generated much controversy, so has that of the chaplain. Few people have argued in favour of the action of the First Lady. For instance, the Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Apostle Alexander Bamgbola, has it that the Lagos State Government not only built the church but also empanelled a standing legal constitution for the church. The Governing Council established for it not only has the right to hire and fire but also the sacking of the chaplain was consistent with the constitution of the church.

The opponents of the sacking underscored the inhuman dimensions of the quit order notice requiring the chaplain to vacate his official quarters within 24 hours folowing the expression of the First Lady’s anger. Does the constitution of the church provide for that? If it does, to what extent is it consistent with the law of tenancy in Lagos State? How do we also explain the very short time between the anointing service and the time of quit notice the following day, to the extent that the Governing Council had had the ample time to be summoned to an extraordinary meeting during which the quit order decision was taken?

Did the First Lady simply report her experience to the First Citizen and Baba Akinwunmi Ambode, either as husband or Executive Governor? Did the Governor also simply order the sack without weighing the implications socially, religiously, politically and meritoriously? Did the Governing Council have only one option of carrying out the order? Why was it difficult for the Governor, both as His Excellency and Her Excellency, not able to live up to their natural name and political campaign name, Ambode and Amboo o Ambooo (we are coming, we are coming ooo). The name Ambode, as politicised, implies patience, perseverance and clairvoyance.

The proponents of the sanction have argued that the Presiding Chaplain had been queried many times for ‘conduct unbecoming of his office,’ a rationale that might have largely prompted the quick decision to sack him. What, however, is probably not clear is the likely attitudinal disposition of the chaplain not to want to play politics with Godliness. Those priests who do not want to be Christianly and satanic simultaneously are precisely those people who do not bother about order of precedence, as well as protocol and etiquette.
Whatever is the case, the quickness of action of government is what is creating different suspicions and that has the great potential to seriously damage in the long run the impeccable political and activist record of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, if the issue of order of precedence is not taken more seriously in the political governance of Lagos State.

In all, many people sympathised with the chaplain and donated houses/flats to him. They insulted the First Lady to the extent that their arguments undersocred equality of everyone before God, and by so doing, unnecessarily presenting the First Lady as a villain. The First Lady might have overreacted. The 24-hour quit notice might have not been necessary since the whole essence of even going to the church is to seek divine favour. The sanction itself is not and cannot be helpful to the quest for divine favour.

The issue to address therefore is what is both missing at the level of Reverend Femi Taiwo and Mrs. Bolanle Ambode. They both need to set aside the aspects of their chaplaincy and first lady citizenship and then seek the understanding of order of precedence in interpersonal relationships. Then, they must also understand Order of Precedence within the framework of their various offices. There is no place in the Bible where it is written that people to whom honour is due should not be given. The First Lady ought to be officially recognised. God Himself wants to be recognised all the times. In fact, He made it clear that He is a jealous God. Why shouldn’t his children therefore not also seek recognition where necessary?

Understanding Order of Precedence

If the First Lady of Lagos State was not promptly attended to, the first question to address is to ask whether the attention of the chaplain was drawn to her presence in the church. The truth of the matter is that political chieftains are required to have either personal assistants or special assistants who are normally required to be well trained in matters of protocol and etiquette. If the personal assistant of the First Lady was there with her in the church, her or his first responsibility was to inform the church authorities of the presence of a special visitor. In the absence of this, the chaplain ought not to have been held responsible.

Besides, the notion of a Personal Assistant is often confused with that of a Special Assistant. So is the conception of a Special Assistant often confused with that of a Special Adviser. Generally in the context of Nigeria, a Special Assistant can perform the functions of a Special Adviser. In this regard, when an individual is appointed from within the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government (MDAs), he is generally referred to as Special Assistant but when he is coming outside of the MDAs, he answers Special Adviser.
More importantly, at the level of the presidency, a Special Adviser is given a higher political status. While an adviser is required to advise, the acceptance of the advice is subject to the whims and caprices of his boss. On the contrary, giving special assistance is necessarily required to be proactive. A Special Adviser can be detached, the Special Assistant cannot. His assistance cannot and must not negate the wishes of the boss. In fact, Special Assistants are meant to be technocratic and professionally in service delivery. Special Advisers are necessarily political but, depending on the experiential background of the Special Adviser, he cal also perform technocratic assignments.

From the foregoing, what and where is the place of the special or personal assistant to the First Lady? In balancing the exercise of political power and entrenchment of fairness and justice in a House of God, there is the need for both temporal and spiritual advice. Most, unfortunately, and perhaps most disturbingly too, protocol and etiquette, and particularly, order of precedence, is often the least understood by public officials. It is an area of study that every new administration ought to train its personnel in, because of the exigencies of global and national political governance.

Every federal government, including the constituent governments, cannot but relate with the international community in one way or the other. Consequently, as ignorance of the law is not an acceptable basis for excuse, so is ignorance of the cultural dos and don’ts of other peoples in international relations not tenable. Any conscious or non-conscious disregard for the application of Order and Precedence can only warrant a reciprocal response. The bitterness often expressed by Nigerians whenever Nigeria is not mentioned in the public acknowledgements of South Africa during African leaders meetings is a useful reference.

Protocol essentially deals with official procedures governing the affairs of states, especially diplomatic events, while etiquette is about the practice of good manners in all inter-personal and intergovernmental interactions at both the domestic and international spheres. Order of Precedence is the application of protocol. In this regard, it is precisely the non-factoring of the rules of protocol and etiquette during the anointing service at the Chapel of Christ the Light that led to the misunderstanding between the First Lady and the authorities of the Chapel.

Order of Precedence deals with hierarchy, status, ranking, priority of attention during officious and official events, even though it does not have a legal standing. It generally has a ceremonial character and is determined by different factors in different strata of society. For instance, an Order of Precedence is largely determined by factor of seniority. Seniority is also determined by many other factors.

In diplomatic missions, seniority is determined by the status of the head of the mission: is he or she an ambassador plenipotentiary and extraordinary, a minister, or a chargé d’affaires? Even at the level of ambassadors, the papal nuncios normally are given preferential treatment, especially in some Catholic states. The ranking is largely informed by the fact that ambassadors do represent their presidents while chargé d’affaires represent their Foreign Ministers. In other words, ambassadors are senior to ministers, who are senior to chargé d’affaires, and who also are senior to chargé d’affaires ad interim.

Again, at the level of any given diplomatic corps in a receiving state, seniority is determined by date of accreditation of an ambassador. The oldest in the diplomatic community in the receiving state necessarily becomes the Doyen. As a result of the frequency of cross-posting of ambassadors and new accreditations of arriving ambassadors-designate, new lists of Orders of Precedence are always established.

The case of the United States under President Donald Trump is useful at this juncture. President Donald Trump established on May 24, 2017 a new Order of Precedence in which all former presidents, vice presidents, First Ladies, Second Ladies and Secretaries of State are listed. In the current US Order of Precedence, established by the President through the Office of the Chief of Staff, maintained and updated by the Office of the Chief of Protocol in the State Department, the established hierarchy is as follows: President of the US, Donald Trump; Vice President of the US, Mike Pence; Governor (of the State or territory in which the event is held); Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan; Chief Justice of the US, John Roberts; former Presidents or their widows or widowers whose seniority is again determined by the oldness of time of tenure; former Vice Presidents whose ranking, again, is determined by the oldness of tenure; retired Chief Justices of the US; retired Associate Justices of the Supreme Court; members of the Cabinet; etc.

In the United Kingdom, Order of Precedence is about the seniority or hierarchy of Peers of the Realm, Officers of State, Senior Members of the Clergy, holders of the various Orders of Chivalry and other people in the three legal jurisdictions in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In the UK, determination of Order of Precedence can be by the Precedence Act, which defines seating arrangement in the House of Lords Chamber. It is also determined by the Statutes of the Orders of Chivalry; Acts of Union with Scotland and Northern Ireland; Sovereign Order; Royal Warrant of Precedence; Letters Warrant; Act of Parliament; and by Custom.

Generally, the Order of Precedence in the UK can be structured as follows: British Royal Family; Officers of State; Peers of the Realm; Primates, Archbishops, Bishops; Scottish Lord High Commissioners and Moderators; baronets, Knights and holders of State honours
In Germany, at the governmental level, the first five priorities are the President of Germany, President of the Bundestag, the Chancellor of Germany, the President of the Bundesrat, and President of the Constitutional Court.

The importance of Order of Precedence in political governance is clearly established from the foregoing examples. However, the anointing service at the Chapel of Christ the Light was not, strictly speaking, official. It was, at best, officious or quasi-official. There was no visible application of Order and Precedence. Whereas there is a good basis for the application of order of precedence, protocol and etiquette.

The Need for Order of Precedence

There is no activity in any given stratum of society that does not have an order of precedence. The Chapel of Christ the Light should establish an Order of Precedence if it does not have one already. If it has one, efforts should be quickly made to reconcile it with the Bible. If the Presiding Chaplain has any animosity vis-a-vis anyone in Government, or Governing Council of the church, the animosity must not be allowed to impact negatively on the very people who are seeking God in the same church.

And most importantly, the First Lady, the Presiding Chaplain and the Government of Lagos are all right in all their actions so far. The Chaplain is not and cannot be an omniscient and omnipresent like Jesus Christ. The First Lady has the right to protest against non-recognition. All those who condemn her for her attitude are missing the point: her private individual person should not be confused with her person in the Office of the First Lady. If there was really any scintilla of disregard for Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, it should not be simply seen at the level of her person but also in the Office of the First Lady which she personifies.

Consequently, to prevent future occurrences, the First Lady, the Presiding Chaplain and the Government of Lagos State should be quickly reconciled by elders of the church as required in Mathew 18: 14-18. Because the Chaplain is a Messenger and Ambassador of God, he should take precedence over the First Lady. Besides, as cultural tradition requires that younger people should always defer to the elders, the First Lady should defer to the chaplain, by first apologising to the chaplain. After, all the leaders of the CAN in Lagos should enter into a special anointing prayers and blessing service for the First Lady and the Executive Governor of Lagos and their entire family. This will be a good way of ending the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Lagos State and creating a new foundation for more brotherly and sisterly rapprochement and unificatiion in the church.

Additionally, and most importantly, there will be need to put a greater emphasis on the training of special assistants and advisers, and all officers having to do with public relations in the area of protocol and etiquette. This is a desideratum because the half or little understanding, if not the total lack of understanding of protocol and etiquette, have always caused a serious mésentente in contemporary international relations and conflicts in classical times. In fact, the sanction given the Presiding Chaplain has seriously tainted the positive public perception of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. His goodness, altruism and performance are now already put on the altar of public re-evaluation. The First Lady as the current Mother of all Mothers must not allow any of her children to go astray or allow the achievements of his husband to be rubbished. She should quickly take the first initiative at reconciliation for purposes of greater achievements and legacy.