28th February, 2018
Rev. Dr. Benebo Fubara Fubara-Manuel
Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN)
National Christian Center
RE: CCN LETTER TO NCEF - NEED FOR CIRCUMSPECTION
Your letter by Email on Saturday 17th February, 2018 refers, please.
The National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) is saddened and amazed at the recurring conflicts and contention that threaten the unity of the Body of Christ in Nigeria, particularly since Rev. Dr. Olasupo Samson Ayokunle became the President of CAN. A few days ago, this unhappy situation has taken on a more worrisome dimension with the letter from the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) demanding written apology from the National Christian Elders Forum to Rev. Dr. Olasupo Samson Ayokunle, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). This is a rather painful and unhappy situation in the Church particularly when the good intentions of the Christian Elders are misconstrued by a Bloc in CAN.
The NCEF is therefore, in the spirit of humility of Christ, constrained to offer a detailed account of its involvement in mediation and reconciliation in CAN. The impression being created by the CCN is that the NCEF acted improperly and in misconduct towards the President of CAN. This impression created by the CCN Bloc is unfortunate and incorrect. The NCEF acted with good intentions and sincerity of purpose for the Common Good of Christians in particular and Nigerians in general. It is very unfortunate that CCN, which is the first Church Group formed in Nigeria in 1926, could handle such serious issues without much circumspection. Seeking dialogue with the Christian Elders would have been more appropriate. CCN simply restricted its fact finding to its candidate without hearing from the NCEF and thereby came to a one-sided conclusion.
Shortly after crisis erupted amongst the current CAN Executive, which is headed by Rev. Dr. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, the Christian Elders immediately sought to intervene to restore normalcy and reconciliation amongst the leaders of CAN in the interest of the Body of Christ in Nigeria. It became clear that much of the contention stemmed from the current President of CAN himself. He assumed the office of the President of CAN with a wrong perception of both the office and the role he was elected to play in the Body of Christ. By his self assigned title of CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of CAN, (an unknown nomenclature in the Church) he left no one in doubt of his intention and determination to run CAN as a personal estate. Anyone who dared utter a contrary opinion to the President is regarded by him as guilty of “insubordination”.
NCEF NOT OPPOSED TO CCN CANDIDATE
After the 2015 General Elections, the NCEF resolved to meet all the Church Groups and commenced Unity and Reconciliation in the Body of Christ since it was evident Christians were divided during the Elections. It was during these meetings with the Blocs that some Church leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the imbalance in CAN as one factor responsible for division. There was objection that some Blocs seem to underrate others going by the way leadership position in CAN was being monopolized by two groups. It should be noted that as of 2015, the position of President of CAN had been held by the following Church Groups:
CSN - 3 times
CCN - 2 times
CPFN/PFN - Once
OAIC - Nil
TEKAN/ECWA - Nil
In view of the above, the NCEF recommended that Blocs that had not produced the President of CAN should be given opportunity to do so to demonstrate mutual acceptance and recognition. This is in consonance with Section 14 (a) of the Constitution of CAN. The expectation then was that the position for the next President of CAN would be contested between OAIC and TEKAN/ECWA in accordance with the principle of rotating of positions in CAN.
Unfortunately, crisis erupted in TEKAN/ECWA and the Bloc had a challenge concerning one candidate for the Group. CCN produced a candidate almost at the last minute and proceeded to win the election. It must be pointed out that the current President, who was the then Vice-President of CAN had earlier made it clear that he would not contest the position of the President. This statement he actually confirmed to the Chairman of NCEF and the Secretary on 16th July, 2016 that the application to contest was made on his behalf against his will.
This point is very important because the President of CAN is now claiming that NCEF wrote a paper that his Bloc was not supposed to have produced a candidate and that the Christian Elders oppose him because the Vice President, Prof. Otubu, being a member of the NCEF, did not win the election. The statement is not correct.
After the CAN elections and the emergence of Dr. Ayokunle as the new President of CAN, the Chairman flew from Benin to Lagos and made the Secretary of NCEF accompany him to Ibadan on Saturday 16th July, 2016 on a courtesy visit to the newly elected President of CAN. The NCEF representatives visited the newly elected CAN President in his house in Ibadan.
The visit was for two reasons:
- To congratulate Dr. Ayokunle for winning the CAN Election.
- To assure him of the support and cooperation of the NCEF.
The NCEF did not object to the emergence of Dr. Ayokunle as the President of CAN. The Vice President on his part handed over his plans for CAN to Dr. Ayokunle and pledged his cooperation and support. To suggest otherwise is unfair to both NCEF and Prof. Otubu.
GENESIS OF THE CRISIS
On 2nd August, 2016, the NCEF officially met with the new President of CAN at Jubilee House, National Christian Center, Abuja. It was the first and only formal meeting of the NCEF with Dr. Ayokunle. All the other meetings were mediations.
During this meeting, the NCEF raised two concerns:
- Renewal of the tenure of the General Secretary of CAN
- Implementation of CAN Strategy Document
The Christian Elders counseled Dr. Ayokunle that it would be circumspect for him to support the renewal of the tenure of Rev. Dr. Musa Asake, the General Secretary of CAN for a second term. The mood in the Church was to renew the tenure of the General Secretary for the stand he took during the CAN pre-election crisis. The Christian Elders also reminded the new CAN President that but for Rev. Dr. Asake, he himself might not have emerged as the President of CAN. The Christian Elders also pointed out that they were aware some forces were opposed to the renewal of the tenure of Dr. Asake in order to “punish” him for hindering their candidate from emerging CAN President.
The body language of Dr. Ayokunle immediately sent signals that he was opposed to the renewal of the tenure of the General Secretary. The Elders noted this and discussed it after the meeting with him. During the meeting of NEC on 4th October, 2016, Dr. Ayokunle pushed for the termination of the service of Dr. Asake and NEC objected. Due to his insistence, it was brought to a vote which produced the following results:
OAIC - Voted for Dr. Asake to remain
CPFN/PFN - Voted for Dr. Asake to remain
TEKAN/ECWA - Voted for Dr. Asake to remain
CCN - Voted against
CSN - Abstained
By a margin of 75% to 25%, Dr. Asake was retained. It marked the beginning of an unnecessary conflict in the Church. Amazingly, Dr. Ayokunle was later heard to attempt changing the narrative that he supported the renewal of the tenure of Dr. Asake. If he did, there would have been no need to bring the issue to a vote. There would have been consensus.
Concerning the CAN Strategy Document, the NCEF impressed on the newly elected President the need to expedite action on the implementation so that requisite structures could be established for the Church to resist the Agenda of the Islamists. It was agreed during this meeting that the President of CAN shall constitute an Implementation Committee and NCEF should nominate three members of the Committee. The NCEF nominated its three members that same day at a meeting it held after its session with the President of CAN and communicated same to the National Secretariat. From then, 2nd August, 2016 till now, nothing was heard from the CAN President, neither was anything done to implement the Strategy Document of CAN, despite many reminders. The impression one gets is that Dr. Ayokunle came in as President of CAN with a personal agenda different from CAN’s and the Constitution.
Apparently dissatisfied with the decision of NEC, the CAN President proceeded to set up a parallel Secretariat and appointed his Senior Special Assistant (SSA), Rev. Dr. Testimony Onifade as his General Secretary. The General Secretary of CAN was sidelined and Dr. Onifade took over much of the functions of Dr. Asake. It was in the process of correcting this anomaly that the Vice President, Prof. Otubu also fell out with the CAN President.
The President proceeded to run CAN without the active involvement of both the Vice-President and the General Secretary. Visits were made to State Governors without the concurrence of the Vice-President and General Secretary. Dr. Ayokunle was accompanied by his SSA who had now been upgraded to represent the President of CAN at official CAN events. CAN’s President had his parallel Secretariat complete with a different CAN letterhead that was not produced by the General Secretary of CAN who is supposed to be the Head of Administration.
During the meeting of CAN Executive with Christian leaders on 4th November 2016, it became apparent that the new CAN Executive was divided barely five months after it was constituted. The body language of the CAN President, Vice President and General Secretary made it glaring they were not working as a team. The Chairman and the Secretary of the NCEF were present at the meeting and observed what was going on.
In order to prevent a crisis, the NCEF discussed this issue at two separate meetings in December 2016. Lagos based Christian Elders met on 6th December in Lagos while all the other Christian Elders met in Abuja on 7th December. At both meetings, it was agreed that the NCEF should quickly call a reconciliation meeting of the CAN Executive and douse the fire that was threatening to burn. The NCEF therefore resolved to propose four different dates for the President of CAN to choose for a meeting of the NCEF with the five members of the Executive in Abuja. The dates were 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd December.
The President of CAN received the information but did not respond. When the Chairman of NCEF instructed that a reminder should be sent to him, Dr. Ayokunle responded that the NCEF should come to Ibadan on 29th December to meet him. While the Christian Elders were still aghast at the impudence, it was confirmed that Dr. Ayokunle actually came to Abuja on 21st December, 2016, one of the dates proposed by the NCEF, to attend a Christmas Carol organized by the Vice-President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. It was a deliberate slight of the NCEF and confirmed lack of interest in reconciliation on the part of Dr. Ayokunle.
This attitude of the CAN President made the NCEF produce a 52 page report titled Memorandum on Mediation and Reconciliation on 12th January, 2017 to document issues unfolding in CAN. Due to various pleas and interventions, the NCEF finally met with the CAN Executive on 15th February, 2017. To the best of its ability, the NCEF appealed to the Executive to work as a team in the interest of Christianity in Nigeria.
It was clear during the Mediation and Reconciliation meeting that the CAN President came to the meeting not for peace, but for war. It took great maturity and wisdom on the part of the Chairman of NCEF to manage the meeting that it ended peacefully. But it was clear, a war had started.
Around July 2017, a report surfaced in the media that the CAN President was involved in financial sleaze arising from purchase of vehicles in Cotonou. The Christian Elders considered the report and decided to set up a Committee headed by Gen. Zamani Lekwot to investigate as the Report was damaging. The Committee met with the CAN Executive and recommended that NEC should set up a Committee to do a thorough investigation.
On 25th July, 2017, a delegation made up of eight members of the NCEF met with the CAN President to discuss issues surrounding the purchase of vehicles in Cotonou. The CAN President, instead of addressing the issues, conducted himself in such aggressive disrespectful manner that the Christian Elders present were disappointed. Rather than take the counsel of the NCEF for NEC of CAN to investigate the purchase of the vehicles, Dr. Ayokunle expanded the President in Council (PIC) of CAN to conduct an investigation and brought in non-members of PIC, which in itself was an unconstitutional action. The expanded PIC Committee presented a report that nothing was done wrong in the transaction. When the issue came up for discussion in NEC in July 2017, the head of CPFN/PFN Bloc, Rev. Dr. Felix Omobude, the Chairman of the expanded PIC Committee stalled further discussion by staging a walkout in NEC. The walkout suspended further deliberations but the issue remained unresolved. While Dr. Ayokunle kept insisting that the issue has been investigated and resolved, the Vice President of CAN did not agree. To the Vice President, the meeting of PIC was attended by people not constitutionally approved to participate thereby making the decision of the PIC Committee null and void.
By November 2017, the Vice President wrote a 13 page petition against the President of CAN to which the CAN President replied with a 31 page document. The General Secretary wrote, the National Treasurer and the Assistant General Secretary also wrote. These documents were used by the Mediating Committee of Hon. Justice James Ogebe, JSC on 18th December, 2017.
In a last attempt to salvage the situation, the NCEF decided to give Dr Ayokunle the benefit of the doubt, in the interest of the Body of Christ, and set up another Committee headed by the Honorable Supreme Court Justice James Ogebe Rtd., to make recommendations to NEC so that justice and righteousness can be done in CAN as panacea to stabilize the Church and prevent a crisis. Dr. Ayokunle ignored the Committee and dismissed its Report.
In his defense, Dr. Ayokunle now stated that the NCEF was attacking him because the Vice President of CAN and the General Secretary are members of the NCEF. Meanwhile, the transaction in Cotonou in which N43 million of CAN’s funds was spent to purchase four fairly used vehicles has not been cleared. One of the vehicles purchased at over N11 million is actually priced at N5 million in Nigeria. Where did N6 million disappear into? Then there was the contentious visit to President Buhari on 10th November, 2017 in which some millions were paid to the CAN delegation and the money was shared with the full knowledge of the CAN President. The “gift” from Benue state Governor which the CAN President claimed was N1m but informed sources claim it was N4m remain contentious. Visits to about seven governors by the President of CAN and his SSA in which various sums in millions were received are still causing ripples. It is unfortunate therefore that the CAN President would claim that NCEF is antagonizing him because he won an election. This is the unfortunate narrative that CCN without giving NCEF a fair hearing believed, and to capitalize on the unfortunate situation for attacks on some individuals and NCEF.
CAN PRESIDENT'S PERSONAL AGENDA
Time and space may not permit exhaustive report on some disturbing decisions made by the President of CAN that question his loyalty to the Body of Christ. Four of such incidents are worthy of note:
- His unilateral handling of the visit of John Kerry to Nigeria in August 2016. This did not demonstrate compliance with Article 9, III(b) of CAN Constitution which states, “The President shall consult members of the President-in-Council or a majority of them before making public decision on behalf of CAN in an emergency situation or in urgent emergency the President can act on behalf of the Association and report back immediately to the President-in-Council”. Both the Vice-President and General Secretary, as principal officers, were not part of the decision to suspend protest at the US Congress.
- Unilateral cancellation of the National Day of Christian Protest on 19th March, 2017.
- The paper focusing on Tourism presented at the American Congress on 28th March, 2017.
- Refusal to sign the letter of protest to SSS/DSS on 28th February, 2017
These are evidences to suggest that the President of CAN has an agenda, different from the Body of Christ in Nigeria.
NIGERIAN CHURCH AT CROSSROADS
Christianity in Nigeria is clearly tottering on the brink of the precipice. Outside are terrors while inside there are divisions and conflicts which suggest that some Christian leaders knowingly or unknowingly are aiding the Islamists in their stealth Jihad in Nigeria against Christians and non-Islamists. The Body of Christ must bury the hatchet in order to face the serious problems confronting the Church. A leadership that is clearly morally challenged, unspiritual, contentious, divisive, arrogant and obstinate is clearly not suitable for the Nigerian Church in distress. The CCN and Baptist Convention knew the character of the man they recommended. The Baptist Convention cannot claim ignorance of some aspects of the character and temperament of the President of CAN. A number of issues need to be discussed to restore confidence of members of the Body of Christ in Nigeria.
For one, the investigation done by the PIC Committee into the purchase of vehicles in Cotonou remains inconclusive. A proper investigation has to be done.
Second, the Audit Report prepared by both Dr. Ayokunle and the National Treasurer in violation of Section 19 of CAN Constitution is null and void. Proper audit of CAN account has to be done.
Third, it is unethical and insensitive for Christian leaders to collect money from President Buhari who is a proponent of Sharia and Sharia principles. Christians are at the receiving end of this compromise of Democratic principles by President Buhari. Therefore, Church leaders cannot justify the collection of any financial gift from President Buhari because it is tantamount to spitting on the graves of Christian victims of Fulani herdsmen and profiteering from the calamity that has befallen our brethren.
Fourth, there has to be a detailed investigation of the N28 million left by the former President of CAN to minister to persecuted Christians.
Fifth, the various infractions on the Constitution of CAN, as listed by the Vice President of CAN, have to be investigated.
Sixth, the Report of the Mediating Committee, headed by Supreme Court Justice, Hon. Justice James Ogebe has to be examined by NEC and considered based on merit.
Seventh, the attempt to use the Assistant General Secretary as scapegoat for the questionable transaction in Cotonou has to be properly investigated and all those involved must be disciplined. It is ungodly to attempt roping an innocent man into a crime to create a false impression of integrity.
It is after conducting these investigations that CCN can conclude whether or not the NCEF was disrespectful to Dr. Ayokunle. The NCEF recommends that the above points should be brought to the Notice of CCN to be better informed, to do the needful, to enhance the integrity of the Church.
Thank you and God bless you.
Solomon Asemota, SAN
- Letter of CCN demanding apology
- Recommendations of Mediating Committee headed by Hon. Justice James Ogebe, JSC, CON, Rtd.
- Recommendation of Mediating Committee on purchase of vehicles in Cotonou
- Memorandum – Mediation and Reconciliation
- Working Document of Mediating Committee of Hon. Justice Ogebe
Solomon Asemota, SAN (Chairman), Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro (rtd), Archbishop Magnus Atilade, Dr. (Mrs) Kate Okpareke, Dr. Ayo Abifarin, Gen. Zamani Lekwot (rtd), Bishop Joseph Bagobiri, Elder Moses Ihonde, Elder Nat Okoro, Gen. T. Y. Danjuma, Elder Matthew Owojaiye, Justice Kalajine Anigbogu (rtd), Elder Shyngle Wigwe, DIG P. L. Dabup, Sir John W. Bagu, Dr. Saleh Hussaini, Elder Mike Orobator, Justice James Ogebe, JSC (rtd), Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chief Debo Omotosho, Dame Priscilla Kuye, Dr. S. D. Gani, Mrs. Osaretin Demuren, Prof. Yussuf Turaki, Dr. Musa Asake, Pastor Bosun Emmanuel (Secretary)