A Divided House Called CAN

Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor

Crisis deepens in CAN as 19 northern chapters of the Christian body and Abuja team up with the national body against the Catholics’ decision to suspend participation at the centre

|  By Ishaya Ibrahim  |  Feb. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

AYO Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, is no stranger to controversy, arising from his style of leadership of CAN and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN. Oritsejafor, whose tenure as president of the PFN, would end in February this year, has created for himself, friends and foes within the Christian community in Nigeria.

The most recent is the revolt of the Catholics against CAN for what the church termed as the “too-close relationship between the association and the federal government.”  An unsigned statement released on behalf of the Catholics, states that CAN under Oritsejafor, is now being run as an arm of government “because they (government) will dictate to us what to do and they will not take our advice seriously, the Catholic Church has decided to withdraw from the activities of CAN at the national level; we are still part of CAN at the state. We made our stand clear in November last year, and by December, the man (Oritsejafor} bought a jet. I don’t know how he got it but the president was there on that day the jet was delivered to him”, the statement said.

The Jet gift to Oritsejafor by members of his church on the occasion of his 40th anniversary as a pastor, has elicited mixed reactions. While some argue that owing to Oritsejafor’s busy schedule, he deserved a jet to facilitate his evangelical mission, others said it was a vulgar display of wealth.

As if the Catholics were testing the waters with the statement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, came with another euphemism for the phrase ‘pulled out’. Christopher Ajala, a monsignor and diocesan administrator of the catholic diocese of Abeokuta, said at a news conference that the Catholic Church only ‘suspended’ its activities in CAN but not pulled out. But the underlining reason remained the same: “Because it was too close to the government at the centre”, adding that the body only withdrew temporarily from CAN, which will only last for few weeks,  to allow it sort out some issues with the National christian body but would still maintain its activities at the state level.

Notwithstanding the supposed double speak, Sunny Oibe, public relations officer of CAN, in the 19 Northern States and Abuja, has accused the Catholics of arrogance because they lost the presidency of CAN to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. “There is no need for anybody to lose sleep over the threat by the Catholics to pull out of CAN because without them, CAN will still continue. The constitution of CAN makes provision that the membership of any group that is misbehaving can be terminated or that any group can also terminate its membership. Why is it that when Catholics were in the leadership of CAN, every bloc supported them, but now because power has changed hands, they are threatening to pull out and causing confusion? They have been agitating that the presidency of CAN must come from the South. They are an appendage of the PDP and PDP themselves. They are known for double standards. A man of God should not be double speaking”, Oibe said.

 Yohanna Simon, a reverend and registrar of the Baptist Theological Seminary, Kaduna, agrees. He said the reason the Catholics actually pulled out from the CAN was because they were not at the head of leadership of CAN. “If they are not the ones there, they would threaten to pull out. They are just bringing dirty politics into it”, Simon said.

Similarly, Austine Okechukwu, pastor of The Ambassadors of Christ Ministries, International, Lagos, also argued that the Catholics were simply playing politics with their withdrawal. He said if they felt uncomfortable with the leadership style of Oritsejafor, there were better ways of expressing their grouse instead of pulling out.

But Victor Ochogwu, a catholic and member of Saints Peter and Paul church, Lagos, said the decision of the Catholic Church to pull out from the CAN was apt. “CAN was made for the well-being of Christians but right now, it is being used to serve the interest of politicians and that is wrong”, Ochogwu said.

But the Catholics are not the only ones who have issues with Oritsejafor. The Kaduna State CAN is also not happy with him.  In 2009, Oritsejafor was accused of meddlesomeness in the activities of the CAN, Kaduna State chapter.  He was said to have been desperate in foisting Yerima Danladi, his stooge as the secretary general of the chapter- a move Samuel Kujiyat, the state chairman, rejected. This pitted the two Christian leaders on a collision course, leading to the sidelining of Kaduna State CAN executives by the national body, during national assignments.

 For instance, the Kaduna CAN was left out of the annual prayer breakfast meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan on April 14, 2012, which CAN leaders from the 36 states of the federation were expected to attend along with their secretaries.  But the Kaduna State CAN was not invited. Kenny Ashaka, spokesman for Oritsejafor, said had Kujiyat and Joshua Mallam, his secretary general, attended the breakfast prayer, they would have been thrown out from the Villa.

Oritsejafor-led PFN, in 2009, was also locked in controversy with Temitope Balogun Joshua, general overseer of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN; over whether he {Joshua} was really a christian and whether he was qualified to be admitted into the PFN fold.  Said Oritsejafor of Joshua: Jesus did not say by their words you will know them; he said by their fruits you shall know them. If T.B. Joshua can show me his pastor who pastored him before he said he was called into the ministry; if T.B. Joshua can tell me when he got converted and how he got converted, then we would consider him. Anybody who is a Christian is a Christian because he received Jesus Christ at a point”, Oritsejafor had said.

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