Mr. Luka Shehu, the Spokesman for the breakaway faction of the Christian Association of Nigeria, tells JUDE OWUAMANAM in this interview that there was a conspiracy to bar northern Christians from contesting the CAN presidency because some people did not want both the President of Nigeria and CAN President to come from the same region
What is the genesis of the present problem in the Christian Association of Nigeria?
This is the crux of the matter. This is the constitution of CAN. Article 14 of the constitution has to do with the tenure and election of officers. It says the President and Vice President shall be elected by the nominations submitted by the National Assembly of the national executive committee and shall hold office for an initial term of three years and shall be eligible for a final term of another three years. The key information there is that thereafter the office shall rotate to another church group accordingly. They negated this very fundamental aspect of the constitution in the election of the present executives of CAN. Now from the inception of CAN, three blocks, that is the Catholic, Christian Council of Nigeria (which has churches like Lutheran and Baptist) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, have all occupied the leadership of CAN. The immediate past president is Ayo Oritsejafor from PFN/Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria.
Now, naturally it would have been the chance of Evangelical Church of West Africa/ Tarrayar Ekklesiyoyin Kristi A Nigeria bloc or Organisation of African Indigenous Churches. These are the two blocs out of the five in the CAN that have not been at the presidency. Naturally there will be an election between each of the blocs to produce who would contest between ECWA/TEKAN bloc and OAIC. Now an election was held in the ECWA/TEKAN bloc between the ECWA President, Rev. Jeremiah Gado, and the OAIC President, Rev. Jeremiah Modibbo, at the TEKAN premises conference hall. ECWA President defeated him with 15 votes to seven. At the meeting of that election, there were about seven to nine church leaders or presidents or their representatives. At that time, Rev Ziggau, the TEKAN President was abducted, but the general secretary was there. The election was held. And naturally TEKAN/ECWA wrote a letter to CAN informing it of the result of the election; that the ECWA President has emerged as the candidate of ECWA to contest the CAN presidential election. Now OAIC bloc was supposed to do the same, which meant that no other bloc outside ECWA/TEKAN or OAIC would go for the contest. By virtue of that, ECWA held a general church council meeting and the whole of the GCM endorsed the ECWA President as the bonafide candidate. What happened after was a conspiracy against the ECWA President. There were willing tools in the hands of Oritsejafor and his group. The willing tools against the candidature of the ECWA President were nobody than Rev. Musa Asake, who was a former General Secretary of ECWA and presently the General Secretary of CAN. The other conspirator, who was aggrieved because he was abducted before the election was held to choose a candidate for ECWA/TEKAN was Rev. Ziggau, who felt that the election was held while he was with his abductors. We sympathised with him and we believe we contributed towards his rescue and assistance. For the fact that the election was held while he was in captivity, he felt personally aggrieved.
And between him and Asake, they kept playing games. Asake, as the General Secretary of CAN, is there to represent the ECWA/TEKAN bloc because if you have a president from another bloc, vice president from another bloc, you naturally would have secretary and assistant from other blocs and you have five directorates, one from each of the blocs. This is how s are distributed. And these were the issues. We told them that this is an issue that concerns ECWA/TEKAN bloc, how did it become national? There are master minders of this who were against a northern candidate. It will be surprising to you how we got to know this. We heard from reliable sources that Oritsejafor and others had conspired against a northern candidate. And what was their reason? They did not want to have Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the North as President of the country and at the same time have the CAN President from the same region. Did it sound justifiable? As Christians, why negate the principle of democracy; the principle of full participation? Is Supo Ayokunle the right person to occupy the seat? If you give it to Supo Ayokunle, he was the Vice President under Oritsejafor for many years. Otubu, who is the Vice President (now), has been in CAN executive for years. He was a member of the Christian Elders’ Forum for many years. Asake has been the General Secretary for years, what have they done for the church in Nigeria? What have they done for the victims of the crises in the North? There have been killings all over the North, from Plateau to Kaduna to Kafanchan, Benue and even in Igbo states, apart from the incidents in Gombe and so on. What have they done about the situation? And the questions we are asking as concerned Christians of Nigeria and as Christians from the North are: was there any legitimate ground for Supo Ayokunle to have agreed to be inaugurated? CAN has written to the national headquarters asking it to keep Ayokunle’s inauguration on hold because there were some unresolved issues in 19 northern states. The Catholic Church also wrote. Also, the CCN bloc wrote. Why is Oritsejafor so much in a hurry to swear in Supo Ayokunle if there is no hidden agenda? If there is no conspirator, why are they in a hurry? And they feel so uncomfortable with our group because they know that we are saying the truth. If they want to counter us, they should because CAN is not a cult. There is the right to belong and right to exit for any Christian. Membership is by virtue of the fact that your church belongs to one of the blocs. There are aids and support that come to CAN; how many people have they supported with them? How many widows have they undertaken to assist? In training, vocational and skills acquisition, how many people have they trained? How many orphans have they supported in the North? In Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and Yobe states, you have many of them. How many of them have they assisted? These are the concerns. We thought that they should be able to initiate a parley, an understanding with positive, liberal Muslims of the North so that we can fight the menace of insurgency in the North. They did not do that. When we were growing up, there was a good relationship between the Christians and the Muslims in the North. I could enter the mosques at wedding fatihas and the Muslims could enter the church when there were weddings. Today, that is gone. We thought that the CAN would initiate a dialogue so that we could return to the status quo, so that the positive elements in Islam will work with Christians for the unity of the country.
So the genesis of the crisis was the CAN presidential election?
The genesis of the problem was the election.
But I was also made to understand that there were other issues that had got to do with funds contributed for displaced persons, which were said to have been diverted.
That’s a beautiful question. These are some of the reasons why they are afraid. This is one of the reasons why Oritsejafor quickly handed over to Supo Ayokunle in an illegal election. They know that the case is in court and it was filed by aggrieved persons. There was an interview granted by Rev. Hayab in one of the national dailies. He spoke clearly about why CAN in the North was not happy with the national CAN, about the election and about the fact that the church in the North is being used. Now why are they afraid? They have not even given account of their stewardship to Christians in Nigeria. Funds have been coming and we asked where are the five 2015 models of Prado SUV that were given to them, apart from other things. The EFCC has the right to investigate. We have the right to complain but why are they nervous? And we say, where is the accountability in CAN apart from when there are attacks on Christians and churches that it rushes to the media and makes press statements while people are dying? And what we are saying is that these people are eating from the sweat of Christian martyrs and they will account for it.
There were also allegations of money changing hands between the political class and CAN officials in the buildup to the 2015 general elections. Was it also part of the problem?
Our contention did not only have to do with money. Of course, where there is illegality, there is corruption. It is illegal and we have to fight it. Why is Oritsejafor insisting on handing over to his Vice President?
Was money actually given to CAN officials by politicians to influence the outcome of the 2015 elections?
I think that is for the security operatives to find out. I am not a security officer. We have the police, the Department of State Services and others and it is their duty to investigate the allegations. Let them find out why they are so jittery about it. Of course, money was given, but I am not an investigator. I was once security personnel but I cannot do that now because it is not my job. I am not being paid to do that. Why are they jittery? Was it at the time that Oritsejafor was CAN President that he could afford to buy a private jet? Was it at the time of his presidency that he would start building a university while Christians were dying? These are the concerns. Check the website of CAN, you will see ‘I can support CAN’ link. That is where they solicit for support. What have they done with the funds? So the questions we are asking are legitimate questions. I love CAN; I love the unity of the church but the CAN structure has been abused simply because some people want to mortgage the destiny of the church. To some people, that is where they eat; to some, that is the avenue to meet politicians; to some, that is where they make a livelihood, so we say no to that.
If you say that there was a conspiracy against a northern candidate for CAN, we were equally made to understand that Gado was being sponsored by the presidency. If the federal might was behind him, why did he lose the election?
We have said in our earlier press statement that for them to insinuate that the Federal Government was sponsoring a candidate was the greatest fallacy and falsehood to pit Nigerian Christians against the personality of the ECWA President. For us, Gado has been committed to righteous leadership in the church. He has brought leadership qualities that we see in ECWA today. ECWA is a large church with the population of over four million members. ECWA is not a church where the president can unilaterally take a decision. This is a man of quality. The fact is that the Secretary to the Government of Federation (Babachir Lawal) was formally a member of TEKAN church, which is the church of Ziggau, the TEKAN President. His simple grouse was that the SGF was his former member and for reasons best known to him, left for ECWA. God knows why he decided to be a member of ECWA. And for God’s sake, he had a thanksgiving in ECWA and as a top ranking public officer; naturally, he called the ECWA President to speak. What is the problem there? Is this the level Rev. Ziggau would reduce himself to? Will he decide to be envious and jealous because somebody decided to leave his church? I will say please don’t bring the Federal Government or SGF into this. And I think they are diverting from real issues and avoiding the reality on the ground. We are already forming a Northern Nigerian Christian group for those who are willing. We have made consultations with eminent Christians in the North, both the clergy and the laity. We have visited traditional rulers and we will continue to do so. And then we are going to visit Internally Displaced Persons and some flashpoints in the North to see how we can galvanise Christians for real leadership.
Some people say Ziggau was not happy because the crisis in CAN was reportedly responsible for his abduction and also because you abandoned him in his most trying moments.
That is a lie. I am not a security man, but I learnt that his abductors have been arrested. And if they have been arrested, they should have been able to give lead information about the identities of their sponsors. If they are purely criminals, it will be evident. These are some of the lies they gave during the election; full of falsehood. For instance, recently, they said that the CAN Chairman in Borno State held a press conference. The press statement was crafted to say that he was in Abuja, but he was not in Abuja. He was in Borno State. Let the media man who said that he interviewed him in Abuja come up with the footage. This is one of their lies. I am here with you granting this interview. You can see me and you have evidence. Why would they say that he was in Abuja when they knew that he was in Borno State? These are people full of lies. As I am talking to you now, Supo and his group are busy penciling down who they will reward with positions in the directorate. They will be surprised how we got to know this. I will not mention names, but we know those they have contacted. I was one of those contacted to be induced and given a position. I won’t tell which position. And I won’t accept it. For the records, we are not being sponsored by politicians; we are not being sponsored by any government, state or federal. I do not know the SGF and he does not know me. By the way, Christians and Muslims voted for Buhari. We should not cheapen Christianity into this kind of politics that they want to drag us into.
Is pulling out of CAN the solution to this problem?
We are not advocates or speaking for CAN. I have told you and have shown you the interview of Rev. Hayab, the Secretary of CAN in the 19 Northern states. You have heard the interview granted by some other people; you have heard their positions. I am a member of CAN by virtue of my church being in CAN. There is nobody in CAN who is above his church and membership is not by compulsion. It is by choice and as Nigerians, as Christians, we have the right to form our own Northern Nigeria Christian Association, when we feel that CAN cannot champion our cause or be there for us. And let me put the records straight, the CAN we have initiated is unstoppable. They cannot stop this movement because it is a movement. It is beyond what they are thinking. We are looking at the present and the future. We are looking at the situation where we will work with positive elements that would fight against insurgency, work against the disaster that is affecting the church, promote peace, unity and cordial relationship between Christians and the Muslims, and help the government to move the economy forward. And I ask: why are they afraid of having a Northern Nigerian Christians Association?
Is there no other solution to this problem? If today Supo Ayokunle decides to step down, will that assuage you?
Bring all the aggrieved persons to a round table and initiate a dialogue. They have inaugurated him and he has been moving around, but the Christians are saying that we cannot work with this administration. The Bible says that if the foundation is faulty, there is nothing the builders can do. How did Oritsejafor get into the position in the first place? There were similar issues. There were issues between PFN and CPFN, which is the bloc of Oritsejafor. Oritsejafor personally wrote the letter endorsing himself as the candidate for CPFN/PFN. Where is that done? So it is the same brigandage; the same kind of impunity that brought Oritsejafor is what they want to bring to bear now. The same strategy he used to get into office is the same strategy he used to bring Supo Ayokunle. There are things we know that we should tell the media. They have never called us. We have made consultations; we have met the legal team of the ECWA President on the case in court and they said that no team from Ayokunle had reached out to them for dialogue. They are doing what they are doing because they feel that they have the muscle and the money to perpetuate illegality. They want to do what pleases them, but people have the right of choice.
So if the election were to be cancelled and another one held, you will be happy
Everybody will be assuaged and we will have a free and fair election where the ECWA/TEKAN bloc will present the candidate according to the constitution of CAN.
Now people are afraid that these wrangling are bringing politics into the body of Christ. Is it not dangerous for the tending of the flock and expansion of the kingdom of God?
CAN is a political structure. CAN was not formed by the clergy. It was a body initiated by politicians during the military rule. They brought in politics into CAN because they refused to abide by the constitution of CAN and because they were no longer tending to the flock. The Bible says that if you have 100 sheep and one of them gets missing, you have to leave the 99 and go in search of the missing one. Catholic pulled out of CAN, Oritsejafor never blinked. ECWA was aggrieved but he never bowed.
Did Catholic Church actually pull out of CAN?
They walked out of the election. This case was going to court, Oritsejafor never bothered. The scripture says that if your neighbour is trying to sue you, do whatever is in your power to settle the matter out of court, before he gets to court and before an officer sends you to jail. So if the Bible says this, it means that the scripture is aware that we can seek redress. So we should not pigeon hole this struggle and give it a narrow interpretation because you want to use and manipulate people. It is more than what they think. -PUNCH